Imagery of sheep and shepherd are found all throughout the Bible, in both the old and the new testaments. Because of this, I think we sometimes forget some of the metaphorical imagery that comes with the sheep and shepherd dynamic. Sheep are not an intelligent animal in any sense of the word. They often wander off and get themselves in trouble. When threatened by predators, sheep will often clump themselves together in such a tight pack, that sheep in the center will often suffocate. All in all, sheep are fully reliant on their shepherd for protection, food water, and for their own survival.
Here in John 10, when Jesus is speaking about sheep, and he being the good shepherd, the people probably would have seen it as insulting when he compared them to sheep. But the point that Jesus is trying to make, is that like sheep we could not depend on ourselves for salvation from the consequences of our bad choices. God had to send us a shepherd who would “lay down his life for his sheep”. So he sent us His son Jesus. And as Jesus said, no one took his life from him, but he laid it down of his own accord. I don’t think we could have asked God to send us a better shepherd than who He sent us, His one and only son, Jesus. In just over a week, the Thanksgiving season will begin, and I think that this year we need to spend time thanking God, for the gift of the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life willingly, for us his sheep.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 9:1 – 10:21
Tomorrow’s passages will be the rest of John 10 and Luke 10.
There is something so beautiful about watching a plant grow from a little seed to a strong healthy plant. Christians are compared to plants in this way. A spiritually mature Christian should still continue to grow in their walk with God.
Jesus often taught the crowds and his disciples using parables, which can be found all throughout the Synoptic Gospels. With seven parables in Matthew chapter 13, the parable of the sower is the only parable in this chapter that doesn’t start with “The Kingdom of heaven is like” because this parable is how the Kingdom of God is going to begin. In fact, it is already happening right now.
There are four different scenarios of what becomes of the seeds that are sown that Jesus depicts here, being eaten by birds, scorched by the sun, choked by thorns, or producing a crop. Which respectively relate to being taken by the evil one, trouble and persecution, worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth, or yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown. Out of four scenarios there is only one that has roots, which leads to salvation. By having the deep roots, a foundation on God and his word, you will bear fruit. Fruit that can show God’s love and share the hope that we have with others and by doing so yield sixty or a hundred times what was sown.
To go along with the analogy, John 15:1-8 adds on to it and explains the dire need of having deep roots in God and Jesus.
John 15:5 says, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
So how are you going to strengthen your foundation and bear fruits? Be a tree! Three out of the four groups are between a rock and a hard place. So defy the statistics. Commit your life as a living sacrifice for God bearing cherries, apples, bananas, and pears. Put in the effort to focus on your foundation. Make it a priority to spend quality time with God. Paul tells us that fruit will come as a result of our faith, so when they do, nurture them, prune, water, weed, do whatever it takes to help them grow. The parable of the sower shows the importance of how we are living our lives right now. So go, be a tree, rooted in God and overflowing with fruit!
You may be familiar with the story of the “Good Samaritan”. But do you know the story of the “Bad Samaritan”? You might know this better as the story of the woman at the well.
In Jesus’ day, Jews thought very little of Samaritans. It may not be an overstatement to say the Jews hated the Samaritans. The origin of this animosity dated back to the Assyrian invasion of Israel around 721 BC. The Samaritans were of mixed race, partially Jewish, and partially who-knows-what. They weren’t welcome in the Temple in Jerusalem, so they worshiped in their own temple in Samaria. And, as Jesus pointed out, they worshiped what they didn’t even understand.
In John 4, we find Jesus arriving at a well near Sychar around noon. Jesus waited at the well, while his disciples went into town to buy some food. As Jesus waited, a woman came up to draw water. I’ve heard this would have been a very unusual time to draw water – and she probably came then to avoid having to interact with others – because even the people in town would have looked down on her.
Anyway, Jesus started up a conversation with the woman, asking her for water. In doing this, Jesus cut across all the social norms of his day. First, Jesus was a Jew, and the woman was an “inferior” Samaritan. Second, as I understand it, men of the day felt superior to women, and again, wouldn’t typically strike up a conversation. Finally, Jesus was holy and the Samaritan woman wasn’t. And religious leaders of his day felt superior to common sinners, and wouldn’t associate with them. Jesus cut through all of those norms to interact with this woman. The obvious reason given was because Jesus was thirsty, and the woman could draw water from the well. I believe the ulterior motive was to share salvation with this woman and ultimately with the whole city.
