A Miracle in Your Hand

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:17-18

The Consumer Electronics Show gave an award to a Bluetooth-connected water bottle. Its built-in speaker plays music, takes and receives phone calls, and offers caller ID. It also recognized a countertop dishwasher that requires no plumbing connections; you load your dishes, add a gallon of water, and turn it on. And a laptop computer with a keyboard that turns into a writing pad.

Of innovations there is seemingly no end. But nothing humans can invent compares with the words in that ancient book we call the Bible. Its truths are ancient and yet more relevant than tomorrow’s news.

One of the greatest challenges America faces today is our declining experience with God’s word. Only 35 percent of us read it even once a week.

In the 1960s, Americans began rejecting the concept of absolute truth and biblical authority. A smaller percentage are church members than ever before. Should we be surprised by the epidemic of substance abuse, loneliness, pornography, broken families, crime, and suicide that have resulted?

I’m convinced that the single greatest key to experiencing God’s power and purpose is meeting him in his word every day. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Jesus says about the relevance and transforming power of God’s word in our lives today.

Value the word of God

Jesus continues the most famous sermon ever preached: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (v. 17a NIV). “Do not think” is very strong in the Greek, literally “Never think that . . .” “That I have come to abolish”—to deny the divine authority, to demean. “The Law or the Prophets”—the entirety of God’s word to this point.

Our Lord goes even further: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

“Truly I tell you” translates a phrase known to be used only by Jesus in all of ancient Judaism. It means literally, “I guarantee you this . . .” “Until heaven and earth disappear”—when time ends (Revelation 21:1).

“Not the smallest letter” refers to the Hebrew “yod,” the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. “Not the least stroke of a pen” refers to the points on a Hebrew consonant. We would say, “not the dotted i or the crossed t.”

“Will by any means disappear”—this is the double negative, will “no, not ever disappear.” “Until everything is accomplished”—until the Bible does its work, fulfills its purpose. More of this in a moment.

For now, make this decision: value the word of God, for its work in our lives is miraculous.

  • It keeps us from sin: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
  • It guides our lives daily: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
  • It brings us joy: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:8 NIV).
  • It gives us hope: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

God wrote a book. Value it, for it is his miraculous gift to us. J. I. Packer calls it “God preaching.” Augustine describes it as “love letters from home.”

Value it today, if you want God to use it to give your life true success.

Study the word of God

Next, study it. Every word, “the smallest letter” and “stroke of a pen” is the word of God. And so it deserves not only our affirmation but also our study. But we must know how.

I still have my first Bible—a red Gideon New Testament I received in the fifth grade. I valued it so much I carried it in my jeans pocket, which is why it is so tattered today. But when I began reading it, I found the “begats” of Matthew 1 and got no further. I valued the Bible but didn’t know how to study it for myself. We need to do both.

Begin by deciding to meet God in his word every day. Set a place and time as your appointment for the Bible. Purchase a study Bible—several are very good; the ESV Study Bible is my personal favorite. Get a notebook to serve as your journal. And begin—with the Gospel of John if you don’t have another place in mind.

As you read, seek to know the author’s intention. I told hundreds of students at Southwestern Seminary, “The Bible can never mean what it never meant.” Your goal is to learn what the Bible means to say, so you can relate this intended meaning to your life.

To do this, first pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your study. Then ask foundational questions. If you begin with the Gospel of John, ask who wrote it. (John, Jesus’ beloved disciple and best friend.) To whom and why? (People who needed to know why Jesus was and is God.) When? (After the other Gospels had been written, to give his interpretation of Jesus’ life and meaning.) Any good study Bible will give you this information.

Now ask four crucial questions as you study:

  • What does the text actually say? Know the grammar, the meaning of the words you are studying. As an example, I’ve given you this today with the words of our text.
  • What does history reveal? Know the culture and times which explain the text.
  • What theology is taught? Learn what the text says about its intended theme, whether it is teaching about God, salvation, sin, the future, etc.
  • Finally, what practical action is required? What does this text want you to do, now that you’ve studied it?

Write these truths down in your journal as you learn them. Ask the Spirit to relate them to your life, and he will. And God will use this book to lead you to true success.

Find Jesus in the word of God

Why? Because this is his definition of success: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). You are a success with God to the degree that you are like Jesus. And studying the Scriptures is how this happens, for each of us.

This is why Jesus said of the law and the prophets, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” “Fulfill” means “to complete” their purpose. And this is his purpose: to make us more like himself. This is success with God, the only kind which matters ultimately and eternally.

Then we can know Christ intimately and represent him to our world. Then we can be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Then we can reflect his light to our dark world. Then we can be the presence of Christ today.

Then we are successful with our lives. You’re not finished with the word of God until you’re more like the Son of God. When did this last happen to you? When will it happen next?


The Bible available to you today is a miracle. Now let it do its miraculous work in your life. Start today.

When I was a missionary in East Malaysia during college, I was honored to distribute paperback New Testaments in the Malay language to the people. I will never forget an elderly woman who took her copy of God’s word in trembling hands and held it to her heart. It was the first copy of Scripture she had ever owned. As tears streamed down her face, I thought of all my Bibles at home gathering dust.

When we love God’s word as she loved God’s word, our lives will never be the same. This is the promise and the invitation of God.

Are You Barabbas? The Crowd and the Christ

Topical Scripture: Matthew 27:15–26

Mistakes aren’t always mistakes.

In 1886 a pharmacist by the name of John Pemberton was cooking medicinal syrup in a large brass kettle slung over a fire, stirring it with an oar. But his syrup didn’t catch on as a medicine, so he tried mixing it with water as a beverage. He spent $73.96 promoting his new drink the first year but sold only $50 worth of the product. Today people drink one billion products a day from the Coca-Cola company.

In 1968, a 3-M researcher tried to improve adhesive tape but made a glue which was only semi-sticky. Four years later one of his colleagues, a member of his church choir, was frustrated that bookmarks kept falling out of his hymnal and music in the choir loft. He used the semi-sticky glue his friend had created to invent the Post-It Note. Mistakes sometimes aren’t.

What do you do when they are? When temptation won’t leave you alone? When problems get worse rather than better? When you’re fighting sin and Satan, discouragement and frustration, with no victory in sight? When you can’t find a way to make syrup into Coke or failed glue into Post-It profits?

Let’s ask Barabbas.

Meeting Barabbas

Most people don’t know this, but his first name was probably “Jesus.” This was a very common given name in that day. Some ancient manuscripts call him Jesus Barabbas, and most scholars think this is the correct reading. So we have Jesus Christ and Jesus Barabbas before us today.

His last name comes from two words. “Bar” means “son of” in Hebrew, and “abbas” means “father” (from “abba,” daddy). Or it could be “rabbas” or rabbi. Either was significant socially. No one was given the personal name “abbas” or “rabbi”—they were titles of respect, “the father” or “the rabbi.” Think of George Washington, “the father of our country,” or Billy Graham, “the pastor to America,” and you get the idea. This man was son to someone like that.

And Matthew 27:16 adds that Barabbas was “notorious” to the crowd—the word means to be notable or well-known. He was the son of someone famous, and a celebrity in his own right. Why?

Mark and Luke call him an “insurrectionist” who committed murder (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19). John adds that he had “taken part in a rebellion” (John 18:40) against the Empire.

However, the Greek word translated “insurrectionist” can also mean “one who causes strife” (cf. Acts 15:2). And the word for “rebellion” can mean “robber,” as the ESV, NASB and KJV translate it (John 18:40; cf. Luke 10:30, 2 Corinthians 11:26). He may have been a rebel, or he may have been a robber. The latter is more likely.

Many people wonder why Pilate would release a man known to be a rebel, when he is trying to avoid the accusation that he is doing that very thing with Jesus. We now know that “social bandits” were common in first-century Palestine. Like ancient Robin Hoods, they would steal from the wealthy supporters of the Empire and give to those oppressed by Rome. They were extremely popular with the people. And the Greek words used of Barabbas are exactly the words used for them. It would appear that “social theft” and murder was Barabbas’ crime, and his fame.

Choosing Jesus Barabbas

No wonder the crowd chose Jesus Barabbas over Jesus Christ. They were incited by their leaders to do so, of course (Matthew 27:20). But this man was one of their heroes, someone who defied the cursed pagans and stole from the wealthy to give to them. This man would stand up to Rome. He would meet their needs and solve their problems in a way their rabbis and priests would not.

