Acts 1:1-11 “In my first book, Theophilus, I wrote about everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, 2 up to the day when he was taken up to heaven after giving orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After he had suffered, he had shown himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during a period of 40 days and telling them about the kingdom of God. 4 While he was meeting with them, he ordered them, “Don’t leave Jerusalem. Instead, wait for what the Father has promised, about which you heard me speak, 5 because John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit a few days from now.” 6 Now those who had gathered together began to ask Jesus, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He answered them, “It isn’t for you to know what times or periods the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you’ll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After saying this, Jesus was taken up while those who had gathered together were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, two men in white robes stood right beside them. 11 They asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you saw him go up into heaven.”
Doesn’t Luke do a great job summing up the end of Jesus’ time on earth? I love that he gives us a little bit more information about what happened after the resurrection and before Jesus returned to heaven. We find that Jesus was doing more teaching and instructing for forty days, but finally it was time for Him to return to His Father. He did this so He could send the promised Holy Spirit. He had told the disciples that it was to their advantage that He return to heaven and the Holy Spirit came—and you and I can most certainly attest to how blessed we are to have the indwelling Spirit! Pretty much the entire time Jesus was teaching and preaching, the Jews were hoping that Jesus would kick out their Roman oppressors and set up His kingdom. In fact, some Jews tried to take Him by force and MAKE Him be their king then and there. And here in Acts 1, the believers gathered together in Jerusalem asked one last time, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus told them to trust God with the timing of this, and instead focus on what He has for them right now. He was about to baptize them in the Holy Spirit (which was also the beginning of the church age—the age you and I are still living in some two thousand years later). Just like those Jesus addressed in person, our job while waiting is to be witnesses to those He brings into our lives. While it must have been pretty emotional to see Jesus disappear in the clouds, the witnesses were also left with a tremendous hope—the assurance that Jesus WOULD be returning. And this is exactly what we can eagerly anticipate too. It could be any moment. Are you ready? Are you witnessing? Is your life right with Him? (This passage was addressed earlier this year on January 15. If you want to see it, you can find it on firstbaptistnorthconway.org under the tab “ministries.”)
March 30, 2016
John 21:20-25 “Peter turned around and noticed the disciple whom Jesus kept loving following them. He was the one who had put his head on Jesus’ chest at the supper and had asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus told him, “If it’s my will for him to remain until I come back, how does that concern you? You must keep following me!” 23 So the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple wasn’t going to die. Yet Jesus didn’t say to Peter that he wasn’t going to die, but, “If it’s my will for him to remain until I come back, how does that concern you?” 24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them down. We know that his testimony is true. 25 Of course, Jesus also did many other things, and I suppose that if every one of them were written down, the world couldn’t contain the books that would be written.”
I think one of the reasons why so many people like Peter is because he is such a typical human. =) One minute he is vowing eternal love to Christ and accepting the commission to pastor the flocks of Jesus, and in the next he is turning around to try to find out what kind of death one of the OTHER disciples was going to face. Jesus lovingly and kindly points out to Peter that it isn’t his business. Peter needs to make sure Peter is obeying God and remaining faithful to Him. And this is true for us, too. Instead of sitting in a sermon and listing the people who REALLY should hear this convicting sermon—BE the person who is convicted! Be the one who is convicted to dedicate yourself all the more to living obediently before God. Pay the MOST attention to your own walk with the Lord, then as God blesses, be an encouragement to others to also keep on keeping on. You know, I’m REALLY looking forward to glory when we get to begin to find out some of the “many other things” that Jesus did! I can’t wait to hear the rest of all the stories of Scripture—and the ones that weren’t recorded in Scripture. I think it is going to be really amazing to finally see with clear eyes how God has worked since before time began, all throughout the years of recorded Scripture, down to our own era. For now we see as through a dim glass, but one day we will see crystal clear—and what a day that will be! More than all that, though, we will get to see our Savior face to face. I don't suppose the world could contain the books about how wonderful that will be!
March 29, 2016
John 21:15-19 “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter told him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Then he asked him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter told him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus told him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was deeply hurt that he had asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” So he told him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you!” Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep. 18 “Truly, I tell you emphatically, when you were young, you would fasten your belt and go wherever you liked. But when you get old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten your belt and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Now he said this to show by what kind of death he would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus told him, “Keep following me.”
Jesus had big plans for Peter. He would become the head of the brand new church that would begin in just a few short weeks. But first, Jesus wanted Peter to know a bit about what he would be expected to do. Peter was to feed Jesus’ “lambs,” to take care of His “sheep,” and to feed His “sheep.” Jesus was telling Peter that as a pastor (our title “pastor” is really the word “shepherd”), his job would be to teach doctrine and essential Bible truth to new believers—the lambs. However, he wasn’t to neglect the more mature believers while watching over those who are young in the Lord. He would need to be godly leader to the more mature believers, guiding them as they served God and carried out the work of the ministry. Finally, he was also to ensure that the mature believers receive challenging instruction: the deeper truths from God’s Word. This is analogous to the progression from milk to meat in Hebrews 5:12ff, or the growth from children to maturity in Eph. 4:14-16. The pastor’s main job description is to provide for the spiritual nourishment of every level of spiritual development. There is often a lot of confusion between the different words for love in this passage. You probably know or have heard that Jesus uses two different words for love in this paragraph; one is phileo and the other is agape. Some have said that phileo love is so-called human love, while agape love is seen as “divine” love. This, however, is not really what these Greek words mean. In fact, the “lesser” phileo love is the kind of love Jesus says He has for the Father! Rather, a better understanding of these terms is that agapelove flows from one’s character, and phileo love is a love that has counted the cost, analyzed what is necessary and made a decision. One is not necessarily “better” than the other: they are both manifestations of putting others before self, and sacrificially seeking the best for the other party
March 28, 2016
John 21:1-14 “Later on, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is what happened: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathaniel from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two of his other disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.” They all told him, “We’ll go with you, too.” So they went out and got into the boat but didn’t catch a thing that night. 4 Just as dawn was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore. The disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. 5 Jesus asked them, “Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He told them, “Throw the net on the right hand side of the boat, and you’ll catch some.” So they threw it out and were unable to haul it in because it was so full of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus kept loving told Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his clothes back on, because he was practically naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. They were only about 200 cubits away from the shore. 9 When they arrived at the shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish lying on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus told them, “Bring me some of the fish you’ve just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish—153 of them. And although there were so many of them, the net was not torn. 12 Then Jesus told them, “Come, have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”, because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus took the bread, gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus revealed himself to the disciples after he had been raised from the dead.”
This very interesting little scene is the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after being resurrected. STILL the Master of all creation, Jesus is able to direct these experienced fishermen to find a great catch of fish.
This appearance, as well as the other two, seem to indicate that there was something very different about Jesus’ physical appearance. No one seemed to quite be able to identify Him as Jesus until He did or said something that they recognized. The woman in me noticed that Jesus chose to feed the men before beginning a very serious discussion (found in the remainder of this chapter). As we know, saving important discussions until after a meal is usually a wise course of action! =) One thing that keeps catching me off guard—and blessing me—through the entire crucifixion/resurrection account as translated in the ISV is how John refers to himself. Pretty much all other translations I’ve read have John calling himself the disciple whom Jesus loved—which is AWESOME, but in the ISV it says, “the disciple whom Jesus kept loving.” This description just warms my heart and gives me great joy to relate to. You see, Jesus keeps loving US too! Though we mess up, though we don’t follow through on the things we say we will do, though we too often choose to please self over God, Jesus keeps loving us! How that should cause us to work even harder to say no to self and yes to Him! I’ve always loved the Gospel of John and I’ve always appreciated John’s role in Jesus’ time on earth teaching and preaching. I love that John loved to sit as close to Jesus as possible, often with his head leaning against Him. I love how he was the first to the empty tomb to see for himself that Jesus had indeed risen again. I love that he was the first to recognize Who Jesus was in today’s account. I love that he was used by God to write this account that has shared with millions of people that simply believing in Christ as our Savior is all that is needed to become saved. I’m excited to meet John one day in glory. I think I know where I’ll find him—as close as he can get to our Savior!
