Luke 23

Vs. 46, “Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.”  Jesus’ commitment to the cross is something I don’t know if I’ll ever understand.  The trials (vs. 1-25) in the morning were a mockery of justice.  Three times Pilate announced Jesus innocent, yet did not have the courage to stand against the angry mob.  Pilate even sent Jesus to Herod (vs. 6-12), but Jesus would not respond to the man who had John the Baptist beheaded.  Because it was customary to release one prisoner at Passover, Pilate thought surely they would choose Jesus over Barabbas (vs. 13-25).  But, the prophecy of the Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29) needed to come to pass.  Due to Jesus’ intense beatings, He was unable to carry the cross on His own (vs. 26).  Yet, in Jesus’ suffering, He was thinking of others (vs. 27-31).  We see a stark contrast between the two thieves who hung with Jesus (vs. 32-43).  And lastly, we see the sacrifice that Joseph of Arimathea (vs. 50-56) did for Jesus with the help of Nicodemus (John 19:38) and the women.

Regarding application…Forgiveness.  Vs. 34, “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”  Question: What is forgiveness?  Forgiveness is extending a pardon.   It is paying a debt that is owed.   Question: If God forgives sin, why is there Hell?  If a person defiantly sins without remorse and does not accept the Gospel, they are essentially rejecting the forgiveness extended from the Cross and Resurrection.  It is a mystery to even begin grasping the love of Christ (Romans 8).  Yet, it is also a mystery to me why people would not accept forgiveness from the Lord.  Take time today to thank the Lord for this gift that we tend to take for granted.

Joshua 20

Vs. 2, “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses.”  The LORD Himself now instructs Joshua to follow up with what He already instructed Moses (Deuteronomy 19, Numbers 35) to do: designate cities of refuge.  Question: What was the purpose of these cities of refuge?  If someone were killed, there was a system in place where the next kinsman (relative) was to avenge his brother or relative.  However, there were instances of unintentional deaths and these cities of refuge were setup to protect those who unfortunately fell in this category.  For example, Deuteronomy (19:5-6) shares quite a vivid example of someone cutting down a tree with another, and as swings his ax, it accidently flies off the handle and kills the other person.  In our courtrooms today, they would call this negligent homicide.  The guilty party would present their case at the town gate for consideration of protection (vs. 4).  Essentially, this was prison in a lesser degree.  I really appreciate that these laws of protection were also given to the foreigner living among them (vs. 9).

Regarding application…Receiving Pardon.  Vs. 6, “He is to stay in that city until he has stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then he may go back to his own home in the town from which he fled.”  It’s interesting to note that if the current high priest died, amnesty would be offered to all those who sought protection at these cities of refuge.  The death of the high priest would cover over the sins of these people who unintentionally killed another.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is the Great High Priest (Hebrews 4).  But Jesus pardon of sins (forgiveness) is far more comprehensive!  As believers, we all have been pardoned by the death of our high priest in Jesus!  Question: Is there anyone in your life that you can pardon?  We are challenged in this life to give the love of Christ as it was given to us.  Take time to thank the Lord for His pardon and reach out in forgiveness to another this week!

Matthew 19

Vs. 1, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan.”  Jesus’ ministry in Galilee has ended and He now begins his journey to cross in Jerusalem.  It would take Jesus about six months to complete this journey.  They now find themselves in the region of Perea (east of the Jordan) administering to the large crowds.  But, where God is working the enemy is too (vs. 3); the Pharisees come to test Jesus (vs. 3-12).  Interestingly, the topic they bring to Jesus is still a very hotly debated one in the church today: divorce.  Jesus addressed this before on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:31-32) and now we see Jesus respond again.  God’s gift of marriage and plan (Genesis 2:24) was always for it to remain.  Unfortunately, under the Mosaic Law, the hardening of hearts would lead to a loophole.  However, there is a caveat to divorce (vs. 9) which is sexual immorality.  God’s plan is to have husband and wife together, but there are situations where it is literally unsafe and a spiritual scam among others for a couple to stay married for some sins (adultery, incest, molesting, etc.).  Once again, we are reminded how important children are to the Lord and the lessons behind being like children (vs. 13-15).  We then come to an event recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels; the rich young man (vs. 16-22).  The rich young man was so close to understanding.  He followed the law strictly and faithfully, but sensed something was missing (vs. 20).  Jesus then shocks everyone by sharing the image of a camel going through the eye of the needle (vs. 24) being just as impossible as a rich man entering heaven.  Riches and wealth were a sign of God’s blessing in the past.  The lesson here is challenging us how much we love our possessions (vs. 23-30).  We may have possessions, but God must be first.

