(**denotes very visual devotion)
John 1:1 - The Word of God
John 3:16 - God's Love
John 3:17 - Bloom and Be Beautiful
John 3:19 - Darkness
John 4:34 - My Food
John 6:29 - Work
John 7:24 - Judging Right Judgment
***John 8:36 - Free Indeed
John 10:14 - Knowing the Good Shepherd
**John 10:27 - Hearing God's Voice
John 12:32 - Lifted Up
John 13:6 - Learning to Submit
John 13:35 - Love One Another
John 14:2 - Going Home (Holy Day Lesson - Feast of Tabernacles)
John 14:15 - Obedience and Love
John 14:27 - Peace
John 14:27 - Prince of Peace (Holy Day Lesson - Trumpets)
John 15:1 - The True Vine and Vinedresser
John 15:11 - Joy Unspeakable (Holy Day Lesson - Atonement)
** John 15:11 - Be Joyful
John 16:1 - Falling Away
John 16:31 - Believe!
**John 16:33 - What Floats Your Boat?
John 17:3 - Eternal Life
John 17:15 - Rescued by Our Father
John 19:37 - Pierced for Us
The Word of God
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1
Sticks and stone may break my bones,
but words can never hurt me.
I don’t know what idiot came up with this phrase, but it’s not true. Words can do incredible damage, more lasting to who you are as a person than a broken bone! Words are powerful. Think of Hawk Nelson’s song, “Words:”
They've made me feel like a prisoner; They’ve made me feel set free
They've made me feel like a criminal; Made me feel like a king
They've lifted my heart To places I'd never been
And they've dragged me down, Back to where I began
Words can build you up; Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or Put it out
Let my words be life; Let my words be truth
I don't wanna say a word Unless it points the world back to You
You can heal the heartache; Speak over the fear
God, Your voice is the only thing We need to hear
Let the words I say Be the sound of Your grace
I don't wanna say a word Unless it points the world back to You
I wanna speak Your love; Not just another noise
Oh, I wanna be Your light; I wanna be Your voice
Hawk Nelson is right: we’re supposed to use our words to encourage people to seek God, no matter whether they are believers or not. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Perhaps that’s why we will give an account for every idle (literally: unprofitable or insincere) word that we speak (Matthew 12:36). An idle word means that not only did we not engage our brains before our lips started moving, but it’s also quite possible we neglected an opportunity to praise God or to encourage someone or to speak life.
Or perhaps it’s more than this even.
Consider that Jesus spoke the world into existence (Hebrews 11:3, Psalm 33:9, Col 1:16). The One who is the Word of God spoke and created the world. Jesus is the Logos (G3056), the cause of all life, divine reason and intelligence. So it’s no wonder that Jesus spoke and the official’s son was healed (John 4:50). It’s no wonder that Jesus spoke and the wind and the waves immediately calmed (Matthew 8:27). Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth,” and he was resurrected from the dead (John 11:43). Jesus told the paralytic, “Take up your bed and walk (Mark 2:9-11), and he did.
Genesis 1:26 records God saying, “Let us make man in our image.” Someday then, perhaps, we may also be able to accomplish great things - just by speaking. We get an indication of this in Matthew 17:20, when Jesus said to His disciples, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
This is Jesus, the Logos, the First Cause, the Creator, speaking to His disciples.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).
We will never be just like God. But if we’re His, if we are believers, then He’s gone to prepare a place for us. He’s creating a job just for us, a job where we’ll have responsibility in His kingdom as part of the family of God. By His power, by His will, we may be more like Jesus than we had ever considered.
The Sidewalk Prophets sing,
Be strong in the LORD, And never give up hope
You're gonna do great things; I already know
God's got His hand on You, So don't live life in fear
Forgive and forget, But don't forget why you're here
Take your time and pray, These are the words I would say
What words would you say? We’re following in the footsteps of our Older Brother, Jesus Christ, the Logos, the Word of God. We’d better learn to discipline our tongue, to judiciously and carefully use our words.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
If you were going to show someone that you love them, how would you do it? Perhaps you’d do something special for them. Maybe you’d clean their house or mow their lawn. Maybe you get them a sun catcher or a bouquet of flowers. Perhaps you’d spend as much time with them as you could. Maybe you’d make a point of telling them how much they mean to you.
How does God show us how much He loves us? He gave His only Son. Do you realize how momentous this is? Jesus is God the Father’s only begotten Son. Furthermore, Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father (Matthew 3:17). Jesus is incredibly important to the Father, very much loved and valued by the Father. So for God the Father to give His Son because He loves us, you and me, that is almost more than we can comprehend!
Think about it. Not only did Jesus leave His home in glory and become human (Hebrews 2:5-18), He also learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). His life on this earth was not always easy, especially at the end. He submitted His will to God even to death on the cross (Phil 2:8). It wasn’t just a quick death either. Jesus suffered for you and for me - because God loves us - because there was no other way to save us (Matthew 26:42) - because we are sinners in desperate need of the only possible Savior, Jesus Christ.
But there’s more to John 3:16 than God the Father giving His only Son because the Father loves the world so much! This is not like salt and pepper sprinkled over your plate. The gift of the Savior is to those who believe in Him. Just because a person is alive somewhere on planet Earth, just because they are part of “the world,” they are not automatically saved just because they are alive. Jesus is more precious than that! Incredible as it may seem, God is willing to give Jesus Christ to be killed for all people - if they believe in Him. But this believing has to be a life-changing believing. But James tells us the demons believe (2:19), but they certainly will not be saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. No. Our belief has to be obvious in the way our life is changed because of that belief. Do we steal? No, we don’t steal because it would displease God. Do we lie? No. Do we murder? No. Do we keep the Sabbath holy? Yes. Do we honor our father and our mother? Yes. Because we believe in God, we do certain things and we avoid doing other things. It’s called obedience. We obey God’s commands because we believe that He is God, His is the Sovereign Creator and King and therefore has the right to tell us what to do. He has the right to expect our obedience. That’s what believing in God looks like. If you’re not obeying God, maybe you should check to see if you really believe in Him.
But John 3:16 goes on. Our belief in God leads to eternal life - life in God’s kingdom. That means that without belief in Jesus, we don’t have eternal life - not in His kingdom, not on this earth, not in an ever-burning hell. The opposite of eternal life is eternal death, and that’s what the word “perish” means. So when we believe in Jesus, John 3:16 says, we won’t perish (die), but we will have eternal life.
What God has prepared for those who love Him is going to be incredible (2 Cor 4:17; 1 Cor 2:9)!! And it’s hard to get our minds completely wrapped around that too!! Not only did God give us His Son to save us from our sin debt and from eternal death, God has also given us the promise of eternal life in His kingdom! What love the Father has bestowed upon us!!
John 3:16 is probably one of the most recognizable verses from the New Testament, and if we believe what John wrote, it can change our lives.
Bloom and Be Beautiful
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17
We have some friends who have four dogs, four cats, and four goats. We have Pepper. I have a big box of seeds. Do you know what these three things have in common? They were all rescued from death and/or destructiion.
Most, if not all, of Caitie and Kyle’s pets were rescues. They were animals that were sick or injuried or animals that the owners just didn’t want anymore. If Caitie and Kyle’s family hadn’t stepped in, those animals almost certainly wouldn’t be alive today.
Pepper was dumped up the road from our house. We are pretty sure that the van which came down our road the night before we found Pepper was just looking for a place where they could dump him. No water. No food. A little puppy that still had the puppy smell, little puppy teeth, that could slide under the futon without pausing in his headlong run, that had already spent almost 24 hours outside where coyotes or owls could’ve eaten him - Pepper could very easily have been a dead little puppy when we found him. And furthermore, we didn’t have to take him in. We could’ve taken him to an animal shelter, where they may or may not have euthanized him because of overcrowding.
Then there’s this box of seeds. Phil found these seeds thrown in the trash. Because they are packaged for sale in 2016, it’s hard for a business to sell them. It’s just more cost efficient to throw them in the trash and make room for items the business can sell. The seeds just weren’t going to make the business enough money to be worth keeping them. Phil rescued them from the trash.
In each of these cases, Kyle and Caitie’s pets, Pepper, the seeds, they were headed for death or destruction. But someone intervened and saved them.
That’s what going on in John 3:17 - For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. When Jesus came into this world, as the Light of the world, the Logos, the Bread of Life, He didn’t come to condemn the world. John 3:18 says that anyone who didn’t believe in Jesus was condemned anyway. We, as a human race, all of mankind, were already deserving of death. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We, if we don’t have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, stand condemned. We only look forward to living this life and then there’s nothing but death.
But God sent His Son, His only Son, Jesus, our Messiah, to save us, to rescue us from our sins, to give us eternal life in His kingdom - if we believe in Him.
When you know that, then what? Does that change your life and how you live?
The seeds don’t know that Phil rescued them. And I don’t know Caitie and Kyle’s pets. But I know how Pepper responded to being rescued. He follows me everywhere. He wants to know where I am and what I’m doing. If he’s on the other side of the door from where I am, he lets everyone know. I can be sitting in one room with Pepper alseep (I think) on the floor. When I move to another room to do something, Pepper gets up and follows me - even if he only moves into the new room to collapse on the floor. And I thought he was asleep!! My mom says Pepper will never forget who rescued him.
