A New Year … A New Thing…

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19

This is what the Lord says— He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Happy New Year! Our Verse of the Day is a great one to start not only the New Year … but the new vision of ministry for our community. Look at what the Lord declares through His prophet, Isaiah, to us:

Speaking to the descendants of Israel (and to us as well), the Almighty God who worked miraculous signs and wonders among the people to free them from slavery in Egypt, declares: “Forget about those former things … and do not dwell upon the past.” What? God … the Great Deliverer … who saved His chosen people is telling their descendants to give those incredible deeds no further thought? But, why? The “stories” of God’s power … His presence … His protection … His provision … should be remembered, right? They should be “seared” into our collective memory. They should be revisited and recounted as a memorial. God spoke through Moses and said to the people: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Cf. Deuteronomy 4:9) And He spoke through King David to admonish the people: “My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old — things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done.” (Cf. Psalm 78:1-4)

Yet, centuries later, God spoke through Isaiah and said, “Forget the former things and do not dwell upon the past.” I said to myself, “There has to be something I’m missing here. So, I decided to look at the passage in its surrounding context….”

Isaiah 43:1-21 (NIV)

1 But now, this is what the Lord says— He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Sheba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” 8 Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. 9 All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.” 10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I Am He. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am He. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” 14 This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “For your sake I will send to Babylon and bring down as fugitives all the Babylonians, in the ships in which they took pride. 15 I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.” 16 This is what the Lord says—He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, 17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.

Oh, I see the broader lesson now … because the context is the Babylonian Captivity that God brought upon His people because of their rebellion, sin, and disobedience! They had broken His covenant with them; and so, they were taken from the land of their inheritance … from the city of Jerusalem … from the temple of God’s presence. The people knew God! They knew His power! They knew His holiness! They knew His statutes and ordinances! They knew His great love and outstretched arm bidding them to return to Him! Yet, despite the faithfulness of God, they refused to worship Him and keep covenant with Him. God allowed them to go into captivity for their sin and judgment for their unbelief. Still, God, in His unfailing love, announces that His former covenant … manifested through the Law and commandments and sacrificial practices … would soon fade away. Behold, He is doing a new thing! He is forming a new covenant … manifested through His Spirit! And this announcement was affirmed through the Prophet Jeremiah as well:

Jeremiah 31:23-34 (NIV)

23 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “When I bring them back from captivity, the people in the land of Judah and in its towns will once again use these words: ‘The Lord bless you, you prosperous city, you sacred mountain.’ 24 People will live together in Judah and all its towns—farmers and those who move about with their flocks. 25 I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” 26 At this I awoke and looked around. My sleep had been pleasant to me. 27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ 30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge. 31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

What are the former things to forget? What is past that we should not dwell upon? I think, perhaps, it is the captivity that sin brought into our lives. And I think the captivity experience served a greater spiritual purpose to bring us closer to God. It warned of judgment and consequences. It revealed our need for deliverance and freedom from the darkness and oppression of sin. Jeremiah 31:3 recalls, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” And Paul affirms this same truth in Romans 2:2-4: “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So, when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on others and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

Yes, the lovingkindness of God brings us to the realization that He does not want our sin, rebellion, or disobedience to rule over us or to imprison us so that we are separated from His presence. We were powerless to escape our captivity! Why? Because we remembered the former things … our worthless deeds … our trespasses … our rebellion and ungodliness. In self-condemnation, under the Law, we were powerless to be judged righteous before a Holy God! We were imprisoned by the thoughts of wrath held in reserve for those oppose God. But God said, “I will reveal a better plan … and unfold My plan of redemption!” It is His love … His mercies … His kindness … His New Covenant … that will prevail:

Romans 5:6-11 (NIV)

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 8:1-10 (NIV)

1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh (sinful nature), God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

