CHOOSE LIFE

Bible Reading: John 10:10; Deuteronomy 30:11-20

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]

[John 10:10 Amp. Bible]

One of the last things that Moses said to the people of Israel before he died was that they had to make a choice. They could choose between life and death [Deuteronomy 30:15]. Jesus also sets before us a similar choice of life and death – to follow His plan or Satan’s plan [John 10:10]. Satan has a plan for your life. He wants to steal, kill and destroy. He wants to wreck and ruin your life. Let’s take a closer look at Satan’s plan for your life.

The word steal is the Greek word ‘klepto’ describing a person who is a persistent thief addicted to stealing. The picture is of an artful thief who steals in such a way that it is almost undetectable until the thief has long gone!

The word kill is the Greek word ‘thuo’ that means to sacrifice, to surrender or give up something that is precious. It has nothing to do with murder. If Satan can’t steal from us then he will try to persuade us to give up something that we dearly love, that blesses us and is a God given gift.

The word destroy is the Greek word ‘apollumi’. It carries the meaning of something that is ruined, wasted, or devastated. If Satan cannot steal what you have got or convinced you to give up what you hold dear, then he will then try to ruin it. His plan for your life is that you be defeated, struggle through life, are sick, depressed, miserable, and feel a worthless failure!

Jesus has a plan for your life. He wants you to enjoy life – “I came that you might have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance” [John 10:10b]. The words “might have” are from the Greek tense that means to have and to continually possess. The word life is the Greek word ‘zoe’, that suggests a life filled with vitality. The word abundantly is the Greek word ‘perissos’, meaning to be above and beyond what is regular. It could be translated as super-abundance!

The devil did his best to make the Christian life look miserable, but at the heart of it all is a relationship with the Creator and the enjoyment of everything good that He has created. There is theatre, art, music, nature, fun, and family. What about the great joy of serving others, and living the life for which you were created? Above all it is a life of joy in God Himself, even more than His blessings, and full of peace and a clear conscience,

Questions:

What is your choice as you have seen the two options set before you today?

It seems that Jesus’ plan for a person’s life is so obviously the best choice, so why is it that it is a minority of people who make that choice?

If you have allowed the devil to steal, deceive and ruin your life God still loves you. Would you ask Him, your Good Shepherd to restore your soul?

FOR LOVE OR MONEY?

Bible Reading: John 10:11-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

God will one day judge us, not purely on the basis of what we did, but also our motivation for doing it. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of this judgment in terms of fire that will test the works that we have done. He is clearly writing about Christians because he says, “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” [v.15].

In our Bible reading today Jesus speaks about the motive of a shepherd, and the one that He calls the hireling [v.12-13]. The hireling is literally one who is hired! He looks after the sheep for money while the true shepherd does it for love. The hireling’s main motivation is not the welfare of the sheep but of making money. Because he does not own the sheep he is not committed to them in the same way that the shepherd is. He is merely doing a job. When the wolf, or any other danger comes he abandons the sheep because his only interest is self-preservation.

Throughout the history of the church there have been those who used the church to make money and whose motives were questionable. A leader in the early church however, could not easily function like that, because they were the first in line when attacks and persecution came. Their position was dangerous rather than comfortable.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and is an example of what a true shepherd should be like. He is motivated by love. That means that he has a deep and intimate relationship with the sheep. Jesus said, “I know my sheep” [John 10:14]. In practical terms true a shepherd would rather die, than the sheep be harmed. That is exactly what Jesus did. Isaiah puts it so clearly, “All we like sheep had gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord laid upon Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. In just the same way as His great ancestor David killed a lamb and a bear [1 Samuel 17:34-36], so Jesus has destroyed the ability of the wolf [the devil] to harm the sheep.

The sheep were dependent on the shepherd for food and protection. The shepherd in Israel would go before the sheep and weed the pastures so that no poisonous plant would harm them. He comforted and protected them. When they wandered away he would seek them, and he would be with them in the darkest hours. They did not fear when he was with them. It is not surprising that Jesus is known as the “Good Shepherd.”

Questions:

Why is a person’s motive as important in God’s sight as their actions?

What is the difference between simply “doing a job” and having a call from God to serve Him?

In what way would you answer a person who asked you to explain why Jesus is the Good Shepherd? What personal experience could you share with them to back your answer?