They had thought Jesus would do even more than that for them. When he rode into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday, they hailed him as their military Messiah, their royal conqueror, the one who would overthrow the Romans and establish their nation. The palm branches they threw in his way were meant for a conqueror, a hero. They were “rolling out the red carpet,” greeting him in the same way concentration camp survivors greeted the Allied soldiers who came to liberate them.

But now, Jesus has failed. He hasn’t defeated Pilate—Pilate has defeated him, and he stands in Roman chains. Barabbas did more to Rome than this “Christ” even tried to do. He wasn’t the Messiah they wanted him to be. So, release Jesus Barabbas and crucify Jesus Christ.

Now the story takes on special irony.

The word describing Barabbas as a “robber” was the same term used for the two “thieves” who were crucified with Jesus that day (Matthew 27:38). All three were guilty of the same crimes. There was a third cross already prepared, most likely for Barabbas. It would seem that he was scheduled for execution along with them.

And so Jesus died in Barabbas’ place, on the very day he was sentenced to be executed, bearing the very cross on which he would have died.

With this result: Barabbas was set free. He could never be accused of those crimes again. He could never be tried and sentenced for them again. The debt was paid, the penalty completed, the law’s requirements fulfilled.

Now, Barabbas could have chosen not to accept this grace gift. He could have insisted on dealing with his guilt himself. He could have asked for another trial, claimed innocence, tried to win acquittal, tried to fight the law. Or he could have taken his cross from Jesus and insisted on paying the debt he owed himself. Dying as he had been sentenced, taking the punishment he deserved. The choice was his.

And yours.

Choosing Jesus Christ

Here’s the point: when death has paid the debt, the debt is paid in full. We can continue trying to pay the penalty for our sins ourselves. Or we can accept the payment which has been made on our behalf.

When a friend pays your bill at a restaurant, you can refuse his kindness and insist on paying the bill personally. Or you can accept his generosity. It’s your choice.

To the crowd, Jesus Barabbas represented self-reliance, a celebrity turned criminal who did all he could to free them from the oppression of pagan Rome. You can’t destroy Caesar, but you can steal from those who support him. You can’t free those enslaved by the Empire, but you can improve their suffering a little. Do what you can. Do all you can. Fight the Empire yourself.

Today, you and I live in a country as occupied as Palestine was occupied by Rome. This world is not our home. It is controlled by the devil and his demons. Satan is a roaring lion looking for more people to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Our fight “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Like Barabbas, we can try to fight back ourselves. We can stand up to Satan and sin, to the temptations and attacks of our spiritual enemies. If we go to church enough, pray enough, read enough Scripture, do enough ministry, we can win this battle.

And when we fail, we can refuse to be forgiven until we have received the punishment we deserve. The guilt, the stain and the shame of our failure. We can refuse to forgive ourselves until we think we have carried the burden of our guilt long enough.

In other words, we can refuse to allow Jesus to die on our cross.

Or we can accept his gift of grace. We can accept the fact that when we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). We can accept what he did at Calvary: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

And when sin and Satan attack us, we can ask Jesus to fight them on our behalf. Rather than trying to defeat temptation in our own will power and strength, we can give that temptation instantly to God. We can develop the reflex to pray in that moment, to turn to God in that instant, to claim Jesus’ death as our victory over all sin and all temptation.

We can choose Jesus Barabbas, or we can choose Jesus Christ. There is not a third option.


A mausoleum’s crystal casket in Red Square contains the body of Nikolai Lenin. The inscription reads: “He was the greatest leader of all people of all time. He was the lord of the new humanity; he was the savior of the world.”

Note the past tense.

By contrast, Alice Meynell once observed:

No planet knows that this

Our wayward planet, carrying land and wave,

Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,

Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave.

Jesus’ cross is empty; his tomb is empty. He died in Barabbas’ place, and Barabbas was forever free. Then he came down from the cross and up from the grave. So can we.

Or we can choose to fill that empty cross and that empty tomb ourselves. We can choose to fight our own battles against sin and Satan, to be religious and spiritual and godly enough to live holy lives. Then when we fail, we can choose to be punished for our failures, to carry our guilt and shame until we think we have been punished in full.

We can give our temptations and our sins to Jesus. Or we can fight them ourselves. But remember: when death has paid the debt, the debt is paid in full.

Will you be Barabbas today?

Are You Pilate? The Trials of the Christ

Topical Scripture: Matthew 27:11–14

Fishermen recently caught a sixteen-foot, 3,000 pound great white shark off the coast of South Carolina. Or, I should say, the shark caught them.

The owner of the fishing charter told reporters, “A 3,000 pound animal is massive. People don’t realize just one wag of the tail can pool a 26-foot boat at that kind of clip. After we started fighting this thing we kind of realized that it was just too much.”

So he called for backup. Other fishermen arrived to help. They were finally able to get the shark to the side of the boat, tag her, and send her on her way.

Sin works the same way. We think we can control it, but it ends up controlling us. It always takes us further than we wanted to go, keeps us longer than we wanted to stay, and costs us more than we wanted to pay.

What is the secret or shame which lives in your past, the guilt that haunts your thoughts, the skeletons in your soul this morning?

Resurrection Sunday is in five Sundays. As we journey to the cross and empty tomb, each week we will explore a different character in the drama of the ages. Along the way, we’ll ask what we can learn from their story. And we’ll find ways to share the Easter story with our culture today.

We begin with the legal proceedings that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s a fascinating story, one most Christians don’t really know. We’ll ask this morning why these authorities condemned Jesus to die. And we’ll learn what to do when our sins condemn us in the same way.

Condemned by Caiaphas

Our Lord’s legal trials began before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court. It was made of seventy-one members from the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and elders of the people, its sessions led by the High Priest. A quorum for a trial such as this was twenty-three.

Like nearly all legal courtrooms, the Sanhedrin operated by strict legal standards:

  • No criminal cases could be tried during the Passover season.
  • All criminal cases must be conducted during daytime and completed during daytime.
  • Only if the verdict was “not guilty” could the case be finished during the day in which it began. Otherwise a night must intervene before sentencing, so feelings of mercy could arise within the judges.
  • No decision was valid unless the Sanhedrin met in its designated meeting place, the Hall of Hewn Stone in the temple precincts.
  • All evidence must be guaranteed by two independent witnesses who were interviewed separately and showed no evidence of contact with each other. False witness was punishable by death.
  • The accused could not be made to testify against himself. He had the same rights against self-incrimination as our Fifth Amendment provides today. And he was permitted to bring all evidence of his innocence before the court before any evidence of guilt could be heard.

Now Jesus of Nazareth came before the court. And the Sanhedrin violated each of its regulations in condemning him to die. This was the Passover season; the trial took place at night; the court met in the home of the High Priest, not at its designated Hall; witnesses were all demonstrated to be false; Jesus was permitted no opportunity to speak in his own defense. The guilt was all on the court, none on the accused.

Finally, in desperation, Caiaphas pled with Jesus to incriminate himself: “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63). Jesus answered the High Priest’s question: “Yes, it is as you say” (v. 64). He then quoted Daniel 7:13, clearly claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of God.

He knew the court would consider his claim to be blasphemy. And he knew the penalty for such: “Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16). Unless it isn’t blasphemy. Unless the person truly is the Son of God.

Violating its regulations, the court moved immediately to the sentence of death, and began to carry it out that same night with their own physical abuse against Jesus. Now, who was guilty in the Jewish trial—Jesus or Caiaphas?

Tried by Pilate

The Jews were not permitted by Rome to inflict the death penalty. The ius gladii, the “right of the sword,” could be pronounced only by the Roman governor, and carried out only by the Roman authorities. So, they took their convict to Pilate.

They knew that the Roman governor would give no attention to their theological charge of blasphemy. So, before Pilate they changed their charges completely, claiming that Jesus had incited rebellion against Rome, taught the people not to pay their taxes to Rome; and claimed to be a King (Luke 23:2). These were accusations which their own court had not heard or proven, showing further the illegality of their actions.

Why did Pilate consider their false charges? The gospel writers and their readers all knew the story, in the same way Watergate is familiar to us. But you may not know what they knew. Here’s the sordid tale.

Pilate was by title the “procurator” of the province of Israel; we would call him the governor. He became procurator in AD 26, and held the office until AD 35, when he was recalled by the Emperor.

