How to Spot a Jesus Follower

John 1335 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

John 13:31–35 (ESV)

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

After Judas had gone out from the group, Jesus spoke of his coming glorification. He was looking ahead to the cross and also the resurrection and ascension, which would confirm that Jesus was who he claimed to be and that his words were true.

As Jesus prepared to depart from this world, he left his disciples with the command to love one another. They were to love one another as Jesus had loved them, which was marked by humility and sacrifice. Through this display of love, the world would know that the disciples belonged to Jesus.

Those who belong to Jesus are called to be like him. Others should not only hear us say that we are Christians, but they should be able to observe our actions and know that we are different than the world. Jesus is no longer on earth, but his followers are many and serve as his representatives. We do this by proclaiming his word and by living as he lived. We are to love others just as he has loved us.

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Amazing Love

1 John 410 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 26:1–5 (ESV)

1 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4 and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

Parallel Texts: Mark 14:1-2; Luke 22:1-2

Understanding and Applying the Word

As Passover approached, Jesus again told his disciples that he would soon be crucified. As Jesus told this to his disciples, the chief priests and elders were gathered at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, to discuss how they could rid themselves of Jesus. They planned how they could arrest him and kill him, but they knew they had to plan carefully because Jesus was very popular and the crowds gathered to celebrate Passover would be large.

Jesus knew what was coming yet he offered himself voluntarily. The crucifixion was no surprise to Jesus. It was all a part of the plan that God had put in place for the deliverance of sinful mankind. Jesus was only two days from his arrest and going to the cross, but he was not deterred from his mission. We must not miss this. Jesus’ commitment to our salvation is a wonderful demonstration of God’s love for each and every one of us. Christ did everything he could for our salvation. He gave his very life so that we could have eternal life. It reminds me of the old hymn, And Can It Be?:

Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

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Counting the Cost

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Reading the Word

Luke 14:25–33 (ESV)

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus addressed proper priorities in the passages we have been reading the past few days. In today’s reading, he does so again with words that may seem a bit harsh. As Jesus spoke to the crowds that were following him, he said that if anyone came to him and did not hate his closest family members, he could not be a disciple. Wow! Why would Jesus say such a thing? Dis Jesus really teach that we should hate our parents, siblings, spouses, and even ourselves?

Jesus, as he often did, was using hyperbole in his teaching. His words were extreme to set up a strong contrast to the opposing action. Here, he pointed out that if there is anything we love more than him, our priorities are out of line. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, deserves our highest affection and the center of our world. Anything less would be idolatry.

To love Jesus with such a love will cost us something. It may cost us a great deal. Jesus told the crowds if they were to follow him they should count the cost and be prepared for the sacrifice it will require. Following Jesus may cost a disciple family, friends, social status, and financially. Some followers may even lose their lives. However, when Jesus is our first love, all sacrifice is worth it. Are you prepared to take up your cross daily and follow Jesus?

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What Is Our Motivation?

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Reading the Word

Luke 14:12–14 (ESV)

12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

In Luke 14:7-11, Jesus addressed the issue of guests seeking to be honored by their hosts. In today’s reading, Jesus turned to speak to the host. One should not simply invite those who are able to repay through reciprocal invitations in the future. Instead, one should invite the “poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” These represent those who are not able to repay, which shows true generosity on the part of the host. Such genuine love and giving to others will be rewarded by God in the end.

We must remember that our motivations for our actions are just as important as the actions themselves. Why did you help someone? Was it to be recognized? Was it so you could tell people about it later? Or, was it because you wanted to please the Lord and show others the same love that God has shown to you? In the end, the only thing that will matter is what God thinks of what we have said and done. He knows both the external actions and the internal motivations. May God’s approval be our heart’s desire.

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What Is the Loving Thing To Do?

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Reading the Word

Luke 14:1–6 (ESV)

1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus was dining at the house of a Pharisee. This is an important detail in this story because the Pharisees were known for their strong emphasis on keeping the law. They were so committed to keeping the law, that they even added additional rules of their own to make sure they kept the law. They were the legalists of Jesus’ day.

One of the laws that was central to Jewish life was the keeping of the Sabbath. No work was to be done. So, when a man with dropsy went to see Jesus on a Sabbath, what would Jesus do? Would he heal the man or would he refuse to work on the Sabbath? Jesus asked his hosts what they thought about the situation. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” he asked. They remained silent, so he asked them if they had a son or an ox that fell into a well on a Sabbath, would they pull the son or ox out. Of course they would! The welfare of a person, or even an animal, is too important. It was not the intent of the law to harm people. So, of course healing a person on the Sabbath is lawful!

Jesus’ questions that confronted the Pharisees legalistic mindset cut to the heart of the matter. In essence, Jesus asked, “What is the loving thing to do?” Would love help a son that fell into a well? Would love pull an ox out of a hole in the ground? Would love walk away from a man with dropsy when healing was possible? We must be careful that our rules and regulations do not become a hindrance to loving others. After all, Jesus said that to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves is a summary of the whole law (cf. Matthew 22:36-40).

