Tag Archives: salvation

Today’s Scripture – March 26, 2018

Luke 19:1-10 (NIV) Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

The road to Jerusalem passed through the city of Jericho, about ½ mile from the remains of the city destroyed by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. Jerusalem was close enough that after lunch in Jericho, Jesus and His entourage would still be able to make it there before nightfall. Luke arranges the telling of the events in Jericho to bring the healing of the blind man and the transformation of Zacchaeus into immediate conjunction to emphasize their commonalities. (Remember that the chapter breaks were not introduced into the Scriptures until almost 1200 years after the gospels were written.)

In the first event was a man who couldn’t see Jesus because he was physically blind. In the second event was a man who couldn’t see Jesus because he was physically short. In both cases, the full view of Jesus brought salvation. In the case of the blind man, his faith that Jesus could cause him to see brought him not only sight, but salvation. (The phrase in verse 18:42 often translated “Your faith has healed you,” literally says, “Your faith has saved you.”) In the case of Zacchaeus, his faith in Jesus that obeyed Jesus’ call to bring Him into his house brought salvation and a restoration of spiritual sight that enabled him to see his sin and moved him to make restitution to those he had wronged.

Make no mistake, Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus was a divine appointment, orchestrated by the Father. That was why Jesus used the phrase “I must stay at your house today.” See John 4:4 for another example of this kind of language. When Jesus uses the words “must” or “have to” with regard to his actions, it is a transparent way of identifying that He is following direct orders from God Himself.

Zacchaeus was a hated man in Jericho. Not only was he a tax collector for the Roman government, considered a sellout by most of the Jewish people, he, like many other tax collectors, had grown rich by over-collecting the taxes due and keeping the surplus. This resentment by the people was the reason for their shocked reaction when Jesus went to lunch at his house: “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner!”

But it didn’t take very long for the mere presence of Jesus to soften Zacchaeus’ heart, and to help him to see himself in a new light. And what he saw dismayed him, and moved him not only to repentance, but to making restitution to those he had wronged. This would have cost him a large portion of his fortune, but in the presence of Jesus, he realized that he stood to gain much more than mere money.

Father, the blind man knew he could not see, which made him pursue Jesus. Zacchaeus believed that he could see, which made it necessary for Jesus to pursue him. But in the end, the presence of Jesus gave sight to both, and brought salvation to both as well. Help me to always remember that Jesus didn’t just come to heal, but to save, so that, as I follow Him, those priorities inform my own ministry. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 6, 2018

Luke 15:17-20 (NIV) “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.”

This young man, like so many people, had to hit absolute rock bottom before his eyes were opened wide enough to see. One day, he suddenly realized that he was in a pig sty, that he was far, far away from home, that he had left behind all that was right and true in his life, and, regrettably, that he had probably burned all of the bridges behind him. He had defiantly done so many things that he was now ashamed of. He had brought disgrace on himself and on his family.

But as he pondered his situation, a solution began to present itself to his mind. He was sure that there was no way that his father would accept him back as a son – he had disgraced himself too badly for that. But maybe his father would take him back as a servant, a hired hand. He knew that he no longer had a share in the family estate. He had taken that and blown it completely. But, if he could show that he now realized the error of his ways, that he really was repentant, his father could at least hire him like he would a stranger. So he practiced his speech, and set off for his father’s house.

Jesus is painting a very accurate picture, not just of the tax collectors that were in His crowd of listeners, but of many people who wake up one morning and realize that they have completely blown it. The realization, and it can be sparked by many things, completely blows them away, like getting the wind knocked out of you. All suddenly seems very dark and hopeless.

For some of those, though, a light can be seen far off in the distance. Some pick up a Bible in a hotel room. Some hear a preacher on the TV or radio. Others remember the Sunday School class of their childhood. At first, many of these write off a return to God’s good graces as impossible. They realize that they have probably burned all of their bridges with Him. They had defiantly done things that they were now ashamed of. They had brought disgrace on themselves They had committed too many sins to be forgiven.

But some of those, like some of the tax collectors listening to Jesus, decide that maybe there is hope. They are pretty sure that God will never be willing to receive them back as His child. But maybe, if they grovel enough and beg enough, He might grudgingly be willing to take them back as a lowly slave. So they make up their minds to just do that.

Father, I can relate to every part of this awakening story. I remember that when I first realized how far I had brought myself from You, and remembered all of my defiance and rebellion, I despaired of ever being able to live in Your good graces again. It was a horrible place to be. But then the small light in the distance, the small hope that You might possible deign to take me back as Your slave if I repented well enough. It was enough to get me turned around in moving in the right direction. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 14, 2018

Luke 13:22-30 (NIV) Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

This person’s question was short, but very interesting: Are only a few people going to be saved? The prevailing thought in Jesus’ day was that the Messiah was going to come to save the Jewish people, and those who were willing to become Jewish through conversion, baptism, and circumcision. Thus only a small percentage of the world’s population would end up being saved.

Jesus’ answer is surprising. He did not say that only a small number would be saved. Instead, He indicated that those saved would be a different group than what the people were expecting.