March 26, 2016
John 20:19-31 “It was the evening of the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Jesus came and stood among them. He told them, “Peace be with you.” 20 After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side, and when they saw the Lord, the disciples were overjoyed. 21 Jesus told them again, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and told them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven. If you retain people’s sins, they are retained.” 24 Thomas, one of the Twelve (called the Twin), wasn’t with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples kept telling him, “We’ve seen the Lord!” But he told them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, put my finger into them, and put my hand into his side, I’ll never believe!” 26 A week later, his disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were shut, Jesus came, stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.”27 Then he told Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Take your hand, and put it into my side. Stop doubting, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus told him, “Is it because you’ve seen me that you have believed? How blessed are those who have never seen me and yet have believed!” 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book. 31 But these have been recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and so that through believing you may have life in his name.”
I know I’ve mentioned before the disconnect that we sometimes feel with people in the Bible, as if they weren’t quite real or didn’t experience the challenges we do, but every single thing listed in the Bible DID happen, with real people. Thomas stood directly in front of the risen Christ and KNEW that He was HIS Lord and HIS God. More than two thousand years since then, we too can KNOW Who our Lord and God is! I Peter 1:8 says, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do no now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” II Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” And John says right here in verse 31 that the things in his account were written so that through believing we might have life through His name. Like the disciples who were hiding in fear of the Jews, because of Jesus, we can have peace. He is the Source of peace, comfort, grace, and abiding love. It is just as real for us as it was for the disciples and others living in Bible times. Jesus died, but He also rose again. He is alive today and one day soon we will get to greet Him face to face. In the meantime, let’s share this good news with others who need to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they might have life in His name.”
March 25, 2016
John 20:1-18 “On the first day of the week, early in the morning and while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and noticed that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran off and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus kept loving. She told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” 3 So Peter and the other disciple took off for the tomb. 4 The two of them were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and came to the tomb first. 5 Bending over to look inside, he noticed the linen cloths lying there, but didn’t go in. 6 At this point Simon Peter arrived, following him, and went straight into the tomb. He observed that the linen cloths were lying there, 7 and that the handkerchief that had been on Jesus’ head was not lying with the linen cloths but was rolled up in a separate place. 8 Then the other disciple, who arrived at the tomb first, went inside, looked, and believed. 9 For they did not yet understand the Scripture that said that Jesus had to rise from the dead. 10 So the disciples went back to their homes. 11 Meanwhile, Mary stood crying outside the tomb. As she cried, she bent over and looked into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels in white clothes who were sitting down, one at the head and the other at the foot of the place where Jesus’ body had been lying. 13 They asked her, “Lady, why are you crying?” She told them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 After she had said this, she turned around and noticed Jesus standing there, without realizing that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus asked her, “Dear lady, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she told him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus told her, “Mary!” She turned around and told him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus told her, “Don’t hold on to me, because I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I’m ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 So Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord!” She also told them what he had told her.”
I cannot read this beautiful passage without tears welling up in my eyes. I especially love how all it took for Mary to recognize Jesus in His post-resurrection body was for Him to say her name. She obviously loved Him—and He obviously loved her! And dear one, He knows YOUR name too! He loves YOU too! One day WE will stand before our resurrected Savior and He will welcome us into His presence by our name—the name He knew and loved before the very foundations of the world! And dear one, that same God will not leave you or forsake you NOW, either. He is watching over you, interceding on your behalf, applauding every victory, forgiving every confessed sin. Our days here in this kingdom of darkness can seem really overwhelming and endless, but that is Satan’s lie. We are citizens of heaven! We are daughters of The King! We are co-heirs with Jesus! We are spiritually alive and we will live for eternity in the presence of God our Father, and God the Lamb. Every Easter I think about how dark and terrible the days after Jesus died must have been for all those who loved Him so strongly. But then came Sunday. What was unbearable, became unbearably wonderful. Our “Sunday” is coming too. One day soon that trumpet will sound and we’ll be out of here! We, like Mary, will gaze with unbounded joy at the face of our Savior Who knows our name.
March 24, 2016
John 19:28-42 “After this, when Jesus realized that everything was now completed, he said (in order to fulfill the Scripture), “I’m thirsty.” 29 A jar of sour wine was standing there, so they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 After Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit. 31 Since it was the Preparation Day, the Jewish leaders did not want to leave the bodies on the crosses during the Sabbath, because that was a particularly important Sabbath. So they asked Pilate to have the men’s legs broken and the bodies removed. 32 So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and then of the other man who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water immediately came out. 35 The one who saw this has testified, and his testimony is true. He knows he is telling the truth so that you, too, may believe,36 because these things happened so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “None of his bones will be broken.” 37 In addition, another passage of Scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they pierced.” 38 Later on, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus (though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, and he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, the man who had first come to Jesus at night, also arrived, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about 100 litra. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen cloths along with spices, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 A garden was located in the place where he was crucified, and in that garden was a new tomb in which no one had yet been placed. 42 Because it was the Jewish Preparation Day, and because the tomb was nearby, they put Jesus there.” It is finished. Jesus did every single thing He set out to do. He was now free to release His spirit to death, leaving His body behind to fulfill a bit more prophecy concerning His life and death. You know, Jesus’ mission to save us from our sins is completely finished, but He has other missions that He has yet to accomplish. He will come to the clouds (which could literally happen at any moment now) to collect all Christians from the time of His resurrection until now, He will oversee the seven years of Tribulation here on earth, He will be our Groom at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, He will judge our deeds at the Bema, and He will return to earth to rule and reign for one thousand years before finally, and utterly, defeating Satan and his evil followers, and remaking heaven and earth where God will change residence and dwell permanently among men. Wow! There are some exciting things coming up! Did you know that WE have a mission right now? Our mission is first and foremost to be becoming like Christ, living our lives so that God gets all the glory and honor, but we also have a responsibility to tell others about what Christ did for them on the cross. And we have a responsibility to do the jobs that God assigned just for us (Eph. 2:10). As a matter of fact, if you are alive and breathing, you STILL have a job to do—young or old, healthy or in a wheelchair! God has a task for YOU. How are you doing with YOUR mission?