Regarding application…Unwilling Heart.  Vs. 22, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”  Jesus went straight to the heart of the matter.  The rich young man did everything that a perfect Jew would do in his day.  But, Jesus knew what he truly loved; his possessions and pride.  No matter how disciplined we are in living a righteous life, it will never bring salvation.  There must be a moment of crisis in our hearts where we must choose to follow Jesus.  This was that moment for the rich young man, but his heart was unwilling.  It is an incredibly sad story; but one that is often repeated today.  I give credit to him for he realized that he couldn’t fake it.  Jesus drew the line and the rich young man didn’t try to do both.  But take heart, because there are people who are presented this reality and they do give up all their dreams and goals for Jesus.  Lord, I pray with willing hearts that you would lead us to the cross.

Matthew 18

Vs. 1, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  Jesus masterfully uses this question as a springboard to teach some amazing truths about life in the community of believers.  It’s important not to fault the disciples too much on this question for even Jesus brought up the idea of who the greatest is when he referenced John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).  Jesus aptly humbles them literally by taking a small child to indicate what truly is considered great in the kingdom (vs. 1-5).  The child represented something very important to teach: humility.  A child is completely dependent upon their parent.  A child has no rights.  This is the lesson Jesus was conveying to the proud disciples who wanted to find a way to gain greatness.  Godly humility will not lead others to stumble.  Jesus warns the disciples not to seek their own selfish motives; lest they cause a little one (spiritually young Christians) to stumble (vs. 5-10).  The lost sheep (vs. 12-14), illustrates the concern we should have for those who have spiritually gone astray.  It’s important to note, the context is “believers” who have gone astray.  We now get to a very misapplied passage concerning discipline within the church (vs. 15-20).  When we live in community with believers, undoubtedly there will be sin and issues that arise.  Jesus gives us a formula to wisely deal with sin that can affect the church.  Sadly, many churches are not listening to Jesus’ explicit guidance on the process of true reconciliation.  It’s also important to note the bad interpretation of vs. 19-20; many people use this in prayer meetings to find comfort when we are small in number.  But the context teaches us this is about the discipline process of reconciliation in the church.  Having just spoken about disciplining the sinner, Peter asks a logical question about how many times we should forgive (vs. 21).  Jesus basically tells them we should have unlimited forgiveness (vs. 22).  And lastly, Jesus shares the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (vs. 21-35).  It is powerful reminder of a huge mandate: we must forgive as we have been forgiven.  The ridiculous amount of money first servant was forgiven should have made him a forgiving person to the second servant who had him little.  Sadly, the first servant mistreats and does not forgive.  This is a stark reminder of Jesus’ blood on the cross offering forgiveness to all, but not all will accept the Lord and forgive.  Their destiny is hell.

Regarding application…Hard Heart.  Vs. 30, “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.”  I’ve heard someone say, “The world’s worst prison is the prison of an unforgiving heart.”  Brothers and sisters, we have seen the effects of people who cannot forgive others.  It shocks me to see professing Christians hate and despise others.  Question: How do you know if you have a hard and unforgiving heart?  Examine how you treat others and if you forgive them when they wrong you.  Sure, they don’t deserve forgiveness.  But, none of us deserve forgiveness either.  I urge all of us not to be complacent on making right our relationships with others.  If you are finding yourself struggling to forgive another, than take time to consider your standing before the Lord.  I can’t think of a better way to honor the Lord than forgiving another as we approach Good Friday!