JESUS IS THE DOOR

Bible Reading: John 10:1-10

Twice Jesus says that He is the door [v.7, 9] but He also uses the word “doorkeeper” [v.3]. It seems that He is referring to the door of the sheepfold. The sheepfolds in Israel were caves, sheds or open areas surrounded by walls made of stones or branches, and most importantly had only one entrance. It was a place of safety and protection, and the shepherd often slept across the doorway of the fold to protect the sheep. However, Jesus is not just the door of the sheepfold but verse 7 clearly states that He is “the door of the sheep!

In a very real sense Jesus is the door to salvation – “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” [v.9]

The Greek translated here as saved is ‘sōzō’. Among the meanings of this word are (1) Material and temporal deliverance from danger or suffering; (2) Spiritual and eternal salvation granted to those who believe on Christ; (3) The present experience of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin.

These blessings are only found in Christ, and He alone is the door into those blessings. The apostle Peter made it clear that there is salvation in no other name but the name of Jesus [Acts 4:12]. This exclusiveness angers many people but the fact is that this is what God says – the only way to be saved from sin and go to heaven is through Jesus. He is the door.

Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” [Matthew 7:13-14 NKJV].

Notice the double emphasis of the words narrow gate. People tell me that there are many roads that lead to heaven but this is not what the Bible says. The reason that the entrance is narrow is because it is through the cross. Many roads may lead to the cross, but there is no salvation unless we come to the cross of Jesus. At the cross our sins are forgiven and our past is put behind us. Once we come to the cross and enter through this gate Jesus promises to keep us. He says, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand [John 10:29].

If you have come to the cross, turned from sin and believed on the Lord Jesus, and now confess Him as Lord, then you are safe and secure. The path may not be easy, and it is often lined with pain and suffering but He promises to keep you and never leave you.

Questions:

Why do you think that God has made Jesus and the cross the only way to salvation?

Would you take God’s promise today, that whatever you might be experiencing in your life, He has promised never to leave you? Why not take a few minutes to thank Him for this wonderful promise.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Bible Reading: John 10:1-21

Over the next few days we will consider one of the most wonderful passages in John’s Gospel. It includes two of the “I am” sayings of Jesus, “I am the door,” and “I am the good Shepherd.” As the death of Christ approaches we He speaks more about His death, the abundant life that he offers, and hearing and following the Shepherd’s voice.

We must be careful not to read more into the imagery of this passage than Jesus intended. For example, some have pictured the sheepfold as God’s kingdom, but it is not a perfect analogy because we do not go in and out of God’s kingdom [v.9]. Jesus is also speaking primarily about His covenant people the Jews, although the eternal truths of which He speaks are equally true for Gentiles, who are “not of this fold” [v.16].
The context of this passage is John 9:35-41 where Jesus called the religious leaders blind. In John chapter 10 Jesus refers to them again, not just as blind, but also strangers [v.5] and thieves [v.8]. These were the false shepherds, described by Ezekiel [Ezekiel 34:1-10], who fed themselves but not the flock. The sheep were scattered because the false shepherds did not care for them. This description of scattered sheep is exactly what Jesus meant when He saw the weary multitudes, scattered like sheep without a shepherd [Matthew 9:36]. The people given the task of caring for the sheep did not strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, or seek and bring back the lost [Ezekiel 34:4]. They failed, but Ezekiel prophesied that the Messiah, great David’s greater Son, would be a true Shepherd [Ezekiel 34:23-25].

Jesus, the Good Shepherd heals the broken-hearted, strengthens the weak, brings back the lost, protects and provides for them. Speaking about His death, Jesus quotes Zechariah, saying, “I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” [Zechariah 13:7 and Mark 14:27]. Satan knew that if he could destroy the Shepherd, then he could scatter the sheep.

The word translated as pastor in Ephesians 4:11 is the Greek word ‘poimēn’ meaning shepherd. A pastor is a shepherd. Elders are called to the shepherd the flock of God [1 Peter 5:1-4]. In restoring Simon Peter Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” [John 21:15,16,17]. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, but He has given to others the responsibility to be shepherds under Him. The real pastors are not always the people on the platform but those godly people in the congregation, who others feel comfortable to come to for prayer and counsel.

Questions:

Read Isaiah 61:1-3. What ministries of the Shepherd are found in this Messianic prophecy?

How would you describe the responsibilities of a shepherd of God’s people today?

What are the major differences that we see in our reading today between a true shepherd and false shepherd?