March 23, 2016
John 19:1-27 “Then Pilate had Jesus taken away and whipped. 2 The soldiers twisted some thorns into a victor’s crown, put it on his head, and threw a purple robe on him. 3 They kept coming up to him and saying, “Long live the king of the Jews!” Then they began to slap him on the face. 4 Pilate went outside again and told the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 Then Jesus came outside, wearing the victor’s crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate told them, “Here is the man!” 6 When the high priests and the officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate told them, “You take him and crucify him. I find no basis for a charge against him.” 7 The Jewish leaders answered Pilate, “We have a law, and according to that Law he must die because he made himself out to be the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this, he became even more afraid.9 Returning to his headquarters, he asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus did not answer him. 10 So Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to speak to me? You realize, don’t you, that I have the authority to release you and the authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You have no authority over me at all, except what was given to you from above. That’s why the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12 From then on, Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you release this fellow, you’re not a friend of Caesar! Anyone who claims to be a king is defying Caesar!” 13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat down on the judgment seat in a place called The Pavement, which in Hebrew is called Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the Preparation Day for the Passover, about noon. He told the Jewish leaders, “Here is your king!” 15 Then they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Should I crucify your king?” The high priests responded, “We have no king but Caesar!”16 Then Pilate handed him over to be crucified, and they took Jesus away. 17 Carrying the cross all by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of a Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, along with two others, one on each side of him with Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus from Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city. It was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. 21 Then the Jewish high priests told Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this fellow said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate replied, “What I have written I have written.” 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier, and took his cloak as well. The cloak was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. 24 So they told each other, “Let’s not tear it. Instead, let’s throw dice to see who gets it.” This was to fulfill the Scripture that says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they threw dice.” So that is what the soldiers did. 25 Meanwhile, standing near Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he kept loving standing there, he told his mother, “Dear lady here is your son.” 27 Then he told the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”
Do you show compassion to the people around you? To be like Christ, we need to! We need to pay attention to the needs of the people around us—not just their physical needs, as important as they might be. People need to be reminded that they need the Lord. Those who aren’t saved will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire WHERE GOD DOES NOT DWELL. They will forever be cut off from His love, compassion, grace, and mercy! Those who are saved ALSO need the Lord—not for their spiritual salvation, that was dealt with once and for all time on the cross. They—we—NEED to be reminded to keep our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith. We need to live life HIS way and not after the pattern of the world around us. Compassion. Did you see it in today’s reading? Yesterday’s? Even while in the middle of false accusations, physical torture, imminent death, and the imminent anguish of having the full anger of God the Father directed at Him—the anger that should have been on us! Yet Jesus showed compassion.He intervened at the garden so His disciples wouldn’t be harmed during His arrest, He paused to heal the ear of one of the soldiers sent to arrest Him, He paused on His way to Calvary to comfort the women who were crying as they followed Him (Lk.23:27-28), He took the time to tell the thieves He was crucified next to how they could live forever with Him (Lk.23:39-43), and moments before His death He made sure His mother was going to be well cared for by placing her in the care of His much loved disciple, John. When I think of what my reactions tend to be when I am hurt or suffering—especially if I am innocent of wrong doing, well let’s just say they are usually a whole lot about ME, and much less about the needs of others. BUT it doesn’t have to be that way! We CAN follow Christ’s example! We CAN train ourselves in godliness—including learning to look around us at the hurts and needs of others so that we can show compassion, and so we can encourage people to place their trust in God. We CAN be like Christ! Who in your life could use some compassion today?
March 22, 2016
John 18:19-40 “Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his own teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in the synagogue or in the Temple, where all Jews meet together, and I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you question me? Question those who heard what I said. These are the people who know what I said.” 22 When he said this, one of the officers standing nearby slapped Jesus on the face and demanded, “Is that any way to answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If I have said anything wrong, tell me what it was. But if I have told the truth, why do you hit me?” 24 Then Annas sent him, with his hands tied, to Caiaphas the high priest. 25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. Some people asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples, too, are you?” He denied it by saying, “I am not!” 26 Then one of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, “I saw you in the garden with Jesus, didn’t I?” 27 Peter again denied it, and immediately a rooster crowed. 28 Then Jesus was led from Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters early in the morning. The Jews did not go into the headquarters, to avoid becoming unclean and unable to eat the Passover meal. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What accusation are you bringing against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If he weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate told them, “You take him and try him according to your Law.” The Jewish leaders told him, “It is not legal for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die. 33 So Pilate went back into the governor’s headquarters, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 Jesus replied, “Are you asking this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? It is your own nation and high priests who have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom belonged to this world, my servants would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But for now my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born for this, and I came into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is committed to the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him, “What is ‘truth’?” and then he went out to the Jewish leaders again and told them, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But you have a custom that I release one person for you at Passover. Do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?” 40 At this, they shouted out again, “Not this fellow, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.”
“I came into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is committed to the truth listens to my voice.” Commitment. EVERYONE is committed to something whether they’ll admit to it or not. What does the word commit mean in English, anyway? Dictionary.com defines is as: to bind or to obligate, as by pledge or assurance. Some people commit to looking and acting superior to others, some commit to saving animals from extinction, some commit to being the best at a sport or in their work, some commit to amassing great wealth, some commit to never being told what to do by others. What did Jesus commit to? He was bound to, or obligated, to testify to the truth. In other words, we can trust every single thing that ever came out of His mouth! Who else—ever—could we say the same thing of? No one! Jesus is God and God IS truth.
What does that mean for us? Jesus went on to state very matter-of-factly that those who are committed to truth listen to Him. That simple. That life changing. This would rule out, of course, every single source of authority that is NOT Jesus. It would include Christians who are using God’s Word for their teaching, preaching, advice-giving, and conversation, but it would rule out anyone who isn’t saved. Those who haven’t been made alive spiritually cannot know the things that they are dead to. Oh, they might have pithy things to say, but our life MUST be built on the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ and His teaching. How like Jesus to not get all flustered and bothered by all the different rulers He was being led to one by one for the purpose of lies and unjust judgment, and instead address the TRUE need of the moment—the need to turn hearts and minds to God and what HE had to say! We, too, can follow His example and not get caught up in the drama around us, remembering instead that people need the Lord. They need HIS truth; His Holy Word, the Bible.
March 21, 2016
John 18:1-18 “After Jesus had said all of this, he went with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas took a detachment of soldiers and some officers from the high priests and the Pharisees and went there with lanterns, torches, and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing everything that was going to happen, went forward and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus from Nazareth.” Jesus told them, “I AM.” Judas, the man who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus told them, “I AM,” they backed away and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” They said, “Jesus from Nazareth.” 8 Jesus replied, “I told you that I am the one, so if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill what he had said, “I did not lose a single one of those you gave me.” 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shouldn’t I drink the cup that the Father has given me?” 12 Then the soldiers, along with their commander and the Jewish officers, arrested Jesus and tied him up. 13 First they brought him to Annas, because he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the person who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one man die for the people. 15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Since the other disciple was known to the high priest, he accompanied Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest.16 Peter, however, stood outside the gate. So this other disciple who was known to the high priest went out and spoke to the gatekeeper and brought Peter inside. 17 The young woman at the gate asked Peter, “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples, too, are you?” “I am not,” he replied. 18 Meanwhile, the servants and officers were standing around a charcoal fire they had built and were warming themselves because it was cold. Peter was also standing with them, keeping himself warm.”