From the start, Pilate was contemptuous of the Jews and their traditions. His initial visit to Jerusalem set the stage for all that would follow. The Roman capital of the region was at Caesarea. When Pilate marched into Jerusalem with his detachment of soldiers, he ordered them to carry military standards—long poles on top of which were affixed small statues of the Roman emperor.

Now the Jews considered such to be idolatry. And so, each governor before Pilate understood their religious objections and deferred to them; but Pilate refused. The people revolted. Pilate threatened to kill them. They bared their necks to the Roman swords. Not even Pilate could order such a massacre. He was beaten, and ordered the standards withdrawn. Such was his beginning as governor of the Jews.

Later he stole money from the Temple treasury to improve the water supply in Jerusalem. Again, the people rioted. His soldiers killed many of them. His rule was endangered.

The third incident was worst of all. On one visit to Jerusalem, Pilate had shields made on which were inscribed the name of Tiberius the Emperor. The people rebelled; Pilate’s own advisors counseled him to remove the names from the shields; but Pilate refused. The Jews reported the matter to Emperor Tiberius, and he ordered Pilate to remove his name from his shields.

So now Pilate was on record in Rome as an incompetent administrator. One more protest from the Jewish authorities could well mean his removal or even worse. His job and future were on the line here, and everyone knew it. When Jesus stood before him, who was the guilty party?

Condemned by Pilate

When Jesus was brought before the Roman governor, Pilate examined him privately (John 18:33). At the conclusion of his investigation he announced: “I find no basis for a charge against him” (v. 38). No basis whatsoever for any kind of charge. This is a full and complete exoneration, beyond which there should have been no further process. When the governor pardons you, you cannot be accused of that crime again.

Three more times Pilate would render the same ruling: “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 19:4); “As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him” (19:6b); “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (19:12). John saw it all happen, and gives proof that Jesus was innocent of all charges.

But the Jewish authorities were equally adamant that this man must be convicted and crucified. How will Pilate pacify them and keep his job? And how will he at the same time be just to this innocent man?

He tried several strategies.

First, he attempted to evade the entire matter, telling the Jews to judge him themselves and then sending him to Herod. But both refused.

Next, he tried to use the custom of releasing a prisoner to the people during the Passover. But the authorities incited the crowd to ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus.

Now he attempted compromise. He had Jesus scourged, a horrific act of torture. Now surely the Jewish authorities would consider the man punished sufficiently and would allow Pilate to set him free. But no: they shouted all the more, “Crucify! Crucify!” (John 19:6).

Once more he appealed to them: “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (v. 12a). Then the authorities played their trump card: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (v. 12b).

Here was their threat: if you release this man, you have released a rebel, a threat to the Empire. This was the most egregious failure Pilate could be accused of committing. He would instantly be recalled by Rome and could face his own execution as a traitor. It came to Jesus or Pilate. And we know who he chose.

So, who was guilty in the Roman trial—Jesus or Pilate?


Why did the authorities execute Jesus? If he was guilty as charged, his death could pay no one’s debt but his own. So, remember the illegality of the Jewish trials. Remember Pilate’s four proclamations of his innocence. Here’s the one point of this morning’s message: Jesus died not because he was guilty, but because we are.

Some years ago, I was speaking in Huntsville, Texas, where I met Warden Joe Fernall, a brilliant and godly man. He showed me the prison, and its execution chamber. I stood where prisoners are strapped to the gurney and lethal injections end their lives. I’ll never forget that blue-green brick walled little room where those convicted of capital offenses pay for their crimes.

In the execution room of first-century Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth died. Not to pay for his crimes, but for ours. Not because he was guilty, but because we are.

Before his death he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Because his death paid the debt for the crimes we have committed against God, his Father could. And he still does.

Now, think back to that secret sin which won’t release your heart, that shame which won’t let go. Don’t try to pay for it yourself, by punishing yourself with guilt. Instead, confess it to your Father. Claim the forgiveness for which his Son prayed. The next time your guilt attacks you again, claim that forgiveness again. And again, and again, until it lets you go.

And it will.

Christmas and the Power of Christ

Topical Scripture: Colossians 1:15-17

This morning we’re going to try a strange experiment. While sitting in your chair, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles. Now, while doing this, draw the number “6” in the air with your right hand. Could you do it? Neither could I. I have no idea why.

The older I get, the less I understand.

Scientists don’t really know why gravity exists, how plate tectonics work, or how animals migrate so successfully. The cosmos bewilders me. But it’s no challenge for its Creator.

This Advent season, we’re going to see what we can learn about the Christ of Christmas. Today we’ll learn about his power and why that omnipotence is so relevant to us today.

Where do you most need the power of God in your life? Let’s learn how to experience such omnipotence today.

The power of creation

Our text comprises one of the most exhaustively studied paragraphs in all the New Testament. One commentary in my library (O’Brien, Word) devotes seventy-one pages to it. This is a single sentence in the Greek, probably one of the earliest hymns in Christian worship.

It begins with this phrase as the title of all that follows: Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (v. 15a). These six words capture the very essence of the Christian faith. This truth claim changed the world. This is the heart of our hope today. Why?

The Bible teaches that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). The Lord told Moses, “man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).

You cannot look at the sun for more than a second or two without significant damage to your eyes. I’ve read that you’d have to get as far away as Neptune or Pluto before you could stare at it for as long as you like. So it is with the holy God of the universe. Sinners cannot be close enough to him to see his face, or they must perish.

But Jesus is his “image” (icon in the Greek), the exact representation or “mirror image” of God.

St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is famous as the burial place of Henry VIII as well as the location where Prince Harry and Princess Meghan were married. I have toured it two or three times and am always amazed at its remarkably beautiful ceiling. But staring at this exquisite architectural masterpiece is difficult, so a mirror has been placed on the ground. We can look down to see up.

That’s the idea here—Jesus came down to earth so we could see the God who lives in heaven. However, the Greek word also shares in the nature of that which is reflected. A mirror is not a person, though it reflects one. But Jesus is God, not just his reflection. He is “God made visible.”

What else do we learn about the Christ of Christmas?

He is “the firstborn of all creation,” not meaning that he was born first but that he rules over all creation as the firstborn rules the family.

We next learn: “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (v. 16). He was the creative agent of all creation.

What’s more, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (v. 17). He rules all that is and holds together all that is.

Our planet is spinning on its axis at 1040 miles per hour. The earth is spinning around the sun at 66,600 mph. Our solar system is moving around the Milky Way galaxy at a rate of 558,000 mph. And the Milky Way is moving through the universe at 660,000 mph. I get dizzy just being on one of those spinning rides at Disneyland. Jesus is holding our entire universe together, right now.

The power of Christmas

And then came the moment when the God who made our universe entered our tiny planet. He folded down all that omnipotence to become a fetus, the tiniest human life form, in the womb of a Galilean teenage girl. He demonstrated his inestimable power not just in making the universe but in making himself a baby.

Then the baby grew up. The Christ of Christmas would walk on water and calm stormy seas. He would open blind eyes and heal leprous bodies and raise dead corpses. He would feed five thousand families and cast out demons and defeat death at Easter.

Now, all the power of the Christ of Christmas is available to those who trust him fully. Here’s what that power means to your life, practically.

First, you have power over temptation: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). There is no sin you must commit, because the Christ of Christmas lives in power in you.

Second, you can overcome Satan: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). The power which defeated Satan at the grave will defeat him again in your life.

Third, you have power to take the gospel to the entire world: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The power to win the world to Christ lives in you.

Fourth, you have the power to pray effectively: “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Fifth, you have power to see the sick healed: “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15). God will answer your prayer and give the sick person what you ask or something even better.

In short, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). At Christmas, the Mighty God proved that he could live in human flesh. He still can.

How to experience the power of Christmas

But someone is asking: if that’s true, why don’t I defeat temptation more easily? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers as powerfully as he answered Jesus’ prayers? How do we experience the Mighty God each day? By following the example of his Son, our Lord.

Let me offer some lessons I’ve learned the hard way.

One: Go to God first. We must connect to God’s power to experience it. That’s why Jesus started the day with his Father: “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). He sought God’s power first, before he would need it.

I often don’t. Most of my problems come when I try to prepare the message or solve the problem in my power. When I fail, I then turn to him. But the car is already in the ditch, and I wonder why I don’t have the victory of God.

You will have the power of Christmas when you trust the Christ of Christmas.

