Following Jesus Requires Sacrifice

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John 12: 20 – 28

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

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The passage right before the verses above described for us the “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem.  The crowds proclaimed that their Messiah, their King, who had come from the royal line of King David, had just entered into Jerusalem.  They were all ready to proclaim Jesus as their Royal King of Israel.

No doubt this caused a great stir among the people, for the local residents of Jerusalem as well as those who were visiting there to celebrate the Great Feast of Passover.  Our passage here starts out then with some foreigners, some Greek-speaking men who had come in from some outlying area or some distant land and they hear reports about Jesus.

They wanted to meet Jesus, but notice who they approached first?  They went to Philip, who probably came from a Greek culture background himself since he had a Greek name.  So these men took the path that made the most sense to be able to gain an audience with Jesus – they approached Philip who would be sympathetic to their request to meet this very famous man – the Man who could do the miraculous.

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Jesus’ response though did not line up with this desire of the people who wanted Him to become their new King on earth.  He does declare in verse 23 that it is finally the time for people to know who He is exactly.  His favorite term for Himself “The Son of Man” contains both the idea that He is God’s Son, and also the idea that He is truly a man who had come to live among us.

And now He says that the time had come for Him “to be glorified”.  It is always hard to translate the word “glory”, but each time we do, we learn more about what it means.  Within this context, Jesus was saying that it was going to be revealed just how “wonderful” and “glorious” the true nature of Jesus really was.

The surprise comes is in the next sentence.  We should expect that someone who is the Majestic Son of God, who had just been publicly acclaimed to be the King of Israel, and who will now at this point reveal the true identity of Himself to the people, we would expect Him to ascend the throne in Jerusalem.

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Instead, we see Jesus speaking out one more time in metaphorical language.  He states that a seed by itself is nothing.  To be something of great value, it must be dropped into the ground where the seed will figuratively “die” as it breaks into small pieces.  But from these broken pieces, many roots can shoot out of this one seed and actually bear much food for the people.

You see, Jesus’ path forward required Him not to go forth in a victory march towards a throne, but to walk the road of shame and suffering, and to die on the Cross, in order to win people back to God.  Jesus recognized that those who would follow Him, must be ready to fully give up their lives and souls to God, and count the things of this life as being of such low worth compared to the promise of eternal life with God.

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This is not to say that it was an easy thing for Jesus to make the decision to give up His life on our behalf.  We see Him in verse 27 wrestling with this decision.  If it was possible to fulfill the will of God without having to actually die on the cross, I believe Jesus would have chosen that path.  But He has barely asked this question of God when He also states the answer – He knows that this was the path that He must walk.

And so Jesus asked God for something else: He asked for God to reveal His true and glorious nature.  And God’s voice answered back that He already had and will again do just that.  What was He referring to?  I believe it refers to how God showed His awesome power in resurrecting Lazarus (from John 11) and how He would raise Jesus from the dead (John 20).

The promise and the challenge for us are in verse 26.  If we truly want to serve Jesus as the Lord of our lives, we are to follow in His footsteps.  So we must also be ready to lay down our lives for God.  That is the challenge.  The promise is that we will be with Him where He goes.  And where will that be?  By the side of God in Heaven for all eternity.  Praise God!  Praise the Lord!

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What Would Jesus Do?

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John 11: 54 – 57

54 Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

55 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. 56 They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple courts they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the festival at all?” 57 But the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who found out where Jesus was should report it so that they might arrest him.

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Verse 53, the last verse before this section, clearly marked the “point of no return”.  It reads, “So from that day on they plotted to take his life.”  The religious leaders had had enough.  It was undeniable that Jesus had worked a miracle (no one disputed the fact that Jesus had caused Lazarus to rise from the dead).  Clearly God’s power was behind all that Jesus did, but the religious leaders could not tolerate the competition nor the threat that he posed.

Jesus was aware of this plan to kill him, and so he moved northward out of the Judean province and into a remote area on the edge of the province of Samaria.  He still had some final teaching and preparing of his disciples to do.  They did not know that Jesus would only have a few more days with them, but he knew.  And so he withdrew from the region around Jerusalem.  It was not his time to die yet.

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The story then moves toward the time of the Jewish Passover.  This was the time to remember how the blood of a pure young lamb sprinkled over the doorposts of their houses when they were slaves in Egypt 1500 years prior to this, caused the “Angel of Death” to pass over their houses and bring death only to the first born sons of the people of Egypt.  Their freedom from slavery to Egypt was bought by the blood of that lamb.

