John 10

Vs. 11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Jesus brings up a well-known picture of the shepherd and his sheep.  It is wintertime during the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) and Jesus is teaching at the temple.  The Old Testament is rich in teaching that God is the shepherd of Israel (Genesis 49:24, Psalm 23, Isaiah 40:10-11).  It’s also noteworthy to mention that both Moses and David were shepherds.  The Feast of Dedication remembered the cleansing and restoration of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus (165 B.C.).  Because of the lack of spiritual shepherds at that time, Jesus uses this as an example in the present to share the shepherd/sheep illustration (vs. 1-21).  In this figure of speech (vs. 6), John shares the third I AM statement that Jesus is the gate (vs. 7) as well as the good shepherd (vs. 11).  The reality was, there were also bad shepherds who would lead their sheep astray or not be willing to die for their sheep.  Once again the crowds around Jesus are divided concerning who they think He is (vs. 19-21).  In the latter half of our chapter (vs. 22-42), the Jewish leaders demand Jesus tells them who He is.  Jesus gives a beautiful explanation concerning the true sheep and how they will always be protected (vs. 25-30).  They are furious now because they accuse Jesus of blasphemy (dishonoring God) by claiming to be God (vs. 33).  Jesus’ response (vs. 34-38) helps to answer their inquiry, but at this point they are ready to seize Him (vs. 39).   Jesus escapes and goes to the Jordan where John the Baptist had been and ministers to many there (vs. 40-42).

Regarding application…Shepherd’s Voice.  Vs. 27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  Question: Do you know the Shepherd’s voice?  Being a dog owner, I appreciate this illustration.  My dog Frankie knows my voice.  It’s really funny when we are watching family video’s and my voice comes up on the television.  Frankie is confused because he hears my voice but know I’m not physically speaking.  He’ll cock his head left and right and get really confused.  Dogs are intelligent animals, much smarter then sheep.  Regardless, if animals can recognize their master’s voices, how much more should we know Jesus’ voice?  One of the questions I have been asked repeatedly over the years of ministry is, “How do I know where God is leading me?”  One of the first things I start with is asking them about their walk with the Lord.  If you do not know God’s word and read it, then you will not know His voice.

Leviticus 3

Vs. 1, “If your offering is a fellowship offering, and you offer an animal from the herd, whether male or female, you are to present before the Lord an animal without defect.”  This fellowship offering is also known as the “peace” offering (shalom).  This fellowship offering was similar to the burnt offering in that the offering was made by fire with an aroma that would be pleasing to the LORD (vs. 5, 16).  Cattle, sheep and goat were used, however female animals could be used unlike the burnt offering.  Question: What was the purpose of the fellowship/peace offering?  It was a voluntary offering that would be followed by the sharing of a meal with the parts of the animal used.  There could be a few reasons for this offering; expressing gratitude or giving a vow.

Regarding application…Joyful Sacrifice.  This is a wonderful reminder that not all sacrifices should be sobering.  There is a tendency to come to the LORD only in times of trouble.  But this fellowship offering reminds us that there is a time for joyful sacrifices, a time of voluntary giving not motivated by legalistic purposes.  Being joyful is not just an emotion like happiness.  Having joy is a mandate given from the LORD.  In the busyness of our lives, this is a poignant reminder to come with joy when we attend church.  There are not enough faces filled with joy in the pews of our churches.  Let us be people who give with a joyful heart to the LORD and his church!

Leviticus 1

Vs. 1, “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting…”  The saga continues as we pick up where Exodus left off.  The glory of God now went from the mountain to the tabernacle.  Exodus gave us much detail into the construction of the tabernacle, and now we will see Leviticus focus on the source of the power of God.  The LORD directs Moses to the importance of worship (vs. 2-17) in the form of sacrifices.  The process of sacrificing involved a routine, a ritual.  In our chapter today, we are presented the burnt offering.  It was the most common offering (every morning and evening, Sabbath, new moon and yearly feasts).  It was called burnt offering because the whole animal was to be consumed by the fire.  While there were three different types of animals mentioned (bull, sheep/goat, dove/pigeon), most scholars agree that the type of sacrifice was dependent upon the wealth of the family.  The purpose of a burnt offering was to atone for sins and restore their relationship with God.  It was to be a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

Regarding application…Willing Sacrifice.  Vs. 2, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.”  Having a right relationship with God is costly.  While we do not sacrifice with animals and blood, we certainly understand that following God is not easy.  We not only sacrifice our tithing, our time by coming to church, etc., if we follow God, our lives are a living sacrifice.  We begin to realize that God’s tabernacle today (the church) is going to ask you to go above and beyond.  Question: Are you willing to sacrifice?  There are all sorts of reasons why we give back to the Lord and the church.  But let’s not forget the simple fact that sacrificing is pleasing to God (vs. 9, 13, 17).