Two: Stay close to God all day. Jesus prayed all night before choosing his disciples (Luke 6:12–13). He prayed before going to the cross. He prayed on the cross. He prays now for us. He stayed connected to the power of God.

Often I don’t. I’ll pray at the beginning of the day, then go hours without reconnecting with my Lord. Meanwhile the battery runs down, the car runs out of gas, and I’m on my own again. I’ve learned to take time all through the day to stop for a few moments of Scripture, prayer, and worship. As Moody said, “I’m a leaky bucket, and must be refilled often.”

You will have the power of Christmas when you stay close to the Christ of Christmas.

Three: Focus on the purpose of God. God give his power as it accomplishes his purpose. We will receive power, if we will be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). The Creator of the universe is no genie in a bottle, waiting to dispense blessings. God is up to one thing on earth: building his Kingdom, because that is best for us all. The most loving thing he can do for us is to make it possible for us to live in his Kingdom.

This is my third problem. I want God to help me succeed, to empower me to teach this message, to lead this church, to fulfill my agenda and ambitions. But he only empowers me when I am dedicated to his purpose. He heals us if such extends his Kingdom. He empowers this message if it is advancing his Lordship and glory. He empowers this church if we will take Christ to our city.

You will have the power of Christmas when you join the purpose of Christmas.


What does Christmas teach us about Christ? We learn that the One who is “the image of the invisible God,” who made and sustains the entire universe, has the power to enter our small planet as a tiny baby.

Now his followers have his power to defeat temptation, overcome Satan, take the gospel to the world, pray effectively, and see the sick healed. If we will go to God first, stay close to him through the day, and join him in taking Christ to our culture, he will empower us and use us for his glory and our good.

Where is such power most relevant to you today?

How to Face the Future

Topical Scripture: Psalm 22

I recently came across a list of ninety-eight of our most common phobias. I didn’t know about “ephebiphobia,” a “fear of teenagers” (though I understand it, having raised two of them). I’m glad not to have “glossophobia,” a “fear of speaking in public,” or “gynophobia,” a “fear of women.”

It turns out, experts have ranked the top ten phobias of all time. Our number one fear is arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. This despite the fact that only four people each year die from spider bites in the US. (By contrast, six people die each year from their pajamas catching fire.)

What about the future is worrying you today? What problem, decision, or challenge are you facing?

You’re right to be concerned. No financial professional can guarantee that their advice will keep you from losing your savings. No physician can be sure their medical practice will preserve your health. No one can guarantee that you will have even another day beyond today.

So, if you’re looking for faith to face the future, there’s only one source you should trust.

How David predicted Jesus’ death

As you know, Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). His words are a direct quotation from the first verse of our text.

Since books (papyrus scrolls) were rare and very expensive, the culture of his day was oral, meaning that people were able to remember and recite large quantities of literature from memory. When Jesus called out this verse, those at the cross would remember the rest of the psalm, just as if I were to quote in a sermon, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” the congregation could finish the lyric, “that saved a wretch like me.”

As we will see, Psalm 22 is a remarkable foreshadowing of Jesus’ crucifixion, with stunning detail and descriptions rendered a thousand years before Calvary. I believe that Jesus caused the crowd to call this psalm to mind so they would be able to see the degree to which his death fulfilled biblical prophecy.

Here are some of the scenes they would have seen as they remembered David’s prediction from a thousand years earlier.

Mocked by the people

“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!'” (Psalm 22:7–8). In Matthew 27 we read of Jesus’ crucifixion: “The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now'” (vv. 41–43).

None of the religious leaders would have intentionally fulfilled Scripture in this way, making David’s prediction even more remarkable.

The manner of his crucifixion

David continued: “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). He could not have been speaking of crucifixion, since this gruesome form of execution was first employed by the Persians five centuries after he wrote this psalm. He probably described “dogs” who attacked his hands and feet with their teeth or spears. But his picture describes Jesus’ crucifixion perfectly.

The next verse: “I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me” (v. 17).

Since Roman crucifixion typically led to asphyxiation as the body’s weight crushed down on the lungs, the victim would use his arms to pull up his body. However, nails driven through the wrists (the more typical form of crucifixion) severed the nerves, making such relief impossible.

The victim would then use his legs to support his body. When the soldiers were ready for the victims to die, they would break their legs with a heavy mallet called the “crucifragium.”

This is the practice behind John’s record:

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs (John 19:31–33).

His clothes divided by soldiers

In another detail that was fulfilled at Calvary, David wrote, “They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18). The soldiers fulfilled this declaration at the cross: “When they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots” (Matthew 27:35). Again, the soldiers would never have intentionally fulfilled David’s prediction, making it even more astounding.

Nor could Jesus have arranged for these fulfillments. He could not have persuaded the religious authorities to mock him or the Romans to leave his bones intact or divide his garments while he was on the cross. These actions clearly demonstrate the prophetic nature of his death and the fact that God knew a thousand years before Calvary how his Son would die for us.

It is no surprise that David would end his remarkable psalm this way: “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (vv. 30–31).

David was more right than he could know. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11). And the God who is sovereign over the future will be sovereign forever.

Divine sovereignty and human freedom

As we have seen, Psalm 22 precisely predicted and pictured Jesus’ death a thousand years later. It foresaw crucifixion, a manner of execution that had not even been invented. It foresaw actions that Jesus’ enemies would never have taken to fulfill its predictions, behavior he could never have arranged beforehand.

If the Lord knew such details a thousand years ahead of time, can we trust that he knows our future as well? Consider these statements from God himself:

  • “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
  • “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).
  • “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come” (Isaiah 46:10).

You may be wondering: If God knows the future, do I have freedom to choose? Am I a robot subjected to his sovereignty with no free will of my own?

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that he chooses it. He is not bound by time. “Tomorrow” is as real to him as “today” is to us. The fact that he can see something does not mean that he always chooses it.

You can watch people acting around you today, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their behavior. You can watch people sit down in a restaurant, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that you chose their seats.

God sees tomorrow as we see today. That doesn’t mean that he always chooses all that happens. For instance, he is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). But clearly, not all “reach repentance” (cf. Revelation 20:15).

God’s will is best for our future

The fact that God knows the future does not mean that we have no freedom. But it does mean that God’s will is the best path to our ultimate destination. He knows where he is leading us and uses every day to prepare us for his purpose. His Spirit is something like a GPS system that leads you turn by turn in ways you may not understand at the time. But it is taking you the best way to your destination. You may not understand his leadership at the time, but you can trust that it is always for your best.

That’s why Scripture encourages us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6).

God’s will is best for our present

And his omniscience means that his will for the future is best for the present as well. Every step we take toward our ultimate destination is the best step for us today.

Remember the Macedonian vision by which God called Paul westward to Philippi. The apostle had no idea he was bringing the gospel to what we call the “Western world.” He didn’t know that he was evangelizing what we know as “Europe.” He didn’t even know that the church he would start at Philippi would become his favorite congregation and the recipient of the timeless letter we know as the Book of Philippians.

He just knew that God was calling him. Every step he took was the best step for that day and the best step for eternity.

In the same way, God will lead us through Scripture, reason, circumstances, other people, and our own intuition. He will lead if we will follow. In fact, he wants us to know his will even more than we do. If we’re not sure what he wants us to do, we may simply ask him. If we don’t receive an answer, it’s because we’re not willing to obey what we hear.

When I was a youth minister in my first church, one of my jobs was changing the church sign beside the road. I have no idea why this was my responsibility, but it was. The pastor would come up with a short, pithy statement I was to put up in six-inch letters.

I’ll always remember this one: “If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved.”


What about tomorrow worries you today? What decision, challenge, or opportunity do you need help in facing? The God who knew every detail of his Son’s death a thousand years before it happens loves you so much that he sent that Son to die for you. Jesus would do it all over again, just for you.

Henry Blackaby: “If you know that God loves you, you should never question a directive from him.”

Do you know that God loves you?

I Am the Door of the Sheep

Topical Scripture: John 10:7-10

Don’t look now, but an asteroid could be headed for Earth. I don’t know that one is. But I don’t know that one is not. And neither do astronomers, apparently.

An asteroid estimated to be at least 150 feet in diameter passed our planet last Sunday morning just hours after it was first observed by astronomers. It came closer to us than the moon. It could be as much as six times bigger than the meteorite that exploded over Russia in 2013. That rock sent thousands of fragments to earth, breaking windows and injuring about 1,500 people. If last Sunday’s asteroid had entered our atmosphere, it could have done that much damage, or more.

