It Had To Be this Way

Purple Cross

Reading the Word

John 12:27–36 (ESV)

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Understanding and Applying the Word

As Jesus’ journey to the cross was coming to an end, he felt the weight of the circumstances. His soul was troubled. The crucifixion was no small thing for Jesus. He was concerned to his very core. However, he was not going to ask the Father to take the hour away. Jesus knew that he had to go to the cross. It was the very reason he came. It was through the cross that mankind would be saved and there was no other way.

One common question that readers of the Bible often have is if there is any other way for people to be saved other than faith in Jesus. There are two things to be said about this. First: Jesus said that he is the only way to the Father in John 14:6:

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

Second: if there was another way that we might be saved, then Jesus did not have to die. To say that there are ways of salvation other than through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is to devalue what Jesus did at Calvary. Jesus went to the cross precisely because there was no other way for us to be reconciled to God and have eternal life. The cross shows us just how serious our sin problem is and the great cost of our redemption. Jesus, the Son of God, had to die. It was the only way.

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Life for All through Death

wheat

Reading the Word

John 12:20–26 (ESV)

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Understanding and Applying the Word

In John 12:19, the religious leaders state the need to get rid of Jesus because the “whole world has gone after him.” In the very next verse, we read that there were some Greeks who had come to worship and wanted to see Jesus. By telling us they were Greeks, John informs us that these visitors were Gentile converts, likely converted because of what they had heard from or about Jesus. The whole world truly was going after him!

Word reached Jesus that the visitors wanted to see him. It may seem that Jesus’ response had nothing to do with his Greek visitors, but his response is actually very fitting. He spoke of his coming death and resurrection by using the illustration of a grain of wheat. It is through the death and resurrection of Christ that all believers find salvation and eternal life in the presence of the Lord. This is true for everyone, both Jew and Greek. So, when this group came seeking Jesus, his response was to tell them how to find life. It would come through what was about to take place over the next several days.

For all people, salvation comes through the One who lived a perfect, sinless life and gave himself as a sacrifice. He was crucified and placed in a tomb, but death did not hold him. He rose from the grave in victory over sin and death and now gives life to all who will turn in repentance and faith. Jesus had to die and be resurrected so that we could have life through him.

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There Are Two Types of People

Matthew 2534 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 25:31–46 (ESV)

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

Understanding and Applying the Word

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

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

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

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Well Done, Faithful Servant

Matthew 2521 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 25:14–30 (ESV)

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Understanding and Applying the Word

After telling a parable to teach his disciples that he may return sooner than they expect and then a second parable to teach his disciples that they must be prepared if his return is delayed, Jesus tells a third parable. This time, he uses a story about a master, three servants, and talents. In the parable, the master entrusts each of his three servants with talents (a talent was money worth about about 20 years wages for the common laborer) to care for while he is away. When the master returned, he wanted to know what each of the servants had done with the talents he had left for them to manage. Two of the servants had invested and received a return on their investment. This pleased the master. However, the third had done nothing with his talents. He buried them and returned them to the master on his return. The master was displeased with this servant’s failure to steward his talents so he took them and gave them to one of the faithful servants.

The first two parables told us that we need to be ready for Jesus’ return whether that return is soon or in the distant future. The Parable of the Talents teaches us what we should be doing as we wait. Those who are prepared for the Lord’s return are those who have been faithful in caring for all the Lord has given us. We must realize that everything we have and everything we are is to be used for God’s glory and the building of his kingdom. Nothing we have is our own. We are servants and we have been given the responsibility to manage our Master’s things for him. When Christ returns, we will give an account of what we have done with our time, our money, and our abilities. Will we hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant”?

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Ready to Wait

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Reading the Word

Matthew 25:1–13 (ESV)

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

Understanding and Applying the Word

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

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

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

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Sooner than Expected

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:45–51 (ESV)

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Matthew 24-25 make up what is commonly referred to as the Olivet Discourse. In these chapters, Jesus gives us his most lengthy teaching on the end times. In the verses we have looked at so far, Jesus has emphasized that the timing of the end is to remain unknown to us, but we must be ready at all times by living holy lives and preaching the gospel to the world.

In today’s reading, Jesus changes his teaching method. He begins using parables to teach his disciples. Today’s parable is about a servant who is left in charge of his master’s household while the master goes away. While the master is away, the servant is unfaithful in his duties and even beats the other servants because he thinks that the master is going to be gone a long time. However, the master returned sooner than expected and saw what the wicked servant was doing. The servant was cut “in pieces and put with the hypocrites.”

This parable reinforces what Jesus has been teaching all along. We do not know the timing of our Lord’s return and we must be ready for him to come at any moment. He may come sooner than we expect. Will he find us being faithful to our task or will he find us unfaithful like the wicked servant? The one who truly belongs to Christ will remain faithful to his Master, while the unfaithful will be judged. We must not wait until later to serve the Lord. Later may never come.

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An Hour You Do Not Expect

accurate alarm alarm clock analogue

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

Reading the Word

Matthew 24:37–44 (ESV)

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

Parallel Text: Luke 17:26-36

What Are You Living For?

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Reading the Word

Luke 21:34–36 (ESV)

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

Understanding and Applying the Word

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

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

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

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Stay Awake

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Reading the Word

Mark 13:33–37 (ESV)

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

Understanding and Applying the Word

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

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

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

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

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A Lesson from a Tree

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Reading the Word

Matthew 24:32–36 (ESV)

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

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

Understanding and Applying the Word

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

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

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

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