Right from the beginning of the conversation, the woman was surprised that Jesus would even talk with her, since he was a Jew. Jesus pointed out that if she understood who it was she was talking with, He could offer her something amazing – water welling up to eternal life. Jesus told her to get her husband, to which she replied, “I don’t have a husband.” When Jesus told her that she had had 5 husbands and that she wasn’t married to the man she was living with then – she recognized Jesus was a prophet. She said, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Jesus told her directly, “I who speak to you am he.” The woman left her water jug and immediately went into town to tell everyone that she had found the Messiah. The whole town came out and ultimately believed – first, because of the testimony of the woman, then eventually because of their experience with Jesus.
Often, when we read a story like this, we associate with Jesus. We may think, “I should follow Jesus’ example, break social norms, and associate with those who are “inferior” to me.”
While this may be true, I’d like to focus on the woman, and see what we can learn from her. Although presumably “unworthy”, and probably a social outcast, Jesus revealed Himself to her – little by little. She first recognized he was a Jew, then a prophet, and finally the messiah. Once she recognized that Jesus was the messiah, the savior, she immediately dropped what she was doing to go tell everyone about her experience with Jesus. Then she literally led the people of the town to meet Jesus. Think of how little theology she knew – how few spiritual truths. But she had found the Lord, and she wanted to tell everyone. Her enthusiasm and eagerness to tell others of her experience with the Lord puts us to shame.
When you were introduced to Jesus, what was your reaction? Did you tell everyone you knew about Jesus, and what he had done for you? Did you do everything you could to bring as many people as possible to encounter Jesus?
Jesus pointed out to his disciples, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” He wasn’t talking about agriculture, he was talking about a crop for eternal life – people needing to come into a saving relationship with the Lord.
I challenge you to first, truly develop a relationship with Jesus. And once you do, tell everyone you know about the good news, so they can be saved too. The consequences are literally life and death – for eternity. What are you waiting for?
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – John 2-4
Tomorrow we will read Mark 2 as we continue Seeking God, Growing our Faith, and Increasing our Love on our 2020 Bible reading plan.
Isaiah revealed a prophecy against the nations in our reading today. In some cases those that received these warnings had years before the prophecies would occur. There was time to listen, repent, turn their lives around, prepare and be ready. What holds us back from surrendering everything to God and getting ourselves “right with Him”?
Sometimes it is pride. In Isaiah 13:11 we read “I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughtyand will humble the pride of the ruthless.” When we become prideful, we exalt ourselves as our own god. We put our desires and wants as our top priority. We justify and reason that our actions are acceptable because those actions are “right” in our own eyes (Proverbs 21:2). As I grew up, I had friends that rejected following God because “they wanted to do, what they wanted to do”. They viewed God’s commands as restricting them instead of seeing Him as a loving Father providing the best way for His children to live life. Pride tells us that we know what is best for ourselves. We think that God does not understand who and what we are. C.S. Lewis stated that “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
In Isaiah 14 we see so clearly that the leaders in the world appear to have power, but they cannot defeat death. Those leaders claimed that “I will make myself like the Most High” (v.14), but only God has power over death. In the following chapters we see that the great cities and wealth of nations will not last. The armies of vengeance and wrath destroyed the cities and carried the wealth away. Punishment was administered to nations. In fact we explore that God is the only One who controls nature, which provides our food source. Though they planted the finest plants and imported vines, yet they did not have a harvest. These illustrations should show us that God is ultimately in control. We need to be humble before Him. Isaiah 17:7 contains the answer. “In that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.”
That is the answer for us today. We need to come to God humbly, honoring Him as the absolute authority. God is sovereign. He is the supreme authority and all things are under His control.
We need to turn our attention away from the raging nations of the world, and turn to Our God who gives love, wisdom and salvation.
I am not where I planned to be today. You see for many years this weekend is when I have helped load vans, buses, SUVs and even a Volkswagen bug with a lively group of cheerful travelers as we start making our way to Northern Indiana. Our group is always made up of students and youth workers heading to a youth camp named FUEL. Weeks spent at camp are so incredible because we intentionally set aside time to focus on God. We worship, we learn, we laugh, we encourage, we grow, we pray, . . . This camp offers us the chance to spend some intentional focused time with God. We remember our ultimate life goals of loving God with all that we are and loving others as ourselves. We align our lives with these main goals. We determine our next steps and develop practical actions that show that we have a close, loving relationship with God through Christ and that we truly love others.
Unfortunately, we will not gather physically for FUEL this year, but that shouldn’t stop us from taking time to connect with God. Yes, He is in northern Indiana, but He is where you are right now (He is not far from any one of us Acts 17:27). God loves us so much that He wants to connect with us and He is always there to direct us as well. We just need to focus on Him.
Today we read about a King who did exactly that. He was Jotham. Jotham was the eleventh king of Judah. It was stated that he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD. What a great way to be remembered. We are also told that He grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God. Steadfastly-that could describe the way we order the habits of our lives! Walking resolutely, firm and unwavering because we are living our lives connected to God.
