Love is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. It is a powerful force, an emotion that will inspire people to do things they would not otherwise do. Kingdoms and nations have been formed, joined, and dissolved in the name of love, and it appears in nearly every popular song.
Love is a gift from God, which we see when God brought Eve to Adam; he was so overcome with love that he broke out into song! (Genesis 2:23) Sadly, sin tainted the purity of that love among humans. Yet God continued lavishing love on His people, especially those who were feeling unloved – including Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob; and Hannah, the eventual mother of Samuel. God used human love to preserve His people as well; the love between Esther and the king of Persia kept Israel from mass slaughter, and the love between Ruth and Boaz continued the line of the Messiah. Even the prophets, who would often bring news of pending judgment, were motivated out of love for the people to whom they were sent.
When Jesus walked the earth, He continued to expand our understanding of what love is. He always took time to stop and care for people along the way, showing us that love is not just an emotion, but an action. He told His disciples that the greatest love was to lay down one’s life for one’s friends; then, He actually did it! Writing to the church in Rome, Paul described it this way: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). James challenges us to be consistent, demonstrating our love both in word and in deed. And, in Revelation, we read about the time yet to come, when Christ returns and restores the pure, true, and holy love that sin lost.
Today, as we light the candle of love, we express our love for our Savior, eagerly anticipating the day when mankind’s love is once again true and pure.
(This reading was originally written for the December 23rd, 2018 worship service at Bay Vista Baptist Church.)
This week, we come to the most popular 3:16 of them all. It’s a verse so popular, people can write just the reference on a piece of poster board, and those seeing it know exactly what they’re trying to say. Yes, today’s 3:16 comes from the book of John.
16For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
— John 3:16 (HCSB)
This verse is part of the larger context of Nicodemus’s visit to Jesus at night, described in John 3:1-21. While we won’t recount that story in detail, it is interesting to note that John 3:3 is the source of the term “born again,” and it came from Jesus. Also, we won’t rehash what we looked at two weeks ago, regarding man’s need for God; if you missed it or would like to re-read it, feel free. Rather, I’d like to focus on what the Old Testament says about the coming of Jesus. Notice that “gave” is past tense; at this chronological point in the Bible, most references to God’s Son were in the future tense.
The coming of Jesus is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament, and it starts early in Genesis.
15I will put hostility between you and the woman,
— Genesis 3:15 (HCSB)
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
This was God speaking to the serpent, after it had been used to deceive Adam and Eve. The “He” in this verse is pointing to Jesus. As we continue from there, Moses wrote in Leviticus 4 about the sin offering; while this description doesn’t mention Jesus by name, the picture of how the sacrifice was slain is a foreshadowing of the way Jesus would die, His blood spilled out all over the ground. However, His blood didn’t just cover sin - it completely washed it away! Further on, the Israelites began complaining about God leading them out of Egypt, and God sent poisonous snakes into their camp. Through their deliverance from the snakes, we have another picture of salvation, and the way Jesus would die.
8Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
— Numbers 21:8-9 (HCSB)
Jesus even brings this up when He’s talking to Nicodemus! He really was trying to tell people what was coming.
14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…
— John 3:14 (HCSB)
Isaiah paints what is probably the most poignant picture of the suffering Savior. Before we talk a lot about it, I’ll let you read what Isaiah had to say.
2He grew up before Him like a young plant
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no form or splendor that we should look at Him,
no appearance that we should desire Him.
3He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like one people turned away from;
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.
4Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,
and He carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded Him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds.
6We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the Lord has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all.
7He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughter
and like a sheep silent before her shearers,
He did not open His mouth.
8He was taken away because of oppression and judgment;
and who considered His fate?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
He was struck because of My people’s rebellion.
9They made His grave with the wicked,
— Isaiah 53:2-9 (HCSB)
and with a rich man at His death,
although He had done no violence
and had not spoken deceitfully.
As a child growing up, this was a passage that I had to memorize. As I worked to commit the words to memory, I either did not ever take the time to view them all together as a whole, or maybe I just didn’t know enough to really, really get it. Verses 2 and 3 describe an image to which I can relate, and I suspect you can too; have you ever seen what a root looks like? This person blended in, or maybe even stuck out in an undesirable way. People took one look and despised Him, turning away from Him. I’ve had people literally turn their backs to me and walk away, and it’s no fun. How much more did this hurt the One who had given up everything He had in heaven to come here with the power to save us? I can also tell you that it wasn’t love I felt in my heart towards the people who walked away from me. Not only did Jesus take this abuse, this hate borne of misunderstanding, He continued His mission - His mission of even more suffering, untold torture, and eventual death - all not for what He had done, but for the sins that these very
same people who rejected Him had done! What an amazing, unimaginable love He must have for us!