 

I John 1

Vs. 1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”  John writes so passionately about Jesus because He experienced life with Him (vs. 1-4).  Not only did John spend time with Jesus physically, but more importantly, he experienced Him spiritually.  For there were many who saw Jesus physically, but rejected who He was.  Five times we are reminded of the word sin in the latter half of our chapter (vs. 5-10).  But more importantly, John points out that there is no darkness in the God of light.  This was important because contrary to the false teaching of Gnosticism, Jesus did not have a dualistic evil/good nature.  Additionally, there were some that had thought hey had achieved this mystical perfection.  But John eloquently addresses this misunderstanding of sin (vs. 8-10)

Regarding application…Dealing with Sin.  Vs. 9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Though we are new creations (Romans 7-8), there are going to be times that we are going to sin.  While sin can separate us from God, it doesn’t mean that by sinning we have to go through the whole salvation process again.  Christ dealt with sin on the cross.  If we don’t feel like we are sinners, perhaps the truth of Christ is not in our hearts (vs. 8).  A truly saved Christian will confess their sins.  How wonderful that we have a faithful, loving, and just God!  Pray today if there is anything that you need to bring before the Lord.

Leviticus 4

Vs. 2, “Say to the Israelites: ‘When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands.”  Unlike the previous three offerings, the sin offering was a mandatory offering that was required.  There were instructions for the high priest, congregation, leaders, individuals, and specific sins.  Different animals were required depending on who sinned.  Question: What was the purpose of the sin offering?  It was offered to the people who sinned unintentionally.  This understanding can be a bit ambiguous.  Most of us don’t wake up on a particular day and deliberately have the idea to specifically sin.  But there are times that we are going to sin.  We don’t do it with a hardened heart.  This was the sin offering that was available to the people who sinned, but did not have a premeditated intention.

Regarding application…Forgiveness.  Forgiveness is costly.  So costly, that Jesus had to be sacrificed.  I think we take for granted the extreme measures God has taken to forgive us.  You may recall the poignant moment when Joseph was face to face with his brothers again in Egypt.  He was given the opportunity to lash out in revenge or to forgive.  I want you to think about people in your own life right now.  We live in a sin-filled world where people are going to intentionally and unintentionally hurt us.  How are we going to respond?  We must forgive for He forgave us (Matthew 6:12).  Question: Is there anyone in your life that you need to extend forgiveness to?

Philemon 1

Vs. 17, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”  Philemon was one of the early leaders in the church at Colosse and they met in his home (vs. 2).  The early New Testament churches did not have their own facilities, so they would meet in their homes.  Notice how Paul respected and honored Philemon in his introduction (vs. 1-7).  This was going to be an opportunity for Philemon to forgive as he was forgiven by Christ.  While Paul could have used his authority to demand forgiveness or even not return Onesimus, he wanted to give Philemon the opportunity to have his own rights.  We see a beautiful extension of love from Paul as he offers to pay back any loss incurred upon Philemon (vs. 18-25).  Notice too that Onesimus must have surely agreed upon this and repented of his actions.  He was willing to go back and suffer any consequences.

Regarding application…Price to Pay.  Vs. 19, “I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.”  Someone was going to have to pay for the losses of this relationship.  Paul was willing to pay for it because Philemon had suffered loss.  Onesimus was willing to take any consequences and lose his life again as a slave.  Philemon would have to incur loss if he forgave Onesimus.  Bottom line; living a Christian life of forgiveness means someone is going to pay.  Ultimately, Jesus Christ paid the price on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.  Forgiveness is not cheap.  It can cost our grief, our money, our selfishness and even reputation among others.  But brothers and sisters, let us be people willing to pay the price.  We may not always get back what we feel we deserve.  I recall lending money to a few people over the years.  Rarely did they pay me back.  That wasn’t my money in the first place.  And besides, there were plenty of times when someone graciously lent me their time and money.  Let us love with grace each other.

