Monthly Archives: August 2018

Today’s Scripture – August 31, 2018

John 10:31-39 (NIV)
Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
“We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came–and the Scripture cannot be broken–what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

Blasphemy was a capital offense in the Jewish justice system. Blasphemy could be speaking against God or cursing His name. But it also included making any kind of false statement about God or encouraging people to worship other gods. To these Jewish scholars, Jesus claim that He and God were one was tantamount to encouraging idolatry. And Jesus did, in fact accept worship – see John 9:37 for a recent example. If He had not been God in the flesh, that would indeed have been worthy of condemnation.

But Jesus was indeed one with God, literally God in the flesh, so His claims were not blasphemy, but truth. God really had sent Him into he world. He had come from God and was returning to God soon.

Jesus pointed to two “witnesses” in His defense. The first was the Scriptures, specifically Psalm 82:6, in which the leaders of the people are called “Elohim,” literally “gods,” but figuratively in this case, referring to their power and authority. Jesus’ point was not about semantics, but about the fact that, if the Scripture referred to those leaders who really were mere men as “gods,” then He, who did such amazing miracles and who spoke on God’s behalf with such authority, was at least as worthy of that title as those who had merited it in the past.

The second witness was the works that Jesus was doing. Miracles had happened in the past, but the miracles that Jesus was doing were unprecedented in their magnitude, their scope, and their sheer numbers, sometimes hundreds in a single day. These leaders could know merely by that that there was an intimacy, a congruence, a positive identity between Jesus and the God they worshiped.

But those leaders’ theology had no room in it for a “Son of God,” let alone for God in the flesh, and they were unwilling to allow for the idea that their theology was incorrect, or at least incomplete. So, they tried to arrest Jesus, but He slipped away from then into the crowd, and then out of the city.

Father, we still have to be careful not to believe that we have ever reached a point where we perfectly understand You or the ways in which You work. That belief will shut our minds and hearts to any further light that You want to show us, and stunt any further spiritual growth. You are infinite, and we will never fully grasp anything about You. And Your divine word, inspired by Your Spirit, allows us only a glimpse into that infinity, and provides a way for Your Spirit to guide us into even deeper understanding. Help me to always keep a growing edge in my theology, so that You can show me (and so that I can accept) more and more of You every day. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 29, 2018

John 10:27-30 (NIV)
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

The one sign of being one of Jesus sheep, a member of God’s kingdom, is that a person will listen to the voice of Jesus. “Listen to” is a very important term. Many people heard Jesus’ voice, but only those who were truly His sheep actually listened to it, truly hearing what He said, and obeying what He commanded. Those questioning Jesus’ identity heard Jesus’ voice, but there was no place in their hearts for His words to take root and to do their work of transformation.

The benefit to those who were Jesus’ sheep who listened to His voice was that they were able to receive eternal life, a life that differs both quantitatively and qualitatively from the lives of “normal” people. Eternal life does last forever, but it is also a life that is eternal, infinite, in EVERY direction. It is a life full of God’s presence, God’s power, God’s purity, His power and passion, His provision, and His protection. It is an expansive life that has power to transform all that it touches.

This eternal life is secure for those who continue to live in Jesus. None of those who are truly His sheep need to worry that God might drop them or lose track of them, any more than He would drop or lose track of Jesus Himself. For all who follow Jesus’ leading, He is able to keep them safe from the enemy all the way to heaven’s gate.

But the saying that pushed those who were then surrounding Jesus over the edge was the final one: “I and the Father are one.” It is one thing to claim some kind of special relationship with God, or even that you were sent as an emissary by God to be the shepherd of His people. But Jesus’ claim of complete unity with God was tantamount in their eyes of Him claiming to be God Himself. Actually, that was precisely what Jesus was doing. He wasn’t merely claiming to be close to God, or in touch with Him, but to literally be the embodiment of God in the flesh. He restated this reality even more clearly with His disicples at the Last Supper (John 14:9-11). Those who are not part of Jesus’ flock cannot believe this. But for those who have had their eyes opened to the truth, the fact of Jesus’ literal divinity is perfectly evident in all that He teaches and does.

