Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Message of the Cross

John 19:1-27

Jesus Sentenced to Be Crucified

19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.  NIV  Bible Gateway.com

   Rome used the cross as a brutal method for executing criminals. Through Jesus' sacrificial act, its message became one of hope and life for those who believe in Him.
   The cross meant various things to different people in the gospel account. To Pilate, Judea's governor, it was the place where an innocent man had died. The Pharisees and Sadducees, on the other hand, saw the cross as the way to eliminate a problem—it meant that the radical rabbi was finished, and their position and authority were no longer threatened.
   When Judas Iscariot heard that Jesus was condemned to die, he became greatly distressed. I believe the betrayer had thought his actions would force Jesus to declare His kingdom, with Judas taking a high position in the new government. Instead, his error in judgment crushed any personal ambition.
   In that culture, the cross represented shameful crime. Knowing the perfection of her son's life and His identity as the Son of God, Mary must have been certain it was undeserved. She also no doubt saw it as fulfillment of prophecy: When Jesus was just days old, Simon had prophesied that a sword would one day pierce Mary soul. (See Luke 2:34-35.) The cross brought that about.
   To Jesus' disciples, the crucifixion was the time when their beloved friend and Messiah died. Their close relationship with Jesus seemed to end, as did their dream of being freed from Roman jurisdiction.
   What response would you give to the question, "What does the cross mean to you?" Is it the place where a good man lost his life, a troublemaker was eliminated, or the Son of God died to save you? 
Stanley, Charles F. "The Message of the Cross." In Touch: Daily Reading For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 17. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Meaning of the Cross

Matthew 27:11-26

Jesus Before Pilate

11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
NIV   Bible Gateway.com 

   The cross—the symbol of Christianity—has great meaning to God. First of all, through Jesus' death, the Father proclaimed the value of every single human being: He offers forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who places faith in Jesus (Rom. 6:23). Second, it meant a great cost. Holy God separated Himself from His beloved Son while Jesus bore the weight of mankind's sin. (See Matt. 27:46.) Third, the redemption of man was accomplished. Jesus' shed blood purchased us from slavery to sin and reconciled us to God (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
   What's more, divine justice was carried out on the cross. Scripture tells us that death is the debt owed for sin (Ezek. 18:20). However, God requires an unblemished sacrifice (Duet. 17:1). We could not adequately pay our own penalty because we would only die in our sin. For holy God to forgive us, a sufficient substitute had to be found—one who qualified to pay for our disobedience. Jesus, the only one who was without sin, willingly took our place and assumed responsibility for our debt. All our iniquity—past, present, and future—was placed on Christ, and God's judgment upon us was carried out against Him.
   The meaning of the cross was experienced firsthand by Barabbas, the notorious prisoner who was condemned to die. God's innocent Son was substituted for him, giving the criminal freedom. Like Barabbas, we've had our death sentence commuted, and, though unworthy, we have been set free in Jesus. Today, the cross continues to offer life and freedom to the undeserving.
Stanley, Charles F."The Meaning of the Cross." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 16.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Heart of Our Faith

Galatians 2:15-16

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.          NIV Bible Gateway.com
 Paul believed nothing merited his boasting more than the cross (Gal. 6:14). He had good reason to think so: God's entire plan of salvation hangs upon two beams of rough-hewn wood. It is through Jesus' sacrificial death that we are reconciled to the Father. And we are justified by Christ's blood - freed from the guilt and penalty of sin.
   Galatians 2:16 says, "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified." That is, clean living cannot earn God's acceptance. Even so, many people choose to put confidence in some sort of cosmic "scale" - they believe their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds, and as a result, the gate of heaven will be open to them.
   However, if this scale philosophy were true, Jesus' death would be senseless. A Father who accepted multiple paths to salvation but still sacrificed His Son couln't be called good or loving. Yet so many overlook the obvious logic of such reasoning and cling to their vision of a God who ignores personal sin.
   The problem is pride. Since it is natural to desire acceptance, people want to believe something within them is worth loving. But the cross requires kneeling before God empty-handed. When we humbly admit we're powerless to settle our own sin debt, we must accept the payment Jesus made for us.
    We have nothing to offer God, but the fact is, He expects nothing. Instead, the Father created a salvation plan that cleansed the stain of our sin and reconciled us to Him. The cross is a symbol of His love - a love that deserves our boasting.
Stanley, Charles F. "The Heart of Our Faith." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living September 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 12. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