>>>>>>>>We are going to take a brief break from our pursuit of the use of the word “holy” in the New Testament to immerse ourselves in the wonder of the Easter account! Enjoy! <<<<<<<<<<<<<
I’ve noticed that it has gotten trendy to say someone “threw me under the bus.” By that people mean, they were betrayed—often by a friend. Did you notice that all the ugly things that happen in this passage began because Judas betrayed Jesus? Oh, to be sure, all of this was part of God’s eternal plan of redemption—the author is very careful to point out how Scripture was fulfilled throughout the whole crucifixion and resurrections chapters. Nonetheless, Judas is culpable for his actions. We all are. Let me clarify. You see, one of the amazing graces of our salvation is that we are no longer held accountable for our sin. Jesus bore the punishment for every bit of sin we have committed and what we will commit between right now and our home-going. Can you read that without shaking your head in wonder at that??? I think that all believers need to find a quiet place on a regular basis to think through all Jesus did for us and THANK GOD. We need to take stock of how our lives are showing gratitude—or not. In fact, that is one of the big reasons why we should be taking part in the regular communion services in our churches. This time gives us a chance to contemplate the complete forgiveness of our sins as well as the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to our account. Wowee! So, sin will not be judged on the part of the Christian when we get to glory, BUT that does not give us license to live however we want. The Bible is literally LOADED with passage after passage, example after example, of how God has called us to live—and He expects us to obey wholeheartedly and continuously. When we fail, we can find forgiveness and grace when we confess what we’ve done as sin, and we can resume living in a God pleasing way.
However, when we get to heaven, rather than being judged for sin, WE will be examined as to what we did for God and why, the motives of our heart. So you see, our actions matter.Perhaps Judas justified what he did to himself, but in the end, he clearly recognized his heinous deed.Even then, he chose the wrong solution to his heartache and sorrow.All he had to do was make things right with God, and God in great compassion and mercy, welcomes His children back into the place of blessing, peace, and joy. In John 18:11 Jesus said that He was willing to drink the cup the Father gave Him. Are you willing to live a life of obedience by way of gratitude for what He willingly did for you?
March 19, 2016
“And now I am coming to you, and I say these things in the world so that they may have My joy made complete in themselves. I have given them Your word, and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I don’t belong to the world. I’m not asking You to take them out of the world but to protect them from the evil one. They don’t belong to the world, just as I don’t belong to the world. “Sanctifythem by the truth. Your word is truth. Just as You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. It is for their sakes that I sanctify Myself, so that they, too, may be sanctified by the truth.” John 17:13-19
Did you find the word holy in this passage? It is the word “sanctify.” The noun form of the same word is “sanctification.” You’ve heard of the process of sanctification, haven’t you? It is the process of becoming holy just like God is holy! It is what we’ve been studying these last three months. By now you should have a pretty good idea of some of what is involved—and John 17:19 gives a not so subtle hint: God’s Word, the Bible, is our source for all we need to know, what our goals need to be, and how to accomplish them. In fact, did you notice that Jesus didn’t say His Word was true—He said it is TRUTH. In other words, it is the measuring stick against which every single thing in life is to be measured. Anything that deviates from God’s Word one iota, is NOT right, thereby making it WRONG. Oh how we need to be on our guard against the partial truth that is so prevalent all around us. We may be able to recognize the blatant lies of the world (mostly!), but it is so called ”spiritual” or “Christian” literature and media that we have to be so careful of! Things may “sound” biblical and good to us, but if it isn’t exactly what God says, it is NOT biblical or good! Christians do not belong to the world. Jesus stated this truth. We belong to GOD. What makes Him rejoice ought to make us rejoice. The things He hates should be the things we hate. Each day we should take our clues about what is “good” from God’s TRUTH, our Bibles. Then we can know what to embrace and what to throw out and/or flee from. What a magnificent gift God gave us in His written Word! How we should cherish it, pore over its pages, and fill our mind and hearts with it wonderful truths!
March 18, 2016
“Again the Jewish leaders picked up stones to stone Him to death. Jesus replied to them, “I’ve shown you many good actions from My Father. For which of them are you going to stone Me?” The Jewish leaders answered Him, “We are not going to stone you for a good action, but for blasphemy, because You, a mere Man, are making Yourself God!” 34 Jesus replied to them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’? 35 If He called those to whom a message from God came ‘gods’ (and the Scripture cannot be disregarded), 36 how can you say to the One Whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You’re blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I’m the Son of God’? 37 If I’m not doing My Father’s actions, don’t believe Me. 38 But if I’m doing them, even though you don’t believe Me, believe the actions, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father.” John 10:31-39
This is a pretty interesting dialog! One of the ways the Jewish people SHOULD have automatically know Jesus was Who He claimed to be was because He had proven Himself to be a Prophet of God (see the study on March 11 for more information on this). And BECAUSE He had proven Himself to be a Prophet from God, the people were supposed to listen to what He had to say. This is basic being-a-Jew 101! What did He have to say? That He was God! That should have ended the argument, but not all the people—especially the hypocritical Jewish leadership—were willing to accept Jesus as God. He just wasn’t what they expected at all! Did you notice that Jesus used our word “holy”? In this passage it is translated as “consecrated,” but it is the same word: to be holy, to be set apart for God. In this instance, God had given Jesus the job of coming to earth to do His will. What was His will? To substitute His life for ours and die a horrible death so that you and I could become children of God! God chose you and me to do something too. First, He chose us to become His children, and the Holy Spirit quickened us, or made us alive spiritually. Now we belong to God and as His possession, we have the privilege and responsibility to do His will, to choose to live life the way He wants us to, to share what we know about Jesus Christ with others, to live here on earth, but as citizens of heaven, to do the good works that He prepared for us to do, to show love as Christ showed love to us, to . . . Well, it should be our great delight to spend time in God’s Word every single day to add to the list of the things we get to do as cherished children of God who will spend eternity in His presence. We could get started right now!
March 17, 2016
“On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and shouted, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have rivers of living water flowing from his heart.” Now He said this about the Spirit, whom those who were believing in Him were to receive, because the Spirit was not yet present and Jesus had not yet been glorified.”John 7:37-39
One of the things I really love to learn about is Jewish customs that explain something in the New Testament. Simply hearing that Jesus is the Living Water is pretty awesome, BUT if you also know that in Israel ANY water is a precious thing since much of the land is arid and extremely hot, the lessons become even more meaningful. Water was a precious commodity, but even more precious was living water—or water that moved such as in a stream or river. This fresh water was especially delightful to a people who were used to having to carry their daily household water from a cistern or well that was used by the entire village or town. More than just this, though, is the setting of Jesus’ loud declaration. Jesus chose the last day of an annual festival that included an emphasis on asking God for rain to help their harvest. They would pour water over the altar while the Levites sang. It is in this setting Jesus stood and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have rivers of living water flowing from his heart.” The Bible goes on to explain that Jesus was giving them a glimpse of what God would do on the day of Pentecost in giving all believers the permanent indwelling Holy Spirit. I don’t know about you, but even though I have this living water in me because I placed my faith in Christ as my Savior, some days I don’t act like I believe it. Some days I allow myself to believe Satan’s lies that I am not really good for much and my failures as a believer MUST make God wish He had never chosen me as His own. But dear one, THAT IS WRONG THINKING! Whenever ANY of us stop trusting GOD’S Word only, we will find ourselves believing all sorts of nonsense, and if we don’t cut that foolish thinking off quickly, we may find ourselves acting on it too! Oh how we need to cling to God’s Word, trusting it and proving our trust by obeying it! And the Holy Spirit can help us do EXACTLY that! We’ve already got all the living water we’ll ever need or want!