THINGS THAT WERE IMPORTANT TO JESUS

Bible Reading: John 9:1-41

We concluded yesterday’s devotional word with the Church in Ephesus that seemingly had everything right but was fundamentally flawed. It is so easy to get caught up in the mechanics of something and lose sight of what is really important. Organisation, methods, and teaching programmes, are all good, but sometimes these become so overly important that we miss what is most important. I am amazed at how people will spend so much time looking at the fact of how Jesus healed the blind man in this passage rather than the fact that he was healed.

In the past few days I have received a message from someone who ministered to a pastor who has met afresh with Jesus. The pastor wrote, “Just thought to thank you for reminding me how I was and felt years ago when I was so in love and loved by the Lord, and had so much love to give, but lost it all in the pain. Please pray for the spark you ignited to fan into a flame again for our city for Jesus.”

In the ninth chapter of John we see the three things that were of prime importance to Jesus. Firstly, He was passionate for the glory of God. Jesus wanted God to be glorified in everything that He did. He didn’t just heal the blind man out of compassion but also so that the glory of God should be revealed in him [v.3]. Everything that Jesus did was to glorify His Father. Jesus said, “I do not seek My own glory” [John 8:50]. Here is a key for us as the followers of Jesus. All that we do should be for the glory of God.

Secondly, He recognized the urgency of the hour. In John chapter nine Jesus is approaching the last days of His life, and He says, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” [John 9:4]. Here is a second key for us as followers of Jesus. Our time also is short. The coming of Jesus is near. We dare not say that there are yet four months and then comes harvest. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul says that we should be wise and redeeming the time because the days are evil [Ephesians 5:15-16]

Thirdly, He had compassion for those who were hurting. Jesus later sought out the man who had been blind. He had been physically healed but was still unsure of salvation. Jesus revealed Himself to the man and the man who had been blind believed, and worshipped Jesus [John 9:35-38]. Out of compassion Jesus both heals the sick and is concerned for people’s spiritual well being. Here is a third key for us as followers of Jesus – compassion for the hurting, poor and broken. These people are so much on God’s heart!

Questions:

Which of these three things that were so important to Jesus speaks most deeply to you today as His disciple? Why is it that we so easily lose the focus on what is most important and in doing so lose our fire and passion for Jesus? How can you be more effective in your own Christian life?

THE DANGER OF PRESUMPTION

Bible Reading: John 9:1-41

“Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression” [Psalm 19:13 NKJV]

David prayed that God would keep him from presumptuous sins. The word presumption means to believe that something is true on the basis of probability and not fact. It is so easy to have our facts wrong and so presume incorrectly. In John chapter nine there are two cases of presumption.

Firstly, the disciples presumed that the man was born blind because of sin. They asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Jesus quickly corrected them and said that it was neither the blind man, nor his parents who had sinned!

Don’t assume that all physical problems are a result of sin. All issues of sickness and sin have their roots in the fall but we cannot attribute every physical problem today to personal sin. Having said this, it is without doubt that personal sin is at the root of much sickness.

The disciples had heard Jesus say at least twice, “Go and sin no more,” and in one of those cases it was personal sin that was at the root of sickness. The danger is that because of this we then assume that personal sin is at the root of all sickness. This was a problem in the culture and thinking of Israel and Jesus needed to correct it. To understand the cause of a sickness we need, in each situation, to have fresh revelation from God.

Secondly, the religious leaders of Israel presumed that they were right when they were wrong. In their eyes Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah because He did not fit their image of what the Messiah would be like. But they were totally wrong. The man born blind could now see more clearly than the religious leaders. Presumption had blinded them!

It is so easy to think that you are right when you are wrong. To emphasize this truth there is a verse that is repeated twice in Proverbs. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” [Proverbs 14:12; 16:25]. Because it looks right does not mean it is right. All that glistens is not gold!

The church at Ephesus had an amazing regard for sound doctrine, and had a strong work ethic. They were even prepared to suffer for Jesus. They presumed that they had everything right, but Jesus had to rebuke them. He said, “You have left your first love” [Revelation 2:5]. They had presumed that everything was right, but their thinking was fundamentally flawed.

Questions:

Why is presumption such a dangerous thing for a Christian?

Would you pray today a prayer that David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Test me and know my anxious thoughts” [Psalm 139:23]?

What are the keys to receiving revelation from God on a specific matter?

FREEDOM IN CHRIST

Bible Reading: John 8:31-36

One of the great truths that Jesus taught was that in knowing the truth we shall be set free. The word know is not merely knowledge but action based upon that knowledge! It is possible to know the truth and do nothing about it.