Jotham benefited from seeing what a king should and should not do from his father. He also benefited from being a contemporary with the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, and Micah. Praise God we have their writings available to us today! Just like the faithful kings we can read the message from God sent through these prophets. Isaiah (9-12) presents the coming of the Messiah, just judgment, the future rally of nations to Christ, the Lord’s glorious holy mountain, and the earth being filled with the knowledge of the LORD as waters cover the sea. What an amazing experience it will be to meet with those prophets and those kings that “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” in the Kingdom of God!
So even though we may have to be socially distant right now, we look forward to that perfect time. Isaiah (12) describes the people rejoicing on that day because the Holy One of Israel is among them. Today we can rejoice because the Holy One of Israel can also be with us!
The tragedy of the Garden of Eden continues, as we see the effects of the humans’ disobedience played out in a very real way. Brothers begin to kill each other, women are taken as “prizes to be won”, destruction throughout God’s creation grows exponentially, and even angels begin to break their commitment to God, coming down to mate with human women! (Depending on your interpretation of Genesis 6) God’s solution is to “clean the slate” and destroy humanity with a flood, starting from scratch with Noah and his family. It is surprising that things got this bad, right? Well, maybe it’s not as surprising as we may think…
We are told in 2 Peter 2:4-10 that this event happened “as an example” of what will happen when God returns to earth again; sinful humanity will be destroyed again, leaving only “the righteous” left on earth to inherit God’s Kingdom. In 1 Peter 3:18-22, we are told that we have the opportunity to be saved from this destruction through the sacrifice of Jesus and responding in faith by being baptized. Thankfully, we are also told in 2 Peter 3:3-9 that God is being patient with us all about bringing this destruction, desiring that everybody in the world come to repentance and faith in Jesus, so that they can be saved.
While this may seem like a very dark devotion, it should motivate us and make us appreciate the sacrifice that Jesus made even more. It is only because of Jesus’ willingness to die on our behalf that we have the opportunity at salvation in God’s Kingdom (see Ephesians 2:8-10), not because of anything we have done. God has been gracious and provided us a way out of destruction through His son, all because He loves us and wants to spend eternity with us.
This story should also motivate us to share this message with our loved ones, giving them the opportunity to be saved as well. If you had the cure for cancer, would you keep that information to yourself, or would you share with everybody that you came into contact with? This message is even greater than that; it is the cure for death itself, and a promise for immortality. Why are we not sharing with people every chance we get?
As you go about your day today, I want you to remember three things from this story:
Your actions have real consequences, so think before you act
God loves you and has provided a way for you to spend eternity with Him
You need to love someone enough today to share the gospel with them, giving them a chance at salvation
As you consider and act on these three things, I will be praying for you!
The chapter begins by Jesus sending out seventy-two disciples with the order to spread the news of the Kingdom, and giving them specific instructions. It is noteworthy that people that heard the message and rejected will be judged more harshly than people that did not.
Later, starting in verse 25, “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
Those are basic concepts that we can share with others when we have an opportunity to evangelize. Add to that the knowledge and acceptance of Jesus, and then maybe sharing the Gospel doesn’t seem so hard after all. We want people to be saved. We want that because that is what God wants as well. As we follow the two tenants of loving God and loving our neighbor, we should naturally want our neighbors to be in a saving relationship with their Lord and Savior.
Not many of us are going to evangelists on the scale of Billy Graham, but we can certainly each do some small (or medium) part. If you are worried about failing, and so hesitate to get started, I am sorry to tell you that you are guaranteed failure by doing nothing. Doing SOMETHING greatly increases your odds for success. And remember, God wants you to be successful? He will help, and then you just have to hope that at least some of the seed landed in fertile areas.
We’ve had some really heavy topics, and we are not quite out of the woods yet. We are coming to the point in the reading where there is just joy and happiness and peace, but we are not there yet. It takes someone showing up on the scene to make that happen. We have the coming of a rider on a white horse. The images that John uses only highlights that he is speaking about Jesus.
I love Christmas; the songs, the snow, the presents, the expectations. I even love the time leading up to it. In the wider Christian tradition, this time is called Advent, which is Latin for “to come”. We recognize in Advent the first coming of Jesus. And in Revelation 19, we are shown a picture of the second coming of Jesus. Those two images could not be more different.
Jesus came as a peaceful prince riding on a donkey. Jesus will come as a conquering rider on a white horse.
When he came, many called him a liar and a demoniac. He will come and be known as “Faithful and True.”
He came to bring salvation. He will come to bring judgment.
He came with eyes full of tenderness and sorrow. He will come with eyes of fiery flame.
He came and bore a crown of thorns. He will come crowned with many crowns.