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Love Is the Law

Love God, Love Others

Reading the Word

Luke 13:10–17 (ESV)

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

Understanding and Applying the Word

The religious leaders had so perverted the law of God that they used it even to undermine acts of kindness, love, and mercy on the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy by pointing out that they all untied their oxen or donkeys on the Sabbath to lead them to water. How much more appropriate to show compassion to a human being?

When our rules prevent us from showing love and compassion to others or become an excuse for us to avoid others, there is something wrong with our rules. God’s law was given to foster love for the Lord and for others, not prevent it. This is why Paul states in Romans 13:8 that “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Over and over again, Christ showed love and compassion to sinners and we are called to do the same.

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Jesus Had Compassion for the Crowd

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

Reading the Word

Mark 8:1–10 (ESV)

1 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

Parallel Text: Matthew 15:32-39

Understanding and Applying the Word

Once again we read an account of Jesus feeding a large crowd. The first was a crowd of five thousand men plus women and children. This time we have four thousand. Matthew’s account tells us it was also four thousand men plus women and children. It is interesting to note the response of the disciples when they were told by Jesus to feed the people. Even after witnessing the first feeding, they still did not know how they were going to feed such a large crowd with so little food!

Of particular interest, though, is the motivation Jesus had for feeding the crowd. We often put on special events or free meals in our churches with the hopes that they will draw larger crowds. This gives us the opportunity to communicate with people we would otherwise have no opportunity to speak to. This was not Jesus’ motivation. He was not hoping to draw a greater crowd to hear him preach. We read that he was moved with compassion for the crowd. He cared about the people and desired to meet their need of food. He simply cared.

As believers, we do well to desire to share the Good News with people and to look for opportunities to do that. Special events and dinners are good things. However, we must first care about the people we desire to reach. Otherwise, our motivation is simply to draw a bigger crowd. We must be careful not to get caught up in chasing numbers. Let us seek to minister to others because we care about them and let us point them to Jesus because he is the source of true life and joy.

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Great Forgiveness and Great Love

Christ at Simon the Pharisee

Christ at Simon the Pharisee (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 7:36–50 (ESV)

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus went to a Pharisee’s home to eat with him. While there, a “woman of the city, a sinner” arrives and wept at Jesus’ feet, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with oil. This was a great show of love and honor by the woman. The problem, as expressed by the Pharisee, is the woman was a known prostitute! Why would Jesus allow such a woman to touch him? If he were really a prophet he would not allow such a sinner to come near him, right?

No so! Jesus responds to the Pharisee with a parable about a moneylender. He loaned two people money and forgave both of their debts. One had borrowed five hundred denarii, the other fifty. Who would love the moneylender more? Who would be the most thankful?  Well, of course it would be the one whose debt had been greater.

Jesus used the parable to speak of the woman prostitute’s and the Pharisee’s attitude towards Jesus. The woman knew her sin was great and that the forgiveness she had been granted through Jesus was great. She loved Jesus greatly. On the other hand, the Pharisee did not believe he needed forgiveness because he was already righteous on his own. He did not need Jesus and did not feel deep gratitude towards him.

When we are able to see our sinfulness and honestly admit the deep debt we owe as a result, our love for Christ will grow. Such understanding helps us better understand the great love Christ has shown for us by going to the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. Think of John 3:16 and what it means about God’s love:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

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His Love Endures Forever

Psalm 1361 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Psalm 136:1–9 (ESV)
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

4 to him who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

Understanding and Applying the Word

It does not take long to understand the central theme of this psalm. Every line ends with the refrain “for his steadfast love endures forever.” God’s steadfast love is the reason that we should give thanks to him.

In verses verses 4-9, the theme of God’s steadfast love continues and is shown in his creative acts. He made the heavens and the earth. He made the stars and the sun and the moon. It is God who created a world that could sustain life. And it is God who created us and gave us the gift of life. What a wonderful God who shows us his love in so many ways. His love truly does endure forever!

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Unity

Psalm 1331 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Psalm 133:1–3 (ESV)

1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Unity is a wonderful thing. When the people of God are working together, it is pleasant and brings great pleasure. The psalmist uses two images to illustrate the goodness of unity. It is like the precious oil used to anoint a priest that runs down from his head to his beard and to his robe. The oil spreads over the entire person. It is also like the dew running off of Mount Herman, the highest peak in Israel, and onto Zion. Zion is a dusty and much smaller mountain, but it is where the temple sits. The dew from Mount Herman gives refreshing moisture to dry Zion.

If you have ever been in a church where unity is not present among God’s people, you may have a good understanding of this psalm. Without unity, the people of God cannot prosper and thrive. It takes unity to allow the body of Christ to function as it ought to and accomplish what it is designed to. This is why there is such a great emphasis throughout the New Testament on this vital issue. We are called to love one another, forgive one another, and live in unity as we serve and build one another up. May we dwell in unity and experience its great pleasures.

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