The Jewish people thought that they were in right standing with God because Abraham was their ancestor, but Jesus said they were slaves and not sons of God. The devil had deceived them with a lie. The more they believed the lie, the greater the stronghold of deception that gripped their minds.

Jesus made it clear that the devil is a liar [John 8:44]. He lied to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Firstly, he mocked the idea that God would place any restriction on them. “Did God really say…?”[Genesis 3:1] thus creating suspicion and mistrust. Secondly, He lied, and said, “You won’t die!” This directly opposed what God had said, making them think that God’s Word cannot be trusted. The result was that sin came into the world. It began by believing a lie!

The devil still puts lies into people’s minds. For example, he says, “You are worthless!” “Your sin is too great for God to forgive you!” “You will never make anything in life!” “If you live a good, upright and morally sound life then God will accept you!” These are just a few of the many lies that the devil uses to keep people in bondage, so that they cannot enjoy the freedom that Jesus came to bring. In this way he makes them his slaves. When Jesus spoke about freedom from slavery, He was not referring to freedom from human slavery; He meant totally wrong thinking and spiritual bondage to sin [v.34].

Satan has no power over you except what you give him when you believe his lies. This is Satan’s primary weapon, and our defence against him is the truth! God’s Word is the truth. Satan’s battleground is your mind, the control centre of your personality, and if what he says has a greater place in your mind than God’s Word, then you are already defeated and enslaved!

It is in knowing God’s Word and speaking it out that sets you free. Jesus responded to every temptation of the devil in the wilderness by speaking God’s Word. Three times He said, “It is written.” Freedom from spiritual bondage is not the result of a power encounter with demonic forces; it is a truth encounter. Show me a victorious Christian and I will show you someone who knows the truth of God’s Word and boldly speaks it out!

Questions:

What are the lies that Satan uses to try to deceive you? How do you get victory over him?

What are some of the Scriptures that you might use against Satan when he sows confusion and doubt in your mind about whether you are saved?

Why does God say, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” [Colossians 3:16], and that we need to have a renewed mind? What does this mean?

THE TRUTH DIVIDES PEOPLE

Bible Reading: John 8:13-30, 37-59; Matthew 10:34-39

The apostle Paul says that we should avoid those who cause division among God’s people [Romans 16:17]. He is referring to those people who cause division because of evil intent, selfish motivations or fleshly foolishness.

What Jesus says and does in our Bible reading today causes division, but this is a different kind of division to that about which Paul was writing. This is division caused by the truth – the fundamental truths about the Person of Jesus. Because Jesus is the truth He must speak the truth. Many years ago I heard this statement, “Division among God’s people is not caused by the Holy Spirit but by the lack of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword” [Matthew 10:34]. Truth divides people!

The danger is that we compromise truth for the sake of unity, and that is something that Jesus refused to do. He always spoke in love but refused to compromise truth and the result was an ever-widening gap between those who believed in Him and those who opposed Him. He challenged the many people who listened and believed in Him, to prove that they really were His disciples by abiding in His word [verse 31]. To abide in His word means to listen, learn, honour and obey what He says, and to make His words the foundational principles for life and practice. Later in the chapter Jesus says, “if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death” [v.51].

In the face of mounting opposition, Jesus consistently reinforced the truth, whether people believed in Him or opposed Him. He told them that the Father had sent Him [v.16,18,29,42], that He had come from heaven [v.23], and that He existed before Abraham [v.58]. He told them that He was one with the Father [v.16,19,29]. He called Himself the Son of Man, declaring His deity [v.28], and that He was going to be lifted up meaning be crucified [v28].

This angered the religious leaders who continued to repeat the same arguments that were reported earlier in John’s gospel, but now they wanted to stone Jesus [v.59]. Jesus was very honest with them. They did not desire to hear the truth because they were the children of their father, not God, but the devil [v.44]. They imitated their father, and did not know the Heavenly Father [v.19]. They were enslaved by sin [v.34]. They sought to kill Jesus and hated the truth [v.40]. They were blind to the truth, could not hear God’s words [v.37, 47], and were liars [v.55]. Strong words indeed!

Questions:

Why is it important to be consistent in speaking the truth and not compromise for the sake of unity?

Why is it important that the truth is always spoken in love? What does this mean?

Why is it important that Christians are fully united on the fundamentals of the faith but be free to have differences on things that are not fundamental? What would you regard as the fundamentals of your faith?