Father, it is no surprise that this is still a dividing line today. Many can accept Jesus as a good man, a martyr, a great teacher, maybe even a prophet. But they cannot accept Him as God in the flesh as He claimed and proved many times to be. Thus, that is the line between the people of the world and the people of the kingdom. And what we believe about Jesus clearly demonstrates which side of that line we are on. Thank You, Lord, for convicting my heart all those years ago, for opening my eyes so that I could clearly see who I was and who Jesus is, and helping me to move across that line into Your kingdom. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 28, 2018

John 10:22-26 (NIV)
Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”

The controversy over Jesus’ identity continued to heat up in the break between the Feast of Tabernacles when He healed the man born blind, and when he returned a couple of months later for the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). In those intervening weeks, the Jewish leaders had done little else than discuss Jesus and His claims.

Some clearly believed that He was the Prophet who was foretold by Moses based solely on His miracles. Others were willing to go further, believing that He could even be the Messiah Himself, based on the same miraculous power that He demonstrated.

But there was a faction on the other end of the spectrum who believed the opposite. They believed that Jesus was a great deceiver and a lawbreaker, based on His verbal attacks on themselves, as well as on His clear disdain for the “traditions of the elders,” including their traditional interpretation of the Sabbath laws.

In between these extremes was a sizeable faction who had not yet made up their minds about Jesus. They found themselves torn between the two arguments, unable to decide, and it was representatives from that group that approached Jesus in Solomon’s Colonnade that cold winter afternoon.

Their demand was simple: “Give us a simple yes or no answer to whether You are the Messiah. Don’t give us stories or analogies, just ‘Yes, I am the Messiah,’ or ‘No, I am not’.”

Jesus answer was simple, though it was not the answer they wanted. He had told them already that He was the Messiah, both directly, and in the parables that He had told. And the miracles that He had done, astounding miracles, also testified clearly to his identity.

But He went a step further. The reason that these leaders were torn, the reason that they couldn’t both see and hear the resounding “yes” to their question before they ever asked, was because they didn’t belong to Jesus’ flock.

This was a profound statement, because, as Jesus had clearly shown earlier, His flock was not simply those who followed Him; it was actually the true people of God. His statement here put those people, the very religious leaders of the Jewish people, outside of that group. They couldn’t see or hear the evidence of Jesus’ identity because they were spiritually blind and deaf. They had ceased following God long ago, and were now following rules and regulations, Moses, and long-dead rabbis as their gods.

Jesus did not write these leaders off at this point. Instead, His answer pointed out to them that there were things going on that they really couldn’t see. Indeed, after Jesus’ resurrection and the Day of Pentecost just a few months away, some of these would believe and have their eyes and ears opened and would be suffused with spiritual life. But for now, they were outside the flock, and would have to use the only gate of faith in Jesus to enter in.

Father, it’s really pretty simple once we have had our eyes and ears opened. Work powerfully, Lord, to open the eyes and ears of those all around us who need Your saving grace, so that they can see their sin, hear Your call, respond, and be saved. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 27, 2018

John 10:19-21 (NIV)
At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

It was Jesus’ clear, unambiguous statement that He could lay down His life freely and take it up again just as freely that pushed some of the crowd to denounce Jesus as demon possessed and raging mad. Many over the centuries had laid down their lives for good causes, many arguably for the cause of Israel. But all of them had died and were still dead. Not a single one of them, no matter how noble or spiritual, had been able to raise themselves to life again.

But here was Jesus, claiming authority to do precisely that! They could tolerate Jesus’ claims to have a special relationship with God, and even to being the true Shepherd of the people. But to claim authority from God to die and then authority to simply rise from the dead – that was insane!

Quite a few others, however, were not ready to write Jesus off as a lunatic. Remember that just hours before He had healed a man born blind, an unheard-of miracle. Those others reasoned that you might not like what Jesus was saying, but you had to take into consideration the fact that He had done something that was completely impossible, totally miraculous, before you discounted or ignored what He was saying.