This event, the Jewish Passover, contained within it the hope of a new freedom for the people of Israel at that time, for their country had been conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire for some time.  They longed for freedom once again, and with the Old Testament promise of a coming Messiah/Savior, many people at that time were wondering if perhaps Jesus was that man.

While their hopes were justified, the expectations were not.  The people had the wrong idea about the role and character of their coming Messiah.  He would not come on a human level to free people just from slavery to other humans.  No, much more imporant than this (in eternal terms) was the need to free people from slavery to sin, and its consequences, namely an eternal separation from God and punishment as the penalty or payment for their sins.

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And so the words that kept on being whispered all over Jerusalem were, “What will Jesus do?  Will he come (to save us) or not?  What will Jesus do?”  As much as many people truly wanted Jesus to come, they were also fearful of what would happen if he came, for the word was out from their religious leaders that they wanted any and all citizens to cooperate with them and report it when Jesus would come, so that they could arrest him.  (And we know from the bigger story, that an arrest would only be the preliminary step to his death.)

And this is a good question at the end of chapter 11 of John.  This was the pivotal point in Jesus’ life and ministry.  He had done many great things over the previous 3 1/2 years.  He had taught the truth of God’s Word, revealed the heart of a loving Father God, and gave us all great insight into the nature of God and His rulership over those who love and obey Him.  Jesus had certainly touched many lives, by kind words, acts of compassion, and incredible healing miracles.

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But we will need to turn the page over (check our next article), to see just exactly what Jesus chose to do.  For those of us who are familiar with the Gospel story, we know that Jesus chose to come back to Jerusalem and square off against his enemies, challenging them face-to-face, knowing the whole time that it would lead to his death.

But Jesus knew, even as He would make that decision to turn to Jerusalem and die there, that his death would not be an empty death.  Just like the spilled blood helped to protect the people of Israel so long ago and bought them their freedom, so also Jesus would spill his blood to be the human sacrifice who would pay the penalty of death for sins for all people.  It would be through his voluntary act of sacrifice that would buy for us the choice to accept Jesus as our representative who died for the sins of each and every one of us.

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That leads us to a final obvious question, considering that Jesus would let himself die in order for God to be able to forgive you all of your sins, and thus be acceptable in God’s sight: what kind of response should you give towards Jesus?  He doesn’t ask you to “do” anything to earn your salvation.

He wants you to be sorry for your sins (to repent of your sins), to accept that Jesus death was enough to pay off your sins, and to accept Him into your life by faith, calling on Him to be your personal Lord and Savior.

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Jesus Cares & Sacrificed His Life For All People

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John 10:11 – 21

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

17 “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. 18 No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

19 When he said these things, the people were again divided in their opinions about him. 20 Some said, “He’s demon possessed and out of his mind. Why listen to a man like that?” 21 Others said, “This doesn’t sound like a man possessed by a demon! Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

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In our last study, we saw the interesting paradoxes that Jesus was both the Shepherd for the sheep, as well as the Gate for the sheep through which they must pass in order to be safe.  We touched on another Biblical paradox in our last article as we suggested that Jesus was both the Savior and Mediator as well as the Sacrifice of this covenant of love and forgiveness from which we benefit eternally.

In verse 6 of this chapter, his listeners had asked Jesus what all his figurative language meant.  But we see in this next passage of the story here that Jesus continued using metaphorical language as he went on to talk more about sheep and shepherds, and the sacrifices that shepherds would make on behalf of their sheep.  So it may look like Jesus still had not answered their questions.  Or perhaps he did.

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Actually, I believe that Jesus’ opening words in verse 11 would have spoken quite loudly to his audience that day.  In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were often portrayed in poetic and prophetic material as being sheep.  And the leaders of the Jewish people were portrayed as shepherds who were to watch over and care for the flock, God’s people.

But as is so true in any human organization or institution, it does not take very long before those who are supposed to act as humble servants of God, caring for His people, start to become dominating overlords who look out for their own interests first.  So when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” He was contrasting himself against the religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees and Sadducees.

These leaders were very self-righteous and exercised great influence over the people of Israel.  But they did not really care about the people, other than that they would obey all the rules and rituals that they had created and imposed upon the people.  When Jesus came on to the scene and started to preach and teach and even heal people, rather than rejoice at the power of God being displayed among them, they became very jealous and threatened by Him.  That is the primary reason why Jesus was accused, convicted and then killed on a cross.

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Jesus clearly marked out the difference between them and himself.  He said he was the “good” shepherd, who was so devoted to his sheep (the people) that he was willing to sacrifice his life in order to save them.  The religious leaders though were afraid of the Roman government which had control over Palestine back then.

