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If you've ever attempted to read through the Bible, you probably had the same reaction many Christians do when they reach the book of Leviticus: What are all these animal sacrifices about? This ancient sacrificial system of worship seems so foreign to us. Can you imagine having to bring a lamb for slaughter every time you want to confess your sin?
We tend to look back on all those bloody sacrifices and think, I’m sure glad that doesn't involve me! But if we pass too quickly over them, we’ll miss seeing what our salvation cost the Savior. You see, He was our blood sacrifice. Redemption wouldn't have worked if He’d simply died for us in His sleep, because “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22).
The Israelites had the continual reminder of the cost of sin. But today, having never experienced the slaughter of thousands of animals, we often take our salvation lightly, not realizing what it required. The flogging and crucifixion of Christ was a bloody, messy scene. The horror of it should move us to tears of sorrow and gratitude for what He did to buy our salvation. Without the shedding of His blood, we’d be bound for hell and eternal separation from God.
Now, instead of dragging a lamb behind us to the altar, we rely upon the Lamb of God, who offered Himself as the sacrifice for our transgressions. His blood washed away our sin so we can one day stand in heaven, singing praise to the Lamb who purchased us with His blood (Rev. 5:9-10). How wonderful is our redemption, and how good is our God!
Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, bringing sin into God’s perfect creation. They experienced an immediate separation from their Maker, and from that moment, all of creation began longing for redemption.
Old Testament prophets spoke about a coming Messiah—the One who would redeem and restore. For centuries, the Israelites waited hopefully. They must have wondered why God was waiting so long, and perhaps even doubted whether a savior would ever come.
There was a bigger picture, though, that they couldn't see. From our viewpoint thousands of years later, we can piece together some reasons for God’s timing—down to small details like communication and travel.
For example, when Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world, he spread Greek throughout his expanding empire. The Hebrews then translated the Old Testament into Greek. As a result, many more people were able to hear truth, understand their need, and recognize the Savior when He came.
Next, the Romans defeated many nations and created new highways for travel. Seas and roads were safer during their rule than in previous times, so it was easier for Jesus’ disciples to spread the gospel message.
Now we clearly see that God wasn't a moment late—He knew the perfect timing to send His Son to redeem mankind. But situations in our own life may not always make sense from our vantage point. Remember that our omniscient God has perfect timing. You can trust Him.
The story of Daniel illustrates some key elements of obedience. We see the wise young man doing what the Lord commanded, both in the right manner and with the right timing.
Daniel knew that God’s law prohibited eating food that had been offered to idols. But he was living in captivity in Babylon—a nation that worshiped false gods—and soon faced a hard decision. King Nebuchadnezzar had ordered that the choicest of foods be sent for Daniel’s meals after first being presented to idols. Was it better to obey the Lord and risk angering the king—or to disobey God and please the ruler?
On the surface, the question for Daniel was about unacceptable food. But the underlying issue was allegiance to God. He could have rationalized breaking the divine command by telling himself he was a servant and had no choice. Instead, Daniel resolved not to eat the royal food and sought a way that would honor the Lord and keep His law.
Today, many things that our world finds acceptable are outside of God’s protective boundaries for His children. Some are not good for us, while others do not honor Him. Our desire as Christians is to obey the Lord, but our fleshly side wants to please ourselves and others. It’s important to realize that obeying God is always the right choice.
To become like Daniel, we must make a wholehearted commitment to follow the Lord and consistently apply Scripture to our decision making. Then, when challenges come, we will have the courage to obey God’s commands.
Let’s continue looking at the Lord’s warning to the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:4) The Ephesians are a model of cooled-down faith. Their fervor is gone, though they’re still going through the motions of serving God and even defending the faith.
Christ’s warning to the church at Ephesus applies to modern-day believers whose hearts have grown cold. He looks at distracted and complacent Christians who are laboring for every reason but the right one, and He exclaims, “What I want is not your empty service; I want you!”
The heart cools gradually as a person gives higher priority to other relationships and activities than to the Lord. Through our definition of idol as “false god,” Satan has subtly limited how we perceive the word. The truth is, anything that distracts from God qualifies as an idol. For example, a god of this age is sports. Many believers know more about stats than Scripture and show more passion in the stands than in a worship service.