If the asteroid had in fact threatened our planet, would you have been grateful to NASA for finding a way to protect us? Or would you have demanded that the space agency devise numerous options for us to choose between? So long as one strategy worked for our entire planet, wouldn’t we be thankful for it?

Now let’s change metaphors.

Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a disease caused by tiny virus particles which attack the brain and spinal cord. Why is polio not feared as it once was? The answer is named Jonas Edward Salk. Dr. Salk, an American research scientist, announced in 1953 that he had developed a trial vaccine for polio. By 1955, his discovery was being used across the world.

In those exciting days, there were two questions no one thought to ask. First, aren’t all vaccines basically the same? They knew that all others had failed, and that Dr. Salk’s had succeeded. And second, why only one vaccine? For the simple reason that only one was needed.

No one asked these questions, because the answers were obvious. And across the world, millions of people made sure they were vaccinated, and those they cared about as well.

Unfortunately, there is another disease which still exists today and is far worse even than polio. This disease has infected every person who has ever lived and is always fatal. Fortunately, there is a vaccine which will work for every person on earth and it is free of charge.

The disease, of course, is sin, our broken relationship with God. The cure is salvation through Jesus Christ, his Son. And yet questions persist about this spiritual, eternal “vaccine”: aren’t all faiths the same? Why is there only one way to God? What does the issue say to you today?

What did Jesus claim?

Our text begins with Jesus’ proclamation: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). His “I am” calls us back to God’s personal name for himself (Exodus 3:14) and presents another clear claim to divinity on the part of his Son.

In this case, Jesus states that he is “the door of the sheep.” “The” points to his uniqueness as the only door of the sheep, a claim we will discuss in a moment. For now, let’s get his image clearly in our minds, then we can apply it to our culture and our souls.

In the field, sheep were collected into hillside sheep-folds, open spaces enclosed by three walls like a triangle but open on one end. When the sheep were inside, the shepherd would lie across the opening and serve as the “door” of the sheep.

In the same way, our Lord describes himself as “the” door of the sheep. The only door. He adds: “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them” (v. 8).

The brilliant New Testament scholar D. A. Carson notes: “The world still seeks its humanistic, political saviors—its Hitlers, its Stalins, its Maos, its Pol Pots—and only too late does it learn that they blatantly confiscate personal property (they come ‘only to steal’), ruthlessly trample human life under food (they come ‘only . . . to kill’), and contemptuously savage all that is valuable (they come ‘only . . . to destroy’)” (The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John).

By contrast, Jesus asserts, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (v. 9). His promise is unconditional: anyone who trusts him as their Lord “will be saved” and will find divine provision.

Our Lord makes his claim once more: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (v. 10). “I came” points to Jesus’ missional purpose in entering our fallen world. “Abundantly” translates perisson, meaning “beyond the regular number, prodigious, extraordinary.”

To summarize: Jesus claims to be the only door the sheep can use to find eternal and abundant life. Everyone who comes through his door will find such life. But only those who make this pivotal decision for their souls.

Is Jesus the only way?

What is the logic behind Jesus’ claim to be the only door for the sheep, the only way to heaven?

A few chapters later, we find his emphatic words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Later he was even more emphatic: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

Peter would later proclaim, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul stated, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

The apostle John added, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).

What makes Jesus so unique that he alone can be the way to heaven?

Scripture declares, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). With all due respect to other world leaders, none of them claimed to die for those they served. Not Buddha, or Muhammad, or Confucius.

The reason is simple: none of them was sinless. And only a sinless sacrifice could pay for our sins without needing to pay for his own.

Because Jesus owed no debt, he could pay our debt. He could be the perfect “Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV) because he was sinlessly perfect (Hebrews 4:15).

Isn’t this claim intolerant?

Jesus’ claim to be the only door for the sheep, the only way to heaven, is politically incorrect today, to say the least. Three “isms” dominate our culture and reject everything we’ve learned so far.

The first is relativism, the idea that all truth is relative and subjective. We’re taught that language is only a convention of human power; words do not describe reality, but only our version of it. There can be no objective truth claims, only subjective experiences. It’s fine if Jesus is your way to God, but don’t insist that he must be mine.

The second word for our society is pluralism: different religions are roads up the same mountain. They’re all worshipping the same God, just by different names. It’s fine if Jesus is your road to God, but don’t make the rest of us travel it.

And pluralism typically leads to universalism, the idea that everyone is going to heaven, no matter what they believe. It doesn’t matter which God we believe in, so long as we’re sincere. We’re all on the road to God, whatever we might believe about him.

How can we respond?

First, we can address relativism with the fact that objective truth is an intellectual and practical necessity in life. To deny absolutes is to affirm them. If I say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth,” haven’t I made a claim to absolute truth? We don’t accept relativism with regard to the historicity of the Holocaust, or our doctor’s diagnosis, or the aircraft mechanic’s assurance that the plane is safe. Objective truth is an intellectual and practical necessity in life.

Next, let’s respond to pluralism with the fact that the world’s religions teach radically different truth. If one is right, the others are wrong. These cannot be different roads up the same mountain—they are different mountains.

Third, we can respond to universalism with the fact that Jesus is the only way to God we need or can trust. It doesn’t bother me that only one key in my pocket will start my car, so long as it works. And only Christianity works.

Our basic problem with God is called “sin.” We have all made mistakes and committed sins in our lives. These failures have separated us from a righteous and pure God. The only way to heaven which works is the way which deals with these sins. And only Christianity does. No other religion offers forgiveness for sins, grace for sinners, and the security of salvation. Only Jesus.


If your daughter were facing the threat of polio in 1955, would you accept a doctor’s relative assurances that she would be well? Would you try every possible vaccine, in the belief that they’re all the same? Would you complain if you were given only one proven option? Or would you gladly vaccinate your child?

What about your soul?

I Am the Good Shepherd

Topical Scripture: John 10:11-15

The 2018 NFL draft has dominated sports headlines this week. My favorite story involves a linebacker named Shaquem Griffin. He played at Central Florida, where he was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He ran for NFL scouts last month, posting the fastest forty-yard time by a linebacker since 2003.

He also has only one hand. His left hand was amputated when he was four years old due to a birth defect.

As inspiring as his story is, the bottom line is still the bottom line. Shaquem Griffin will succeed or fail in the NFL the same way every other player does: by his performance on the field. In football, and in much of life, you are what you do.

With Christianity, it’s exactly the opposite. Your status and identity are based not on what you do but on what Jesus has done. Let’s learn why that is true and what it means for our souls today.

Why did Jesus have to die for us?

This week we’re continuing Jesus’ “I am” statements, coming now to his fourth claim: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). Our Lord calls himself the “good” shepherd, distinguishing himself from a shepherd who cares little for his sheep. As he explained, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (v. 12).

By contrast, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (vv. 14–15a). Then comes the proof: “and I lay down my life for the sheep” (v. 15b).

Scripture consistently repeats his assertion:

  • “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
  • “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
  • “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13).
  • “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

So, we know that Jesus died for us to pay our debt and purchase our salvation. The question is, why did he have to do so? Why couldn’t God have forgiven our sins without calling his Son to die on the cross?

If I run into your car in the parking lot, I assume someone doesn’t have to die for my debt to be paid. Why did God require the death of his Son to pay ours?

The answer is that sin separates us from the holy God who is the only source of life (Isaiah 59:2; John 14:6). That’s why the Lord warned Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). That’s why “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). That’s why “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Sin leads to death. It stands to reason, therefore, that the only one who could pay the debt sinners owe is someone who has never sinned. If I have a thousand dollars in my bank account and owe that amount to creditors, I cannot use that money to pay your debt as well as mine. Since Jesus was the only sinless person who has ever lived (Hebrews 4:15), he alone could pay our debt.

As the chorus says, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.”

Why did he have to die by crucifixion?

So the logic of Good Friday makes sense. Now let’s consider a second question: Why did Jesus have to die by crucifixion?

The manner of Jesus’ death fulfilled the prophet’s prediction, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). It also matched David’s description, “They have pierced my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16). But why did the Holy Spirit lead these writers to predict that Jesus would die in such a gruesome way?

The Jews executed by stoning (as with Stephen in Acts 7). Rome executed its citizens by beheading. Presumably, any form of death would pay the penalty for our sins. Why did Jesus have to suffer the most horrible, heinous form of execution ever invented?