If there was even the hint of a rebellion or a disturbance of the peace, there was the threat of the Romans coming back in and not only squelching the uprising, but also of destroying and dispersing the entire Jewish nation.  That is why Caiaphus, the high priest back then said in John 11:49-50, “it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.

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Jesus was not caught up in all this political religious intrigue by accident though.  He knew that He would die, but even here in chapter 10, He says that he would sacrifice himself “voluntarily”.  And not only for the lost sheep (people) of Israel, Jesus said He would do this for those who were “outside the sheepfold”.  Jesus considered people who were not Jewish to also be part of His flock, and He would die to save them spiritually too.

And thank goodness for that!  Because you and I (who are not Jewish by birth) are able to be included within the family of God.  We are the “other sheep” whom Jesus wanted to bring inside of His sheepfold.  You see, God’s love is so big that it could never be contained within one cultural group.

And that is why I and my wife and many others are working diligently at translating the Bible into these remote minority languages around the world.  Because Jesus loves them too, and gave His life for them as well.  Our work is to bring this message to them in a language that they can truly understand, so that all who accept Him, will become part of His great flock.  Praise God!

enw_gospelofjohn_black2* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please share it and invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Heading Overseas To Be Missionaries – Pt. 1

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Leaving Loved Ones Behind

As you listen to the stories from missionaries, it is easy at times to think, “Wow, what adventures they have had.”  We must remember though, that missionaries are also just ordinary people like you and me.  And for those who are going overseas for the first time, especially when they go with children, it can be quite a scary enterprise for them at first.

In these next articles, I want to take excerpts from what one couple wrote about their experiences and feelings just before they left the United States, and what happened for them in their first week of cross-cultural living and learning.  One thing to note, this family went to France first to do language learning before heading to West Africa to serve with Pioneer Bible Translators.

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Let’s listen in on the thoughts of the wife just before they headed to France:

Me: God, I’m scared. I’ve never been scared like this before now. What’s up?

God: What are you scared of, little one? Are you afraid to go?

Me: No, it’s not that. Ok, well, yes a little bit but mainly it’s just that things are going to change here at home while I’m gone. I know some of the folks I’m saying goodbye to…well, it’s probably going to be the last time, God.

God: Yes, that’s true.

Me: And the rest, Lord. Will they come to know you? Will they hold Your word dear, Lord? Will they persevere through the really tough times? Will they continue being faithful to You? These concerns are why I’m afraid, Lord.

God: “I am”, Child.

Me: I know, God.

God: I am God, Child.

Me: Ok, Lord.

God: I love you. I love them, too. Okay?

Me: Ok, Lord.

Me: Hey, God?

God: Yes?

Me: Thanks. But I’m still going to miss them.

God: I know. I made your breaking heart. I love you, dear one. And don’t forget about your secret weapon.

Me (chuckling): What’s that?

God: From anywhere in the world, in any circumstance, you can always pray to me about them. I love it when you pray!

Me: Ok, God. Right now could you make my husband quit snoring so I can sleep?

God (chuckling): When would you take the time to pray if I didn’t wake you up at night?

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Isn’t it interesting that the concern that lay the heaviest on this mother’s heart before taking her family overseas, which included young children, was for those whom they would be leaving behind in the States.  I know she must have had some concerns for her family’s welfare and what lay ahead, but her greatest fear concerned what would happen to those left behind.

I’ve talked to other missionaries over the years about how hard it has been to be away from their home country, and quite a few have mentioned the idea of how difficult it is to have to say goodbye to family members and relatives.  But for some, it is not themselves that they are most concerned about, but rather people like the parents and grandparents.  We do forget sometimes about the emotional cost there can be for those who let their children and grandchildren go off to the mission field.

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I think perhaps this emotional and geographical separation for me and my family was not quite as difficult for all involved when we first went to Papua New Guinea in 1997.  Jill and I had been on a number of short-term mission trips to various countries already, and we had been training for mission work for a very long time.  In some ways, I think our friends and families rejoiced along with us when we were finally able to head over to PNG for our first three-year term.

That does not mean that the pain of separation never happened to us.  In that first year term, we learned of the death of a very close elderly friend who had befriended our young boys like a grandmother.  Before we left Canada, she handed each of our boys a large envelope.  In it were tiny wrapped presents which they could open, one for each day of the first few weeks that we were gone after leaving Canada.  That meant a lot to us.  We were sad that the boys would not see her again.

Then we heard the news of the death of one of Jill’s most special uncles.  He and his wife had truly been the patriarch and the matriarch of the clan of families that made up Jill’s side of our family.  What a loss that was to us.  And finally, we got the news that my father was diagnosed with throat cancer and would probably not have long to live.  We made arrangements for me to go see dad for two weeks.  He died just as I rejoined my family in PNG, but they never got to say goodbye to him.