Returning to a life of passionate service for God begins with repentance. We must assume responsibility for drifting away from our first love. Then, we’re to put Jesus Christ back on the throne of our heart and reconnect with Him through regular prayer and meditation on Scripture.
God desires an intimate relationship with every believer. So let me ask you a question: Are you excited about Jesus? Our best and purest devotion will be to whatever or whomever we prioritize. If that is not Jesus, repent and let Him rekindle the flame of your first love.
Ephesus was home to a tremendous ministry. Despite opposition and harsh persecution, the church planted by Paul spread the gospel and was quick to challenge false prophets. But 30 years after the apostle left, John’s revelation included a stern warning for those believers.
Imagine how these words must have struck the Ephesians. After complimenting their service for the gospel, Christ said, “But I have this against you . . .” (Rev. 2:4). That phrase was, without a doubt, extremely disconcerting. The Lord warned them that they had left their first love. In other words, all of their work was being done with wrong motives.
Christ called the Ephesians to remember their love for Him and their delight in His salvation. Service is no substitute for an intimate relationship, but modern believers continue to fall into this subtle trap. The commendable things that we do count for nothing unless they stem from a vibrant personal connection with God. Our work cannot be effective or fruitful unless He is in it.
In fact, God is more interested in you and your personal relationship with Him than in a thousand lifetimes of good works. He desires to be the satisfaction and delight of His children so that their service is a result of loving devotion.
There are plenty of wrong reasons to labor for the kingdom. God wants all believers with selfish intentions to return to their first love. In that way, hearts and minds can be renewed, and service to the Lord will be more effective.
Every year Forbes magazine trots out its “Celebrity 100,” a list of the most famous people in the world. Our society sure loves its celebrities. They seem to have it all—fame, power, influence, and applause from the masses. Who wouldn't want to be like them, at least on a small scale?
Unfortunately, the virus of celebrity worship can quickly develop into a full-blown case of celebrity envy, and when it came to Jesus’ disciples, they surely exhibited signs of infection. For three years the Lord has been training them to take the anti-celebrity path—the way of being unknown and un-famous, the path of secret goodness and unspectacular acts of mercy. But in the 20th chapter of Matthew, they still haven’t learned the lesson. This is the third time Jesus recites the horrific details of His impending death, which should have appalled and devastated His disciples. Instead, beginning with James and John, they start scrambling for the best seats in the house. Jesus is going to the cross, and they want to be stars.
Then things start to spiral out of control. The other 10 disciples, “indignant with the two brothers,” start puffing and preening with the cries of every celebrity wannabe: “Notice me,” “I was first,” and “I’m better than you.”
So Jesus enacts an intervention, first by warning them about the wrong way to live. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,” He says. Throughout human history, this wrong way has appeared utterly natural. No wonder Jesus’ prescription for the right way to live feels shockingly abnormal: “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (vv. 25-27 NIV).
But Jesus doesn't just give us good advice; He also becomes our servant and slave by offering His “life as a ransom for many” (v. 28). A ransom is a payment offered on behalf of someone held captive against his will. In this sense, the disciples aren't just hostages of an oppressive Roman conqueror; they’re also captives of their own unloving attachment to fame, power, and privilege.
So Jesus has taken our place; He died the death we should have died. In light of His greatness and humility, no matter who Forbes trumpets next year, there’s room for just one real celebrity. By His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has permanently nabbed the top spot on the only list that matters. Thankfully, by His grace, this humble King invites us to join Him as His guests on the stage of redemption.
As I studied today’s verses from John’s Gospel, I felt convicted about falling short of Jesus’ expectations. It’s easy to say, “Lord, I adore You,” but there have been times when I've used those words while resisting something He was trying to impress upon my heart. The old adage is true: Actions speak louder than words.
The measure of our love is obedience to the Lord’s commands and principles. Following His instructions is so important that Jesus stressed the point three times in today’s passage (vv. 15, 21, 23). This wasn't a new concept for the disciples, either. They would have been familiar with the scriptural connection between love and obedience (Neh. 1:5; Dan. 9:4). In fact, God has always emphasized that the way to show our devotion is by doing what He says. (See Deut. 8:11; 10:12; 13:3-4.)