Think about that. Here’s this dog that follows me around and wants to be where I am because we gave him food and water and brought him home. I don’t know that Pepper is thinking all that out, and it’s nothing like being given the hope of eternal life. So what Jesus did for us is so much more incredible! At the very least, when we realize what God has done for us, when we believe in Jesus, it should change our lives. We should be willing to follow Him anywhere. We should be willing to do whatever He says we should do. As John Newton wrote in “Amazing Grace,” “I once was lost, but now I’m found!” Think about it! If a little dog can show gratitude by following me around, what should our reaction be to our Savior and God who has given us so much at so great a cost?!
Too much of the time, we say that we believe in God and then we blithely go about our lives, doing whatever we want. We know God wants us to worship Him on the Sabbath, but we have other things we want to do. We know that God wants us to say nice things to our brothers (or sister), but we don’t particularly like what they’ve done today, so we say mean and hurtful things instead. We know that God wants us to honor our father and our mother, but - for crying out loud - mom and dad want us to keep our room clean, and eat our vegetables, and not spend too much time with our electronic devices (tv, computer, tablets). So when Mom and Dad ask us to do something, we roll our eyes and say, “Right now?” Think about it: God the Father loved you so much that He sent His Son to save you from death, to give you hope of eternal life in His kingdom as part of the family of God. So, now it’s up to you. How are you going to spend the rest of your life? How are you going to spend the rest of this day? How are you going to spend the next five minutes? Perhaps you should spend some time thinking about what pleases the One who saved you.
You know, these little packages of seeds were in the trash. They were never going to germinate and grow. Now, they have the opportunity to sprout and bloom and be beautiful. You, too, can make the most of the opportunity that God has given you to bloom where you are, to be beautiful for God. After all, God has saved you; what are you going to do with this opportunity to show Him how much that means to you?
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. John 3:19
Are you afraid of the dark? I remember when I was a kid, I was very scared of the dark. I remember having my mom check my closet to see if there was anything in it before I went to sleep. Even as a teenager, I hated being home alone after dark. There’s something in us that knows that the dark can be hiding something which could hurt us.
O.K. so do you ever prefer the darkness? Amazingly enough, yes. I prefer it to be dark when I want to sleep. Having the light on bothers me.
I would also suspect that when I do something wrong, I would prefer it to be dark so that no one can see what I’ve done. It’s a silly notion, really, because the One who created light can see into the dark as well. God knows what I’m doing whether it is light or whether it is dark.
But I think there’s also another aspect to this verse. Consider the verse again. How does it apply to you? Do you love the darkness rather than the light? Are your works evil? I suspect that most of you, like me, would say that you do not love the darkness, but the second question gives me a bit of a pause. Are my works evil? Jesus told those listening to Him in Matthew 7:11 “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Jesus didn’t just say that their works were evil; He said they were evil.
Take a look at this word “evil.” It is the Greek word “poneros” which can apply in the moral or spiritual sense and means sorrow, pain, or wicked, malicious or mischievous. It can apply to Satan. But it can also apply to sinners as a whole. It is that group of people who are in rebellion against, transgressing against, God.
Thankfully, those who are Christ’s, who have accepted His shed blood for their sins, who are in Christ, who are called Christians, who have a relationship with God the Father through the Son, have been bought from being slaves to sin. We still sin. We still transgress God’s holy and righteous law, but we are no longer numbered among transgressors. Jesus’ sacrifice put an end of that for us!
Nevertheless, that relationship with God needs continual work. If you have a friend, but over time, you spend less and less time with him, how close are you truly to that friend? God is our Friend, but we won’t be very close to Him if we don’t spend time walking in His ways (because He will walk in no other way), talking with Him (because He won’t force Himself on us), and preferring Him above all others (because that’s what love means in this verse: “Loved” is “agapao” (25): to love, a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something (derived from agape). It’s an interesting phenomenon: you sin, and you’re so guilt-ridden over your sin that you are ashamed to go to God and ask for forgiveness. So you quit praying because you know that when you talk with Him, you have to confess and repent of what you’ve done. You are so upset over the damage you’ve done to the relationship that you do the very worst thing - to start avoiding God. Avoiding prayer leads to avoiding Bible study which leads to staying home from church which leads to gradually pushing God out of your life. In essence, you’ve rejected the Light for darkness - even though, intellectually you know that God already knows what you’ve done. And in a very real sense, the physical darkness of which you were afraid, because of what harmful thing might be in it, symbolizes the spiritual darkness in which you find yourself. There is definitely something that can hurt you in that spiritual darkness, that place where you’ve gone, where God is not. Ultimately, life apart from God is eternal death.
So sometimes, in His great agape for you, God needs to send you some adversity to get you to run to Him, begging Him to forgive you and restore the relationship between you. And just like the Sun coming out after a storm, you rejoice with exceeding gladness that you’re walking in the Light, that your relationship with God has been restored.
I hope, when you read this verse, that it reminds you to keep that relationship with God close, repenting of your sins as soon as you’re aware of them. I hope you will love the Light rather than the darkness.
EXTRA! Here are the lexicon’s definitions for the Greek words found in this verse. Enjoy!
Light is “phos” (5457): light of the sun or of the day; never kindled therefore never quenched
World is “kosmos”(2889): the sum total of the material universe, the beauty in it, or the sum total of the persons living in it
Loved is “agapao” (25): to love, a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something (derived from agape).
Darkness is “skotos”(4655): physical darkness or spiritual darkness, implying ignorance or error
Evil is “poneros”(4190): wicked, malicious, mischievous. Satan is the author of all the poneros (mischief) in the world
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” John 4:34
What’s your favorite food? Do you have different favorites for different times? I really like homemade angel food cake with fresh strawberries. After Thanksgiving, I really like turkey sandwiches with mustard and salt and pepper. On a cold day, I really like stuffed pepper soup. Enchiladas are one of my all-time favorite meals. And probably whatever Diane made for potluck today is also one of my favorites.
It’s really quite amazing how much of our lives are directly connected to food and eating. I spend a lot of time in the garden every year - hundreds of hours planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, processing and preserving. I spend lots of time shopping for food, preparing meals, cleaning up after the meals, and, of course, eating the food. Literally hundreds of hours every year are spent dealing with food in some way.
I remember an Archie comic book one time in which Archie and Jughead thought it’d be a great idea to develop a pill that would give you all the nutrition you needed. It’d be a great time-saver and money-saver. But, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Not only do we need food to supply energy to our bodies, we enjoy our food. It is a simple pleasure to pick a handful of ripe blueberries and eat them straight off the bush. It’s delightful to churn some homemade ice cream and lick the paddles when it’s done. It’s relaxing and mentally refreshing to sit on the front porch swing with an icy glass of fresh lemonade.
We are all taught in school that nutritious food helps to keep our bodies healthy. We need to eat the right foods and the right amounts. But we also learn that food is also closely connected to good times with friends and family. Food, in a word, is a major part of our lives.
So our ears perk up when we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’ ” What does Jesus mean that his food is to do the will of God? How does doing the will of God nourish you? Obviously, we need physical food to keep our physical bodies healthy, but we also need spiritual food to keep our minds spiritually healthy. Do you get this? Doing the will of the Father feeds us spiritually. It’s what keeps us healthy. But it’s more than that even. Just as we derive pleasure from eating a tree-ripened peach, obeying our Heavenly Father and working as His servant should give us a great deal of pleasure. After all, a peach will last for a few minutes; the relationship with our Father will last for eternity.
But the food analogy goes even deeper than physical and spiritual health and pleasure. Doing God’s will, accomplishing His work, building our relationship with Him satisfies us like nothing else on this earth will satisfy - not a juicy slice of watermelon on a hot day, not a cheesy, spicy piece of lasagna. Our physical food is so temporary. And on some level, we know that. We know that eventually even all the left-overs are eaten and we rarely remember from week to week what we had to eat a week ago. But when we do the will of the Father, there is a deep and abiding satisfaction that we’ve done something worthwhile and lasting.
It’s an interesting thing: God made our food so pleasurable and varied. Perhaps, just perhaps, we’re supposed to realize that there’s something more nourishing, more pleasurable, more satisfying than the physical food He blesses us with. Maybe we’re supposed to attain the goal of the kind of relationship with our great God where doing His will and working on His agenda feeds us, grows us more into the image of His Son, gives us great pleasure, and satisfies us beyond words. The next time you take a bite and say, “Ummm!” for the sheer delight of the taste, I encourage you to think of Jesus’ words, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work,” and to realize the incredible significance of His words.
Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” John 6:29
Have you ever worked really hard? Hard work can be something that takes a lot of effort or takes a long time. Can you think of something that you really worked at?
Do you know anyone who works hard? What kind of work do they do? A lot of people work hard - building houses, flying airplanes, fighting fires, protecting people from criminals, taking care of people - lots of people work hard.
How much of the hard work we do is really important? I built a fence several years ago. I worked hard building that fence, digging post holes, stapling fencing, reinforcing with chicken wire, building a gate. It was hard work. But a few years later, we pulled that fence out with the tractor in about thirty minutes. Today it’s hard to see where the fence was - and it really doesn’t matter now because it’s not there.
Sometimes kids think that cleaning their room or making their bed falls into the same category. That is, they wonder if it really matters if they clean their room or make their bed. It’s just going to get messed up again anyway. The funny thing is, there are a lot of things that adults do that don’t really matter in the end; ten years from now whether that “thing” was done or not won’t matter.
So, if you’re going to work hard, you should work at something that matters.