I have two answers.

First: The cross shows how horrible sin really is.

If Jesus’ death had been painless and antiseptic, the sins for which he died could seem less catastrophic. As it is, every time we are tempted we can remember the thorns that lacerated our Savior’s scalp, the whip that scourged his back, the nails that pierced his wrists and feet, the spear that ruptured his heart. That’s what your sins and my sins did to Jesus. That’s what he chose to suffer for us.

No one watching Jesus writhe in horrible agony on the cross would have called the day of Jesus’ death, “Good Friday.” The Germans get closer to the historic reality: They call it “Karfreitag,” meaning “Sorrowful Friday.”

Second: The cross shows how great God’s love really is.

If Jesus had died in an antiseptic, painless way, we would still be grateful for his atoning sacrifice. But his death in the most horrific manner possible shows the depth of his sacrificial love as nothing else could.

Know that this love is shared not only by the Son, but also by his Father: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but eternal life” (John 3:16). As a father and grandfather, I cannot begin to imagine the pain our Father felt as he watched his Son be whipped, tortured, and crucified.

He did all of that for you. He would do it all over again, just for you.

Know that you are loved

You and I live in a culture that measures us by the Three P’s: performance, possessions, and popularity. We are taught from infancy that we are what we own, what we do, and what others think of what we own and do.

It’s easy to import this thinking into our theology, assuming that God loves us more if we are righteous and less if we are sinful, that there are things we can do to make him love us more or less.

The cross proves that it’s not so. If the Father could love you even though your sins nailed his Son to the cross, what else could you do to lose his love? If he could love you before you became his child through faith, what could you do now that you are his child to lose his love?

My sons will forever be my sons because they were born as my sons. They may not want to be my sons or act like my sons, but they will always be my sons by birth. In the same way, you and I are the children of God by the “second birth.” We will always be his sons. There is nothing we can do to lose a love we did nothing to gain.

At the end of the day, God loves us because he is love (1 John 4:8). He loves us because his character is to love us. Not because of anything we can do. Not because of anything we have done.

The next time you’re facing a tough place and wonder if God loves you, remember the cross. Remember that your “good shepherd” laid down his life for you. And be grateful.


What have we learned about God’s love today?

One: God’s love is inspiring.

The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are to love God, not so he will love us but because he already does. We worship and pray and serve out of gratitude, not guilt. We love him because he loves us, at the cross and every day of our lives.

Two: God’s love is inclusive.

Scripture adds: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (v. 21). When we see the depth of God’s love for us, we are called to love others in the same way, to “pay it forward.” Jesus died for you; if you’re good enough for him, you’re good enough for me.

Three: God’s love is unchanging.

There is nothing we can do to lose or gain it. No matter what happens in your life, God still loves you.

Charles Spurgeon was out hiking one day and came across a windmill with the words “God Is Love” turning in the breeze. He asked the farmer, “Do you mean that God’s love is as shifting as the wind?” The farmer smiled and explained, “Not at all. I mean that no matter how the wind blows, God is still love.”

What winds are blowing in your soul today?

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

Topical Scripture: John 11:21-26

Two deaths during the month of April dominated the news here and abroad. One lived a full life devoted to public service; the other never had a chance to live. Both had families who loved them. When former first lady Barbara Bush died at the age of 92 a few weeks ago, she told one of her sons, “I believe in Jesus and he is my savior. I don’t want to leave your dad but I know I’ll be in a beautiful place.”

When Alfie Evans died in Great Britain after life support was withdrawn upon court order, his father said, “My gladiator laid down his shield and gained his wings….” His 23-month-old son had been the subject of a legal battle by his parents to keep the child alive for further treatments.

When Mark Twain buried his beloved daughter Olivia’s body, he placed over her grave this epitaph: “Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod, lie light, good night, dear heart.” He was sure that she was in the grave, that death is all there is.

Was he right?

What happens when we die? When death comes to someone we care about? In our series on faith issues from the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus, we can consider no more relevant or emotional questions than these.

Why do we die?

W.C. Fields on his deathbed was seen thumbing through a Bible. Someone asked why. His answer: “Looking for loopholes.” But he didn’t find any. The death rate is still 100 percent. If Lazarus, Jesus’ best friend, was not kept from dying, neither will we.

In fact, you and I are one day closer to death and eternity than we have ever been before.

God’s word warns us: “It is appointed unto all men once to die, and then the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Death comes for us all.

Neither wisdom nor wealth can prevent it: “All can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others” (Psalm 49:10). We all face the same end, unless Jesus returns first: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

On a tombstone in Sevenoaks, Kent, England, are found these words:

“Grim death took me without any warning

I was well at night, and dead in the morning.”

It can happen that way for any of us.

But why? Why does death exist? If God were all-loving, he’d want to destroy death, we assume. If he were all powerful, he could. But he doesn’t. Why did he allow someone you loved to die, or the Holocaust, or 9/11?

Here’s the simple answer: because of sin.

The Bible teaches, “Sin entered the world through man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). The thief on the cross said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41).

This wasn’t God’s intention. He created a perfect world for his children. But when sin entered, death stayed. Death exists, not because God doesn’t love us or isn’t powerful, but because of sin.

Sometimes we die because of our own sin, as did the thief at Jesus’ side. Sometimes we die because of the sins of others, as when a drunk driver kills a child, or a terrorist flies an airplane into a skyscraper. Sometimes we die because of the sin of humanity, as a result of the diseases and disasters which plague this fallen planet. But we all die because of the existence of sin.

However, Jesus died so our sins could be forgiven. Why, then, do we still die?

God’s word is clear: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Physical death frees us to live forever in glorified bodies with God in his heaven.

Then one day, death will be destroyed forever: “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of five” (Revelation 20:14). His word promises: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

What happens when we die?

So, what happens in the moment when you die?

You are with Christ, if Jesus is your Lord.

Jesus told the thief at his side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus taught us that the moment we die, the angels carry us to God’s side (Luke 16:22). When you close your eyes here you open them there. You will never die (John 11:26; Philippians 1:23). You are forever and always with Jesus.

You’re home.

Paul said, “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Most of us have had surgery of some kind. You are in one room, then you fall asleep; when you awake, you’re done. It’s that way for us all.

You’re in glory.

Heaven is paradise, as Jesus said. Paul said, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21), for “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). We will gain imperishable, glorified, spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44), and be like Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:49). We will know God and each other as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). And we will eat of the tree of life and live forever (Revelation 22).

Dwight Moody on his deathbed said, “If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. Dwight! Irene! I see the children’s faces. God is calling me. I must go. Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me.”

If Jesus is your Lord, when you die you won’t. Instead, you’ll see God. And you’ll be safely home.

Three reasons your resurrection is relevant today

When Martha began her conversation with Jesus, she was full of grief but also faith. She clearly believed that Jesus could have saved her brother had he arrived sooner, and she held onto hope that he could still bring healing to their crisis (John 11:22). However, her response when he spoke of resurrection, and even more her objections when he began raising Lazarus (v. 39), showed that her optimism was limited to the next life.

Before Jesus, resurrection was little more than a theological hope. The Sadducees denied it even existed, while the Pharisees incorporated it into their understanding of the afterlife. Jesus, however, made it relevant here and now. He made it something more than a hope—he made it a reality.

What difference does the reality of your resurrection make in your life today?

One: The security of eternity in Christ gives us courage in the present.

If you were told that you have ten years to live, but that you are guaranteed not to die until then, would you be more or less afraid of tomorrow? As Christians, this is how we should approach every day.

The worst that can happen to us leads to the best that can happen to us. We can say every day with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Where do you need courage to serve Jesus today?

Two: The security of eternity in Christ gives us hope for those who have died.

Most of us have loved someone who died. My father died in 1979, my mother in 2008. A personal friend died recently at the age of twenty-nine. But the fact of our resurrection means that we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV).

Our faith in the midst of our loss is a powerful witness to an unbelieving world. And it sustains us in the darkest nights of grief.

We can say with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Notice that David did not say we walk “into” the valley, but “through” it to the other side.

Three: The security of eternity in Christ gives us motivation to share our faith.

Jesus is the only resurrection and life. He is the only way to life beyond death. Giving the gospel to others is not imposing our values on them—it is sharing the greatest gift there is.

If you had a cure for all cancer, sharing it with the world would be an obvious imperative. In Christ, you have a cure for eternal death. Sharing it is a privilege.