This, in fact, was one of the big reasons that Jesus did miracles in the first place. It was a demonstration of divine power, a testimony that His words were not the idle speculations of an ivory-tower academic, but came with such authority and power that they had to be listened to. And it was the reason that the people of the Church were and are empowered to do mighty works in the name of Jesus. Theology can be debated, personal experience can be doubted, but a miracle is solid evidence of God’s presence with and in a person.

Father, thank You for not only the testimony of Your presence in Jesus and in those of the early Church, but also for Your continued presence and power at work in Your people today. Thank You for the miracles You have allowed me to be a part of, and how You use those demonstrations of Your presence and power to touch and change people’s lives. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 26, 2018

John 10:14-18 (NIV)
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

There are three signs that Jesus gave as testimony to His identity as the Good Shepherd.

First is the fact that Jesus knows exactly who the sheep who belong to His flock are, and who are not. At this point, the vast majority of the Jewish leaders were NOT part of His flock; they did not believe in Him, they would not believe His testimony about who He was, and they would not commit to following Him as disciples. Jesus’ knowledge of His flock members is at an extremely high level, the same level of knowledge as He had of the Father, with whom He was eternally one (John 1:1, a key contextual verse for the whole gospel).

The second sign was that Jesus would soon lay down His life for His sheep. When danger from the enemy approached, He would not run to try to save Himself, as the false shepherds would. Instead, He would boldly march forward, even though it would cost Him His own life. And this laying down of His life for the sake of the sheep would be neither out of His control, nor permanent. Because of His eternal relationship with the Father, Jesus had been given authority to purposefully lay down His life for the sake of the sheep, as well as authority to take His life back up again, to raise Himself from the dead as an act of His own power.

The third sign was that Jesus would not only lay down His life to bring the Jews into the fold, but to bring the gentiles in as well, the “other sheep” that He talked about. In all of their interpretations of the Messiah that these Bible scholars had come up with, their conceptions were all far too small, centered on a narrow nationalism that allowed no room for God’s love to reach beyond the people that He had originally called. But now that the Messiah had indeed come, the gate to life in the kingdom would be thrown open to everyone who would believe in Him for salvation (John 3:14-17). People from every nation, tribe, people, and language would all flow into the kingdom (Revelation 7:9-10), forming one flock under the leadership of Jesus Himself.

Father, Jesus truly is the Good Shepherd of all who want to come to You for salvation, and has proven Himself to be over a span of two thousand years. All who have tasted of eternal life agree! Thank You for Your saving grace that Has worked eternity into my own life in undeniable ways through faith in Jesus! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 24, 2018

John 10:11-13 (NIV)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

Jesus draws a sharp line between Himself, the good Shepherd, and the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law to whom God had given responsibility for watching over and caring for His people.

The sharpest difference is that the true shepherd is willing to actually lay down His life for the sheep, to care for them and protect them no matter the cost to himself. The false shepherds, hired hands, run when they see a major threat coming, leaving the flock to fend for themselves.

This was already being played out in the real world. Jesus, in taking on the false teachings of the Jewish leaders, was defending God’s people from those teachings that would lead them astray, even to destruction. And He was standing strong, boldly confronting the threat, even though He knew that plans were being made even then to have Him arrested and executed, and even though these leaders had tried to organize the crowds to stone Him.

The leaders, on the other hand, were riddled with self-interest. When Jesus gathered a crowd, they were more concerned that they were losing influence than they were interested in what Jesus was saying and doing that caused the people to flock to Him. And when they had to choose between protecting their flock against the cruelty of the Romans and their own interests, their own interests won out easily.

Father, help us as your people to lead the others of Your flock, those entrusted to our care and our discipleship, exactly the way that Jesus leads us. Help us to stand firm, even in the face of danger or threats, to protect them. Keep us free from the rampant self-interest that so pervades our society today, so that we can be good shepherds, and faithfully protect Your flock, in Your strength, from all that threatens them. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 22, 2018

John 10:7-10 (NIV)
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

The Pharisees who were listening to Jesus did not understand Jesus’ illustration of the sheep pen, so He continued to flesh out the illustration to help them to see things more clearly.