He came and was wrapped in tattered cloths. He will come in a blood stained robe.
He came and was known as Jesus. He will come and be known as Word of God.
He came and refused the help of the legions of angels. He will come and be accompanied by the armies of heaven.
He came preaching words of truth. He will come and his words will be a sword coming from his mouth.
He came and only a small number knew who we was.
He will come, and his name, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, will be emblazoned on his thigh.
This is the Messiah we serve. He is not weak; he is not a push over; he is not a doting parent or Santa Claus.
He is the conquering king, coming to claim the world that is rightfully his, to avenge his servants who have been oppressed, and to drive out those who did not honor him.
Let this image of Jesus wash over you, and praise God that the King is coming.
Yesterday, angels were sent out with plagues and bowls were prepared for pouring. Today, we get to see the dramatic moments when the bowls are poured. Each plague is horrific, especially when we recognize the wholeworld is experiencing each plague. Everyone, from everywhere, will be affected by these plagues.
(As a quick aside, that means all people who have chosen to turn their backs on God. Remember these plagues and bowls are the wrath of God upon those who chose to reject Him [see Rev. 15]. God has promised that we will not taste his wrath but his salvation, as we chose to follow him. [1 Thess. 5:9])
First, Sores cover those who worship the beast. Then, the sea becomes blood and all life dies. Rivers and streams turn to blood, so blood is the water over the whole earth. Then the sun begins to burn people, followed by the Kingdom of the Beast being plunged into darkness. Penultimately, Euphrates is dried up.
The reason we will stop at six is because I think the important part for John, what SHOULD shock his readers then and now, are the parts where he talks about the reaction to the plagues, what the people chose to do because of the plagues.
In verse 9, we see the sad and shocking reaction of those who are being effected by the plagues. Even as they have experienced the plagues and they know the plagues are coming from God, they choose to blaspheme His name and do not repent or give Him glory. Those who suffer the plagues are continuously, with full knowledge, rejecting the God of heaven after the plagues and bowls. They are not accidentally rejecting Him, or acting in ignorance. They are choosing to reject the God they KNOW is sending these plagues. They reject Him after the fourth bowl (9), and the fifth bowl (11). After the sixth bowl, demons round up the people of the world in their final rejection of God. The seventh bowl, poured out at the Mountain of Megiddo (Har Megiddo or Armageddon), is upon all those who have blasphemed God and continued to blaspheme Him.
Earlier I said it is sad and shocking that this is the reaction of those who choose not to follow God. But the truth we must see is that God is giving everyone a choice. He shows us that even with clear evidence that YHWH is the God of heaven and Earth, some will still refuse to repent and follow Him. The question for the original recipients of Revelation, and for you and I, is this : are we among those who refuse to repent and acknowledge God, or do we give Him the glory he deserves, and choose to do his will?
If you haven’t found out by now, Revelation is a strange letter; there are all sorts of images and visions that don’t quite make sense to us most of the time. In chapter nine, things get much stranger, as we see some terrifying images of God’s judgment being sent upon unrepentant people that have killed God’s people (i.e. Christians). However, strange as it may be, this chapter is absolutely crucial to understanding what John is trying to communicate throughout the whole letter. There is a key theme that needs to be drawn out if we are to understand what John is talking about.
In chapter eight, we saw angels getting ready to blow seven trumpets that would bring about God’s judgment, in response to the prayers that God had heard from His people back in chapter six. When we come to chapter nine, the fifth trumpet is blown, bringing about this terrifying, demonic locust army that goes around tormenting people for five months. They look strange, sound strange, and behave in a strange manner. There have been many theories about what these locusts are, but I don’t believe John’s focus is on who or what these locusts are; they are more of a background image than anything.
John’s main point is found at the end of the chapter, after the sixth trumpet is blown. In 9:20-21, we learn that, even though all these terrible and strange things are happening to these people, they still refuse to repent and change their lives. That is the point of John’s message of the trumpets; even God bringing His fiercest and most terrifying judgment on people is not enough to get them to repent. We saw a similar situation in Exodus, when Pharaoh refused to repent, even though God brought 10 plagues on the land. This is also John’s point with the later seven bowls (16:10-11), and likely the point of the previous seals as well.
The question that we, as the readers, are left with is, “What will make people repent?” That question will be answered in chapter 11, when we are introduced to the Two Witnesses.
For you today, I encourage you to think about the way that you spread the gospel to others. What will work better? Preaching about God’s judgment and condemnation, or offering hope and encouragement? If God’s righteous judgment isn’t enough to bring about repentance in people’s hearts in Revelation, don’t assume that it will work for you either. Let’s offer a hope that is focused on the love of the cross and a merciful God that has offered His own Son for us all! Let’s preach the good news!