Please forgive my long-windedness! If you have read this far, “God Bless You!” I felt like I needed to establish a foundation for the application … an application for such a time as this … for the year of Healing and Deliverance! To me, this passage is really about those who have left God … who have wandered … who have left home … who have squandered their inheritance. God is NOT telling the wayward or the lost to forget about His power … His presence … His protection … His provision over their life … or the lovingkindness that He has shown them; on the contrary, He is saying forget the former things that sent you into captivity. Understand that the Old Covenant was powerless because it was weakened by your flesh. “See, I am doing a new thing,” declares the Lord. I am making a way for you through the wilderness you have traveled! I am bringing you water in a dry and thirsty land! Come to Me all you who are burdened with your past … your guilt and shame. Forget it! I will give you rest for your soul. “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Cf. Hosea 6:6) Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Cf. John 8:36) And Paul affirmed: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

O Lord, how I pray that your servants will diligently go out into the streets, alleys, roads, and country lanes to share Your word of hope and encouragement … your forgiveness and reconciliation … your power of healing and deliverance … the freedom of your everlasting covenant of love. Only through you, Jesus, can we receive the Holy Spirit that does not make us slaves to fear again … the Spirit that brings about our adoption to sonship so that we can in truth become children of God who cry out, “Abba!” “Father!” Oh, I pray Lord Jesus, that your people would be vessels of your kindness … leading others to repentance … so that whosoever is captive will come to You and find rest for their souls. Lord, may they hear Your voice saying: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland! Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

I Will Come Back…

John 14:1-3 (NIV)

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

We have been celebrating the First Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ; and now our Verse of the Day leading us and stirring our hearts toward His Second Coming! What a great affirmation of the hope to prepare our hearts for the New Year! It is the promise of the Lord Jesus to prepare a place for us … reserved in heaven … and then return to “take” us to be with Him. Notice His affirmative statement: “I will come back and take you….” This is not some empty promise. It is intentional in every aspect. We do not know when that day or hour will come. (Cf. Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32) But we do know for certain that it will happen! For “God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? (Cf. Numbers 23:19)

Jesus said He is going to His Father’s House to prepare a place for us there. That it an interesting statement in itself.  What does Jesus intend to prepare?  Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. (Cf. John 1:3) For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Cf. Colossians 1:16) Yet, the One who created all things said He needs to go and prepare a place for us BEFORE He returns to “take” us there. Fascinating! The possibilities of what Jesus is doing … of what He is preparing … are beyond the imagination. Yet, what we do know is that He made a promise to come back … to return and to take us to where He dwells so that we can be with Him. As Gabriel, the angelic messenger declared to Mary: “No word from God will ever fail.” (Cf. Luke 1:37)

I believe the Second Coming of Jesus is what should be capturing our hearts now. His promised return is what should be motivating our own preparation and sanctification for that moment. His declaration here should be enough to convince our hearts – IT WILL HAPPEN! And I believe the Apostle Paul was quite confident when he wrote: “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (Cf. Corinthians 15:50-53)

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Faith does not doubt or fear. Faith is confidence in what we hope for, the assurance of what we do not see. (Cf. Hebrews 11:1) And He foretold us signs that would appear as the day approaches. He said, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Cf. Luke 21:28) The NKJV translates it – “look up and lift your heads….” I like that imagery because it reminds me some other passages of Scripture:

Acts 1:6-11 (NIV)

6 Then they gathered around Jesus and asked Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”

Revelation 1:7-8 (NIV)

7 “Look, He is coming with the clouds,” (Cf. Daniel 7:13) and “every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of Him.” (Cf. Zechariah 12:10) So shall it be! Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Yes, there is a hope! There is a promise! Jesus said, that He would come and take us to be where He is … to a new place … to an inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven! And we would be wise to lift our heads every day in anticipation of His coming. Yes, this is a time for us to deeply consider the reality of His Second Coming!  So, I will close with the Epilogue of The Revelation for us:

Revelation 22:12-20 (NIV)

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16 I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” 17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. 18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. 20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus….

