Friday, September 24, 2010

Look to Him, New Start Devotions- Day 3

Today's devotion is on John 3.

In the first three verses of this chapter, we see Nicodemus, a Pharisee, come to Jesus and acknowledge that He is from God.  Nicodemus comes at night, no doubt to avoid the persecution that he would have encountered if the other Pharisees knew he had come to see Jesus.  He has seen the signs and wonders, and has believed, and he wants to learn more, so comes to Jesus, seeking answers.

Jesus tells him that to see God's kingdom, a person must be born again, or as some translations say, "born from above".  To get an idea what Jesus is talking about here, look back at the following passage from chapter 1.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13, New King James Version)
We can see that it is by believing and receiving Him that we have the right to become His children, born not of blood (or natural descent),  not of flesh, and not because another person wills it, but because of God's will and plan.

Continuing on with chapter 3, we see that Nicodemus, not understanding all of this, asks Jesus how it is possible for a grown man to born again, since obviously he cannot return to the womb, and Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born of water and the Spirit.

Now some people believe that Jesus was speaking of baptism when he said, "born of water", however, there are at least two reasons that this interpretation doesn't really make sense.  First, if we look again at John 1:12-13, we see that it is through receiving Him that we become God's children, it says nothing about baptism.  Also, if we look at the very next thing sentence Jesus said to Nicodemus, it is "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."  This would indicate that when Jesus says, "born of water" he is talking about the physical birth, and the water he refers to is the water of the womb.

He tells us that we must not only be born of water (natural birth), but that we must also be born of the spirit, which is done by believing in Him and receiving Him, which means to welcome Him into your life as who He really is, God.  We may not fully understand this, and Jesus talks about this when He says that, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” I believe that when He says that He is telling Nicodemus that just as one does not understand where the wind came from, we can't fully understand God's work in the New Birth, but we do know that His work is true.  Ecclesiastes 11:5 expresses a similar statement about the work of God. 
       As you do not know what is the way of the wind,
      Or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child,
      So you do not know the works of God who makes everything.
       (Ecclesiastes 11:5, New King James Version)

Nicodemus then questions more, wanting to understand how this can be, how it can happen.  It would seem that he wants to believe, but that he still has doubts, and isn't quite sure yet.

Jesus' response to him is first a gentle rebuke for unbelief, but then He goes on to tell Nicodemus exactly what needs to happen in order for Nicodemus to receive this New Birth.  Jesus did not hold out, demanding perfect, unwavering faith free of all doubts.  Jesus saw that seed of faith and that desire to know more, and Jesus told Nicodemus what was needed.

Jesus talks of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, and says that He too must be lifted up in the same way, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.  To understand this illustration Jesus uses, we must look back into the Old Testament book of Numbers.  
4 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6 So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:4-9, New King James Version)
Now, a serpent in scripture usually represents sin or evil, so why is Jesus using it here to point to Himself and His work on the cross?  Well, the Bronze serpent in Numbers was a clear picture of the judgment for the the people's sin, and if we look at Colossians 2:13-14, we see that God nailed the judgment of our sin to the cross just as the symbol of the Isrealites judgment was put on that pole.
13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14, New King James Version)
 You see, it clearly tells us that the handwriting of requirements, which is the judgment scripture declares on our sin, was wiped out, taken out of the way, nailed to the cross.  In the same way, the bronze serpent, the symbol of the judgment of their sin, had been put on the pole and lifted up.

The Bible also says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Jesus was made sin for us, and was nailed to the cross that we might become righteous in God's sight!  So, in looking at the serpent which Moses lifted up, we see a clear picture, not only of the judgment of our sin, but, since a serpent represents sin, it is a picture even of the sin itself being nailed to the cross.

Another thing to notice is this, and it relates back to Nicodemus' apparent doubt mixed with the seed of faith.  When the Israelites were judged with these serpents, and a person was bitten, they were not told that they had to do  anything other than look to the serpent on the pole to be saved.  They did not need to crawl over to it in their own strength, they did not need to beg, they did not need to bargain.  It was not even required that they have unwavering faith that looking at the bronze serpent would save them.  They simply had to have enough faith to do what they were told to do.  They were healed even if what they were thinking was,  "Well, I am not sure that this is really going to work, but Moses says that if I look at that thing I'll be saved from death, so I guess I should at least give it a try."  Even if they had doubts, if they had enough faith to just do what they were told and hope for the best, they were saved.

It is the same with Jesus.  He took our sin and the judgment for it and nailed it all on the cross with Him, and to be saved we simply have to do what He says, which is to look to Him for salvation, to receive Him.  We may have doubts in our minds at times, but if we have even enough faith to just come to Him and ask, He will save us.  If we will look to Him in spite of our doubts, that is enough faith to save us.