I know that God never has that problem. Whatever God does is important, and it matters. Can you think of some of the incredible things that God has done? He made all the animals perfectly. He set the stars precisely in their place in the sky and He knows them each by name. He created beautiful flowers in a myriad of colors. He created taste and pleasure in tasting things. Our God has done great things.
Why did God do everything that He did? Why didn’t He just make all dogs the same shape, size and bark? Why didn’t He create flowers in one color with one beautiful smell? Why didn’t He just give us all manna to eat all the time so that your mom wouldn’t have to figure out different things for you to eat every day? Why did God create our world in such variety and intricacies?
But God did more than just create the world. He walked with Adam in the garden. He told Noah to build an ark. He called Abram out of Ur, into the place that God would show him. God used Joseph to save his whole family during a famine. God rescued Daniel from the lions’ den. God sent down fire from heaven to consume not only the sacrifice on the altar on Mt. Carmel, but also the stones and the water. God rescued His people from Egypt. We could go on and on. Our God has done incredibly great and marvelous things. Why?
We get a very cool glimpse into why God does all that He does. John 6:29 says, Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” What did Jesus say is God’s work? That you, and I, and those God calls, would believe in him whom he has sent. Don’t let all of the pronouns confuse you. Jesus simply is saying that the work of the Father is that you would believe in Jesus, the One God sent to this world to redeem it.
Think about that for a minute!
Adam’s choice is an object lesson so that you would learn to believe in Jesus. God means it when He tells us to obey Him. When we choose to disobey, we choose to be separated from God. We can’t have fellowship with God if we don’t obey His commandments.
Noah’s flood was an object lesson so that you would learn to believe in Jesus. Noah’s story teaches us that we are sinful and we are headed for death unless we are rescued. Our only hope of rescue is Jesus Christ.
Abram’s life is an object lesson so that you would learn to believe in Jesus. Abram’s story teaches us to go wherever God tells us to go because He is trustworthy.
Joseph’s life is an object lesson that things don’t always go well and people don’t always treat you fairly. But God is sovereign and He can rescue you out of bad situations.
And the creation around is an object lesson so that you would learn to believe in Jesus. Romans tells us that the invisible things of God are clearly seen in the creation! You cannot look at the variety of dogs, the myriad of flower colors, the diversity of smells - all of the different and intricate pieces of creation without knowing that we have a Creator, and that He is good.
Think about everything that God has done, and continues to do, so that you (and I) will believe in Jesus Christ! It’s absolutely phenomenal! So they next time you are working hard, stop and think about God’s work - that you would believe in Jesus Christ. It must be very important to God that you believe because He’s gone to an awful lot of work so that you will.
Judging Right Judgment
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. John 7:24
I saw a story on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.
A 24 year-old son seeing out from the train’s window shouted: “Dad, look the trees are going behind!” Dad smiled and the young couple sitting nearby, were looking at the 24 year old’s childish behavior with pity.
Suddenly he again exclaimed: “Dad, look the clouds are running with us!” The couple couldn’t resist and said to the old man: “Why don’t you take your son to a good doctor?” The old man smiled and said: “I did and we are just coming from the hospital, my son was blind from birth, he just got his eyes today.
When I looked the story up on the internet, there was a moral printed with it:
Every single person on the planet has a story. Don’t judge people before you truly know them. The truth might surprise you.
We have a saying in our culture: Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s the lesson of this story. So, what does it mean to not judge a book by its cover? Let’s say that I have two books. They have the identical words inside, but the covers are different. You don’t know, before you read both books, that the words are the same. All you see are the covers. And oftentimes, you make your choice of which book to read just by looking at the covers - because that’s all the information you have.
That’s what Jesus is saying in John 7:24: Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.
The Jewish leaders were seeking to kill Jesus because He had healed on the Sabbath. Yet, Jesus pointed out to the people that these same leaders would circumcise their baby boys on the sabbath in order to do what Moses commanded. Jesus tried to point out the incongruity of their reasoning: the leaders were willing to circumcise a baby, the symbol of the covenant between God and the physical children of Abraham. But they weren’t willing for Jesus to make a man well. You see, the Jewish leaders had taken God’s law and added more rules to it so that they wouldn’t come close to breaking the law. But in putting that fence around the law, they were making God’s law a burden. And God’s law is not a burden! It gives life. It is the way that makes life work. It’s the instruction manual given by the Creator for how to run this life the best way, really - the only way.
Yes, you are not supposed to work on the Sabbath. However, if an ox was in the ditch (if it was an emergency), you could help the ox. There are examples throughout the Bible of exceptions to God’s law, i.e. it was not lawful for David to eat the showbread. But he and his men were running from Saul and they were hungry. He was held guiltless by God. You are not supposed to work on the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was perhaps the busiest day of the week for the priests. The high priest worked all day long, even on Atonement. But they were held guiltless by God. There are times when the law is set aside because of the specific circumstance.
Children have trouble with this concept. At a pool you are never to run on the deck. It’s wet. It’s slippery. You could easily fall. The lifeguard will blow his whistle at you every time! Don’t run. But if the lifeguard sees someone injured, that very same lifeguard, who told you not to run, will run to help the injured person. And it’s okay, even good, that he’s breaking the law of not running. That person needs help. If he wasn’t running, it would be terrible. He could be fired for not running.
You see, you have to know a little more information before you make a judgment. This is a hard thing for even adults to learn to do: the next time someone does something that you think is wrong, the next time someone says something that you think shouldn’t have been said, try to find out why before you make a judgment. There could be more to the story. They might not be trying to insult you. They might have meant something else. There could be a lot more to the story.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. What’s inside could surprise you.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36
Materials: Cut a strip of leather 2 inches wide and 7 inches long. Lengthwise, cut two 3.5-inch slits one-fourth inch apart towards one end of the leather. At the other end, make a hole one-fourth inch in diameter. Thread a heavy string through the slit and then through the hole. Tie a big button on the each end of the string. (see coloring pages for drawing of how this would look.)
There are times in our life when we feel stuck. Things are not going well. We’re in a bad situation and we don’t know how in the world we’re going to get out of the mess we’re in. That’s much like trying to get the buttons detached from the leather (without cutting the leather).
We work and work at our problems. We try to force something to happen. It doesn’t work. Similarly, trying to force the huge buttons through those tiny holes doesn’t work no matter how long and how hard we try.
But when we turn to God, repent of our sinfulness, turn our lives over to Him and ask Him for help, God can rescue us.
It’s as simple as pushing the leather slit through the hole. Then the buttons can easily be pushed through the slit and freed from the leather.
God can set us free from our sin. God can set us free from the situations that look so hopeless. God can set us free from the pulls of this world and the things that would draw us away from Him.
Are you thinking of a problem that you can’t solve? Take it to God and let Him set you free.
Knowing the Good Shepherd
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, John 10:14
The other day I walked up to the mailbox to get the mail. I was almost back to the gate of our property when I met Pepper trailing me up the road. Now, I’m very suspicious that dogs don’t see well, or they don’t trust what they see. I know they have a highly developed sense of smell, but they must not trust that either. I know he saw me, and I know he smelled me because he was tracking me up the road. But as soon as I saw him, I ducked out of sight and crept up to the gate, walking stealthily along the fence. Suddenly, I jumped out and yelled. Pepper tucked tail and ran. But as soon as he heard me laughing he came back to tell me, “I knew it was you all the time, and, by the way, here’s a bite for trying to trick me.” What threw Pepper was my behavior. I don’t normally walk like that, so he wasn’t sure what was going on and who I was - for sure.
If you were in a room packed full of people, would you be able to pick out your parents? What if you were blind-folded? Could you still pick out your parents?
Your answer depends on how well you know your parents and how much time you’ve spent with them. The better you know your parents, the more clues there are to help you recognize them. You should know them by sight. But even if you were blind-folded, you would know them by the sound of their voices. What other characteristics would help you recognize your parents? Drinking coffee, singing songs while working, their gait, their habits. I usually know which kid is coming down the stairs by the way they move, the speed, the volume.
So how would you recognize Jesus? That could be a very difficult question to answer - how do physical people recognize a spiritual being, the Great Jehovah, the I Am? Thankfully, Jesus gave His disciples (and, by extension, all of us) a metaphor to which they could relate. He said, “I am the good shepherd.” What does that mean to you? To His audience, a shepherd was someone who guided, protected, and provided for his sheep. The sheep knew the shepherd’s voice and would follow that voice even if there were other shepherds calling. They trusted Him and relied on Him for everything. The shepherd knew each sheep. If one was missing, he knew exactly which one was missing. You have to know your sheep really well to be able to do that! And you only know your sheep that well when you really care about your sheep. So in using that metaphor, Jesus was very clearly telling the people that those who belong to Him know Him and are known by Him. It’s not just a casual relationship either. If you belong to God, God knows you. Matthew 10:30 says that even the hair on your head is numbered by God.
But think about the shepherd’s job. He not only gave them food and found a safe pasture for them to lie in, he also made sure they stayed out of trouble. He guided their steps. If one did happen to go astray, he’d go after it. Then, when he found the lost sheep, he’d bring it back. The sheep would listen, would heed, the calling shepherd and would come.
Some people think they know Jesus. But in John 14:15 Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” So if you know Jesus and love Him, you’re going to obey Him - even when it’s not easy, even when people around you don’t agree with you, even when it’s not what you really want to do. If you love God, you want to do the things that please Him. Like the sheep, you come to Jesus when He calls. You listen to His guidance.
