Tag Archives: salvation

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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Today’s Scripture – August 11, 2015

John 4:35-38 (NIV):  “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’?  I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.  Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.  Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.  I sent you to reap what you have not worked for.  Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

The time when people say, “Four months more and then the harvest” is when they are sowing the crops.  They are doing the hard, often backbreaking work of tilling the soil, and planting and watering the seed.  But they know that, ultimately, the work will be worth it because the harvest will come, and they encourage themselves with that thought.

But Jesus is looking at the Samaritan people, a group that the Jews regarded as completely lost, beyond the reach of salvation, and He is seeing that the work of tilling and sowing and watering has already been accomplished by the subtle working of the Holy Spirit in preparation for this day.  Not all of the seed “took,” of course.  But in many of these Samaritan hearts a rich harvest was already ripe, ready for the harvest time that had now come.

If Jesus had simply told the disciples to go and evangelize those Samaritans, they would have taken an entirely different path.  They would have seen the work ahead as backbreaking, if not impossible.  They would have gone reluctantly, cowed at the prospect of how much work it would take to bring these pagan people into the kingdom.  They would completely miss the “ripe” souls, because they would see themselves only as clearers, plowers and planters at this stage of the game.

But Jesus was opening their eyes to what He could already see, what He already knew:  God had already been at work in these hearts.  Even though the Samaritan religion was corrupt, it was a corrupt form of Judaism.  These people had the law, and they had the forms of the sacrificial system that God had given through Moses.  And through the corrupted form of God’s truth He had been working to clear the soil of these Samaritan hearts.  Though God’s voice was muted because of the twisting of the traditions they had received, He was still using those traditions to plant seeds of repentance and expectation of the coming Messiah.  And even though the people sought a caricature of the True God, He turned that hunger into rich moisture that caused the seeds of expectation to spring up into an abundant crop, ready to be harvested.

The harvest was now ready, and it was walking toward the disciples at that very moment.  The hard work had already been done by God Himself, and now the celebration time was close at hand, when the crop for eternal life would be gathered in.

Father, all too often we see ourselves as the first workers in the field, and the prospect of all of the hard work to be done can intimidate us away from even starting.  How much different it would be if we would simply follow Your lead to those in whose hearts Your Spirit has already been working!  How much different it would be if we would allow You to open our eyes to the people in whom a crop for eternal life is already growing, ready to be harvested.  I know that there is a place and a time for clearing, and plowing, and planting, and watering, and we need to be doing that work with You as well.  But, Lord, how many crops have we let rot in the field because we had no eyes to see where You had already been at work, growing and ripening the souls for harvest!  Lord, help us to see that the harvest is already plentiful (Matthew 9:38).  Help us to understand that WE are the harvesters for eternal life for which we are instructed to pray.  And help us to be faithful and diligent in this work of bringing in the harvest.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 4, 2015

John 3:14-18 (NIV): “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

The bronze snake that Moses lifted up in the desert (cf. Numbers 21:4-9) was an antidote for the deadly serpents that God sent on the Israelites because of their grumbling against Him and against His servant, Moses. The serpents bit the people and killed many, and so the people asked Moses to pray that God would take them away. But God did not take the serpents away. The sins of the people had earned them this judgment, and the pain that went along with it, to remind them of the cost of rebelling against their God. However, in His mercy, God allowed Moses to make a bronze replica of the serpents, and to put it up on a pole, so that it would be visible to the whole camp. When someone was bitten by one of the serpents, they could look at the bronze serpent in faith, and would not die. Some refused, and died from the bite, but all who looked to God’s method of salvation were saved.

That serpent was a foreshadowing of Jesus. Just as the serpent was lifted up by Moses so that all could see it and look on it in faith, so Jesus would be lifted up on a cross where all could see and look to Him for salvation. Just as the bronze serpent did not remove the real serpents and the suffering and pain that they brought, caused by the sins the people committed, so Jesus’ death did not remove all of the suffering and pain in the world that is caused by the sins of the people. That suffering and pain is essential, because it acts as a motivator to turn away from the sin and rebellion that has caused that pain, toward the One who can save our lives. Just as merely looking at the serpent in faith provided salvation from the poison of the serpents, so those who look to Jesus in faith will be saved from the deadly poison of sin, and be given eternal life instead. And, just as the grace given through the serpent was indiscriminate, saving WHOEVER looked to it in faith, so the grace given through Jesus is indiscriminate; WHOEVER believes in Him, looking to Him for salvation, will not perish, but have eternal life.

Just as in Moses’ day, there are some who reject God’s method of providing salvation, either determined to find their own method (and then demanding that God accept it), or denying the reality of the consequences of being bitten by the serpent in the first place. But either course dooms those who take it. In grace, God has provided ONE method of receiving eternal life for everyone, open to all who will believe in Jesus.

As Jesus clearly pointed out here, God did not send Jesus to condemn the people of the world. He sent Him to save the world from the poison of their sins, just as He provided the bronze serpent to save the Israelites from the poison of the snakes. The saddest thing in the world is a person who, dying an eternal death from sin’s poison, rejects Jesus, the only divinely provided and powerfully effective cure for what ails him or her, and dying forever separated from the God who graciously provided a way to avoid it altogether.