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Come To Me and Rest…

Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

As the New Year approaches … a year declared to be a time for deliverance and healing, I believe our Verse of the Day aligns our thoughts with this mission of the Church.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Cf. Matthew 11:28-30) Yes, what every soul needs the most is to rest in Jesus!  He will lift the burdens of life from our shoulders. His yoke is easy; and Jesus will exert the greater strength when pulling that wearisome load with you.  You do not have to carry the burdens of life alone….  He is Healer! He is Deliverer! He is Redemption! He is Salvation! He is Restoration! He is Peace! He is Resurrection! He is Rest!  Indeed, the true compassion and love of God for you and I will not be found anywhere else other than Jesus!

Is this not the most perfect verse for the Church to summon those who have grown tired, burdened, and weary? Is that not the state of the unbeliever? Is that not the state of every prodigal? Herein lies the message of the Church to a lost world … the message we should declare to everyone who has wandered … to every lost and scattered sheep! Our Great Shepherd … the Good Shepherd … is calling His sheep to come home. Jesus says to each one: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest….

This brought to mind the Prophet Isaiah and his prophetic invitation to reconciliation with God:

Isaiah 55:1-4 (NIV)

1 Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. 4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.

And this is the message Isaiah foretold us to take to the unbeliever, the lost, and the wayward:

Isaiah 55:6-11 (NIV)

6 Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is My Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

This is the word that God has sent for us to declare to those who are burdened and wearied and captive to thoughts of futility … to thoughts of unworthiness … to overwhelming thoughts of guilt and shame. God declares that His thoughts are not those thoughts. God declares He will have mercy on them … and will freely pardon! God declares His ability to overcome our inability. And His Word will not return void of accomplishment. Behold, we ourselves are fruit of the Gospel! For Isaiah foretold this great hope of healing:

Isaiah 57:15-19 (NIV)

For this is what the high and exalted One says— He who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. 16 I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me— the very people I have created. 17 I was enraged by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways. 18 I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners, 19 creating praise on their lips. Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”

God knows all. There is nothing hidden from His sight! God has seen their ways, but He will heal them. He saw us and healed us! The Lord abides with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit. He will revive! He will restore! Yes, He will heal the brokenness in each of us! He will remove the deception and disillusion of sin! He will provide salvation! He will give eternal life! All these benefits – all these blessings are found in Christ Jesus! (Cf. Psalm 103) These are the messages of hope we must speak to those who are lost, isolated, and in need of His unfailing love….

It all starts with an invitation! Jesus said, “Come!” He was sent to seek and to save that which was lost. That is you and me. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23) It is the open invitation God has ordained for us to share with the poor in spirit … the broken-hearted … the spiritually blind … and the weak in faith. We are commanded to go out into the streets, alleys, roads, and country lanes to find the wayward … the lost and scattered sheep who are weary and burdened and seeking rest for their souls. There is no rest apart from Jesus. There is no reconciliation except through Him. This is the appointed message we need to share. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (Cf. John 3:16-18)

So, I pray that we will be faithful in our resolve and relentless in our mission to bring hope to those who are without hope. I pray that as healing and deliverance become our focus for the coming year, we will discipline ourselves to be studying the Word of God … growing in the knowledge of His will. Indeed, His will is for us to rest in the finished work that Jesus accomplished on the cross for us. Oh, may we help others to experience the rest that we enjoy as believers…. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

I AM the Gate…

John 10:7-10 (NIV)

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

As we continue to look at the “I AM” claims of Jesus, our Verse of the Day brings another focus of His identity for us to consider during this season of Advent.  Jesus declared that He is the GATE for God’s people (sheep); and I believe the purpose is to signify that He is the “entry point” or “opening” for us to enter to the field of true life … eternal life.  Some translations use the word “door” in place of “gate” in the verse, but either word evokes the concept that He is the place of “entrance” that God has provided for us to receive abundant life.

When Jesus foretold His disciples that He would soon be leaving this world, He affirmed to them, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas questioned Jesus and said to Him, “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered him and said, “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Cf. John 14:4-6) So even in this context, Jesus continued to affirm that He is the entrance, door, gate, or way to enter into the place that He has prepared for those who love Him….