Some people think they know Jesus, but they don’t take the time they need to listen to His voice. They don’t read their Bible every day. They don’t pray every day. They don’t simplify their lives enough so that they can have time every day to just be quiet. So how can they hear His voice?
Are you listening to Jesus? Do you know Him? Are you known by Him?
*Look up: John 14:15; Galatians 5:22-23; John 13:35; Micah 6:8
**Hearing God’s Voice
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27
Materials: Group of people of various degrees of familiarity to the children
Imagine a group of youngsters in the church family hiding their faces in their arms so they can’t peek. If random church members speak to the children, would the children be able to identify who is speaking?
It would depend on several factors:
*Are they paying attention?
*Does the person address each child personally?
*What does the speaker ask the child to do?
*Does the person speaking try to disguise his or her voice?
*How well do they know the person speaking?
*What is the proximity of the speaker to the child?
There are incredible parallels to our walk with Christ!
If you are very close to the child, they are much more likely to be able to correctly identify who you are. There aren’t the distractions of distance. And, if you were right next to them before they closed their eyes, it’s likely because they have a relationship with you. That dramatically increases the chances of instant recognition!! So how close are you to Jesus? Do you talk with Him every day in prayer? Do you read your Bible every day so you know what He says? Do you spend time thinking about God and the choices you make? How close are you to God?
If the speaker has spent a lot of time with the child, it’s much easier for the child to identify the speaker. This is closely related to proximity! But remember, God isn’t going to spend time with you when you chose to sin. Sin is abhorrent to Him and He wants nothing to do with it. So if you want to be close to God, you have to make Godly choices. The Bible tells you what Godly choices look like.
If the speaker disguises his voice, a child may not be able to identify who is speaking. But make no mistake: God doesn’t play games. He doesn’t try to trick us. (Ron pointed out that on the road to Emmaus, Jesus kept them from recognizing him - Luke 24:26.)
Closely related to this is what the speaker asks the child to do. If it is a normal request, the child may know right away who it is that is speaking. Similarly, when we are familiar with what Jesus asks of us (like Micah 6:8 or Romans 12:10 - love one another with brotherly affection), then when we recognize what is asked of us, we know from whom the request came.
If the speaker calls the child’s name before speaking to him (or her), the child’s attention is heightened. Furthermore, if there’s been interaction between the speaker and the child, the child has likely heard the speaker use his or her name before. It sounds familiar. Both of these aspects make identification more likely. Do you know that Jesus knows you by name? Do you realize that God chose you? You are special to Him. You’re not just another warm body. He has a special plan and a special place for you.
Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” But you can’t hear Jesus’ voice and you can’t follow Him if you’re not paying attention! Are you listening and paying attention to what God is telling you? Don’t get distracted by other people around you. Don’t become distracted by the things that you have to play with or the activities you have planned to do. Get rid of the extra things in your life. That way it won’t be so cluttered with stuff and tasks that you can’t pay attention to what is really important: having a close relationship with God.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27
Let’s work on being able to recognize that voice and be ready to do what He says.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32
Hillsong sings, “You are high and lifted up; You are high and lifted up; And my soul sings hallelujah; To the Lamb; The Lamb of God.”
There’s a song called “Lift Him Up.” The fourth stanza goes, “Lift Him up by living as a Christian ought, Let the world in you the Savior see;”
There’s a song in our hymnal called “Lift High the Lord, Our Banner.” A banner was another name for a flag, standard, or signal. It was lifted up so the army could follow the commander of the army. This is definitely scriptural. In Isaiah 11, one of the most beautiful descriptions of the millennial reign, there’s this verse: In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. (vs 10, NIV).
In all three of these songs, you could replace the word “lift” with “exalt”- to show honor and reverence and hold in high esteem. And that fits in this context: when Jesus was lifted up from the earth, He drew all people to Himself. It’s a restatement of John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (KJV). For after Jesus died, He was resurrected on the third day. His life was given for our sins, and He sat down at the right hand of the Father, with great honor (Hebrews 1:3-4).
In fact, the word that is translated “lifted up” is translated “exalted” is every other instance in the New Testament (except for everywhere in John - and in James 4:10).
So it’s curious - because there seems to be another meaning in this verse; look at the very next verse in John 12: He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die (vs 33). In other words, Jesus was telling His audience that He was going to be crucified. He was going to be lifted up on a cross to die. In the Old Testament, being hung on a tree was reserved for those people who were thought to be guilty of truly terrible crimes or sins. In fact, Deuteronomy records that anyone hung on a tree was cursed! (Deut 21:22-23) This kind of lifted up seems absolutely opposite of being exalted!
And then there’s another reference to Jesus being lifted up - and it has to do with a serpent! The story is in Numbers 21. The Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, and they started complaining against Moses and against God, saying that God had brought them into the wilderness to kill them. There was no food and no water, and they absolutely hated the manna. So God sent fiery serpents among the people to bite them. Many people died. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived (vs 8-9).
We know that the bronze serpent pointed to Jesus because Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up” (John 3:14).
O.K. So we know that the figure of speech “lifted up” could mean crucifixion.
We know that the bronze serpent was literally lifted up so that when the people looked at it, they lived.
We know that Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:8-11).
So you could say that when Jesus was “lifted up” (crucified), He was lifted up (exalted) again to the glory that He had had with the Father before the world began - and is looking forward to that time when His enemies shall be made His footstool (Hebrews 10:13).
It’s another one of those paradoxes found in scripture, like: the first shall be last and the last shall be first; or: if you want to be great in God’s kingdom, you must be servant of all. Jesus would be lifted up and draw all people to Himself after He had submitted His will to the Father’s will - even to the shame of being crucified on a cross.
It’s a good lesson for us. This life is not about getting honor and glory for ourselves. There are too many scriptures which tell us that!! God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). There are six things the Lord hates . . . haughty eyes . . . (Proverbs 6:16-19). And James 4:10, Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up, takes on greater meaning when we think about what Jesus did for us, how He humbled Himself - even to death on a cross - and was lifted up by the Father.
Learning to Submit
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” John 13:6
It’s the Lord’s Supper. The disciples are in the upper room with Jesus. At one point in the evening, in the middle of supper, Jesus stands up, puts a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. When he comes to Peter, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”
We don’t know why, exactly, Peter said this. We don’t know what he was thinking. But we do know that it was the servant’s job, the lowliest servant’s job, to wash the feet of the guests. We know that no one’s feet had been washed, so Jesus was doing it. And we know that Peter was questioning what Jesus was doing?
We would never do that. Would we? Would we question how God works in our life?
Peter not only questioned Jesus, he also emphatically stated that Jesus would never wash his feet!
We would never tell God that He couldn’t do something in our life. Would we?
Jesus, in His mercy, explained to Peter that, unless He washed him, Peter would have no part with Him. If Peter wanted a close relationship with the Lord, Jesus needed to wash his feet. Peter’s reaction was immediate. He wanted his feet and his hands and his head washed too.
We would never demand that God modify His plan and purpose in our life? Would we?
There’s a big difference between asking questions and demanding answers. Every time I imagine approaching God to ask Him what He’s doing, I think of God’s response in Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? . . Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:2, 4).
There’s a big difference between telling God “no” and expressing a lack of understanding of how or why He will do something. Think of the difference between Zecharias’ reaction to being told he and Elizabeth would have a baby and Mary’s reaction.
There’s a big difference between doing what God tells you to do - and you taking it upon yourself to improve upon God’s plan. I shudder when I think of the consequence of Moses striking the rock twice, instead of speaking to it as God had commanded. God said Moses disobeyed because Moses did not believe in God, to uphold Him as holy (Numbers 20:8-12).
That lack of belief in God is what leads us to question Him, to tell Him no, or to modify what He wants us to do. That lack of belief is also evidence of a lack of trust. It’s neglecting to recognize God as Holy, as Sovereign, as God.
So how do we know when we are recognizing God as Holy, when we are demonstrating in our lives that we know He is Sovereign, and when we are believing that He is God? I believe it’s all in how we react to the things that happen to us in our daily lives.
Do you work on your relationship with God? Do you read your Bible? Do you sing God-honoring songs as you mow the lawn? Do you pray to Him? And do you pray that He would direct your steps? Do you tell Him that your life is in His hands? If you do, then when things happen, do you recognize that God is sovereign? Do you understand that He’s in absolute control of what happens to you? It doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen; it means that He allows things to happen to you - according to His will.
So when things don’t go your way, do you praise God anyway? When you’re having a bad day, do you think about the blessings you’ve already received from His hand and ask yourself, Why are you downcast, O my soul?, as David did? When you think maybe you could improve upon what God has asked you to do, do you pull yourself up short, shake your head, and tell yourself not to be that stupid today?
It’s a process of learning to submit our will to His - in everything. No matter what God asks us to do, we are willing to do it. That’s our goal as servants of the Most High. The apostle Paul put it this way . . . “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5b, NIV). I like the way Paul phrases it - taking captive every thought - as if they were butterflies (flighty thoughts), chickens (fearful thoughts), Pepper (headstrong thoughts) or wood bees (destructive/enemy thoughts).
I’m so glad Peter had this episode with Jesus because we can see ourselves, at different points in our lives, doing the exact same thing, acting in the exact same way towards God and His will in our lives. Rather, we should work diligently to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ - especially if Jesus wants to wash our feet.