Zechariah 13

Vs. 2, “On that day, I will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will remove both the prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land.”  God will bring judgment upon those who have led people into idolatry (vs. 2-6).  Certainly, Zechariah was speaking directly to the false prophets under Persian rule, but many believe it is also pointing towards the End Times.  The deceivers cannot hide from their lies (vs. 5-6) anymore.  In the last section of our chapter (vs. 7-9), we see Zechariah refer to the Shepherd (Jesus).  Additionally, we also are given a prophecy of the sheep who scatter, some point towards the disciples after the crucifixion and others towards the End Times.

Regarding application…Refiner’s Fire.  Vs. 9, “This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.”  This reminds me of the old 80’s praise song!  But in this picture, we see the LORD purifying His people.  Refining precious metals involved intense fire and heat that would separate the dross and impurities.  Throughout the OT, we see references to this refining (Psalm 17:3, 26:2, 66:10, Jeremiah 9:7).  Question: How would we stand against the Refiner’s fire?  Each day we turn to the Lord, we allow Him to cut away more the impurities of our lives so we can reflect the glory of the LORD!

John 10

Vs. 7, “Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.”  I’ve never met a real Shepard or seen a flock of sheep out in the open.  During Jesus’ day, the comparison of a Shepard and sheep would have been something the audience could definitely understand.  If Jesus lived during the Wild West in the 19th century, perhaps he would have used Cowboys and cows instead.  However, the meaning behind the Shepard and sheep is quite clear.  Jesus is the Shepard and we are the sheep (vs. 1-21).  The sheep are so valuable to the Shepard, the Shepard is willing to die for the sheep.  What was stumping the unbelieving wasn’t the analogy, but Jesus’ claim that He was the Son of God and therefore the Shepard of His people.  It’s just a stark reminder that not all will believe not matter what you say or do (vs. 22-42).  A couple of months later, the unbelieving Jews still could not get over Jesus’ claim of who He was (vs. 33).

Regarding application…Do You Believe?  Vs. 42, “And in that place many believed in Jesus.”  When I think of believing in Jesus, my mind tends to envision the moment of salvation.  But I believe this belief in Jesus goes far beyond time when we first put our faith in the hands of the Lord.  Question: Why is the Christian life so hard?  We can throw out things like persecution, hatred for Christians, the enemies flaming arrows, our human sin nature, etc.  None of those are incorrect, but I personally feel that the core of the issue is making a deliberate decision to believe each day.  Jesus did not say take up the cross once, he said daily (Luke 9:23).  Taking up the cross is equivalent to believing each day.  Question: Do you believe?  If so, what are you doing about it?  This call to believing is not expecting you to be perfect by any means.  But God is honored by the heart’s intention.  When we believe we are surrendering our will.  Brothers & Sisters in Christ, let’s believe today and not be a person who does not know the Shepard’s voice.

Luke 15

Vs. 2,But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  What the Pharisee’s didn’t realize is that they were the “sinners”.  Jesus goes on to share with us three very powerful parables about the lost.  People have different views on how God approaches His relationship with His creation.  In the examples of the sheep and coin, we see God making the assertive effort to find the lost.  In the prodigal son, we see the son making the effort to turn back to the Father.  It is important to note that in all three: sheep, coin, son…we understand how valuable they are to God.  Each of us have high value when it comes to how God sees us!

Regarding application…When God Ran.  Vs. 20, “So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”  Phillips, Craig & Dean wrote and sang this very powerful song called “When God Ran”!  This story of the prodigal son cuts deep into my heart.  In a time where families all over the world struggle with relationships and absent Fathers, we are poignantly reminded of the Father’s love.  There are lessons to be learned in the response of the younger son and the older son, but the parable really is about the Father.  Question: Are you lost?  Do you feel like you have been playing hide & seek with God?  As we round the last corner of 2011, let us be found by God and let Him use us powerfully as the New Year begins.