How God Works

Genesis 45:3-8

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.   NIV  Bible Gateway.com

   God has been at work since verse one of the Bible, and He is still orchestrating events involving nations, families, and individuals. While He uniquely tailors His plan for individual lives, our Father wants all people to come to saving faith. And He works to conform every Christian to His Son's image.
   Transforming believers into reflections of Jesus is a long process of small changes, which means God's work may at times seem slow to us. The Lord assured Abraham he'd be the father of nations, but he had to wait decades for the promised son (Gen. 15:1-5). Even though God was at work the entire time, Abraham must have wondered if the pledge had been forgotten. God's patient timing lets Him coordinate every detail perfectly.
   Believers like to share stories about the Lord's dramatic intervention in their lives. Knowing that He provides, rescues, or heals is exciting and reassuring. But He also works in ways that may seem inconsequential. For example, upon arriving in Egypt, Joseph was just a menial servant in Potiphar's household—yet this was his first step toward becoming the country's second-in-command (Gen. 39:1-4; 41:41). God has a purpose for everything that comes into our life—including friendships, jobs, situations, and conversations. Nothing is trivial.
    If you want to experience God in action, you don't have to wait for Him to do something big in your life. Be attentive, because every day is an opportunity to see Him at work. Get into His Word so you can understand how He has acted in the lives of others. Then watch for His involvement in your own.
Stanley, Charles F. "How God Works." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 35.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

Making Him Known

Acts 17:16-33

In Athens

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. NIV Bible Gateway.com

   There are three questions everyone needs to know how to answer correctly: Who is the one true God? What is He like? And is it possible to have a personal relationship with Him? Throughout the history of mankind, countless people from every nation have grappled with these questions. 
   When  the apostle Paul was in Athens, he provided answers for the people there by preaching about Jesus. Today Christians continue to share about Jesus because it is God's will that every single person have the correct answer to those three questions (1 Tim. 2:3-4). There is great need. Think about how many people are involved in the myriad religions all over the world. Most live in fear, uncertainty, and darkness.
Imagine that we are walking into church one Sunday morning and sitting in front of a giant statue made of bronze or gold. We might sing a few songs in honor of it, listen to a sermon, then take up an offering and lay it at the foot of the statue. After some additional music, church is over and we return to our houses. What would we carry home with us? What assurance could we claim? There would be no joy, peace, or assurance in this life or for the life to come because we bowed down to something that is lifeless and unable to hear us.
   As believers, we know the one true God. There is a world full of people who long to know Jesus but they have never heard about Him. Do not be content just to live your Christian life. Find a way to share your peace and joy with someone else.
Stanley, Charles F. "Making Him Known." In Touch: Daily Reading For Devoted Living October 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 14.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Powerful Practice of Fasting

Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah’s Prayer

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:
Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
I was cupbearer to the king.   NIV Bible Gateway.com

Nehemiah's brother arrived from Judah with some bad news: The Israelites living in Jerusalem were in great trouble. After hearing about their plight, Nehemiah fasted and prayed to the Lord for several days. During this time, he discovered God wanted him to ask the king of Persia for help.
   Fasting is a spiritual discipline that helps us center our attention on the Lord and discover His will so we may act according to it. People fast in different ways: Some abstain from food while others refrain from various activities. The period of time can vary as well. But the focus in each case is to be the same - to seek God and know His will.
   When we deny ourselves in this way, several things happen. First, the Holy Spirit will enable us to set aside earthly matters. Relationships, work, and pleasure will take a lesser place in our mind as we concentrate on God and His purposes. Second, our attention will shift from ourselves to the Lord. Thinking will become clearer, and our ability to understand His plans will sharpen because we are not distracted by other things. Third, the Lord is probably going to do some spiritual housecleaning in our life. His Spirit will convict us of sinful atitudes or behaviors. Then, upon confession of our sin, we'll be forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:9).
   When unexpected news greets us, we - like Nehemiah - may find our emotions in turmoil. He wisely sought God through fasting and prayer. This powerful practice can also help us to hear clearly from our heavenly Father, who knows the best way through every situation. 
Stanley, Charles F. "The Powerful Practice of Fasting." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living September 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 10.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

God Meets Our Needs

Philippians 4:19

19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  
NIV Bible Gateway.com

    Our heavenly Father has promised to provide everything we need. Let's consider some of the good gifts that are ours in Christ Jesus.
   One universal human need is love. Through faith in Jesus, we've been adopted as the heavenly Father's beloved children. But before this could take place, God's justice had to be satisfied. You see, we were all born with a sinful nature that is bent away from the Lord. Because of the Father's great love, He sent Jesus to take our place and experience judgment for our sin. Out of deep compassion for us, Jesus willingly suffered and died so we might become part of God's family and experience His rich affection for us (John 3:16). Through our relationship with Him, this need for love is fully met.
   In fact, by means of salvation, our Father also provided for two other basic needs - companionship and security. When we accept God's offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, fulfilling Jesus' promise never to leave us (Heb. 13:5). This new relationship is permanent. What Jesus accomplished on the cross was fully accepted by God as payment for our sin debt. Furthermore, Christ Himself  promised that no one can ever snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28). Therefore, we can rest in the knowledge that we are God's children forever. That is true security.
   Our deep need for love, security, and companionship is satisfied in an intimate relationship with the Lord. Have you trusted Christ so you could be permanently adopted into God's family? 
Stanley, Charles F. "God Meets Our Needs." In Touch: Daily Readings For Devoted Living September 2016. Atlanta: In Touch Ministries. page 32.