Verse 6 is one of the more well-known verses in this passage. We have all done wrong, every single one of us - if you’re like me, several times daily. We have all “turned to our own way.” No matter what we’ve seen, no matter what blessings God has given us, we all keep veering off the path, seeking our own way. (Yes, even saved people still sin; Jesus’s sacrifice paid for that sin too.) The King James Version translates the word “punished” in that verse as “laid on” - the picture I get from that is of our sin being piled and piled and piled upon Jesus, until He broke from the heavy load.
Verse 7 presents a concept that is completely foreign to many people today - Jesus did not defend Himself against the false accusations that were made against Him. The Sanhedrin council levied all sorts of charges against Him, and He presented no defense for them. The Roman authorities could find no fault with Him, even taking the step as to publicly wash their hands of any evil that the people wanted to do against Jesus. As a child, this was one verse I didn’t understand. I understood it as prophecy that was fulfilled as recorded in the Gospels, but I didn’t have my head completely around it. Why didn’t He defend Himself? I believe there are two main reasons. First, verse 7 - this was prophecy concerning the Messiah, and had He defended Himself, this prophecy would be unfulfilled; this would have given His detractors a reason to speak against Him. Second, it would have done no good whatsoever; the people who were coming against Him were not going to stop until they had Him.
Finally, verse 9 is just neat. “They made His grave… with a rich man.” Joseph, from whom Jesus’s tomb was borrowed, was a wealthy man who was also a follower of Jesus. (I wonder if Joseph gave Him a special 3-day rate…) The detail in these prophecies that are fulfilled really increases my faith, and I hope it does the same for you. Confidence in the Scripture is important, because without the solid foundation of Scripture as inerrant, our knowledge of God could not be certain.
So, how do you live forever? Jesus told us, right up there in the second paragraph of this devotional. Did you miss it? :) All kidding aside, it really is as simple as Jesus explained to Nicodemus - “so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Paul put it this way to the church in Rome…
9if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
— Romans 10:9 (HCSB)
If you have never done this, I pray that today is the day that you trust your life to Jesus. Life is tough, and there’s no way I’d want to go through it without God on my side. If you’d like this broken down even further, check out God’s Simple Plan of Salvation. If you are a Christian, remember the sacrifice that Jesus had to make to be able to give you this free gift. Thank Him, and be sure to share His gift with others that you see.
Today, we take a look at 2 Peter 3:16.
16He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.
— 2 Peter 3:16 (HCSB)
The “he” in the beginning of the verse is Paul, who wrote many of the letters that are now books in the New Testament. This is a good recommendation from a fellow minister, but it comes with a couple of warnings.
First, Peter warns the church that some of the things which Paul has written to them are difficult to understand. This is certainly true - even today, there is often spirited debate over the meaning of some of the things Paul wrote. Of course, rather than just listening to debate, and deciding which side is more convincing, it is important to search the Scriptures and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal its interpretation. And, knowledge without application is useless - once you have determined what the Scripture says, that knowledge needs to be put into action.
The second warning Peter has for the church is that the “untaught and unstable” will try to twist what the Bible says. Man has been doing this since, quite literally, just after Creation. Let’s look at the first recorded twisting of God’s Word. God gave Adam and Eve specific instructions regarding the Garden of Eden.
16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
— Genesis 2:16-17 (HCSB)
But when Eve is talking to the serpent a few verses later, she gets it… well, not quite right.
2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”
— Genesis 3:2-3 (HCSB)
Now, we don’t know whether it was Eve who got it wrong here, or if it was Adam who amplified God’s warning when he was telling Eve what God had said. But either way, what God said is not faithfully represented in Eve’s answer to the serpent. And, just as the Bible begins with this story illustrating (among other things) twisting God’s words, it ends with a warning as well.
18I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. 19And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book.
— Revelation 22:18-19 (HCSB)
I don’t know if you’ve read the book of Revelation all the way through or not; if you have, you know that you certainly don’t want all the plagues of that book added to you!
Another application of these warnings applies to selecting a version of the Bible to use for study. Before making assumptions, research the translation philosophy, and whether the version is a literal translation or a paraphrase. Using more than one version can help you understand a tough passage.
The key in interpreting the Scripture is to be sure that you know what It says. Don’t rely on what other people say about It - what does It say? I pray that we will all study the Scriptures, and allow God to reveal His interpretation of it to us.
(Note - we’ll discuss more on Bible study when we get to 2 Timothy 3:16.)