We may think that because we have a little doubt, that means we don't have faith, but in God's eyes, if we have enough faith to just look to Jesus even though we aren't sure, we have saving faith.  It is in the act of looking to Him and receiving Him, even though we doubt and don't understand, it is in that act that we are saved, and it is in that act that our faith will be strengthened.  If you are reading this and you want to come to Jesus, but like Nicodemus you are hesitating because of some doubt, I would urge you to put you faith in Jesus despite your doubt, look to Him and ask Him to save you.  He will not disappoint you.

Perhaps the best known verse in this chapter is "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  (John 3:16).  I believe though, that much value can be found in the context of this verse.  Verses 15-18 taken altogether make it clear that all who believe in Him and look to Him to save them will be saved, but those who do not believe and therefore refuse to look to Him for salvation are condemned.  Why would anyone choose not to look to Him?  Verses 19-21 make it very clear, it is because they do not want their sin exposed.  They do not want to come into the light, so they stubbornly refuse to look to Jesus and they die in their sin.

The rest of the chapter goes on to confirm all that Jesus said, as John the baptist points his own followers to Jesus, essentially telling them to look to Him.  Then John also reiterates the main point of the passage as He says, " He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)

Lord, I thank you for taking the judgment for my sin upon yourself and nailing it to the cross, wiping out my debt.  Lord, I pray for those who might read this, for those who already have looked to you for their salvation, I pray Lord that you will use this to increase their thankfulness to You for their salvation.  For those who have yet to look to You Lord, I pray that they will realize their need.  That they will see that sin has left them with a debt that they cannot pay, but which you have paid for them, and all they need to do is look to You and receive the salvation you offer.  Lord I pray that you would help them to have enough faith to take action in spite of their doubts, to look to You even though they are unsure, and ask You to save them.  In your precious name Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our Need

Today's devotional is on John 2.

In this chapter we see Jesus' first miracle, and really the beginning of His public ministry.  It begins at a wedding, a happy event which is threatened by the lack of preparation on the part of those who planned it.  They are out of wine, which symbolizes joy in the scriptures.

Jesus meets the need at hand by providing wine from the water jars, which were part a ritual of purification practiced by the pharisees. It is interesting to note that these water jars were handy, but the wine, which was a huge part of a wedding celebration, was not.  These water jars were used for tradition of hand washing which was followed  by the pharisees, but which, according to Jesus, was a tradition of men, and not a commandment of God.  We can see Jesus' opinion of this tradition in another Gospel account:

3 For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.
5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”
6 He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

      ‘ This people honors Me with their lips,
      But their heart is far from Me.
       7 And in vain they worship Me,
      Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”
9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. (Mark 7:3-9, New King James Version)

Despite this, Jesus takes the preparation for this legalistic tradition of men, and uses it to bring forth what is needed at the moment, wine, the symbol of joy.  Jesus often takes our efforts, even when they are misguided or done with wrong motives, and uses them to accomplish His will and glorify Himself.

Later in the chapter we see Jesus in Jerusalem for the passover.  While there He drives out the money changers and merchants from the temple, and when confronted and asked to show what authority He has to do these things, He predicts His own death and resurrection, but no one understands what He means at that time. Later, after His predictions are fulfilled, the disciples remember and understand.

There is much to be gleaned from this chapter, and a verse by verse analysis of it could get quite meaty, but for me what stood out most to me was the last three verses.

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. 24 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, 25 and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25, New King James Version)

It is implied in these verses that Jesus must have done many more signs than what is specifically told about in the chapter, because many believed in His name after seeing those signs.  Here the scripture says a curious thing, it says, "He did not commit Himself to them..."  this made me want to look further into it.  Because Jesus is not uncommitted.  He came here to earth committed to the task of saving our souls.  He was committed to that cause to the point of death. Yet the passage says He did commit Himself to them.   I was fairly certain byt he context what it meant, but I wanted to verify for myself that I was correct, so I looked up the word in my Strong's Concordance.  Here I found that the word used means "to entrust with your well being", it went on to say as an example, the way that Christians should commit their lives to Jesus, which implies a total entrusting of oneself.

So the passage does not imply any lack of commitment or wavering on the part of Jesus, rather it is a sad commentary on the condition of the human heart.  These people were the ones who saw His miracles and signs, and who believed in Him, and Jesus knew their belief, but also knew the condition of their hearts and because of that He knew He could not trust them or put any confidence in them.

The problem is that although they believed, they had not yet been transformed.  Their belief was a mental assent to the truth of what they had seen with their own eyes.  This is why, a short time later many of these same people would be shouting, "Crucify him!!!" It was basically the same problem experienced by Peter, who believed and followed, yet when it really counted, denied Jesus.

The problem is that our hearts, without the transforming, cleansing work of the Holy Spirit, are desperately wicked and deceitful, capable of the heinous sin and betrayal, and not worthy of one ounce of trust. (see Jeremiah 17:9).

