Our God Forever

Ephesians 318–19 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Psalm 48:9–14 (ESV)

9 We have thought on your steadfast love, O God,
in the midst of your temple.
10 As your name, O God,
so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
11 Let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
because of your judgments!

12 Walk about Zion, go around her,
number her towers,
13 consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
14 that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Have you ever stopped to consider the love of God? I mean, really consider it? In this psalm, the people take the time to walk around the city and admire its greatness. They knew it was great because of all that God had done for them and because he was with them. And he had promised to be with them forever.

God has promised to be with his people forever. Think about that. What else do you have that will be with you forever? There is nothing that can ever separate us from God and his love. Nothing! He is with us today, tomorrow, and into eternity. He is with us in life and he will be with us in death and into life after death. Paul reflects on this truth in Ephesians 3:17-19:

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17–19, ESV)

Take the time to reflect on God’s promise to always be with you today and forever.

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If God Is For Us…

Romans 831 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Romans 8:31–39 (ESV)

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Today marks the beginning of a new year. Many of us have likely made resolutions for the year with the aim of making this year better than the last. It is good to look ahead to the future and make plans, but we are also faced with the reality of uncertainty. We do not know what the future holds. It may be difficult.

Paul reminds us in today’s reading that, no matter what comes our way, we can rest knowing that God is on our side. He is for us. He is for us so much that he sent his Son to die for us. If he did that, nothing else will stand between us and him. Let us plan for the future with hope and not fear, knowing that we go in God’s love.

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Christmas Displays God’s Love

John 316 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

John 3:16–19 (ESV)

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 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. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 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.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Yesterday, we mentioned that we have to make sure we do not forget the reason for Christmas. Jesus was born into this world to save mankind by going to the cross as payment for sin. We also must not overlook what we learn about God because of Christmas. We learn that, even though we have rebelled against God through disobedience, he still loves us. He loves us so much that he gave his only Son for our salvation. That is amazing love!

I often hear from people who blame God for their pain and suffering. We must not forget that our sin is the cause of all of the trouble we face in this world. It is because of our disobedience that pain and sorrow and death entered into God’s good creation. Jesus came to rescue us from our suffering and give us eternal life in a world without the consequences of sin. It is because of Jesus that we have hope in the midst of our pain. We must not overlook God’s love and goodness during this special time of the year.

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Always Putting Others First

John 1926–27 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

John 19:23–27 (ESV)

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, 25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Understanding and Applying the Word

As Jesus was dying on the cross, the Roman soldiers were dividing his clothing. The soldiers cast lots to determine who would receive Jesus’ tunic. In doing so, the soldiers fulfilled a prophecy recorded in Psalm 22:18:

“…they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.

We are also told that a few of Jesus’ followers were present at the cross. Among those present were Jesus’ mother and “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, which was a way of referring to John. As Jesus hung there in great pain, he was still focused on providing for others. He made sure to arrange for the care of his mother after his death by giving the responsibility to John, who willingly accepted.

Reading of Jesus’ concern for his mother reminds us of the reality of this event. A mother was watching as her innocent son was executed as a criminal. A son was leaving behind his mother and he wanted to make sure she was taken care of. We also get another glimpse of Jesus’ resolve to fulfill his mission as the Savior of mankind. As he hung on the cross, his first concern was not for himself, but for the welfare of others. He went to the cross specifically for that purpose. He went to save us and give us life. He gave himself for us. Even in his death he put others first.

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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

white and black desk calculator on white graphing paper

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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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