Jesus had pointed out that those who try to enter the sheep pen of God’s people by climbing over the wall instead of coming through the door were clearly up to no good. Now he clarified that He Himself is the door to the sheep pen, the only legitimate way to enter. The Pharisees as a whole rejected the idea that a person, even a miracle-working person such as Jesus, could provide direct access to God, preferring instead to rely on their own efforts, their own self-made righteousness, to gain access to God, and to be one of His people.

Jesus’ judgment on these religious leaders is harsh, and justifiably so. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law (scribes) had built their lifestyles by putting themselves high up on pedestals, building godly reputations that they believed made the common people, the “people of the earth” as they called them, beholden to them.

But, as Jesus points out here, the people didn’t actually listen to the voices of these leaders or follow them in their ways. A big reason for that was that the ordinary people saw no way that they could attain the supposed holiness that those leaders claimed to possess, and so proudly flaunted in public. The people’s reaction was less awe and reverence than it was a shrug and “well, I guess that’s fine for them.”

But now that the true shepherd had shown up, now that the true gate into the kingdom had appeared, the people were flocking to Him. They recognized in the teachings of Jesus the voice of their true shepherd. It wasn’t that the people were abandoning the traditional leaders; it was that most of them weren’t truly following them in the first place.

But now that Jesus had come, the way into the kingdom had been opened to all who would enter through faith in Him. Not only the religiously sophisticated Scribes and Pharisees, but even the lowly people of the earth could come in, find spiritual nourishment, be led and cared for by Jesus Himself, and experience a truly abundant life. But to do so, everyone had to humble himself or herself, and come in through Jesus.

Father, the same way into Your kingdom is available to all of us today. Through faith in Jesus and His finished work (and only through Him), anyone can come in, find pasture, and live a truly abundant life. Thank You so much for helping me to find and enter through the true gate, so that I can live all my life following the genuine shepherd as one of Your flock. Amen.


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Today’s Scripture – August 21, 2018

John 10:1-6 (NIV)
“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

Remember that chapter divisions were a late addition to the text of Scripture, not devised until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and sometimes they ended up dividing things that really go together. In this case, Jesus words at the beginning of chapter ten are a continuation of His answer to the Pharisees at the end of chapter nine.

The Pharisees had asked Jesus if they were included in His condemnation of the Pharisees: “those who see will become blind.” Jesus had answered that, since they claimed to be able to see, they were guilty of blindness. To many, that answer seems unnecessarily harsh, since these Pharisees seem to have been interested in following Jesus. But He continues His explanation in what is now chapter ten.

Jesus portrays the kingdom of God as a sheep pen, full of the people that followed God, His flock. The true sheep, as well as the true shepherds of the sheep, come into the sheep pen via the gate. But those who try to sneak into the pen by climbing over the wall are neither true sheep nor true shepherds. Their avoidance of the gate provided by the builder of the pen clearly shows that they are up to no good.

Jesus is equating the Pharisees with both the rogue sheep and the rogue shepherds. Rather than being faithful sheep who follow Jesus into the safety of the pen and out to find safe grazing, they go their own way, claiming to be part of the flock because of their strict adherence to the law. And rather than being faithful shepherds to God’s sheep under their care, they are more interested in what the sheep can do for them by providing wool and meat.

Jesus points out that the true sheep of God’s flock follow Jesus. They realize that He had come as the true shepherd, and they recognize his voice and follow Him wherever He leads. But the Pharisees didn’t recognize Jesus’ voice as that of their shepherd, preferring instead the long-dead voice of Moses (although even Moses had pointed forward to the Messiah who would come). Thus, the Pharisees were indeed blind to the truth of who Jesus was and of how to enter the kingdom of God, even though they claimed to have absolutely clear sight. In fact, they were so blind that they didn’t even understand what Jesus was trying to tell them.