What we need is the transforming power of His Holy spirit.  This begins with our need to be made new, to be reborn (which is an issue that is addressed in the next chapter of John), however, even after this rebirth we still carry with us the old sinful nature, which scripture calls our "old man" (see Romans 6:6, Ephesians 4:22, and Colossians 3:9).  Because of this "old man" our hearts hearts are still not trustworthy on their own.  We must continually ask Him to search our hearts and show us anything that needs to be confessed and cleansed away.

We need to be continuously renewed and continuously influenced by His Holy Spirit.  Once we undergo the initial transformation of rebirth we are still being continuously transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), which is both a supernatural act of God and an act of our free will, an act which we do by presenting ourselves to Him, for Him to do with what He pleases (Romans 12:1). 

Once we are reborn, once we have that new nature in Christ, we are still continuously transformed from glory to glory, and how is that transformation accomplished?  It is by gazing with an unveiled face at the glory of the Lord through worship, prayer, and reading His word.

15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:15-18, New King James Version)
We may not see Him in His full glory yet, rather we gaze at him as if in a mirror, but the more we gaze upon what we can take in of His glory, the more we are transformed and the more of His glory we will be able to see, and the more of His glory we see, the greater will be our transformation.  And one day, we will be freed from this sinful flesh and be fully transformed, able to enter into His presence and see Him face to face. (1 Corinthians 15:50-52, 1 Corinthians 13:12, Revelation 22:3-5)

Lord, I pray that you will search my heart, show me anything within me that I need to confess, that I need to give over to you and let you cleanse away.  Transform me Lord, draw me into Your presence, that I may gaze upon Your glory, for I know that no person can gaze upon Your glory and remain unchanged.  Transform my heart more and more into Your image.  I give myself to You, a living sacrifice, do with me what You will.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Are You in the Light?

Today's devotional is on John 1.

This chapter speaks of "the Word".  In the Greek it is the "Logos", and to those living in that area at that time, who were somewhat familiar with Greek thought and philosophy, the Logos did not mean just a spoken or written word.  To those who spoke Greek and lived in that culture, the Logos meant something to the effect of "The perfect idea, thought, expression, and communication".  So John begins by showing that this that this perfect expression of God was with God from the start, and in fact is God Himself (vs. 1).  It was this perfect expression of God that created all things, and it was in this perfect expression and communication of God that the life and light which all human beings need and hunger for was found.  In verse 14 John also makes clear that this "Logos", this perfect expression and communication of God, is Jesus, the One who became flesh and dwelt among us.

So Jesus, the perfect expression of God almighty, the One whom everything was created by and through, the One who has the light of men, shone that light into the darkness of this world, and according to verse 5, "the darkness did not comprehend it".  The Greek word translated "comprehend" is a word that can mean to comprehend, as in "to understand", but it also can mean several other things.  It can mean "to take eagerly, to seize, or possess, to apprehend, attain, come upon, find, obtain, or perceive."  It also has another meaning in addition to these, which is "To overcome or overtake."  When John used this word, it is possible he had in mind one of these meanings, or it is possible that he used this word because he wanted a word that encompassed all of these possible meanings.  At any rate, any one of these meanings rings true when put in the verse in place of the word comprehend, because certainly, darkness did not overcome the light, and surely the darkness also did not eagerly take the light or even perceive it.

Verses 9-11 expound on the thought about the light and this world's reaction to it, the light came into this world and it was not taken eagerly, not embraced, not received willingly. The light is given to everyone coming into this world, but few grab hold of it, and few receive Him.  A couple of chapters later we are given the reason that so few are eager to take hold of this light.  In John 3:19-20 we read, "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed". (John 3:19-20, New King James Version) It is not that God has failed to give light to all, and it is not that some are simply incapable of coming to that light, the problem is that darkness hides our sin.  Darkness allows us to continue doing as we please, whereas light exposes those shameful things done in secret, so we tend to run for the cover of darkness.  We tend to love the darkness because it hides our sin.

Despite the fact that we have a need, a hunger for that light and life which is found only in Jesus, we don't want to change, we don't want to be exposed, so we hide.  That is what keeps people from coming to Christ.  For some of us though, we do eventually come to the place where we can't take the darkness and emptiness anymore and we are willing to step into that light and receive Him, it is not an easy thing to do, because we have to admit our own wretchedness, but once we do it we are given a cleansing and a new life that is so much better than the old one spent hiding in darkness.

Are you in the light?

If you are not sure, ask God to show you.  Admit to Him that you are a sinner, confess to Him any specific sins that come to mind, but don't feel like you must remember every one, the main thing is admitting to Him that you have been walking in sin and darkness, and to ask Him to shine His light into your life, to become your Lord, and to save you from your sin. Believe that Jesus came into the world and died on the cross to pay the price for your sin, and that He rose from the dead to give you eternal life.  Make the decision to step into His light, and to live for Him in thankfulness for His salvation.  Pray to Him right now, and become His child.

If you already know Him and belong to Him, thank Him today for shining that light and drawing you to Himself.  Praise Him for your salvation.