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This is one of the realities of missionary life.  Even with the advancement of telecommunications and rapid airline travel, we still find as missionaries that we get caught on the other side of the world when critical events happen to those whom we love back home.  So what do we do about that?

Praise God that we do now have the technology to get email, just about anywhere in the world.  And the explosion of cell towers around the world means that we can talk with family and friends almost at the push of a button.  But the most important thing, as portrayed in the humorous dialog above, is knowing that God loves our loved ones even more than we do.  And so we trust Him to watch over them.  And I rest assured that He can do a better job of that than we ever could.  So, thank you God.  Amen.

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Entering God’s Sanctuary

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Psalm 15

A Psalm of David

1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD?  Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?

2 Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts.

3 Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.

4 Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the LORD, and keep their promises even when it hurts.

5 Those who lend money without charging interest,and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.  Such people will stand firm forever. (New Living Translation)

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This Psalm of David has more meaning and significance for me now that I have worked on the book of Hebrews.  During the past month, I have been engaged in preparing and in checking Hebrews in the A. language, one of the local languages of Papua New Guinea.  I had read Hebrews many times in the past, but this was the first time that I had seriously studied the book verse-by-verse.

Sometimes when we are checking Scriptures we may go the other way and instead of  getting a good grasp on the big picture or main ideas in a book, we can get lost in the details of checking the meaning of a verse or phrase.  And yet, I think that even with our intense scrutiny of Hebrews, it was almost impossible to not get the main thrust of the book.

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This is very true as one considers the flow of the text from chapter 1 through chapter 10.  The author is very methodical, but very clear, that we are to see just how great Jesus is, our Mediator, our High Priest, our once-for-all sacrifice for sin.  From the cosmic (Jesus is better than the angels), to the simple (he shared in our humanity), from the earthly (from the line of Judah) to the heavenly (a great high priest forever), Jesus is the One through whom we can go to come into the very presence of God.

And yet, we as Christians today forget these great truths at times, and at other times we behave in ways that draw us away from God.  In reading again from my daily devotions, “Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“, I thought the writer of one devotion asked some very good questions based off of Psalm 15 which asks about who can enter in and worship in God’s sanctuary.  She writes:

If you are experiencing times of intercession and worship that are dry and difficult, it may be time to take inventory as David did in Psalm 15.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if any of the following are hindering your worship:

• Are you leading a blameless life and doing what is right? What about staying away from things that have the appearance of evil? (v. 2)
• Are you speaking the truth from a sincere heart? Any half-truths or painting yourself in a better light when recounting a story? (v. 2)
• Do you absolutely refuse to slander others no matter what? Do you refuse to harm your neighbors or speak ill of your friends or spouse? (v. 3)
• Do you despise persistent sin? Do you honor the bride of Christ in thought, word, and deed—including those from other denominations? (v. 4)
• Do you keep your promises even when it hurts? (v. 4)
• Do you want something in return when you do something nice for someone? (v. 5)
• Do you speak against someone when it is in your own best interest? (v. 5)
Holy Spirit, show me any areas of my life that are hindering my prayer life.  I desire to enter in with a pure heart!

–by Sandra Higley, author of A Year of Prayer Events for Your Church; Taken from an article that originally appeared in Issue 19 (July/August 2000) of Pray! magazine.

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And as I read these questions, I recognized my own failings.  I know that there are times, more often than I would like to admit, that I sin against God or against another person.  For the Israelites, they were required to come to the Tabernacle (later the Temple) where they would bring an animal sacrifice and offer up the sacrifice as a means of atonement for sin.  How sad it is when we read “again and again he (the high priest) offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”  (Heb. 10:11)

But praise be to God, when Jesus offered himself as a living sacrifice, even though he had done nothing wrong, had never sinned, “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”  (Heb. 10:14)  We are no longer under the old regulations whereby we deal with sins temporarily, but we are assured of eternal forgiveness.  And that gives us the great assurance that yes, indeed we can come into God’s heavenly sanctuary and worship Him.

And like a climax, the author says these inspiring words in 10:19-22

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.  20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.  21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Isn’t that good news?  Yes, in fact it is fantastic news.  What we could never achieve on our own, Jesus has accomplished by dying on the cross and moving aside the barrier that once had separated God from mankind, and mankind from God.  Now we can come before the King of the Universe, bow before Him and worship Him, knowing that our sins have been dealt with, and we are found acceptable in God’s eyes.