Love One Another
By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another. John 13:35
Love is an important part of determining who is a disciple of Jesus. So maybe we’d better know what love looks like. What is love? Who gets to define what love looks like? One memorable movie had this definition: Love means never having to say you’re sorry. I’m not sure too many people agree with that definition; there are plenty of friendships and marriages which have worked through conflicts because they were willing to tell one another that they were sorry!! So who gets to decide what love looks like? You can’t count on Hollywood. They certainly don’t know. You can’t ask a child. Most children’s definition of love is “Give me everything I want. Then I’ll know you love me.”
We have to use God’s definition of love. The first is found in John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Our first definition makes it VERY plain that love is self-sacrificing. It’s not easy. True love may demand everything you have.
The definition given in 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t easy to do either: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
This is likewise tough! This is not the feel-good, hugs and kisses kind of love. This is the kind of love that does what is best for the other person, even when you don’t feel like it and even when it’s not what they want either!
Let me give you an example. Pepper loves playing fetch. He barks incessantly if the boys go out on the front porch. He will bounce up and down. When they throw the ball for him, he runs and leaps and often catches the ball in midair. He lopes back, drops the ball at their feet, and barks (teeth snapping in his enthusiasm) until they throw the ball again. I think he would keep going until his heart gave out. I know he’s continued until he couldn’t even bark because he was panting so hard. Is it loving that dog to continue giving him what he wants, even though it could also kill him? Or is it loving to take the ball away before he’s ready to be done playing?
Let’s use chocolate as an example. There’s someone who loves chocolate. And you love that person. So should you give him lots of chocolate? Well, chocolate isn’t the best dietary choice. It’s okay to give him some, but not anywhere near as much as he’d like and nowhere near as much as you could.
Love means helping when they need it. And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12
Love means encouraging them when they need it. not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:25
Love means letting others see Jesus in you. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
Love means pointing others to Jesus Christ, that they might have a closer relationship with Him - which translates into greater peace, deeper joy, and an unconquerable hope! Love means gently telling someone they are wrong, if they’re walking contrary to God’s word. Love means rejoicing at their victories. Love means giving them a Levitical war sermon when they need the encouragement. Love means providing a listening ear when they need to talk. Love means giving them your shoulder to cry on when they are sorrowing. Love means walking beside them, sharing their life.
Love is tough. It’s not about what you get back; that’s not your purpose. Love is about what you give to someone else. It’s a high calling. It’s what Jesus said would set apart those who are His disciples.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another. John 13:35
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? John 14:2
When I was a kid, one of my most favorite things to do when I went back to Grandma and Grandad’s house was riding horses. Usually, I rode Buster. “Buster” wasn’t his registered name; that was Danny Boy, I think. But “Buster” fit him better. He’d been a stallion until Uncle Mike had to geld him because he wouldn’t let Mike catch any of the mares. Gelding him made Buster better, but he was still ornery. He was gentle with kids, but when he had had enough of going around in circles and not doing any work, he’d head for the barn, hoping to get some oats. No matter how hard a kid tried, pulling on the reins didn’t work. Buster was going home. He was done.
We all need a place to call home, a place where we belong. Like Buster, when we’re done working for the day, we want to be home, with our own things, able to sleep in our own bed, where we belong.
But there’s one problem. We are temporary. And worse than that, where we belong in this world is temporary. And we experience that reality in many ways. When you get straight A’s on your report card and are passed to the second grade, you don’t belong in first grade any more. You can go visit last year’s teacher, but it doesn’t feel the same because you don’t belong there any more. When you move from one house or apartment into another one, you can drive past where you used to live. You can remember things that you did there once upon a time, but you don’t belong there anymore. You can graduate from college, having spent four years studying and living on campus. But as soon as you graduate, you don’t belong there any more and going back for Homecoming isn’t the same. You don’t have a purpose for being there, not really.
So people search for the place where they belong. Psychologists say that belonging somewhere is one of the three most basic needs of humans. But it’s all an illusion - because this life is temporary, and these bodies are temporary, and the houses we dwell in are temporary. And, at some level, we know it! Looking for the place where we will always belong is like chasing after the wind . . . unless you are a Christian.
If you’re a Christian, you still live in a temporary world, in a temporary body, and a temporary dwelling, but you know this life is not the goal. Hebrews 11 says that we’re looking for better country, a heavenly one - that we’re aliens and strangers in this world. Many Christian songs and hymns express that sentiment:
“This world is not my home; I’m just a-passin’ through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.”
“All I know is I’m not home yet; this is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus; this is not where I belong.”
The good news is found in John 14:2: In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? There’s a place for us in God’s kingdom. If you belong to God, if you have been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, then there’s a room for you in God’s house. But it gets even better than just knowing there’s room for you. Jesus has prepared a place especially for you. It was made with you in mind. It’s designed exactly to fit you - a place where you belong.
Do you remember when you were a kid and had gone to stay with friends or your grandparents? When you got home, your parents were waiting for you. They were glad to see you. All of your stuff was waiting for you, and you were content to be home. I’m so glad God gave us that experience so we’d have an idea of what it will feel like to finally be home, where our Heavenly Father wants us, and where we belong . . .
. . . because we don’t belong in this world. We grieve over the pain we see around us - people getting old and dying, accidents, illnesses. We get angry over the lawlessness and selfishness, the persecution and wickedness. We despair over destructive choices and willful disregard of other people. The closer we get in our relationship to God, the farther we are from fitting in and belong in this world.
I am so thankful that God gave us the Sabbath (to remind us to rest in Him; He’s Sovereign and it’s all in His control.) I am so grateful that He gave us the Feast of Trumpets (to remind us that He is coming back; things will be set right again). I am looking forward to the Day of Atonement (picturing reconciliation with God, freedom once and for all from who we are and what we’ve done because of the blood of Jesus Christ). And I’m so very glad we have the Feast of Tabernacles (to rejoice before God for seven days, dwelling in temporary dwellings, knowing that He has a plan to take us all home).
There are days when I’ve had enough of this world, the pain and the trouble that is here. Like Buster, I’ve got my eyes fixed on the barn. I’m ready to go home.
Obedience and Love
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15
Why does your little brother obey your mom? I suspect that he knows he’ll get a swift swat on the seat of his pants if he disobeys. Even for older children, they know if they disobey Mom and Dad, they are going to be punished. Punishment can be anything from limiting privileges to assigning extra chores. But there’s a consequence to disobedience.
So, somewhere along the line, every child figures out that, if Mom and Dad don't know about the infraction, the child won’t be punished. They are going to get off scot-free. Only . . . most of the time, Mom knows how much ice cream there should have been in the freezer. Or she knows that you didn’t really clean your room. Or, if you’re little, and you’ve been told not to touch a hot stove, and you do it anyway, the consequence is built in. Mom doesn’t have to catch you; you’re going to get burned.
Trying to get away with breaking the rules can lead a child to the next realization about rules: they are for their own good. Most parents don’t make rules just so the kids will have a miserable life. Good parents try to rear their children to know right from wrong, things that will benefit you from things that will hurt you. So eventually a child gets to the point where they understand they should obey because they know it’s for their own good.
But warring with that concept is another childish concept: the rules don’t apply to me. The rules apply to everyone else, but I have a good reason for why they don’t apply to me. That’s why you see people speeding. That’s why you see children riding their bikes at breakneck speed down the hill. That’s why kids go outside, in the middle of winter, without mittens, a hat, or even a coat. The rules don’t apply to them. Only, they do. You might be able to get away with breaking the rules for a while, but eventually, they will catch up with you and you will suffer the consequences of disobedience.
But the best reason for obeying Mom and Dad’s rules is because you love them so much, you value your relationship with them so much, that it hurts you to think of disappointing them. Some children eventually get to the point that they’d rather be beaten than have to tell their parents what they did. It acts as a huge deterrent to disobedience.
I’m so glad God gave us the physical to help us understand the spiritual. We can apply the same stages of development to Christians and their obedience of God. They start out believing that they obey God because if they don’t, God will strike them with a lightning bolt, smack them with a 2 x 4, or punish them in some way. Isn’t that why some Christians ask, “Is that required for salvation?”
Some Christians, who haven’t thought things through very well, think that maybe God will be busy somewhere else and they can just get away with disobedience. Perhaps that’s why so many evil things are done under the cover of darkness. But God knows. There’s no where you can go that God is unaware of your deeds.
Eventually a lightbulb goes off for the maturing Christian. They realize that God’s laws are for their own good. As Ron Dart used to say, “They are what makes life work.” God’s laws are for our benefit. They help us to live wisely, avoiding unnecessary suffering and pain.
But many Christians experience the same war as children do: they think that maybe God’s laws don’t apply to them. They know God’s laws are good, but they rationalize that God understands why they just can’t obey this time. They say things like: “Jesus kept the law for me, so I don’t have to.” They misapply religious phrases like “David ate the showbread and was guiltless” or “It’s an ox in the ditch.” They have all these reasons why God’s laws, which are holy and righteous and good, don’t apply to themselves. Only . . . they do. Eventually not obeying God’s laws will catch up with them, and they will suffer the consequences of disobedience.
Some Christians value their relationship with God so much that they don’t want to disappoint Him. They don’t want to make choices which would bring Him dishonor. They want to conduct themselves in such a way in this world that God is given the glory and the honor. In a word, they love God.