March 16, 2016
“Therefore, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, may Your name be keptholy.May Your kingdom come. May Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our sins,as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.And never bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” Matthew 6:9-13
This passage is often known as the Lord’s Prayer, but it could probably be more accurately called the Disciples’ Prayer since this was a pattern of what a good prayer is, as given by Jesus to them. Note first that Jesus didn’t say “When you pray. . .” The fact that we ARE praying is assumed. What “good” student wouldn’t talk to their Master and Teacher? What beloved child would go a day or more without talking to their Father? It is foolish at best and sinful at worst. Jesus said, “This is how you should pray. . .” He was instructing the disciples (and us!) what a good prayer is as opposed to those who pray merely to be noticed for their grandness (v.5), or those who endlessly repeat meaningless phrases as some sort of mantra that might earn them points (v.7). Jesus teaches that our prayers should START with the understanding that our Heavenly Father already knows the things we need. So, rather than jumping right in with the ol’ “give me this, give me that,” we should begin our prayers with an acknowledgement of just WHO we are praying to (GOD—our FATHER!), simultaneously recognizing and praising His holiness. The name of God should never been spoken carelessly or flippantly*. It should always be treated in the highest regard and set apart as holy. “May Your kingdom come.” This could be paraphrased something like this: “May Your plans for sovereignty and rule on the earth be fulfilled.” Jesus knew, of course, that one day He would sit on the throne in Jerusalem, but believe it or not, at that time He didn’t know God’s timing for when this would take place. He, like us, desires greatly for it to be SOON! You see, Jesus knew He needed to die to pay the penalty for our sin, and He knew that He will return to earth to set up His kingdom seven years after the church was raptured away, but the Bible says that He does not know what date God picked for the rapture itself. In the meantime, though, we can live by God’s rule in the here and now. We can choose to live under “kingdom” rules as much as we are able to in this imperfect world and in our non-glorified bodies. “May Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Another reminder that the only One we should be seeking to please and obey is God. As His children, He has given us the ability to honor, glorify, and obey Him—even when no one else does.
“Give us today our daily bread.” God knows what we need. It is good to bring our concerns and wishes before God, but it is more important that we leave them with Him completely trusting His timing and method. “Forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.” God has given us a pattern to follow. As He forgives, we should forgive; as He loves us, we should love, and so on. Our generosity and grace should reflect God’s generosity and grace extended to us—unworthy though WE be!
“And never bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” God doesn’t ever tempt us to sin, but we’re pretty good at doing that to ourselves. God can—and does—give us a way to escape, and sometimes, if we’re living obediently according to His Word, we’re able to recognize a potential problem before it has happened, and are thus saved from the need to flee. God also tells us that in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can resist Satan and he will have no recourse but to flee from us. Basically put, Jesus teaches that our prayers should first and foremost worship God, acknowledging His holiness, sovereignty, and right to rule in every aspect of every part of our lives. Then we need to place our trust in Him for the needs of the day—physical needs AND spiritual needs. Prayer is a pretty awesome thing, wouldn't you say!
*BONUS! I expect most believers know that saying "Oh, my God!" in the wrong way is NOT treating God's name as holy or giving it the high regard we should. Since this phrase is used countless times around us by people who give no thought to what they are actually saying, we need to be on our guard even more to not accidentally begin saying it ourselves. Perhaps a greater caution, though, is to pay attention that we don't simply substitute other words that, in the end, are just another way of saying God. Gosh and OMG are a few good examples. As God's chosen holy ones, we want to continue to work on speech that is pure and good - speech that honors God and represents our Father in the best possible light. (Other substitute words for truly ugly or inappropriate words are heck, frickin', dang, or simply leaving a blank such as "what the ____!" The Bible remedy for overcoming ugly speech is using our words to express gratitude and praise to God.)
March 15, 2016
“While Jesus was teaching in the Temple, He asked, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is David’s son? David himself said by the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord told my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put Your enemies under Your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘Lord,’ so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd kept listening to Him with delight.” Mark 12:35-37
There are a couple of concepts that grab our attention here. The first is that Jesus, quoting Psalm 110, says that the Holy Spirit is the One Who was actually guiding what David wrote. As you know, this is part of the doctrine of inspiration, and it is very important and very precious to us. God Himself (the Spirit) was the One Who was in charge of guiding, assisting, and leading the various authors of the Bible so that what they wrote was what came naturally to them and was their own style, vocabulary and life experiences—but it was also exactly what He chose. The product of the Holy Spirit’s control was the original autographs of Scripture—pure truth without error. What an amazing gift from God to us—His Word to show us Himself and the path of life! Second, notice the interesting interplay in the quote that Jesus used. The Lord (the first One in the verse) is God the Father. He said to “my Lord” - that would be the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus is pointing out that the Messiah (Himself) was prophesied in the Old Testament as being both a descendant of David, and thus having the authority to sit on the throne of Israel, and as God Himself. When the scribes (and lawyers, Pharisees and Sadducees) questioned and rebelled against Christ’s authority, they were actually being insubordinate to God Himself. Did you know that to try to get away from the authority of the Word of God is as if you were trying to run away from God, rather like Jonah did? The best policy is the one that instantly submits to Jesus Christ when we realize He is giving us instruction and truth. (Just so you know… my amazing pastor/husband wrote today’s devotional for us. I wanted to be sure to get it right, so I went to the expert. =)
March 14, 2016
“Then Jesus called the crowd to Himself along with His disciples and told them, “If anyone wants to follow Me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me continuously, because whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the gospel will save it. What profit will a person have if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Indeed, what can a person give in exchange for his life? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes with theholy angels in His Father’s glory.” Mark 8:34-38
This is a pretty important passage. First of all, please note that Jesus is teaching believers. He is addressing His disciples, who were all saved prior to this. Next, note that Jesus is giving a three-step approach to being His disciple, or student. First of all, those who want to be a disciple of Jesus need to deny themselves. They have to follow HIS desires and wishes and set aside their own. That is not to say we cannot have dreams and ideas, just that our first and foremost goal is to want what God wants. Second, a disciple of Jesus needs to pick up his cross. This idea of taking up our cross is sometimes erroneously thought of as us dealing with some burden. For example, if we have cancer, we might say that it our cross to bear. Or perhaps we have an unsaved husband, and this becomes our cross to bear. What this really means, however, is that we as children of God need to be ready to identify completely with the utter shame of death on a cross. The use of a cross to punish someone was saved for the most vile people—the scum of the earth. It was the most humiliating and degrading way someone could be tortured to death. And it was a public death. Passersby were encouraged to not only hurl insults at the prisoner, they also threw stones, dirt and sticks. The point was to be as abusive and demeaning as possible to the condemned person. THIS is the death that Jesus chose to suffer FOR US. He humbly and willingly allowed Himself to be killed in this way so that you and I could become free from the penalty for our sin—even though we would have gladly been one of those people throwing stones at Him and insulting Him! Third, Jesus said that we must follow Him. We must follow the example He lived for us and the instruction He left for us in His Written Word, the Bible. Jesus uses verses 35-37 to expound a bit more on what it means to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow Him. He points out that making the decision to live for self is futile and foolish, and in the end, we’ll have lost everything. But on the flip side, living life to honor God results in ABUNDANT life throughout eternity! And He points out that those who are ashamed of Him (who aren’t willing to identify with the shame of Jesus’ death on the cross), will find that when Jesus comes to take up His rule in the Millennium, He will be ashamed of THEM. I cannot think of too many things more awful than contemplating my Savior being ashamed of me! There’s some pretty serious warnings and instruction in this passage, BUT picture how things are when we HAVE decided to follow Jesus, when we AREN’T ashamed of Him or His Word and share with people near and far what amazing things Christ did for us, and when we get up every morning EAGER to live life the way Jesus showed us to. . . We have become His DISCIPLES! We are His students! He is going to teach us bigger and better things—and when we get to glory, He will welcome us with open arms and a “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
(FYI: I have created a set of questions to go with these daily verses if you want to turn your simple Bible reading into a time of meaty study. If you'd like it, just send me an email. I will email it to you and you can make as many copies as you want.)