Scripture tells us that love for God is linked to obedience. The Lord told Joshua to meditate on Scripture day and night (Josh. 1:8). I read from the Bible every day so I can know how to obey, because that is the only way to stay faithful and show the Father my love.
At some point, no doubt, you have been hurt. Probably, a person you loved and trusted did something unthinkable—something so devastating it changed your whole perspective on that individual. When this happens, we have a choice either to wallow in self-pity or to forgive.
Forgiveness is the act of giving up both the resentment we have toward someone and the desire to retaliate. It involves three important steps.
First, we must release the general feeling of resentment. That is, we must decide not to languish in our pain. This can be hard. Many people seem to enjoy harboring self-pity or an overarching sense of martyrdom. They sigh, “Oh, it’s just my lot in life to suffer.” No, it is not! You can choose to move past the hurt.
Second, we must surrender specific feelings of resentment toward the individual. That means we’re to give up our anger at being hurt and also seek to restore the broken relationship.
Third, we lay down all claims to retribution. You cannot forgive someone with your words while secretly wishing him or her harm. True forgiveness seeks the other person’s good, not punishment.
Forgiveness says, “Though you hurt me, I choose to pardon you. I won’t dwell on this, nor will I allow it to destroy my life or attitude. I won’t spend one minute plotting revenge. You are God’s precious child, and I love you.”
Truly, forgiving another person carries a price, but the rewards are worth it. Unleash the power of forgiveness in your life today.
God’s call on our life extends beyond the moment we receive salvation. He wants to develop Christlike character in us through the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. Every believer is given this call to sanctification—God’s intention is for all Christ-followers to be set apart. His Spirit enables us to turn from our old patterns of action and attitude so we can give ourselves exclusively to the Lord. Sanctification brings about genuine freedom from self-centered desires that keep us in bondage (Titus 3:3-7).
The Lord’s call to service requires total surrender. When God revealed His glory to Isaiah, the prophet offered himself completely (Isa. 6:8); Paul submitted his whole self to Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9:15-19); even Jesus, our ultimate example, daily surrendered to His Father’s will (John 5:19). A life of surrender says, “God, whatever, whenever, wherever, and however You want it, my answer is yes.”
A willing response to each of these divine calls prepares the believer for God’s call to accountability. Scripture tells us that every person will experience a day of judgment. For those who refused God’s invitation to salvation, it will mean wrath and eternal separation from the Lord. For God’s children, it will be a day in which our response to His call on our lives will be evaluated. Only those things done at His direction and in His way will matter when that time comes; everything else will count for nothing (Ps. 127:1-2).
Daily, God is calling to you, wanting to speak with you about important matters. Are you listening to Him and responding?
The Father has opened a way for sinners to be forgiven and set on the path of righteousness—namely, through faith in His Son. Trusting in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior makes us members of God’s family and takes us immediately onto the narrow road, which is only for His followers.
As we journey on this heavenward highway, the Holy Spirit acts as our guide and teaches us what we need to know. Through Him, we develop the ability to look beyond the temporal to the eternal: With spiritual eyes, we will catch glimpses of the Lord’s majesty, comprehend the depth of our Savior’s love for us, and experience the invisible, powerful presence of the Spirit. We will witness the awe-inspiring transformation of ordinary, pride-filled human beings into humble, loving ambassadors for Christ. Our minds will grasp the truths of God’s Word, and we will hear Him speaking to us through it. On the broad road, none of these things are possible.
Despite such amazing blessings, we at times all wander from the Lord’s will. We might be drawn away by the glitter of material things, the temporary satisfaction of self-indulgence, or a desire to be part of the crowd. Whatever we hope to find outside of God’s plan proves illusive and temporary. Only by walking with Christ on the path of godliness will we find the security and contentment we crave.
If you are drifting in your Christian life, allowing the world’s priorities to direct your steps, then you need to turn back. Jesus calls you to deny yourself and commit to following Him alone.