That’s the goal. Yes, there are consequences to breaking God’s laws. No, you can’t get away with breaking them. Yes, they are for your own good. No, you don’t get a free pass to break God’s laws whenever you feel like it. Yes, sometimes there are exceptions. But when you get to the heart of the matter, the best reason, the most pleasing reason to God to keep His commandments, is because you love Him.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15
So why should you keep God’s commandments?
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
I thank God for the wonderful Christian music which points us to Him, helps us to see more deeply into His word, and helps us to remember different portions of Scripture. For instance, this verse in John 14:27 makes me think of Twyla Paris’ song, “Peace, Be Still.” In it, she applies Mark 4:35-41 to our personal lives. It is not the physical storms of which she is speaking; it is the storms of life, the illnesses, the trouble, the tribulations which cause us to become, as she puts it, “a churning sea.”
We are in the world (kosmos), so we’re going to experience some of the storms. When I was growing up in Casper, WY, we lived three blocks from the elementary school. It was difficult to get home on days when the wind was violently howling down from Casper Mountain into the city below! The wind would pick up pebbles and throw them in our faces. It would impede our progress. It would seem to go right through us so that we were chilled to the bone. Similarly, there are events in our lives which hurt us. Other events cause us to struggle to get anything accomplished. Sometimes we just feel so cold and uncomfortable. We just want peace.
The Greek word for “peace” is eirene. Like the Hebrew Shalom, eirene means more than just the end of strife or the state of untroubled, undisturbed well-being. It also has the connotation of positive blessing, especially in terms of a right relationship with God.
Look at the words Jesus uses:
troubled: Greek tarasso meaning to stir, to agitate, trouble; roil water
be afraid: Greek deiliao meaning to be timid; be afraid
Our peace is in Jesus. He makes it possible for us to not only have a cessation of strife, but positive blessing as well. It’s very much what we find in Isaiah 26:3 “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” This is the exact opposite of Jonah 2:8. In the NIV it says, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”
Do you want peace in your heart regardless of what is going on around you? That kind of peace is not available in the world. The world might give you a cessation of strife. But the world cannot give you a positive blessing or a right relationship with God. In Jonah’s terminology, the world is the vain idol to whom we cling, hoping to find peace.” Instead, by going our own way and rejecting God, we’re also rejecting the grace that could be ours through a relationship with Him.
So, how peaceful is your life?
The Prince of Peace
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
Do you come when you’re called? It really depends on who is calling you, doesn’t it! You wouldn’t want to respond to just anyone.
What if, when you responded to the call, you were given a gift? Would you open it right away? What if you were given the gift, and you knew what it was, but you couldn’t enjoy the gift as completely as you would later? Would that make the gift less special to you?
The Feast of Trumpets reminds us, as Christians, that there is coming a day when Jesus Christ will return “with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1Thes 4:16). It goes to say that the dead in Christ will rise first and we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them (vs.17). At that trumpet call, we, if we belong to God, will respond.
Do you believe that? Really believe? Because if you do, then you have the opportunity to respond to the call of God today - to come into a closer relationship with Him. He says to us all, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
God is calling us today, to a closer walk with Him. And there are so many blessings from walking with God. Rest is one of the gifts we find in Jesus, but rest is not the only gift that Jesus gives. Look at the memory verse: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27
Peace. What an incredible gift!! But, maybe you don’t feel like you need that particular gift right now. Maybe your life is peaceful enough. Maybe you think you’d like to swap it for another gift.
But there’s something very special about peace. The more you live in this world, the older you get, the more you realize that people all around you are looking for peace - a lack of conflict, no tension, contentment, peace. And they are looking for it in the world. The peace that the world gives doesn’t last very long. It’s only an imitation of true peace. And many people don’t know that true peace comes only from the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.
Hopefully someday soon, on one Feast of Trumpets in the future, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, will return to this world and bring peace once and for all. ‘Cause to tell you the truth, the peace that this world gives - it’s for the birds.
The True Vine and Vinedresser
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1
Several years ago, I was delighted to see a bunch of volunteer marigolds sprouting up from the flowers Christopher had planted the year before. But I didn’t want them in my beans and beets, so I painstakingly transplanted them - a couple of dozen of them - around the base of the oak tree in the yard. I thought the marigolds would be pretty far into the fall. The only problem was that as the seedlings grew, it became very apparent that I’d transplanted a bunch of weeds. There wasn’t a single marigold in the bunch. I was chagrined at the mistake and the waste of time and effort.
So when Jesus says that He is the true vine, I can’t help thinking of the converse: the false vine. What would a false vine be? It would be a vine that looks like the real vine (like those weeds I transplanted), but the vine wouldn’t give you the desired fruit. (I certainly didn’t get any marigolds.) The ESV study Bible says that the analogy of a vine is used of Israel in the Old Testament, particularly Isaiah 5:1-7. Here Israel was likened to a vine or a vineyard - but one that, despite all the care and attention, produced only wild grapes. The disciples listening to Jesus would have known about this passage in Isaiah. They would have made the connection between the kind of relationship Israel had with God and the relationship Jesus was offering to them. Jesus had just offered them the symbols of his body and blood - the new covenant. He’d washed their feet. He’d promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit and He told them He was giving them peace.
But the analogy didn’t stop there. Jesus went on to say that the Father is the vinedresser. What does a vinedresser do? He cuts off the branches which aren’t producing fruit. Those branches are thrown into the fire and burned. Then the vinedresser trims back the fruitful branches so they will be more fruitful. He makes sure the vine has what it needs to grow and be fruitful.
Israel was not fruitful. They had a form of godliness, but their hearts were far from God. They looked like they were serving God, but it was only surface. They went through all the rituals and holy days without loving God with all their heart. God tried pruning Israel, sending prophets and problems and even captivity. It didn’t change their hearts. So God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to start the process of transforming us into the image of His Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What Israel was unable to do - because they were carnal and slaves to the sinful nature - Jesus made possible for us to do - because He bought us with His blood, forming a new creation through His Spirit.
So. Here’s the analogy. Jesus is the Vine. The true Vine. We are the branches. As branches, we can’t just sit there and do nothing. We are supposed to be bearing fruit for the kingdom. If we aren’t bearing fruit, the Father, the Vinedresser, will cut us off and throw us away. If we are bearing fruit, He’ll prune us (It’s called discipline.) so that we’ll be more fruitful.
Some Christians think that once they accept the blood of Jesus Christ, that’s all there is to it. Now they can live any way they want. But Jesus makes it very clear that He, and the Father, expect us to bear fruit. We are supposed to be profitable for the kingdom. We’re supposed to be living our lives in a way that brings glory and honor to God. We’re supposed to be lights in a darkened world.
If we are bearing fruit, we should expect some pruning, some pain and discipline, to make us more fruitful. That discipline doesn’t mean God doesn’t love us; it means He’s set the bar high. He doesn’t want us to settle for just good enough. Trouble and pain shouldn’t discourage us; it should make us look to God for our strength and direction - if we’re in the Vine and bearing fruit.
If we’re not bearing fruit, why would we expect a free ride in the vine? Like those weeds I’d thought were marigolds, we should expect to be plucked up so that there’s room for someone who will do God’s will.
Take some time to examine the fruit of your life.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11
What makes you feel joy?
I can be moved to joy by music. Certain songs fill me with a sense of rightness and peace. I love singing them and could almost, almost, start dancing whenever they pop into my head.
I feel great joy about celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s the highlight of the year for me. I not only get to worship the King of kings for eight days, I get to see people who are likewise worshipping my Lord, people that I haven’t seen for a year or twenty years or people that I haven’t yet met but are destined to be great friends. (Incidentally, the first time the word “rejoice” is seen in the Bible is in connection with rejoicing before the Lord at the Feast of Tabernacles.
I felt great joy when my babies were placed into my arms for the very first time. What an incredible blessing and responsibility God placed into my hands! I remember counting little fingers and toes and being in complete awe at the perfect child in my arms.
Jesus told his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” What things had He told them? He had told them He was going to prepare a place for them. He’d told them they would receive the Holy Spirit to help them. He’d told them He was giving them peace. He’d encouraged them to keep His commandments and to abide, not only in His love, but also in the love of the Father. These things would indeed bring joy!
But this wasn’t the complete picture. Jesus had also told them, that evening, that one of them would betray Him, that Peter would deny Him three times, and that He was going where they could not follow; Jesus was going to the Father. The disciples were understandably upset by these things. They were not feeling joy.
But Jesus knew the betrayal, the denial, and His death were necessary for the rest of the promises of God. It’s kind of like the joy of having Jonathan was worth what it would take to have Christopher. And the joy of holding Christopher in my arms after he was born was worth it enough to go through it all again to have Jennifer. The pain was worth the joy that would come. Jesus’ death would be followed by His resurrection, a place being prepared for us, for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be poured out on God’s people, and the gift of true peace.
Atonement is very much like this! We are told to afflict our souls. That’s not something we look forward to. It’s afflicting. It’s not fun. But it’s part of this day - this day when atonement was made for the meeting place and for the people, for what they had done and for who they were. It points to Jesus Christ who ever makes intercession for us before His Father. It points to a time in the future when we are, once and for all, reconciled to God, when complete atonement is made for the meeting place and for us. What an incredible feeling of joy we will have at that time!!
Atonement isn’t a fun day. Nevertheless, look past the affliction part of the day, to the reason for the day. Set your mind on the incredible blessing of being one with God.