March 12, 2016
“King Herod heard about this, because Jesus’ name had become well-known. He was saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead! That’s why He is able to do these miracles.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Still others were saying, “He is a prophet like one of the other prophets.” But when Herod heard about it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised,” because Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him with chains, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom Herod had married. John had been telling Herod, “It’s not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she couldn’t do it because Herod was afraid of John. He knew that John was a righteous and holy man, and so he protected him. Whenever he listened to John, he did much of what he said. In fact, he liked listening to him.” Mark 6:14-20
If you want to hear an important tale about why we need to be careful what we promise and the dangers of listening to the crowds or bowing to peer pressure, read this entire account in Mark 6:14-29. But for now, let’s focus on verse 20. I appreciate the fact that even wicked Herod was aware that John was a “righteous and holy man.” This made me wonder, do the people who know ME see me as a righteous and holy woman? Why or why not? Do people who don’t know me, those who perhaps only see me shopping or sitting in the dentist’s waiting room - do they see me as a righteous and holy woman? Do people see YOU as a righteous and holy woman??? If the answer is a definite no, it is time to carefully and prayerfully begin to change what you do, how you do it, and why, so that your love for God is clearly seen in everything from your outward appearance, to the attitude of your heart seen on your face. If the answer is maybe or sometimes, you too can carefully and prayerfully evaluate your testimony to see how you can reflect Christ even better. As far as the people who know you well, they will have seen you when you’re happy, but they’ve probably also seen you when you’ve been angry or upset. Did your happiness result in giving praise to God? Did your unhappiness result in expressing trust in God? What about other areas? Does how you spend your money show generosity in helping brothers and sisters in Christ, yet caution in not spending money on things you don’t truly need? What does what you do for “fun” say about you? What does what you do on Sundays and Wednesday nights say about what’s important to you? How does your appearance and choice of clothes demonstrate you’re a daughter of the King? These kind of questions can be asked in every area of life.
How about as far as strangers? What kinds of magazines do you pull of the shelf to read while waiting for the dentist? Does your body language show that you are a patient waiter? Do you show a bad attitude when it is time to pay? How about at restaurants? Are you too embarrassed to pray before you eat? Are you okay with sitting near the bar? Do you glare at other patrons who are a little too loud and unruly? Are you a poor testimony by being demanding with your waitress or cheating them out of a well-deserved tip? Living our lives as righteous and holy women is a fulltime job! It involves a lot of effort and a lot of prayer! BUT, this is the lifestyle that honors God and pleases Him, and it is the lifestyle that may well show someone that being a child of God is something they want too.
March 11, 2016
“Then they went to Capernaum. As soon as it was the Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were utterly amazed at His teaching, because He was teaching them like one with authority, and not like their scribes. All of a sudden, there was a man in their synagogue who had an unclean spirit! He screamed, “What do You want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know Who You are—the Holy One of God!” But Jesus rebuked him. “Be quiet,” He ordered, “and come out of him!” At this, the unclean spirit shook the man, cried out with a loud voice, and came out of him. All the people were so stunned that they kept saying to each other, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He tells even the unclean spirits what to do, and they obey Him!” At once His fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.” Mark 1:21-28 This incident occurred early in Jesus’ ministry, and the people who heard Him teach and saw the miracles He performed were astounded and even a bit confused. You may remember that prior to Gabriel coming to Zachariah first, then Mary next roughly thirty years earlier, the Israelites had not heard one word from God in four hundred years! They had, as a people, turned their backs on God, and as God warned them countless times, He left them to their own devices for a time. But now things are very, very different. Not only was “a” true prophet of God in their midst (demonstrated by His speaking truth in accordance with the Old Testament and His miracles –see Deut.18:15-22), but THE Prophet had come—the One promised in the Old Testament that would begin the process of saving Israel from outsiders so they could be an independent nation under God once again (though few understood that Jesus had come to earth that time to save them spiritually and it wouldn’t be for at least another two thousand years that He would come back to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem and rule the world).
The people were amazed at the authority with which Jesus taught God’s Word. It was entirely unlike what their scribes did . This is because the Jewish leadership had gotten into the habit of reading a portion of God’s Word (from the Law), but instead of talking about what GOD said, they then presented endless scenarios about how THEY thought it should be obeyed—and even how to get away with not obeying it! Jesus’ teaching was different in that He read God’s Word, then explained what GOD wanted—plainly and simply, no opinion needed. This can be an important reminder to us that we need to use great caution in our reading material and what we listen to over the internet and radio. We need to find preachers and teachers who are sharing GOD’S words and instructions, and not merely man’s opinion about it. Furthermore, our opinion isn't needed either. We simply need to read what God says He wants and do it. In this passage, though, I am especially intrigued with the reaction of the demon that Jesus cast out of the man—who was, incidentally, sitting among them IN the synagogue! The demon in the man said, “I know Who You are—the Holy One of God.” Isn’t that fascinating! We, the people God created to have extra close fellowship with Him, often refuse to acknowledge God or Who Jesus is, but the demons bound for Hell know and confess it out loud. Would that we would be more free to share the name of Jesus wherever we go, to the people we don’t know, and maybe even harder, to those we DO know. Jesus is the Holy One of God. His teaching is amazing and has genuine authority. Who have you told lately?
March 10, 2016
“Stop judging, so that you won’t be judged, because the way that you judge others will be the way that you will be judged, and you will be evaluated by the standard with which you evaluate others. “Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when the beam isin your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” “Never give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs. Otherwise, they will trample them with their feet and then turn around and attack you.” Matthew 7:1-6
“Stop judging, so that you won’t be judged” is a classic Bible verse that is often taken out of context and may be misunderstood. If we read the entire thought stated through verse 6, we find that there IS a right time and a right way to judge. Let’s look at the passage: The word for judging in verse 1 is a word that means judging with the point of being critical and condemning. It is the idea of being harsh and unreasonable—and there is a consequence for this kind of action! Verse 2 tells us that one day WE will be evaluated by the same standards we imposed on others. This is an important reminder about showing a little grace and understanding when considering our fellow believers. Verse 3-5 goes on to point out just how wrong our attitude can be. This is seen when we spend a lot of time looking around us with a critical eye, looking for things that seem “wrong” to us, BUT we never take the time to evaluate our OWN heart, attitude, and motives. It is likely that pride may be involved in this scenario. God wants us to first and foremost pay attention to our own walk with Him, then He may allow us, with humility and kindness, to help a brother or sister in Christ grow in some area.
Finally, clearly there ARE going to be times when our God honoring words and attempts at edification will be lost on others. There WILL be people who absolutely refuse to consider doing things God’s way. There will be people who have a hard heart and take the “holy” words of God and treat them with contempt and callousness. At some point we may need to leave them alone and trust God to work with them apart from our godly counsel. God gave us brothers and sisters in Christ so that we could help each other grow to become more like Christ and give God honor and glory in every part of our lives (Eph. 4:11-16). While it is true that we would all rather work with those who are learning, growing, and obeying, sometimes God points our attention to those who need a loving, but firm rebuke in some area. As long as our motive and manner are pleasing to God, this is a good task to take in hand. The godly goal of judging is to help each of us grow closer to each other AS we grow closer to God.