Because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, when we die, we don’t. When we breathe our last breath here, we breathe our first breath in paradise. When we close our eyes on earth, we open them in God’s presence.

Jesus was emphatic: “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). Are you ready for that day?

There’s an old legend about a Baghdad merchant who sent his servant to the market to buy food. After a few minutes the servant ran back, pale and trembling. He stammered, “Down in the marketplace I was pushed by a man in the crowd. I turned around and saw the man was Death. He raised his arm to strike me. Please, Master, lend me your fastest horse so I can get away. I will ride to Samarra, where I can hide. Death will not find me there.”

The merchant lent his fastest horse to the servant, who rode away swiftly. He then went down to the marketplace himself, where he also saw Death standing in the crowd.

“Why did you frighten my servant this morning?” he asked. “Why did you scare him like that?” Death replied, “I was not trying to scare him. I was simply surprised. I was astonished to see him here in Baghdad. You see, I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Let’s make sure we’re ready for ours.

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

Topical Scripture: John 14:1-6

Today is Mother’s Day. If you still need to get a gift, take heart…number one on the list of gifts most moms want may surprise you, and can be provided at low cost. According to a recent survey, a whopping 52% of moms want more sleep. Next to more sleep on the list, moms wanted a spa day. Who wouldn’t? Third was a great day out with family. Jewelry ranked lowest on the list.

The answers shouldn’t come as a great surprise. A poll of over 1000 new moms showed that 90% said they feel tired or exhausted on most days. There are no days off for mothers, and research shows that the average hours moms work per week is 98, the equivalent of 2.5 full-time jobs. No wonder they want more sleep.

On April 13, 1989, in Los Angeles, California, a little girl named Tiffany Schaffer was walking home from school clutching her teddy bear. Mrs. Johnnie Matheston, mother of one, was waiting at a red light where Tiffany was crossing the street.

All at once a man turned right on red and headed right for little Tiffany. Mrs. Matheston blew her horn, but it was too late. She watched in horror as the blue Datsun ran over the little girl. The car stopped, with Tiffany directly under the motor. Before anyone could react, Johnnie Matheston got out of her car, ran to the twenty-six-hundred-pound car and picked up the front end four inches while someone pulled Tiffany out.

Tiffany escaped with only two broken bones and some abrasions. Mrs. Matheston pulled two muscles but was otherwise unhurt. Though six months pregnant, she dead-lifted over one thousand pounds—something no man has ever done, but one mother did.

Today we come to our sixth “I Am” statement of Jesus, one that offers us a remarkable promise. After we explore our Lord’s words, we will apply them to this special and sacred day. And we will learn that, next to our Lord, we owe our mothers an incalculable debt for their faith, hope, and love.

Truth is now tolerance

A friend once told me this less than spiritual story. It seems a lady called a Baptist pastor to say that she’d been visiting and wanted to join. “That’s wonderful,” he replied. “Yes, but first I’d like to ask you something. My dog just died, and I’d like to bury him at the church.”

The pastor was shocked: “Ma’am, we don’t do such things in the Baptist church. Maybe the Methodist church down the street would do that for you.” “I’m so sorry,” she replied. “I was thinking of giving half a million dollars to the church.” The pastor immediately answered, “Oh, you didn’t tell me it was a Baptist dog.”

Being Baptist or Methodist has never mattered less than it does today. For the first time in American history, Protestants comprise less than 50 percent of the total population. The proportion of Roman Catholics in the general population is 20 percent. The group growing the most quickly is composed of those who declare no religious affiliation at all.

The watchword in our culture today is “tolerance.” Only 35 percent of Americans believe that moral truth is absolute. It is conventional wisdom today that truth is personal and subjective. To claim objective truth is to be insensitive and intolerant.

Four claims of Jesus

In light of this “new” morality, consider Jesus’ statements to his followers on the night before his crucifixion.

Our text begins: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). The Greek syntax indicates the stopping of an action currently in progress; the phrase could be rendered, “Stop letting your hearts be troubled . . ..”

Jesus has just instituted the Lord’s Supper, at which he told his disciples again of his impending death (13:33). Imagine a loved one who just told you that he or she would die tomorrow—it is no wonder that they were “troubled” (the same word used for the “troubling” of the waters at Bethesda, John 5:7).

If anyone deserved to be comforted while facing his own “troubled heart,” it was Jesus on this night. Soon he would suffer the worst torture and execution humans can invent. And yet he is the one comforting them!

Jesus will soon die for their sins, abandoned by them at the cross. Imagine a victim comforting her murderer, a Jew comforting a Nazi, a black slave comforting a lynch mob. And so, Jesus comforts us still with these precious words.

Consider four claims by our Lord:

First, Jesus claimed that he is God.

“Trust in God; trust also in me” (v. 1). The Greek construction makes clear that the first and second phrase are parallel, equating the two. In this brief sentence Jesus clearly defined himself as divine. In verse 9 he added, “Anyone who has seen me as seen the Father.” Earlier the authorities tried to stone him to death “because you claim to be God” (John 10:33). Other religious leaders claim to reveal God; Jesus claims to be God.

Second, he is preparing heaven for us.

“I am going there to prepare a place for you” (v. 2). Earlier, Peter had asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later” (John 13:36). Now he fulfills that promise with this one.

“Prepare” means to go before and make ready for the arrival of others (cf. Hebrews 6:19–20). This word was used for the “preparations” made by Peter and John for the Passover meal just completed (Mark 14:12). Other religious leaders told their followers how to get to heaven; Jesus is preparing heaven for us.

Third, he will take us there himself (v. 3).

“Take you to be with me” means “to walk alongside of.” Jesus didn’t return home after leaving directions for finding our way there—he promised to come back and lead us there personally. Other religious leaders pointed the way to heaven; Jesus will take us there personally.

Fourth, he is the only way to God (v. 6).

His Greek was emphatic: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Still later, Jesus was even more emphatic: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). No one in all of human history ever made this claim. Other religious leaders said, “I know the way, truth, life”; Jesus claimed to be the way, truth, and life.

We need to be clear on these claims to absolute truth. Jesus said in essence: I am God; I am preparing your place in heaven; I will take you there; I alone can take you there. Acts 4:12 asserts, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” The Bible clearly claims that Jesus Christ is the only way, the only truth, the only life.

Gratitude for godly mothers

How is this text relevant to Mother’s Day?

First, if your mother is no longer living but made Christ her Lord, she is in heaven with him right now. Your mother did not die when her physical life ended. She stepped from time into eternity, from death into life, from this fallen world into God’s glorious paradise.

I remember my mother’s homegoing as if it were last week. She had been ill for years and in rapidly declining health for several days. It was a Sunday. My brother and I were with her in her hospice room. We were talking together and looked over to check on her when we discovered that she had died.

In that moment, something died inside of me. There is something we cannot fully explain about the death of the person who gave us life. My mind flashed back to so many moments when her love was so real for me. It was impossible to imagine a world without her in it. But I knew in my soul that I would see her again, that she was home and she was well. And that fact gave me the comfort I needed.

Two days later, I was alone with her body at the funeral home, and the finality of her death became real for me in an even deeper way. Once again, the fact of her eternal life with Jesus enabled me to stand beside her dead body and know that she was alive.

Because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, our mothers who trust in him are with him forever. As we will be one day.

Second, if your mother helped you know Jesus, you owe her an unpayable debt.

The courage of Moses’ mother saved his life and gave the world all that he did. Hannah’s godly faith gave us Samuel, the last judge and first prophet of Israel. Elizabeth’s faith gave us John the Baptist. Mary’s sacrificial surrender made her the mother of our Lord.

The great expositor G. Campbell Morgan said, “My sermons were Bible stories which I had first learned from my mother.” The remarkable evangelist Dwight L. Moody admitted, “All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

The greatest Baptist preacher ever, Charles Spurgeon, agreed, “I cannot tell how much I owe to the solemn words of my good mother.” The mother of John Newton’s final prayer for her young son before she died was that he become a minister. He led a wayward life of sin before he came to the Amazing Grace of which his hymn testifies.

William Wallace was right: “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

If your mother helped you trust in Jesus as your way, truth, and life, thank her today. If she is with the Lord, thank him today.

Third, if you have been given the privilege of motherhood, lead your children to your Lord.

Your influence in their lives cannot be overstated. What you do and say will be with them forever. You are truly writing on the clay of their souls. You have the eternal privilege of helping them receive eternal life.