Father, some complain that You made the door too narrow, providing only one way to receive eternal life: Jesus. But the miracle is that You didn’t have to provide any way for us to get to You. You could have justly left us to die in the poison of our own sin and rebellion. But Your great love compelled You to give Your one and only Son as the perfect restorative for what ails us. Thank you! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 11, 2014

Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV):  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

There is staggering import in these words of Paul.  The reason that people become a new creation when they trust in Jesus for salvation is that this trust leads to a real death of the old person that was, and a real resurrection in Christ as a new person, clean, fresh, and recast in the very image of Jesus.  It is this death and resurrection, not of Jesus, but of the new believer, that is represented in baptism, and that is pointed to in Romans 12:1-2, where believers are to live in this death of the old self and in the new life in Christ by continually considering themselves to be living sacrifices to God.

But, sadly, little of this imagery, and even less of this truth, remains today.  The formality of saying a “sinner’s prayer” has largely replaced the real death to the old life that is to be the hallmark of the redeemed.  And so we tend to spiritualize Paul’s words instead of living them out, and congregations are full of people who have prayed the prayer, but have not been resurrected as a new creation.

But Paul, when he surrendered to Jesus really did die to who he had been right up to the moment when the risen Jesus appeared to him outside of Damascus.  He had the same body, but the old person who had inhabited it died, and there was a brand new person living in there – a person who had a heart of love and compassion instead of hate and anger.  A person who wanted to glorify the name of Jesus instead of stamping it out.

Some may say that Paul was an exception – that normal, everyday Christians usually don’t experience that kind of huge turnaround in their lives.  But the question must be “why not?”.  Paul clearly expected that death to the old life that was focused on earthly things was the norm, and obviously had seen it happen in the people that he had helped to receive Jesus.  Likewise, he clearly saw the new birth, the new creation, as normative as well.  I believe that a key part of the answer is that we don’t teach the people whom we are leading to Jesus about the completely new life that they are to receive.  Our focus is merely on forgiveness of their sins, so that is all that they expect.

The person who receives Jesus as their Lord and Savior receives much more than mere forgiveness of their sins, as important as that is.  If forgiveness of sins was all that was needed, the sacrifices of the Old Covenant would have been sufficient.  But when a person turns away from their old life to God, when we intentionally die to our old earthly-focused existence, God grants us a new life in Jesus – a life that is qualitatively different, a life with a completely different focus and feel from the old life that we surrendered.  And then He, the God of the universe, comes and lives in our hearts, continuing the molding, shaping, and reprioritizing, to remake us into His very image.  THAT’s the difference that the New Covenant makes!

Father, as one who has experienced this death to my old self, and the new person that You made me into, I say a hearty AMEN to all of this.  After having experienced all that life in You is, I will never turn back, never return to the old way of living that I died to.  Thank You, not just for the gift of life, but for the new life that You have given to me.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 21, 2014

Exodus 3:16-17 (NIV):  “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.  And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–a land flowing with milk and honey.’”

The descendants of Israel in Egypt during their 400 year sojourn had lost track of the fact that they were God’s people, and that He was their God.  In the midst of their toiling and suffering oppression, they had no sense that He was present with them, watching over them, and putting the pieces into place that would ultimately lead not only to their salvation from slavery, but to their inheritance of the Promised Land, as He had sworn to their forefathers.

At first the process seemed too hard.  Pharaoh increased their workload in response to God’s demand that he let His people go.  And the people almost lost heart.  They couldn’t yet see how God was working His plan, even in the midst of their trials.  Then came weeks of plagues that God brought on Egypt – plagues that devastated the Egyptians, but left His people untouched.  Only then did the people begin to realize what was really happening:  that the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was really working on their behalf to set them free.  Only then did hope begin to spring up in their hearts.  Only then did the old promises, passed down through the generations, begin to glow with new life.

The thing is, God had been with them the whole time, even in the hardest of times.  He had been watching over them, guiding them, protecting them, and helping them to grow into a great nation (despite varied attempts to slow down the multiplication rate by Pharaoh!).  They were unaware of God’s presence, blind to the actions He was taking on their behalf, and ignorant of the thousands of graces that He showered on them every day; unaware of miracles that He was performing to keep them on track with His plans for them.  It was only when they found the burden too hard to bear, the trials too hot to tolerate, that they called on God to act, and their eyes were opened so that they could see His hand at work on their behalf.

Father, it would be easy to criticize these people for not seeing the many ways in which You were actively present, doing everything necessary to make all of Your promises come true.  But, Lord, how often are we the same as them!  How often do we fail to sense Your presence with us, Your hand protecting us from a thousand things each day that could ruin or kill us, but from which You protect us without us even being aware of the danger!  How many ways have You gone out of Your way to bless us, and we blissfully receive the blessing without even being aware of Your hand; without a single word of thanks!  Forgive us, Lord, for being so blind, so deaf, so senseless, and so lacking in gratitude.  Open all of our senses so that we can clearly see Your hand at work, so we can feel Your presence, so we can take heart that You are near in every trial.  Amen.

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