Genesis 45

Vs. 3, “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.”  Some 22 years later, Joseph finally would be able to reconcile with his brothers!  A beautiful picture of reconciliation, forgiveness, and the released weight of guilt would come upon the brothers.  I love the outpouring of emotion and affection that Joseph gives to his brothers (vs. 14-16).  Additionally, we see how God’s people would find themselves in Egypt because of the famine (vs. 4-11).  I find myself so overjoyed for Jacob/Israel when he find out the news that Joseph his beloved son is alive (vs. 26-28).

Regarding application…God is Sovereign.  Vs. 8, “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.”  Brothers and sisters, the story of Joseph is a huge reminder for us when the evil intentions of others cause us to wonder if there is a God.  God works in mysterious ways.  I am not about to even try to explain it for the wisdom of man is foolishness to God (I Corinthians 3:19).  Though we live in a sinful world, God is in control.  There is nothing that happens that He is not aware of.  I wish we were all immune from the evil of this world.  But find a hope in knowing that Jesus will return again to conquer evil for good (Revelation 19).  Joseph set the example for us in patience, faith and forgiveness.  Let us go and do likewise.

Genesis 33

Vs. 4, “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”  As Jacob saw Esau approaching, in haste he divided up his family in order of favor (vs. 1).  Fortunately, Jacob’s contrite heart and Esau’s twenty some years to get over his anger would result in reconciliation.  Yet, we see an interesting development.  Jacob would not follow Esau (vs. 16-17) and had earlier wiggled his way out of traveling with him (vs. 12-15).  Perhaps Jacob learned from mixing family and business, but he doesn’t want to live near Esau.  However, Jacob doesn’t completely follow God’s command to go back to the Promised Land.  Though he would finally cross over the Jordan, the area of Shechem would not be an ideal place to reside in (vs. 18) as we will read in the following chapter.  He should have traveled thirty miles back to Bethel where God spoke to him (Genesis 28).

Regarding application…Extending Forgiveness.  There is something pretty remarkable in this extension of forgiveness.  The author of Hebrews would state a sad fact about Esau’s godlessness (Hebrews 12:14-17).  Though Jacob/Israel was chosen by God, it was Esau who is showing us what forgiveness should look like.  Notice too how Jacob wanted to “pay back” Esau in some way, which is why he insisted that Esau accept his gifts (vs. 10-11).  Brothers and sisters, we can’t ever pay back the overwhelming forgiveness that was given to us through Jesus.  If Esau who is considered a godless man can extend forgiveness, how much more should we?  Question: Is there anyone in your life that you need to forgive?  Like Esau & Jacob, it is often the people who are the closest to us.

Colossians 3

Vs. 1, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”  Question: What does it look like to live a Christian life?  First, Paul makes is very clear that even the way we think and feel (vs. 1-4) should be different now that we have put to death our old sinful nature (vs. 3).  Even though our sinful nature is now dead, we must also ensure that we put to death the way we also used to live (vs. 5-9).  I like how Paul reminds us that it is not about our culture that defines our identity (vs. 11).  Paul then continues on to share the way we should now live as new creations (vs. 12-17).  It is not a coincidence that we are exhorted additionally to ensure we are living as good examples of the faith to the people that we live with (vs. 18-25).  It’s important to understand that Paul was not advocating slavery, as much as he was instructing how one should respond in their life situation (vs. 22-25).  Whether your were a slave or a slave-master, there is a appropriate way to respond.  It is the Lord who is in control (vs. 24).

Regarding application…Why Forgive Others?  Vs. 13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  We forgive because Jesus forgave us.  Before Jesus shared the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18), Peter came and asked Jesus how much he should forgive someone.  Three times was customary, so for Peter to suggest to forgive up to seven times was showing certain godly grace.  Yet, we are reminded the importance of why we must forgive.  Question: Are you forgiving others?  Is there any bitterness in your heart towards anyone?  Certainly people have hurt us in our lives.  Let us extend forgiveness as Christ forgave us.  Yet, if a person has no desire to ask for forgiveness, than it would be hard to extend it.  In the end, we should be seeking to ask for forgiveness as well as extend forgiveness in the relationships we have here on earth.  Remember, generally there are two sides to as story so if there is a dispute, we should consider what we may have done to hurt the other party too.