March 9, 2016
“After this, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, He finally became hungry. 3Then the tempter came. “Since You are the Son of God,” he said, “tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But He answered, “It is written, ‘One must not live on bread alone, but on every word coming out of the mouth of God.’” Then the Devil took Him to the Holy City and had Him stand on the highest point of the Temple. He told Jesus, “Since You are the Son of God, throw yourself down, because it is written, ‘God will put His angels in charge of You,’ and, ‘With their hands they will hold You up, so that You will never hit Your foot against a rock.’” Jesus responded to him, “It is also written, ‘You must not tempt the Lord your God.’” Once more the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, along with their splendor. He told Jesus, “I will give You all these things if You will bow down and worship me!” Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! Because it is written, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.’” So the Devil left Him, and angels came and began ministering to Him.” Matthew 4:1-11
Did you ever notice how the very first thing that happened to Jesus after He was baptized (anointed) to begin His work for God, was that He came under attack by Satan? Satan tried to persuade Him to take His eyes off God’s work for Him, and instead do things on His own independent timetable and method. Have you ever noticed how WE are often blindsided by a serious challenge, test, or temptation in what seems mere seconds after making some commitment to God? Although Satan is not omnipresent and he cannot hang around all of us to try to tempt us to sin, our own sin natures are usually all it takes to cast doubts and hesitations on carrying out our full decision for the Lord.
BUT, great news! Jesus left us this amazing example in Matthew 4:1-11! In it He showed how clinging to God’s Word and the strength of the Holy Spirit is all ANYONE needs to be victorious over temptation. The tools Jesus used are the same tools available to us! We just need to focus on what GOD said—and refuse to consider the lies of Satan and our sin nature. It would seem Jesus summed up this truth nicely in verse 10: “Go away, Satan! Because it is written, you must worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” (ANOTHER excellent memory verse!) You see, when it comes right down to it in life, we are either serving God or Satan. There are no gray areas in God’s sight, nor are there fences to sit on, or middle of the roads to hang out in. In fact, anytime we are not serving God, we are, by default, serving Satan. It’s that simple –and that important.
When you’re tempted—and everyone is multiple times every single day—concentrate on what God has said in His Word and make the conscious decision to obey that, and not anything different, any watered down version, any altered version—or anything not 100% God’s Word. At the same time, lean on the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer to say no to sin and self and yes to righteousness and holiness. It isn’t only a possibility, it is something we CAN do. God said so!
March 8, 2016
“ I am baptizing you with water as evidence of repentance, but the One Who is coming after me is stronger than I am, and I am not worthy to carry His sandals. It is He Who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand. He will clean up His threshing floor and gather His grain into the barn, but He will burn the chaff with inextinguishable fire.” Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to stop Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be this way for now, because this is the proper way for us to fulfill all righteousness.” At this, he permitted Him to be baptized. When Jesus had been baptized, He immediately came up out of the water. Suddenly, the heavens opened up for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him. Then a voice from heaven said, “This is My Son, Whom I love. I am pleased with Him!” Matthew 3:11-17
This is a pretty amazing passage because it is the official beginning of Jesus’ public ministry of preaching and teaching and telling people about preparing for His Millennial reign as King—as well as all of eternity. Things begin, though, with John the Baptist, now an adult and living in the Judean wilderness. John’s job, as you recall, was to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. The main way he was to do this was to remind the people in no uncertain terms that they had let their hearts get far away from obeying God as He commanded in the Law—and that they needed to repent and get right with Him immediately.
John is telling the people that getting baptized in the Jordan River was an outward action that showed what was in their heart. This message was to Jews who had trusted God’s promise of a coming Savior. We know this because repentance is a believer’s doctrine. Those who haven’t trusted in Christ as Savior are dead in their trespasses and sins—and dead people can’t do anything to please God—including repent. BUT, John points out, he is just the messenger. The REAL DEAL, the One the Jewish people had been waiting for since Abraham, the Messiah that God was sending to save them from their sins, was going to arrive imminently. And as a matter of fact, on the particular day in our passage, Jesus DID come! Thousands of years of waiting was about to be forever over. The Christ, the Messiah, had come! (By the way, the mention of Jesus baptizing in- not “with”- the Holy Spirit and fire is a reference to Pentecost and the birth of the church in Acts chapter 2.) John, of course, knew that he was born a sinner, and though he trusted in God’s promise that would be fulfilled in Jesus, he was uneasy being the one who baptized –or anointed—Jesus Christ, God’s Son, to fulfill all that was prophesied about Him. But Jesus, as He so often did when among believers, reassured John. He told him that this was God’s plan, and since this is what God wanted John to do, John should follow the plan. And John did! What followed had to be one of the most remarkable days EVER! The heavens opened, then for perhaps the first AND ONLY time, the Holy Spirit was seen in a body—the body of a dove—and those present could hear the voice of God, the Father!!! What did they hear? “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased.” Time for another of those thoughtful pauses from the Psalms!! Selah! And that, fellow daughter of the King, is yet ANOTHER marvelous verse to memorize and live by. God is pleased with the Son, so we should be too! We should spend our lives paying extremely close attention to all He said and did, as well as what His attitude and motives were. These are the things that are going to help US be well pleasing to the Father too. Oh, He already loves us—and He will never stop loving us completely and constantly, BUT just because He loves us, doesn’t mean we always please Him. A goal of living like Christ WILL please Him, though. This is so exciting, let’s get started right now!
March 7, 2016
“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah happened in this way. When His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, before they lived together she was discovered to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to disgrace her, decided to divorce her secretly. After he had thought about it, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” he said, “don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He is the One Who will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:18-21
You know, God doesn’t ever HAVE to explain anything to us. He tells us what to do and how to live, and our job is to do it—immediately, thoroughly, and with a heart of gratitude and joy. BUT, God DOES often give us reasons for what He wants us to do, He often spells out rewards that come of obedient living, He often shares some nifty-neato thing about what He is doing and why. I love that God took the time to fill Joseph in on what was going on with Mary. I wonder if God would have told him if Joseph weren’t really living fully for God? The point is, that God helped Joseph make the decision God wanted him to make, and Joseph obeyed quickly and completely (v.24-25). What a wonderful example for us to follow in our lives—whether or not we ever find out the why’s of God’s plan in this lifetime!
March 5, 2016
“Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! He has taken care of His people and has set them free. He has raised up a mighty Savior for us from the family of his servant David, just as He promised long ago through the mouth of His holy prophets that He would save us from our enemies and from the grip of all who hate us. He has shown mercy to our ancestors and remembered His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our ancestor Abraham. He granted us deliverance from our enemies’ grip so that we could serve Him without fear and be holy and righteous before Him all of our days.” Luke 1:67-75
Zachariah’s words differ from Mary’s in that hers were from the Psalms. Zachariah’s words were prophecy that he was able to give only after the Holy Spirit filled him and gave him the words to say. I’ve only included a portion of it. The entire statement is in Luke 1:67-79.
Zachariah’s focus (given to him by the Holy Spirit) was on how the coming of the Messiah would fulfill the promise God had given to the Israelites all the way back to Abraham, the first “Jew,” and really before that. No sooner had Adam and Eve sinned, than God stepped in and put into motion the plan of redemption—the plan Zachariah prophesied about, and the plan you and I have the privilege of being able to read about in our Bibles (and participate in!).