Father, we, too, are not immune to trying to find our own way into the sheep pen, to being counted as one of Your people. We try to earn our admission through good works or self-improvement. And we, too, can fall into listening to shepherds other than Jesus, who will always lead us astray. Help us, Lord to see clearly, to hear truly, and to follow faithfully the voice of our one true Shepherd, Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 17, 2018

John 9:35-41 (NIV)
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

The formerly blind man had never seen Jesus. When he had washed the mud off his eyes at the pool of Siloam and had been able to see for the first time in his life, he had not tried to find Jesus, but had simply gone home as quickly as possible to share the glad news with his family and friends. But now that he had been thrown out of the synagogue where the Pharisees had gathered to examine his case, Jesus went to him.

Jesus’ first question was key. The man had become an outcast because he had refused to denounce Jesus as a sinner or heretic. But refusal to denounce Jesus is not the same as full belief in Him. So, Jesus asked the question outright: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The formerly blind man realized that this “Son of Man” was the one who had healed him and was ready to believe in Him the moment someone could point Him out. And when Jesus identified that He Himself was the Son of Man, the man fell at His feet and worshiped Him. Far from rejecting the man’s worship as other mere men, and even angels, were required to do (Acts 10:25-26, 14:13-15; Revelation 22:8-9), Jesu accepted the worship as rightfully given.

Jesus proclamation that He had come so that the blind would see and the seeing would become blind encapsulates what had taken place that day. The man everyone had written off as a vile sinner due to his congenital blindness had had both his physical and spiritual eyes opened so that He could see who Jesus truly was and put his faith in Him. At the same time, the religious leaders, including the Pharisees who were with Jesus, but who had similarly shown disdain for the blind man, had been shown to be spiritually blind, unable to see past their prejudices to be able to understand who Jesus truly was so that they, too could worship Him.

Father, I am so glad that You opened my eyes so that I could finally see and receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Help me to point everyone I meet today to Jesus, to tell the story of my encounter with Him, so that they can be saved and be given the amazing gift of spiritual sight as well. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 16, 2018

John 9:26-34 (NIV)
Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

This was turning out badly for the Pharisees. All they wanted to do was to prove that this healing of a man born blind was a sham, a con job or, failing that, to prove the Jesus in healing him had broken the Sabbath laws, and was therefore a sinner and could be denounced. But so far all they had been able to do was to confirm the mighty miracle that Jesus had done, a miracle unprecedented anywhere in the Scriptures.

Still, they knew that Jesus had broken at least two of the accepted rules of the Sabbath in doing the miracle (making medicine from mud, and applying that medicine to the man’s eyes), which in their minds tainted the whole thing. So, to nail it down, they demanded that the now healed man review the steps that Jesus had taken, so that they could note the “sin” involved in each one.

But the man had already told them at least twice what had happened and was tired of the whole process. He simply wanted to go home and celebrate his healing with his family and friends.

The man’s intimation that the Pharisees might be wanting more details so that they could become disciples of Jesus too sent them right over the edge. They were disicples of Moses, meaning that they had devoted their lives to studying the law in fine detail, including the volumes of commentary that had been written over the centuries by respected rabbis, which over time had been elevated to the status of Scripture by many of these men.

Their statement that, whereas they knew that God had spoken to Moss, but they had no idea where Jesus came from or the source of His power, pushed the man himself over the edge. He had two very simple theological points to make about this whole affair, which he spoke clearly and boldly. First, the healing of a man born blind was an unprecedented miracle, one that no one could doubt had to have God’s direct involvement. The second point was that God does not work through sinners, but only through godly people who do His will. His inescapable conclusion was that, whatever Jesus was, He was no sinner, but had to be a godly man.

His logic, simple though it was, was unassailable. So, the Pharisees reacted emotionally, with a pointed ad hominem attack on the man himself. He was steeped in sin at birth,” with his birth defect obviously punishment from God for some evil that he had done even before he was born (which Jesus clearly said was not the case – John 9:3), so he was in no position to lecture them on who was godly and who was a sinner. And they unceremoniously threw him out of the place.

Father, it is overwhelmingly sad that these men, supposedly the godliest people of the day, were so blinded by their own prejudices that they were literally calling Your work evil and Your Son a sinner! Lord, save us from that kind of hardness of heart, that kind of evil that turns people away from Your path, and eats up their souls with anger, pride, resentment and, ultimately, hatred. Amen.

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