I just love these parables … these spiritual metaphors that Jesus used to communicate His divine identity to the people. The imagery is easily understood and relatable.  I know this scene firsthand as my grandfather raised sheep on his farm; and I can remember him calling them from the hillside to gather them and lead them through a gate into another pasture or to the barn.  Indeed, they knew the sound of his voice.  My presence would sometimes startle them, but they would come to my grandfather and follow him because they knew him.  I often think about those youthful days whenever I read this passage of scripture because it resonates with my experiences on the farm….

Again, as we meditate on Jesus during this season of Advent, it is my prayer that His “I AM” claims will fully reveal to us WHO was born in Bethlehem that calm, silent night. The Son of God … the Word of God … became flesh and made His dwelling among us. He was sent by the Father to be the supreme witness of His Being … to reveal His Identity … and to bring us to faith in the GREAT I AM! Indeed, Jesus is everything He claimed to be, and all we need to do is believe Him.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being…. ~ Hebrews 1:3

I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life…

John 14:6 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Our Verse of the Day provides another “I AM” claim of Jesus.  And, perhaps, this one is the most controversial for our culture given the “exclusive” content and tone – Jesus IS the only path to the one true God!  This same TRUTH is reflected in all of the other I AM statements we have studied the past few days. In our world, there continues to be division among people of different religions and faiths.  Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and the myriad of other belief systems all claim to be enlightened and serve to connect individuals with their God or gods.  And this division is not to be unexpected. Consider what Jesus taught His disciples:

Matthew 10:34-39 (NIV)

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ (Citing Micah 7:6) 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Luke 12:51-53 (NIV)

51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

What is the division that Jesus came to accomplish?  Is it not the separation between light and darkness … truth and falsehood … believer and unbeliever … sheep and goats? In our Verse of the Day, Jesus declared exclusivity! Read it again. Jesus claimed, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And that is the line drawn in the sand!  A person either places their faith in Jesus and the atonement He offered on their behalf, or they have rejected the will of the Father.  Jesus said that He is the only way to receive reconciliation with the Father … to receive salvation.  As Peter preached, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, “Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. (Citing Psalm 118:22) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Cf. Acts 4:11-12)

This is why we celebrate the birth of Jesus and His coming into the world.  This is why we share the Good News … the Gospel of Christ Jesus … that He was SENT by the Father.  This is also why Christians are maligned because of their perceived “narrow-minded” conviction.  Christians are not seen as being inclusive of other beliefs and faiths … but neither was Jesus! Jesus declared, “I and the Father are one.” (Cf. John 10:30) He told Phillip and the disciples, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Cf. John 14:9) And, “If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. (Cf. John 15:24) No, according to Jesus, a person cannot enter into fellowship with God the Father except through Him … through the mediation of the New Covenant in His blood as a covering of atonement for our transgressions and sin.  The holiness of God requires it. And I believe Jesus’ resurrection confirms the veracity of His exclusive claim; and the Holy Spirit affirms it as well. (Cf. John 15:26)

So, what does this mean? What is the application?  Well, believers are in the world for the purpose of testifying the truth and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is clear we are commissioned and empowered as believers to do so. But we are to be wise in the way we act toward unbelievers; making the most of every opportunity … letting our conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone. (Cf. Colossians 4:5-6) Yes, we are to speak the truth in love … so as to grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Cf. Ephesian 4:15) At the end of the day, all we can do is share the truth with others.  Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Cf. Romans 10:17) And this will continue to be a tremendous spiritual battle because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4)

Even though Jesus said that He came to bring division … to separate believers from unbelievers … He did teach and does expect unity among believers. Consider what Jesus prayed:

John 17:14-23 (NIV)