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Bible Reading: John 8:12; Psalm 27:1-14

“Once more Jesus addressed the crowd. He said, I am the Light of the world. He who follows Me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the Light which is Life” [John 8:12 Amplified Bible]

Immediately after telling the woman caught in adultery that He did not condemn her Jesus spoke the second of His seven “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. This woman had certainly found light and freedom!

This morning I was reading an article in the Premier Christianity Magazine by Elaine Storkey, former President of Tearfund. She went through a very dark time of doubt in her life. She writes, “The way I came out of that was not by philosophical reasoning. It was by a bunch of girls every night tucking me in and saying, ‘You’ll be fine, we are praying for you.’ One night they were very confident I was going to be an all right Christian very soon. As they left I said, ‘Please switch the light off’ and they did so as they left. [Yet at the same time] I had a sense of being surrounded by light; it’s very difficult to describe.”

Light is a theme that runs right through the Bible. God is light [1 John 1:5], and when Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” He was once again saying that He is God. This brought Him into direct opposition to the darkness in the religious leaders who opposed Him.

The promise in this verse is that we will not walk in darkness. The words ‘will not’ are far more emphatic in the Greek, where the negative is in its strongest form and means “shall by no means walk in darkness.” Jesus promises that His followers will in no way walk in darkness. Light and life and darkness and death are diametrically opposed to each other. Light reveals reality, as God knows it. Darkness is the shadowy world of illusion cast by human notions of what constitutes reality: a world of delusion, deception, and fantasy. Darkness is simply the absence of light! Delusion and deception are words that describe the devil, and later in this chapter of John, Jesus will speak about him.

Holman Hunt’s wonderful picture depicting Jesus as the Light of the World hangs in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Jesus is standing at the door and knocking. The unusual feature of the painting is that Jesus cannot get in because the door has no handle on the outside. It has to be opened from the inside. We need to open the door and allow Jesus to flood us with His light. When we do so we will find freedom, and His light will lead us in the right direction.

Questions:

Because the Lord is your light what are some of the promises in Psalm 27 that you can stand on today?

Can you describe in a few words what it means to be in the light and walk in the light?

If you have been struggling with doubt, and fear, why not ask Jesus right now to come in as the light and bring you His peace?

NO CONDEMNATION

Bible Reading: John 7:53-8:12
I sometimes hear comments like, “We should use new songs and not old hymns because this is a different generation.” I cannot think of a more foolish argument! The Psalms, sung by the Jews, spanned a period of a thousand years. Recently I heard a beautiful young singer in our church singing an old hymn to a hauntingly beautiful new tune. Charles Wesley wrote this hymn in 1738! The last verse of the hymn says:

No condemnation now I dread
Jesus and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown through Christ my own

That could so easily have been the song of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus! Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you” [verse 11]. For those in Christ there is now no condemnation [Romans 8:1]. Literally, the sentence we deserved because our sin has been removed. Jesus spoke the same words to this woman as he did to the man at the Pool of Bethesda who was infirmed for thirty-eight years, “Go and sin no more.” The evidence that someone has really repented is that they don’t have a desire to keep committing sin. “Go now and leave your life of sin” [NIV].

The woman had been exposed, but the religious leaders slunk away because they were afraid of being exposed! When sin is exposed and confessed to Jesus the blood of Jesus’ washes us clean. Literally, what we uncover, the blood of Christ covers! Corrie ten Boom said, “God puts our sins in the depths of the sea and then puts up a notice that says, “No fishing allowed.”

In our English translation the woman called Jesus ‘Lord’ [‘kurios’ Greek] [v.11] which can also be translated as “sir” or “owner.” In the Aramaic translation however, the woman addresses Jesus as MarYah, or LORD YAHWEH, which indicates that she had a revelation of who Jesus really was.

There is a Roman Catholic tradition, though not proven from Scripture, that this woman was Mary of Bethany, and that she was the one who was forgiven much, and so loved much. According to that tradition this was how Jesus became a part of the family in Bethany. It would be nice to know if this story was true, but certainly I can imagine Jesus taking her back to the safety of her own home and not leaving her for the Pharisees to come back and kill her.

Questions:

Why do you think that Jesus did not tell this woman to repent of her sin?

Can you explain in a few words what it means to be free from condemnation?

What two different kinds of sinner can you see in the woman and in the scribes and Pharisees? Why are both equally lost and need salvation?