Jesus was not in the least teaching that everyone would be saved, despite God’s clear desire that everyone would believe in Jesus for salvation. Instead, he taught that those who wanted to be saved would have to do it by entering through the narrow door: Jesus Himself (John 10:1-2, 7). In the end, there will be many who refuse, but who will insist that they be allowed to enter by way of their own preferred door.

For many of the Jews, this door would be through obedience to the law of Moses and conformity to the sacrificial system. Among these were the Pharisees, teachers of the law, and priests. They were familiar with this law, and were pretty good at it. But Jesus clearly let them know that that door opened onto a dead end.

Others over the last 2,000 years have wanted God to accept their devoutness in whatever religion they chose to follow. But again, Jesus tells them clearly that there is only one door into the kingdom, into salvation. Anyone who tries to muscle their way in through another door will find themselves denied entrance.

Some will even try to get in on the basis of knowing who Jesus is. But real saving faith is not a matter of knowledge about Jesus, but of relationship. If there has not been a relationship, they will be turned away at the door with an “I don’t know you or where you come from.”

The most remarkable part of this discourse is Jesus’ warning to the Jewish people that, if they refuse to enter salvation through faith in Him, they will be stuck outside of God’s kingdom, excluded from salvation, while they watch people from all over the world, Jewish and gentile, male and female, come into salvation because they are willing to set aside everything they have depended on, and enter through Jesus, the one door.

Some might be critical that God has established only one door to salvation, likely excluding many who are devout in their own non-Christian religion. But they must remember that God was not required to provide any door to salvation at all. Instead, in mercy, He established one perfect door in Jesus, God the Son, born in the flesh to be a perfect sacrifice, able to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world. And then He gave all of those who have come into salvation through Jesus the responsibility to make disciples of all of those around them, and to the very ends of the earth, bringing the good news of salvation to them all.

Father, this is very simple, very easy to grasp: a single door that You provided to bring salvation to whoever believes in Jesus (John 3:16). I’m afraid that we have done a poor job, however, on the mandate to go and make disciples, spreading salvation around the world. Far too few of us, the people of the kingdom, are about that work, either just not seeing it as our job, or content to leave it to the “professionals.” Forgive us, Lord, and fill us with your fire, so that we can clearly show everyone around us the one amazing door that You have provided for salvation. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 8, 2018

Luke 13:1-5 (NIV) Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Like many people today, the people of Jesus’ day often believed that if a tragedy befell someone, that they were worse sinners than those to whom the tragedy did not occur. Jesus not only used the tragedy that was brought to His attention, the Jews that Pilate had killed, but added to it the eighteen who had died when the tower of Siloam had collapsed on them, to address this misunderstanding.

This faulty theology of the masses was also reflected in Jesus’ own followers when they asked of the man born blind, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 NIV) In that case, Jesus answered that the man was born blind so that God’s work could be displayed in his life. Jesus then healed him.

But in this case, Jesus’ focus and His answer take the conversation in an entirely different direction. Jesus’ point in this case is that the people killed in those tragedies, both the natural and the man-caused, were not killed because they were greater sinners than the rest of the people around. Instead, everyone around was guilty before God, and completely worthy of the death that had, up to that point, avoided them. The fact that others had died while they had lived should not be a cause for pride and smugness, but should lead those who were mercifully spared the tragedy to deep self-inspection, humility, thankfulness for God’s mercy, and, above all, to genuine repentance.

This really is the key to the gospel. The most difficult people to save are the “nice” people, the “good folks” who compare themselves favorably to the people around them (like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14). These see that they are nicer, kinder, and perhaps more generous than others around them, and so feel no need to truly assess their sins, or to genuinely repent.

But Jesus’ point is that ALL have sinned and fall far short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). ALL are deserving of not only God’s judgment here on earth, but of His judgment forever in eternity. And the only solution is not turning over a new leaf, or trying to do better in the future. It is repentance, pure and simple. Nothing short of confessing one’s sins and turning wholeheartedly toward God to receive mercy and forgiveness through Jesus will accomplish anything.

Father, I can remember that, while I was still walking far from You, I felt pretty good about myself, because there were many others I could point to who were far worse people than I. It was only when You got me alone with You, with no one to compare myself with but You, that I got a clear look at myself and at the darkness and foulness that had accumulated in my heart through years of sinfulness. It was only then that I saw my clear need for repentance and for Your mercy and forgiveness. And I am so grateful that both of those were freely given to me through Jesus when I fully confessed and turned toward You in repentance. Thank You! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 13, 2017

Luke 8:1-3 (NIV) After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Until the time came for Him to go to the cross, Jesus’ mission was focused on preaching the good news about the kingdom of God, and living out its implications before the people. This not only raised the levels of excitement among the people, it also created a sense of anticipation,, looking for the arrival of the kingdom in earnest, as well as a real hunger for its appearing.

Jesus’ entourage consisted of not only the Twelve, but also many others who followed Him for various reasons. Among these were many women who had received release from bondage from Jesus, both the spiritual bondage of demon possession and the bondage of physical illness.