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your Word is Truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Our unity, our love for one another as we have been loved, is essential to the message we proclaim to the world.  The purpose is for the world to know that God the Father sent Jesus His Son into the world … to rescue, redeem, reconcile, restore, and resurrect the souls of people. He came to give us the light of life … true life … abundant life … eternal life.  And so, I pray we will be faithful stewards of His Word and gift of faith through grace.  I pray that we will be ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His appeal through us. Yes, let us implore others on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20) Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

I AM the Resurrection…

John 11:25 (NIV)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die…

Most of us are familiar with the story that underlies our Verse of the Day. The circumstance is Jesus raising (resurrecting) his friend Lazarus from death. But before this miraculous event, Jesus has a conversation with Martha, a sister of Lazarus, where He discloses another “I AM” claim regarding His identity.  Let’s read the passage for context:

John 11:11-27; 38-44 (NIV)

11 After Jesus had said this, He went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17 On His arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. 21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” He said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Who has ever witnessed a person who was dead for four days being brought back to life? It is unthinkable … incomprehensible! And yet, this is the eyewitness account John has declared to us. Lazarus was restored to life in front of a crowd of people. The unbelievable happened right in front of their eyes. Can you imagine? What would you or I have thought in that moment? Would we have bowed down at Jesus’ feet and worshipped Him on the spot? Would we conclude in our hearts and minds that God sent Him? Should our reaction be any different when we see the supernatural occur before our eyes even now in our generation?  What did Jesus tell Martha? He said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?

And equally unimaginable is the response of the religious rulers upon hearing of this supernatural power of God being exercised through Jesus. John 11:53 bluntly states: “They plotted to kill Him.” Seriously? And their rationale? “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (Cf. John 11:47-48) Really? They were more concerned about preserving their religious tradition and their personal glory than experiencing the power and love of God in their lives and His glory?

Yet, I have seen this same rationale … this same phenomenon in the Church today. I see the manifestations and work of the Holy Spirit being suppressed by many of the religious leaders within the modern Church … especially here in America. There are some who assert that the signs of the Holy Spirit and supernatural works ended with the Apostles. Yet, how can that be? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Cf. Hebrews 13:8) Jesus is still performing miracles before our very eyes. Jesus is still raising the dead to new life. He is still healing the sick, comforting the broken hearted, and setting the captive free. There are thousands upon thousands of testimonies to these wonders throughout the world!

Just as the Father sent Jesus into the world so that we might believe in Him; the Holy Spirit was sent in His Name to indwell believers so that we might be empowered to continue His work and to bring glory to the Father. Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus said to His disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Cf. Acts 1:8) Paul affirmed: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-disciple.” (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7) Jesus declared, “Abide in me, as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must abide in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Cf. John 15:4-5) And Paul affirmed, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Cf. Romans 8:9b)

Oh, how I pray in these last days that the Church will awaken to these truths! Jesus Christ is risen! He is seated at the right hand of God! (Cf. Luke 22:69; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1) Indeed, our Lord Jesus gave His disciples power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Cf. Luke 9:1-2) After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go. And Jesus said: “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects Him who sent me.” The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Cf. Luke 10:1; 16-20)

Some of the ancient manuscripts have this ending passage from the Gospel of Mark:

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. (Cf. Mark 16:15-20)

Well, I will close with the same question that Jesus asked Martha. “Do you believe this?” Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that Jesus continues to perform His supernatural work today so that people will believe the Father who sent Him?  I am convinced that He still does! My own life is a testimony of the One called me out of darkness into light … who performed miracles of deliverance, healing, and salvation within me. Yes, let us celebrate and rejoice in the author and the redeemer of life. “I AM the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Cf. Revelation 1:8)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

I AM The Good Shepherd…

John 10:14-15 (NIV)

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Related to the “I AM” claim of Jesus we studied yesterday; our Verse of the Day develops the parable even further.  Jesus first declared Himself to be the point of entrance (gate) into the good pasture (heaven) for the sheep; and now He claims to be the Good Shepherd who leads the sheep into the pasture. In addition, we see another figure in the story, the Gatekeeper, who opens the pasture gate for the Good Shepherd and His sheep.  Thus, again, we understand that it is the Father who ordained and sent Jesus to be both shepherd (the way) and gate (the truth) into the pasture (the life). It is an exclusive claim! No one can come to the Father (gatekeeper) except through Jesus (the gate) … as the Good Shepherd leading the Way into eternal life. (Cf. John 14:6) To me, the parallels of these pictorial teachings are quite remarkable!