When Jesus was facing the cross, this was his mindset, according to Paul: “for the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). For the joy that is set before you, being in God’s kingdom, being part of the very family of God, having true peace, afflict your soul on Atonement. It’s for joy unspeakable.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11
Materials: container, hot water, expanding shapes (looks like a pill initially)
Because it takes the experiment a few minutes to work, we’ll get it started right away. [Put the “pill” into a container and pour hot water over the top.]
While that’s working, let’s talk about joy. What is joy? How can your joy be full?
Joy is not exactly the same thing as happy. You can be happy about something that happens. You can be happy that something didn’t happen. Happiness tends to be tied to individual events. If you are usually happy, then you are a joyful person. You don’t always have to be happy to be a joyful person; you’re just happy most of the time. That’s what your default setting is.
Do you know people like that? I do. There are people who are almost always upbeat. They are known to be cheerful and you rarely hear them complaining. Then there are people who are grouchy and ready to complain about everything. The grouchy guy can be happy at times, but you know he’s going to be grouchy again before you turn around. His happiness is an emotion that comes and goes, but he really isn’t joyful.
So where does joy come from? Joy that lasts, joy that gives you strength to keep going even when bad things happen, joy that keeps you smiling even when things go wrong - that kind of joy comes from God.
Notice what Jesus said in John 15:11: These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Jesus told his disciples (and all of us) about our relationship with Him, about preparing a place for us to be with Him, about eternal life in His kingdom, about what He was going to do so that we could be with Him. God’s plan in our life gives us a goal to fix our eyes on. We don’t let the light and momentary troubles get us down (2 Corinthians 4:17) because we know that God’s in control; He’s working it out; and because He loves us, we can trust that things will work out for our good.
So what about this “pill”? Don’t you think it’s interesting that it didn’t expand until I poured water over it? Do you remember what water is a symbol for in the Bible? The Holy Spirit. So if I add water to the pill and it expands, what do you think having the Holy Spirit working in your life will do to your joy? Your joy will grow - or maybe like Jesus said, your joy may be full.
Here’s another object lesson. I pulled almost all of the corn yesterday. There was a small, secondary ear on one of the stalks. Look at the kernels that formed. Why does it look like this? The corn either didn’t have enough nutrients to completely fill out the ear - or there wasn’t enough water.
It’s the same thing in your life: If you don’t stay connected to the One who gives us and Who sustains us (God), and if you don’t have His Holy Spirit working in your life, God’s joy will not be in you and your joy will not be full.
So where you do get joy? The word that “joy” comes from is “rejoice.” Rejoice is an action - it is a celebration, an expression of praise and thanksgiving to God for what He has done in our lives. As you rejoice before God, the joy in your life becomes more and more full. You realize what God is doing, you focus on the good things He has done and that He promises to do, and your joy grows.
Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, rejoice (Philippians 4:4). . . . . These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11).
I have said all these things to keep you from falling away. John 16:1
Have you ever known anyone who was once trying to do something, trying to get somewhere, pursing a goal . . . and then just quit? Sure you have! We’ve known people who were part of our 4H family and then just quit; they decided it wasn’t worth the time and effort anymore. They just couldn’t see the benefit of staying with the 4H family. So they quit. We’ve experienced it ourselves - just this week: we were pulling the sassafras saplings out of the mulch pile. Our goal was to pull all of them out, but we got hot and tired . . . and quit. That was Sunday. We could’ve gone out any day this week and finished the job, but we haven’t quite made it back yet. We needed to take a break, but there’s a difference between taking a break and not going back at all. And we’ve also seen the pursuit of a goal abandoned in a very sad way: those people who quit coming to church. We pretty much know they aren’t going anywhere for church; it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the time and the effort to them.
That’s the idea of “falling away” in John 16:1 - the idea of no longer following Jesus. Jesus told His disciples a great many things the night He was betrayed: He talked about foot washing, the gift of the Holy Spirit, going to prepare a place for them. But I would not have thought that one of the reasons Jesus told them all of these things was to keep them from falling away. Jesus told them all these things to encourage them. And the disciples needed the encouragement because there was the possibility that they would fall away.
I shake my head because I can’t quite believe that Peter, Andrew, James, John or any of the eleven would fall away . . . and yet, they all abandoned Christ when He was arrested.
What would cause the disciples to fall away? Fear? Maybe. Disappointment? Maybe. Not comprehending God’s overall plan? Maybe. And maybe the answer was different for each one of the disciples. So Jesus told them what they needed to hear that night so they would have the courage and understanding to do the job He’d given them, to preach the gospel to all the world even after Jesus was gone.
So what do you do when you’re feeling discouraged by events around you? What do you do when you’re tired and you just want to give up? What do you do when it doesn’t seem like it’s worth while?
You pick up the Word of God and you read. You read the God-inspired words that were written for you so that you wouldn’t fall away. You need strength. You need encouragement. You need comfort. You need the reiteration of promises that tell you what God’s plan is and how much He loves you.
Or you can do what I used to do a lot when I was in college. I used to call up Mom and tell her, “I need a Levitical war sermon.” She wouldn’t ask what was wrong, she’d just start telling me of God’s promises, that He’d never promised it would be easy, but He’d promised never to leave me or to give me more than I could stand. Why did she do that? Because before the Israelites would go into battle, the Levites would stand before the army and remind them that they belonged to God, that as long as they were following His ways, He would fight for them and with them and give them the victory. In many ways, that’s what Jesus was doing. He was giving His disciples a Levitical war sermon. He was giving them promises of the coming Holy Spirit, the place He was going to prepare for them, that they were going to experience difficulties, but that He had overcome them for them.
There’s something about hearing someone speaking the promises of God out loud to you. That’s part of why we go to church each week; we want to hear the encouragement both in the study and from one another. We’re in a battle and we need that Levitical war sermon from one another and from the word of God . . . so that we won’t give up the fight, so that we won’t quit following God with all of our hearts, so that we won’t fall away.
So, do you need the Levitical war sermon today? Or maybe it’s the person sitting next to you who needs to hear it from you.
Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? John 16:31
Belief is such a funny thing. You can truly believe something and be totally wrong. But you believe it - and that belief affects your behavior.
When I was probably about 10 years old, my older brother Bob and I were “helping” Uncle Mike clean up the shop, picking things up, putting things in their place, sweeping the floor. Mike picked up a huge hammer and off-handedly told Bob that if he put his finger up on the anvil, Mike would hit it with the hammer. So Bob did. And Mike brought that hammer down on the anvil. Bob pulled his finger away at the very last minute. They did this a couple of times. Then Bob decided that Mike wouldn’t really hit his finger, so he left it on the anvil. Mike felt really badly afterwards, but Mike really thought that Bob was going to pull his finger away at the last minute, just as he had before. What Bob and Mike both believed was totally wrong, but it determined what each was going to do.
What you believe is obvious by the way you act.
Think about Pepper. Do you know what he believes will happen every time he comes in the front door? Absolutely! You know what he believes because he stands in front of the treat jar looking at it, and you if you’re too slow, waiting for his treat. It’s so funny because sometimes he goes on the front door, zips right back inside and then stands, waiting to get a treat. His belief is obvious by the way he acts.
So when we get to John 16, Jesus’ disciples had just heard many very important things from Jesus - to wash each others’ feet, to stay in the Vine, that Jesus was going to prepare a place for them, that He would send them the Comforter. They responded by saying that they believed Jesus had come from God. This is when Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe?” Jesus knew that they didn’t fully believe, not yet, because their behavior was going to show just how much they didn’t yet believe. They would all abandon Jesus when He was arrested.
It makes you stop and think, doesn’t it.
The ASL sign for believe is pointing to the head with the right index finger and then joining hands as if taking hold of something. This is the way one author describes: “It’s knowledge in your head that you grab hold of.”
The disciples knew Jesus was from God, that He was the Son of God; they just hadn’t grabbed hold of it yet. It hadn’t yet changed their behavior.
Think about what you believe.
Do you really believe that thing? How can you tell? Because it will change your behavior.
Have you seen little, little kids jump off the diving board into their daddy’s arms? They really believe he will catch them and keep them safe. They believe it so much, they overcome their fear of the diving board and their fear of deep water to jump.
Think about what you believe. Do you just know something but are not acting on that knowledge? Or do you really believe and it has changed your life?
**What Floats Your Boat
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Materials: Container large enough to float a lid, small boat, small container, water, towels
Suppose I float a lid, small boat, or container in water. Does it matter whether there’s lot of water or a little water? Not really. It floats the same in two inches and in four inches.
Suppose I make some waves, does it matter whether it’s a big boat or a small boat. Not really.
What causes the boat to sink? It only sinks when water gets in the boat. It really doesn’t matter how crazy the waves get as long as the water stays out of the boat.
So, let’s say that you are the boat. The water is the world around you. Sometimes the water is calm and peaceful. It’s not hard to keep the water out of the boat and stay afloat - aka when nothing bad is happening in your world, it’s easy to get along with your family and friends, work seems easier, you are pretty happy and calm.
But when the world around you is crazy - a hurricane, a locust plague, a world pandemic, a flood, a tornado, a hail storm - when the world around you is crazy, it’s harder to keep the trouble from the world from weighing you down - aka getting water in your boat and sinking.
How do you keep the water out of your boat?
Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
When the waves in your world get high and you’re thinking it might be enough to sink your boat (aka upset the peace and joy you have), remember to look to Jesus. He can save you from the waves and keep your boat from sinking. He is the One who will float your boat.