Again we see the Holy Spirit influencing someone to praise God the Father, not to just babble incoherently or do something else that has no real spiritual merit. The Holy Spirit wants us to honor God the Father and God the Son. He wants us to study Scripture so that He can use it in our lives to be more Christ-like. Remember yesterday when we mentioned memorizing Scripture? Well, did you notice ANOTHER great memory verse today? Verse 75 says, “And be holy and righteous before Him all of our days.” What a marvelous life-goal to post on our fridge, and on the corner of our computer monitor, and on our bathroom mirror, and to carry with us on a little card in our purse! Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, came so that we could be holy and righteous before Him all our days! Yahoo! Let’s get out there and do it!
March 4, 2016
“Then Mary said, “My soul praises the greatness of the Lord My spirit exults in God, my Savior, because He has looked favorably on His humble servant. From now on, all generations will call me blessed, because the Almighty has done great things for me. His name is holy.” Luke 1:46-49
Today’s Scripture is just a small portion of Mary’s song of praise. The entire song is found in Luke 1:46-55—a great read of strung-together truths from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, in particular. (This is, by the way, a GREAT source for our prayers, for our journal writing, for our encouragement to others, for our own edification and instruction, and for everything else in life.) Using Scripture to address every aspect of our lives is the right decision every time! I like to remember that Mary was probably a pretty young woman, perhaps even in her teens. Yet, she didn’t pause after Elizabeth’s words to dash and find her Old Testament scrolls - she knew all these verses and truths BY HEART! How many times have you been especially sad, or discouraged, or overwhelmed, or even joyful, and wished you could know the right thing to say to God? You can! Anyone can begin to memorize Scripture. God has promised that it won’t be wasted time, and we already know that God keeps His promises! Pick a verse today and get started. In fact, Luke 1:49 is a great one to begin with. God has done great things for YOU! Have you thanked Him lately? Have you told others about what He has done? God’s name—His character; all He is and does—is holy. This truth is exactly what we’re trying to get a grasp of in 2016 SO THAT it changes what we do. All the areas in which we used to live like the world, we can now work on living in a manner that is holy and set apart for God. Today, when you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that you need not feel discouraged, BECAUSE the Almighty has done great things for you—and He will KEEP doing them because He loves you completely and eternally. When you are pleased about something, remind yourself that you are able to rejoice BECAUSE the Almighty has done great things for you. You get the idea, now have some fun thinking of some examples on your own.
March 3, 2016
“Later on, Mary set out for a Judean city in the hill country. She went into Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby jumped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she loudly exclaimed, “How blessed are you among women, and how blessed is the Infant in your womb! Why should this happen to me, to have the mother of my Lord visit me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. How blessed is this woman who believed that what the Lord told her would be fulfilled!” Luke 1:39-45
Do you remember how we mentioned a few days ago that believers didn’t automatically have the Holy Spirit indwell them upon salvation before Pentecost; that the Holy Spirit came and went upon believers? Here is an incident of this happening. When Elizabeth welcomed Mary into her home, and when the baby Elizabeth was carrying jumped in her womb upon hearing Mary’s voice, Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit. But what came after? Our Pentecostal friends might expect some jumping and shouting, or perhaps a great discourse in an unintelligible language, but when Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit, what came out of her was joyous words of praise to God for insight on just Who Mary was carrying—plus pleasure about the fact that Mary opted to trust and obey God in her life (as seen in Luke 1:38) - even though Mary hadn’t yet shared her story!. Pretty cool! Did you know that one of the chief ministries (probably the chief ministry) of the Holy Spirit is to point people to Jesus Christ? Scripture seems to teach that the Holy Spirit doesn’t want attention on Himself, nor does He want to be prayed to, sung to, or made the focus. Instead, He wants people to worship Christ. He wants people to learn more about Jesus and to imitate Him. In fact, this is what He helps us with as we study the Bible and sit under the teaching of godly pastors and teachers.
We, too, can do as Elizabeth did—we can use the insight the Holy Spirit gives us through Scripture to praise God, to focus on Jesus Christ, and to live obediently to all He says.
March 2, 2016
Luke 1:30-37 “Then the angel told her, “Stop being afraid, Mary, because you have found favor with God. 31 Listen! You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” 34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this happen, since I have not had relations with a man?” 35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come over you, and the power of the Most High will surround you. Therefore, the child will be holy and will be called the Son of God. 36 And listen! Elizabeth, your relative, has herself conceived a son in her old age, this woman who was rumored to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 Nothing is impossible with respect to any of God’s promises.”
ANOTHER amazing passage from Scripture about another special Baby announcement! This one, of course, is even MORE amazing, because in one short message from the angel, Gabriel, all of history changed forever! Nothing would ever be the same again! GOD was going to dwell on earth WITH MAN! I hope we never, ever get tired of remembering this most incredible news! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Creator and Sustainer of every last particle of life, chose to forever live in a human body. He chose to sacrifice the perfect unity of the Godhead for a time, He chose to give up the independent use of His will, and instead live to do His Father’s will totally and without exception. And He did it all for YOU. He did it all for ME. This is a great time for one of those musical pauses we find in the Psalms! Selah! We NEED to stop every single day to thank God for the sacrifice of His Son and for the gifts He gave and continues to give on our behalf. Our word “holy” is found in the reference to the Holy Spirit, Who would divinely enable Mary to get pregnant apart from the human way to do it. This method was necessary so that Jesus Christ would not carry the sin nature that all other human beings are born with. Because of that, and because Jesus never stopped being 100% God, even though He did not live on earth by using His own powers as deity, Jesus was and will always be, holy. And sisters, WE can be holy as He is holy! His sacrifice on our behalf not only took away our guilt completely, but it GAVE US His righteousness! This is what justification is all about. And because of justification, we can now say no to sin and yes to living a life that is holy, blameless, sanctified, and free from sin. Don’t you love verse 37? I like it in the translation given above: “Nothing is impossible with respect to any of God’s promises,” and dear one, God has promised that we are no longer shackled to sin and we are free to pursue righteousness and holiness. Are you clinging to the truth of this?
March 1, 2016
Luke 1:13-17 “But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
Wow. There are birth announcements—and there are BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENTS! I’m fairly sure that we all know the details of John the Baptist’s birth (but if you don’t, read it in Luke 1), but you gotta admit, this is one for the books (or THE BOOK! Get it???). So, skipping the amazing testimony of Zechariah and Elizabeth (as wonderful as it is to see folks in their latter years STILL living faithfully for God!), let’s look at what the angel told Zechariah about John. John’s entire life was to be unique and separate—holy! -John’s parents will have joy and gladness upon his birth. -Many people, in fact, will rejoice with them. -FOR John will be great before the Lord (God was going to use him in mighty ways and he would live obediently before God). -He was not to drink wine or strong drink, indicating that he was set apart for God’s special purpose. -He would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. (Now this one is especially amazing! John might well be totally unique in this distinction. Before Pentecost when the fledgling church was begun, accompanied by the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in all believers, the Holy Spirit didn’t indwell anyone all the time. He would come and go “upon” certain people. This, of course, makes US far more answerable to God for our sins. Not only do we have the indwelling Spirit pointing out our sin and helping us change, we have the completed Word of God to instruct us and guide us!) -John’s role would be to turn many of the Israelites back to God. -He would be given special power, similar to one of Israel’s most famous prophets, Elijah. -He would prepare the way for the Lord to appear! You know, WE also have the job of preparing the way of the Lord - that is, His coming to rapture believers up to heaven to be with Him, as well as His second coming to rule and reign in Jerusalem for the Millennium. We can—and should be—telling others about what Jesus did for us and for them, and we should be showing them what a new life in Christ looks like by how we act, react, and live our lives. John had a pretty responsible job, but so do we. We, too, can be great before the Lord by living faithfully according to His Word.