John 10:11-18 (NIV)

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

The concept of God as the Shepherd of Israel can be traced back to Genesis 48:15-16 when Israel (formerly Jacob) was bestowing his blessing upon Joseph and his two grandsons: “Then Israel blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm —may He bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth.” The role of Shepherd was applied to the leaders of Israel as a nation … with King Saul and then David after him. The Lord said to David, “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.” (Cf. 2 Samuel 5:2; 1 Chronicles 11:2)

Yet, David, would declare like his forefather Israel: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall want for nothing.” (Cf. Psalm 23:1) And then we are introduced to the priests, prophets, elders, and teachers of the law appointed as shepherds (spiritual leaders) over the Jewish people. As Jeremiah prophesied: “Then I (the Lord) will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Cf. Jeremiah 3:15) But Jeremiah would soon pronounce woes upon the shepherds of Israel; and this prophecy would not be wholly fulfilled until the arrival of the righteous Branch … King Jesus … The Lord Our Righteous Savior! (Cf. Jeremiah 23:1-7)

I want to insert here some excerpts from Ezekiel 34 which prophesied the identity and role of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  His inspired words were similar to those of Jeremiah

1The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?

“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

And so, we see this pattern of spiritual leadership being attached to shepherds who are ordained by God to oversee the spiritual well-being of the sheep (people). They are to be guides as well as protectors of the flocks assigned to them by God.  As Jesus asserted: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. Unlike other shepherds, Jesus demonstrated His love, care, and concern for the sheep.  He knew them and called them by name! And Jesus passionately loved them … willing to protect them from those who would ravage them … to give His life for them as the Father had commanded Him to do. Indeed, Jesus is that Great Shepherd sent from heaven to seek and to save those who are lost and return them to the Father…. (Cf. 1 Peter 2:25)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. ~ Hebrews 13:20-21

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the rulers of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be Shepherd over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” ~ Micah 5:2

I AM the Bread of Life…

John 6:35 (NIV)

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

As I read our Verse of the Day I thought about “fullness”. I pondered the metaphor Jesus used here: “bread of life”. What did He mean? In the physical, bread represents food … life sustaining nourishment for our bodies. Without bread (food) we would perish. The same principle would apply for water. Without a continuous supply of water, we would perish as well. And so, we find in this passage, the spiritual application that Jesus wanted to bring to our attention. Without spiritual food and drink, our souls cannot be sustained. And that spiritual bread and water is Jesus Himself! Let’s look at the entire context in which Jesus uses this “I AM” statement to declare His identity to the world:

John 6:25-65 (NIV)

25 When they found Him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.” 28 Then they asked Him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” 30 So they asked Him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” 43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ (Quoting Isaiah 54:13) Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from Him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of His disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61 Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where He was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray Him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

Upon reflection, we see a deep spiritual truth being taught here. Jesus connects our life-sustaining physical needs with our life-preserving spiritual needs. In essence, Jesus indicates that we have no true life within us apart from Him. Unless we are consumed and filled with Him, we will ultimately wither and have no fullness of life. Jesus is our life-empowering source – both for spiritual life as well as physical life. Jesus proclaimed Himself to be “the bread that comes down from heaven.” This bread gives true life! It is all-sustaining and gives us power for life! And this bread is the Word of God … the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us! He spoke the very words given to Him by God the Father … and those words lead to eternal life. Jesus bids us: come to His table … you shall be satisfied and thirst no more!