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3
I want you to think about these three people: Elvis, someone in your church family, and your brother. What can you tell me about these three people? You may never have even heard of Elvis (much to the amazement of those older than 50). You might be able to tell me some information about Ken or Jim. But I am pretty certain you have a lot you could tell me about your brother. Why is that?
It’s all about the closeness that you have with each of these people. It’s called relationship.
Oh, you could do some research and tell me lots about Elvis. You could know his most popular song. You could know that he wanted to be an FBI agent. You could know the name of his estate. But if you walked up to the door of that estate and knocked, would he let you in (if he were still alive) and greet you as a friend? No, of course not. You would know a lot about him, but you don’t really know him.
You might have a good friendship with someone in church or someone in 4H. And they might even ask you to pray for them. But they might not feel close enough to you to tell you exactly what’s going on in their life and why they need prayer. You have a good friendship, but it’s not a close relationship.
Your brother is a different story. There’s not too much that families keep secret from each other - even if they want to. Why is that? Because we live together. (And when you are homeschooled, you live together 24/7). You know what each other likes and dislikes, you know how to instantly make one another mad (You know what buttons to push.), and you know how they are going to react in most situations. You know your brother, especially if you are a close family.
Think about a close family relationship. Think about how well you know your immediate family members. This is the level of “knowing” that Jesus is referring to in John 17:3: And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. It’s not enough to know that God is God, the only true God. It’s not enough to know that Jesus Christ was sent by the Father - although those are good starting points. You have to really know God.
How do you do that? You have to have a relationship with God. You accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. You are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, dwelling within you, leads you into all truth. You seek God with all of your heart. God becomes first in your life. You prefer Him over all others. You want to be close to Him. That’s a good starting point.
Once you have been drawn by the Father into a relationship with Him, you read your Bible every day and pray every day. Why would you do that? It’s called relationship. How will you know what is important to God if you don’t know what He says is important to Him? What kind of relationship do you have if you don’t talk to Him?
So you know that God is. You enter into covenant with Him. You start reading your Bible and praying. Is that it? No! You have to make choices, daily choices, to do what pleases God. It’s called obedience. That’s why you are in church today: Hebrews tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. But just obedience to His word isn’t enough. You have to obey God because you love Him. And it’s not enough to just love Him. You show your love by your obedience. You have to have both. That’s the definition of an intimate relationship with our Great God.
Then, here’s the cool part: because you have an intimate relationship with God, a relationship in which you truly know Him, you have eternal life. You get to spend eternity with the One you have come to desire above all others, the One you want to please, the One you have a close relationship with, the One who is the only true God, the One you know.
Rescued by Our Father
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. John 17:15
When I was very little, I insisted that Mom close the closet door before she tucked Tricia and me in and said, “Good night.” I don’t know where I got the idea that something could be in that closet. And I don’t know why I thought that closing the door would keep me safe. But I did.
The reality is there are many things “out there” in this world that can hurt you, and it’s very normal for children to be afraid of whatever could be under the bed, or in the closet, or behind the curtains. Even some adults are afraid of snakes or mice or heights. There’s a possibility you could get hurt in so many ways!
As Christians, I believe we are especially at risk because Satan prowls about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). I believe Satan hates Christians because we have a relationship with God and we are destined not only to be kings and priests (Rev 1:6), reigning with Him in the Kingdom (Rev 20:6), but we will also be adopted into the very family of God (Romans 8:15-16). So if Satan can tempt us into making bad choices that will hurt us, if he can entice us into saying things that damage our relationships with the people around us, and if he can deceive us into ungodly behaviors, he will. Satan might not necessarily want us to die, if he can use us to spread some alarm and despondency among the people with whom we come into contact.
One of Satan’s greatest weapons is our pride. If he can get us to thinking that we’re better than the people around us, if he can get us to thinking that someone is mistreating us and we deserve to be treated better, or if he can get us to thinking that someone is doing something just to stand on our last nerve, he has us right where he wants us - ready to hurt those around us with our words and actions.
Sometimes Satan uses the insane tendency of human beings to believe that “this thing” happens to a lot of people, but “it” will never happen to me. The other insane behavior is people’s attraction to being scared to death! Seriously! Just look at how many people go to Six Flags every summer. They like the adrenaline rush. Why do they get an adrenaline rush? Because it’s scary. Because your mind tells you you’re going to die. And then you don’t. It’s a very human thing to try to cheat death, to get as close to it as possible and then escape. And I just wonder if liking that isn’t instigated by Satan because eventually the addiction to adrenaline will cause people to take bigger and bigger risks. And risks are risks because you could actually die.
One summer, Bob, Tricia, and I spent a lot of time on the roof of either Grandad’s barn or his shop. The shop roof was cedar shakes and not very steep, so it wasn’t so scary. But Bob’s rule was that we had to get from one side of the corrals to the other side without touching the ground, and that meant going over the shop and over the barn. The barn roof was corrugated metal and fairly steep. But Bob always made Tricia and me go barefooted so we’d have better traction. Only, when you’re really, really scared of heights, your feet start sweating. Sweating feet aren’t so good at stopping you when you start sliding down a steep, metal roof. However nails sticking up which catch the seat of your pants at the last minute have a way of stopping you from falling over the edge - however painful the rescue may be.
So I love this verse in the middle of Jesus’ prayer to the Father. He says,“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” Jesus didn’t ask the Father to take us out of the world, to wrap us in bubble wrap or a strait-jacket, or to even let us live as hermits somewhere remote. Jesus asked the Father that He would keep us from the evil one, from Satan and his designs to cause us harm.
Our Heavenly Father will not prevent us from making bad choices or ungodly decisions. It’s kind of like taking Pepper for a walk. He’s roaming all over the place. But he keeps an eye on where I am. If something scares him, he comes directly to me for protection. God allows us a great deal of freedom. But we should keep our eyes on Him and have a good enough relationship with Him that we know we can run to Him for protection when we feel threatened.
And maybe - if we have a good relationship with our Father - when we’re so foolish that we make a stupid mistake, because we’re careless or impetuous or just plain dumb, maybe, just maybe He’ll rescue us anyway. That’s the hope implicit in this verse: I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. Maybe He’ll rescue us with a close friend, or a Bible verse that just happens to pop into our head at the right time, or maybe He’ll use a nail to catch us by the seat of the pants.
Pierced for Us
And again another Scripture says, They will look on him whom they have pierced. John 19:37
American Sign Language is very interesting. It’s really fun to see the reasoning behind some signs. Two signs I really like are the sign for God and the sign for Jesus. The God sign is the B hand moving vertically downward in front of you, i.e. “The self-existent One - the One who was and is and is to come - coming down from heaven to earth.” The Jesus sign is right hand pointing to left palm and left hand pointing to right palm. The first time you see the sign, you know what it stands for. It’s unmistakable - especially for someone who knows Jesus. A Christian will immediately identify with the nail-pierced hands of Jesus.
Literally, it was the Romans who physically pierced Jesus. They are the ones who put Him on the stake, nailing His hands and feet. And they were the ones who thrust the spear into His side. It was the Romans who pierced Jesus. But . . . it was the Jewish religious leaders who insisted that Jesus be crucified. Pilate would have released Jesus, but those Jews wouldn’t hear of it! Jesus’ own countrymen, the chief priests and religious leaders, were responsible for His crucifixion and death.
Zechariah 12:10 foretold Jesus’ crucifixion. It says: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced,” . . . But then the verse goes on to talk about the time in the future when Jesus returns, “they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” Those who were responsible for His death will look on Him and will be extremely sorry for what they have done.
You and I are in the middle of this prophecy from Zechariah. The first part has already happened: Jesus was crucified. That is in the past. But, the second part of the prophecy is still to come: they will look on Him whom they have pierced, and “they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child.” But we’re in the middle of this for another reason.
Think about a time when your brother or sister was in trouble with Mom. You could hear the scolding he was getting. Did you think to yourself, “He deserves that”? Sometimes we start to feel a little smug or even a little happy that our brother (or sister) is in trouble. You might be sitting there thinking that you’re glad it’s your brother who is being grounded, and not you, and then all of a sudden, Mom turns and looks at you. You know you’re in trouble too.
That’s kind of what this prophecy is like. John 19:37 in context, is specifically talking about the Roman soldier who thrust his spear into Jesus’ side. But John 19:37 is a quote from the prophecy in Zechariah 12:10 which specifically refers to Jesus being pierced by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, i.e. the Romans incited by the Jewish religious leaders. But that’s not the end of the story because Isaiah 53:5 says: But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Even though our brother or sister might be the one being scolded, we often find we are not completely innocent either.
Jesus was pierced to save us from our sins. He was crucified that we might be reconciled to God. In a literal sense, it was the Romans who actually nailed Jesus on the stake and pierced his side. It was the Jewish leaders who actually insisted on his death. But in a very real sense, it is each person who calls upon the name of the Lord for salvation for whom Jesus was pierced. We are all guilty of doing things which are wrong and which required Jesus to die for us, if we are to be saved from death.
So when Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him . . .” suddenly we understand that although we didn’t actually pierce Him, He was pierced for us - because Jesus is my Savior and your Savior.
God the Son came down from His throne in heaven to become a man on earth to save us from our sins. Jesus died on the cross for us. Someday we will all look on the One who was pierced for us - Jesus.