If they are already believers, continue to help them follow their Lord. You are never too young or too old to minister to them. What Jesus has done in you, he wants to do through you. And your family is your first kingdom assignment.


Since my mother is with Jesus today, I’m remembering her with great gratitude. I’m remembering her courage, her intellect, her unconditional love for me. I’m remembering all the ways God used her to bless me and to draw me to himself.

How would you express your gratitude to or for your mother today?

Let’s close with Peter Marshall’s beautiful Mother’s Day prayer and express in its words our commitment:

“On this day of sacred memories, our Father, we would thank Thee for our mothers who gave us life, who surrounded us early and late with love and care, whose prayers on our behalf still cling around the Throne of Grace, a haunting perfume of love’s petitions.

“Help us, their children, to be more worthy of their love. We know that no sentimentality on this day, no material gifts—no flowers or boxes of candy can atone for our neglect during the rest of the year. So, in the days ahead, may our love speak to the hearts of those who know love best—by kindness, by compassion, by simple courtesy and daily thoughtfulness.

“Bless her whose name we whisper before Thee, and keep her in Thy perfect peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

It is Always Too Soon to Give Up on God

Topical Scripture: John 3:1–8

Super Bowl LIV will be played this evening. To celebrate, Americans will eat 1.3 billion chicken wings and eight million pounds of guacamole. In fact, we will consume more food today than on any day of the year except Thanksgiving. But beware: antacid sales will increase by 20 percent tomorrow, and 1.5 million Americans will call in sick.

And when the game is over, the “real world” will be waiting.

President Trump’s impeachment trial will continue this week. Whatever your position on impeachment and your thoughts regarding Mr. Trump, he is our president and we are called to pray for him (1 Timothy 2:2).

The other figure dominating the news has been Kobe Bryant. Coverage has focused on his basketball brilliance and his personal failings. Few have noted his Catholic faith, a commitment that became much stronger in recent years.

Last Sunday, two hours before he boarded the helicopter on which he died, Bryant prayed before the 7 am Mass at his parish church in Newport Beach, California.

Are you concerned for someone who does not seem to be moving in the right direction personally? Someone who is making the wrong choices, someone who seems to be retreating from God rather than moving closer to him?

Are you dealing with an area in your life that is not what God wants for you? The Puritans spoke of “besetting sins,” those areas of recurring spiritual failures in our lives. Are you struggling with such a sin and wondering if you’ll ever defeat it?

As we continue watching Jesus change lives, today we’ll meet a man who was a combination of political leader and celebrity. We’ll see what happened when he first talked with our Lord. Then we’ll see what happened years later. And we’ll learn that it is always too soon to give up on God.

Meeting Nicodemus

Our story begins: “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who a member of the Jewish ruling council” (John 3:1). This man had done everything his society deemed necessary for success. He was everything most of us want to be.

Nicodemus was powerful—in fact, he achieved more power than it is possible to possess in our society today. His name meant “conqueror of the people.” Clearly his parents envisioned great power for their baby boy. Imagine naming your infant son Napoleon or Alexander the Great. He was born with a gavel in his hand, bred for success, raised to conquer.

And he fulfilled his parents’ wildest dreams and fondest hopes. How many of us want our son or daughter to be president of the United States? A member of the Supreme Court? A senator or representative? Nicodemus did all that and more.

He was a ruler of the Jews, otherwise translated as a “member of the Jewish ruling council” (v. 1b). This group was known as the “Sanhedrin”—seventy men who constituted the Supreme Court of their nation. They possessed ruling authority over every Jew anywhere in the world. They were the court of final appeal. Even the High Priest was subject to their rulings.

If our nation had one ruling body which combined the power of the Supreme Court and the House and Senate, and also possessed authority over the president and the military, that body would be their Sanhedrin. And Nicodemus was one of its members. There was no more powerful position in all the land.

Nicodemus was wealthy as well. After Jesus’ assassination, he donated seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes to help bury his crucified body (John 19:38–40.). This was the kind and amount of burial material normally used only for a king and a very expensive gift.

He was part of the Jewish aristocracy, a very wealthy man. If Forbes magazine had run a profile on Israel’s richest men, his picture would have been in the article. Probably on its cover.

And Nicodemus was spiritual—one of the most religious men in the nation, in fact. He was a Pharisee (John 3:1). There were never more than six thousand of them in ancient Israel. Their name meant “Separated Ones,” for that’s what they were—separated from all ordinary life to keep every detail of the Jewish law. The dietary codes, Sabbath regulations, everything. They were the Marine Corp of ancient Israel, the holiest men on earth in the eyes of their culture.

And Nicodemus wasn’t just any Pharisee. He was “Israel’s teacher” (v. 10), a special kind of religious scholar, the man who taught other Pharisees their theology. Dean of the School of Theology, we would call him. We can find no more religious man in all the Scriptures.

If believing in God and being good could lead us to eternal life, it would have worked for Nicodemus. But it didn’t, because it can’t. Good works and intellectual belief are the wrong present to unwrap if you’re looking for heaven today.

Meeting Jesus

Our text continues: “This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (v. 2). This is a remarkable statement and seems to be an amazing opportunity for Jesus to recruit this man to his movement.

However, our Lord’s response to Nicodemus would have made any political strategist cringe. After this powerful, wealthy, religious leader has complimented him on his miraculous works and divine inspiration, we’d expect the Galilean carpenter to be pleased, to affirm his admirer’s faith and faithfulness. His response is just the opposite: “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God'” (v. 3).

Why did Jesus reply to Nicodemus in such blunt terms? How does his response help us find God and the eternal life he alone can give?

Admit your need of grace

The simple truth is that no one can “see the kingdom of God” in his or her own abilities. The “kingdom of God” is that place where God is king. Jesus defined the kingdom best in the Model Prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). God’s kingdom comes wherever and whenever his will is done.

Our problem is simple: none of us can do the will of God in our strength. None of us is powerful, wealthy, or religious enough to be perfect. God says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Like Nicodemus, we need to be “born again.” We need a new life and a fresh start. We need to begin again, to get to that place of innocence which was ours when we were first born and had not yet sinned against God. We need to be as innocent as a baby, or we cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Ask for the new birth of God

Nicodemus was confused, asking Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4). Jesus responded: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). Then he explained, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6).

In other words, “water” refers to our physical birth, just as being born of the Spirit refers to our spiritual birth. Such a gift cannot be quantified or manufactured by human effort any more than the wind can be controlled or predicted by human wisdom.

Jesus was clear on this: “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (vv. 7–8).

Three things God cannot do

John 3:16, the most famous verse in Scripture, summarizes: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

A fellow student in my college preaching class delivered a sermon on this text under the title, “Three things God cannot do.” You thought God could do everything, correct? According to my friend, there are three things he cannot do.

One: He loves us so much that he cannot love us any more than he already does: “For God so loved the world.” Two: He has given us so much that he cannot give us any more than he already has: “that he gave his only Son.” Three: He has made salvation so simple that he cannot make it any simpler: “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

My friend was right. What was true for Nicodemus is true for any of us today.

Burying and serving his king

The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus ends without an ending. We aren’t told how Nicodemus responded or what he did next.

But fast forward. Later in Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders sought to arrest Jesus. Nicodemus responded to them: “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” (John 7:51).

After our Lord’s death, a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for his body. Then we read: “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews” (John 19:39–40).

This was an extravagant act, one typically given to a king. Nicodemus’ sacrifice shows that he truly saw Jesus as the King of kings.

With this, Nicodemus leaves the pages of Scripture. Later tradition added that he testified on Jesus’ behalf before Pilate, that he was deprived of office and banished from Jerusalem as a result, and that he was baptized by Peter and John. Some say he was beaten to death by hostile crowds for testifying to his faith. It is also said that he was buried in the same grave as Stephen.


We cannot know any of that as historical fact. But we can know that a man who came to Jesus by night eventually testified for him by day and paid a high price to honor the one he came to serve as his king.

Nicodemus proves that Jesus can change any heart that is willing to be changed.

George Mueller was a great evangelist and orphanage director. At one point, he began to pray for the conversion of five men. He prayed for the first for eighteen months before he came to faith. He prayed another five years before the second man was converted.

Mueller prayed another six years before the third came to Christ. He prayed for the other two men for another forty years, fifty-two years in total, until both came to faith.

It is always too soon to give up on God.

How is this fact relevant to your soul today?