I believe if we want to have fullness in our lives, we must remain in the source of fullness. If we never want to hunger or thirst for true life, we must come to Jesus and remain in Him. Jesus used another “I AM” metaphor to describe our need to abide in Him. He said, “I AM the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Cf. John 15:5) Indeed, that is the message for us today. Jesus wants us to know that He alone is our fullness … our sustainer of life … both physical and spiritual. Jesus wants us to feed on Him daily so that we have all we need to enjoy true life as He designed it for us. May His name be ever praised … may the fruit of our lives ever bring Him glory! Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Luke 4:1-4 (NIV)

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (tested) by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. 3 The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

Deuteronomy 8:1-3 (NIV)

Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

The Word Became Flesh…

John 1:1-2, 14 (NIV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I love the Christmas Story as shared in the Synoptic Gospels – (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). They provide great detail of the “human” story of Jesus … the ancestral history and genealogy … the people, places, and circumstances leading up to His birth … the visiting angels … the fulfillment of prophecies … and so much more. It is a fascinating story and so easy to let your mind wander through the images of what it might have been like to have lived in the time of Jesus’ birth. And I think we all need to know this historical story. It brings a relational aspect to Jesus as the Son of Man. His human story is much like our own. A human birth … a mother and a father … a family. He encountered the same experiences and challenges of human maturation. And Jesus navigated human existence in an unprecedented manner … unlike any other person:

Hebrews 2:14-18 (NIV)

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Indeed, we can see and understand Jesus as one of us … a human … a Son of Man … in three Gospel accounts. But the Apostle John begins his Gospel record from a different point of view – which brings a profound perspective of Jesus’ entrance into humanity that we need to consider as well. Our Verse of the Day unveils the eternal origin of His divine nature as Son of God. God Himself took on flesh and blood … to reveal Himself in an intelligible way to His human creations. I think He did so to remove the mystery of His Being and to restore the relational separation between us. Through His Son, God reconciled the world to Himself (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19) and that is the greatest story of all! Witnessing the glory of Jesus, John understood something far deeper about Jesus … an intimate knowledge of His grace and truth … the purpose for which He was sent into the world … a world He created though the world did not recognize Him. (Cf. John 1:10)

There are other verses we have studied in the past that comes to mind, and I think they relate to the declaration John made concerning Jesus as the “Word” of God. Jesus became the living Word of God when He dwelt among us. Jesus spoke what the Father gave Him to say and He shared it with us. (Cf. John 8:28; 8:38; 12:50) Moreover, Jesus “fulfilled” the Word of God spoken to the Prophets. (Cf. Matthew 5:17) Perhaps this is why it was written: “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven.” (Cf. Psalm 119:89)

Oh, how we need to understand Jesus is both the Son of Man and Son of God. For in both aspects of His nature – His is, indeed, the eternal, living Word of God! He came the first Advent as a baby and lived a perfect human life. And He experienced death as a human in the most unconscionable way. But, Praise God! Jesus is the resurrection and the life! (Cf. John 11:25) And He has promised to return (His Second Advent) to take us to be with Him (Cf. John 14:3) and to bring salvation to fulfillment:

Hebrews 9:24-28 (NIV)

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did He enter heaven to offer Himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

So, during this Season of Advent – I pray we will continue to remember not only the birth of Jesus, but His triumphant life that has brought us reconciliation and salvation! And let us ever keep the hope of His return … His Second Coming in our hearts so that we might live worthy of Him and be prepared when He comes. Even so, come Lord Jesus! (Cf. Revelation 22:20)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Remember His Atonement…

Isaiah 1:18 (NIV)

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

As I read our Verse of the Day, the thought of ATONEMENT came to mind. Yes, its message prophesies a promise from the Lord we need to remember … a message we desperately need to hear … the gracious promise of forgiveness! And the Father has given us this assurance: Forgiveness has been granted to us through the atoning sacrifice of His One and Only Son upon the cross! So, yes, I want us to spend some time in remembrance of His Mercy … His Sacrifice … His Love … His Forgiveness … His Atonement for the redemption of our lives.