Among the three women listed by name, Mary Magdalene is certainly the most well-known. This is partly due to her role in the drama of the resurrection, and partly due to movies and books about the life of Jesus that cast her as a young woman saved from a life of prostitution, and even as a possible love interest of Jesus Himself.

Mary was not a prostitute, nor was she, as some have written, the sinful woman Luke wrote about at the end of chapter seven of his gospel. What Jesus had delivered her from was being possessed by seven demons. She, like the rest, was most likely an older woman who had means enough to help support Jesus and His followers as they traveled.

What drove these many women to follow Jesus was purely gratitude for the healing and deliverance that He had brought to their lives. He had literally given their lives back to them, and they, in turn, returned those reclaimed lives to Him with their time, their talents, and their resources.

Father, I can really relate to these women. Their reason for following Jesus is exactly mine. Jesus saved me from my sins, literally giving me my life back. And, out of gratitude, I gave that redeemed, restored life back to Him, vowing to follow and obey Him all of my life, to serve Him with my time, my talents, and my resources. It has now been more than 30 years, and I have never regretted that commitment, never turned away from it, and I never will. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 13, 2017

Luke 1:67-75 (NIV)

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us–to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

Zechariah’s being filled with the Holy Spirit did not enable him to do signs and wonders (these had already been accomplished in Elizabeth and Mary), but it enabled him to give the Lord appropriate praise, and even to get a glimpse of His larger plan.

First of all, he realized that God was beginning to act right then to begin the process of redeeming His people. In the past He had redeemed Adam and Eve from death, Noah from the flood, and the whole nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt and captivity in Babylon. But two huge oppressors still held God’s people, indeed all people, captive: sin and death. Zechariah could clearly see that the child Mary was carrying would be the long promised horn of the house of David, a powerful ruler who would not only rule over all of those who would become God’s people, but who would actually save them from both the penalty and the power of sin.

Zechariah could see clearly that the sending of the Messiah was way more than merely a promise kept. It was an act of unbridled mercy. God’s people had a long, long history (about 1500 years at that point) of rebelling against Him and His commands, from the days of the Exodus, all that way to the day in which Zechariah was living. Many times God had allowed them to be oppressed, conquered, and even exiled to punish them and to help them to repent of their rebellion. But He had always stopped short of allowing them to be destroyed because of the love that He had for them, and because of His faithfulness to His covenant promises.

But now God was poised to do a new thing among His people, and Zechariah was among the very first to see it clearly. Now He was not only going to save them from their most powerful enemies, sin and death. He was going to purify His people with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and enable them to serve Him in genuine holiness and righteousness in His presence for all of their days.

Father, this is a great and wonderful promise, foretold from the days of the prophets, and still available to all of Your people today. But so few of us are willing to believe that it is true. Instead, we see ourselves as vile sinners, for whom true righteousness and holiness is only a pipe dream, or a promise for the age to come. But, Father, You make it clear even in the words of good Zechariah that this promise is for us, it is for now, and You are powerful enough to pull it off in our lives. Help us, help me, to believe this promise, and to receive its fulfillment from Your hands. Make it real in my own life today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 20, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13 (NIV) “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
“Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
“But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Jesus continues to focus on His final return, and on the need for His followers to always be ready. In this parable, His followers are symbolized by ten virgins. Five of the virgins are classified as wise, good role models for the people of the kingdom.  Five are classified as foolish, poor role models.

Many have debated the fine points of this parable, such as what the oil represents, to whom the foolish virgins must go to buy some more, and whether or not it is loving for the wise virgins to refuse to share their oil with the foolish virgins. But the details are much less consequential than the overarching story line. Of the ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom to come, only the wise virgins are prepared for a long await before He arrives. The foolish virgins expect Him to arrive very soon, and see no need to bring extra oil for their lamps.

When the herald announces the bridegroom’s approach, the wise virgins are ready, and refill their lamps with the extra oil that they brought along. But the foolish virgins find themselves unprepared, and try to scramble to get ready. The wise virgins are not willing to sacrifice their own preparedness for those foolish people who neglected to stay prepared, and there is no time for them to get prepared (in this story, by gong to the shop for more oil). While they are scrambling, the bridegroom comes and sweeps those who are ready into the wedding feast, leaving the unprepared virgins on the outside.

The final scene is reminiscent of the flood of Noah. For years, or more likely, decades, Noah had been building the ark and urging people to repent. But the whole project seemed like foolishness to them. But once the rain began, those who wanted to get on the ark found the door closed, sealed by God Himself (Genesis 7:16). It didn’t matter that they were ready to believe now, that they were now ready to repent. The window of opportunity had passed, and the door to salvation was shut.

Jesus’ final statement continues the theme of His discourse: His return will come without advance notice, at a time when even His followers don’t expect it. So we, as His disciples, must constantly live ready, so that when He does return, we won’t be left out in the darkness.

Father, over and over again, Jesus sings this same chorus: keep watch, be ready. We should pay close attention! Help me to live ready, today and every day, and never grow complacent, or ever allow myself to think, “Probably not today.” Amen.

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