I think of King David who understood the mercies of God when he declared: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. (Cf. Psalm 103:8-14)

Indeed, I am reminded of all the prophets who foretold this work of God … His desire to redeem our hearts … His plan of reconciliation. And centuries later, as eyewitnesses of His majesty and glory … His life, death, and resurrection, the Apostles confirmed and testified of the fulfillment of this Good News in Christ Jesus. I think of Romans 5:8 and its affirmation: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And I think of 1 John 4:10 which proclaims: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Thus, we can see that the mercy of God and the love of God are inseparable in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus! His blood was poured out for us, and His once-for-all sacrifice was all-sufficient to obtain eternal atonement for us! Hallelujah!

The inspired writer of Hebrews articulated:

Hebrews 10:11-18 (New Living Translation)

11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest (Jesus) offered Himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins for all time. Then He sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 13 There He waits until His enemies are humbled (subdued) and made a footstool under His feet. 14 For by that one offering He forever made perfect those who are being made holy. 15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For He says,16 “This is the New Covenant I will make with my people after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (Quoting Jeremiah 31:33) 17 Then He says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” (Quoting Jeremiah 31:34) 18 And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

While there is no more sacrifice to be offered for sin, we sometimes fail. In spite of great intention and personal effort to be obedient, we sometimes entertain temptation, engage in sinful behavior, and fall short of the glory of God. (Cf. Romans 3:23) This is an especially grievous issue for those who belong to Christ Jesus and have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires … for those who strive to live by the Spirit and endeavor to keep in step with the Spirit. (Cf. Galatians 5:24-25) As the inspired writer of Hebrews admonished: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Cf. Hebrews 10:26-29)

Oh, how I thank God for His mercy and forgiveness when I fall short!

1 John 1:5-10 (NIV)

5 This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His Word is not in us.

John 3:19-21 (NIV)

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

In these passages, the Apostle John reveals to us the reasons why confession of our sin is required. The light of God’s Word causes us to recognize our trespasses, feel conviction, and respond in repentance. He asserted: “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light!” Why? Because we understand that His light exposes us! We can no longer deceive ourselves to believe that our sins and trespasses can be hidden. Though physical darkness removes the ability of anyone to see, even darkness is as light before God. (Cf. Psalm 139:12) He is the God who sees us. (Cf. Genesis 16:13) King David said, “The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on His heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; His eyes examine them.” (Cf. Psalm 11:4) Thus, we cannot walk in darkness or deliberately continue to sin and then claim to live by the truth. The truth reminds us that what we have done has been done in the sight of God. His Holiness has been offended. His love and mercy have been taken for granted. His heart has been wounded. His Spirit prompts us to confess and agree with God that His judgment of all sin is righteous and just. (Cf. Psalm 51:4; Romans 3:4)

His Word reminds us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness! We must walk in the Light because Jesus is the Light. We must live by the Truth because Jesus is the Truth! And if we ever stumble in darkness … we who live by the truth are compelled to come into the light. As the inspired writer penned: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Cf. Hebrews 4:16)

A Final Thought:

If you ever need a good example of how to sincerely confess your sin, I would encourage you to read the full confession of David found in Psalm 51.

Father God, we thank you for your precious gift of forgiveness! We worship you, Sovereign Lord, for your merciful atonement of our trespasses and iniquities! Though our sins are like scarlet, you have made them as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, you have made them like wool. The blood of your Son, Jesus, has cleansed us from ALL our sins and unrighteousness! In view of your great mercies, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices … holy and pleasing to you … for this is our true and proper worship! (Cf. Romans 12:1) Through Jesus, we offer you a continual sacrifice of praise … the fruit of lips that openly profess His Name! In humble gratitude, we will do good and share with those in need – for these are the sacrifices that please you! (Cf. Hebrews 13:15-16) Yes, may we love as you have loved us … and forgive as you have forgiven us. In the powerful name of Yeshua our Messiah, I pray! Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!