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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
This is Peter speaking to people who had assembled after he and John had healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-16). This type of healing, along with many other things described in the book of Acts, can be a bit contentious among Christians. Is God still in the healing business? Does He still use people like Peter and John to speak His healing? And what role do doctors play in healing - if I took a pill and got better, it must have been the doctor, right? The short answers to these questions are yes, no, and no. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at some miraculous healings at other places in the Bible.
In 1 Kings 17:8-24, we read about Elijah and the widow of Zerephath. This is during the time when Elijah had declared to Ahab and Jezebel (through direction from the Lord, of course) that it would not rain until he said it would. There was a famine, and Elijah was hungry. When he arrived at the widow’s house, she was about to make the last of her food; once she and her son ate it, they would be completely out with no prospect of any more. Elijah asked her to make him some food first, and she did; from that point on, her flour and oil never ran out for the duration of the famine. However, the widow’s son became sick and died. Elijah prayed over him, that the Lord would raise him.
22So the Lord listened to Elijah’s voice, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.
Elijah was succeeded by Elisha, and Elisha had some pretty radical healing experiences himself. In 2 Kings 4:8-17, he passed through a town called Shunem, and when he did, a woman prepared food for him every time he came by, and even set up a room in her house for him to stay. When questioned about why, she said that she recognized him as a man of God. Elisha asked what she would like in return for her hospitality, and she said she didn’t need anything. When he pressed her, though, she said that she had always wanted a son, but had been unable to conceive. Elisha told her “At this time next year you will have a son in your arms.” (v. 16) She was incredulous, but a year later, she had a son.
Fast forward a few years (2 Kings 4:18-37), and the boy is growing. Suddenly, one day he complains of severe head pain, and quickly dies in her lap. She immediately calls for donkeys to travel to see Elisha. Elisha tries to send an assistant to hold his staff over the boy’s head to bring him back to life, but the mother is insistent that Elisha come himself. Once they arrive at her house, the assistant goes in as Elisha directed, but nothing happened. What Elisha does next I’m pretty sure isn’t in any medical textbooks, but it worked!
32When Elisha got to the house, he discovered the boy lying dead on his bed. 33So he went in, closed the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. 34Then he went up and lay on the boy: he put mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. While he bent down over him, the boy’s flesh became warm. 35Elisha got up, went into the house, and paced back and forth. Then he went up and bent down over him again. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
(While these examples are of times that God chose to heal, He does not always make that choice. Both the Old and New Testaments have plenty of times where people died, and were not raised back to life; and, even these people did eventually die “for good.” Don’t at all think that because someone prays, even someone who is “right with God” or “spiritual” or a “great prayer warrior,” that God is bound to heal. He alone knows the plans He has for each of us. The remainder of this will focus on times when God does heal, but I wanted to address this before we continue.)
Returning to my questions from the beginning… Is God still in the healing business? The answer to that is an emphatic yes! One of the names of God in the Bible is Jehovah-Rophe, meaning “The Lord Who Heals.” This was used in Exodus 15:22-26, where God provided purification for the undrinkable water at Marah so His people could drink. In Luke 5:30-31, Jesus even used the picture of a physician when explaining why He spent so much time with sinners rather than with those who already practiced religion; if He can fix our sin, can’t He also fix our health? Also, over this past year, I have known people who have defeated cancer and overcome a drowning. God is definitely still in the healing business.
Does God still use people, like Peter and John, to walk up to someone and heal them just by speaking? This is where some of the contention comes in. I’m not interested in a deep theological debate, but I will say that I have not see this in my lifetime. While God could still use men (or women) in this way, He has generally used different techniques for different times. In our day and time, could you imagine the international storm that would be created by someone who did this? It is highly unlikely that this attention would point people towards God, which is the goal of everything God does. Besides, I don’t think He needs to, which brings me to the next question.
Don’t doctors heal more people than God these days? No. God has revealed medicine and the human body to physicians; He has granted drug makers the knowledge that they have, and the doctors the knowledge as to when their application is appropriate. He created the earth and everything on the earth; even if a drug is synthesized, it’s synthesized using material He created. This reminds me of a joke that I heard a while back - a group of scientists gets together and decides that they’re now smarter than God. So, one of them goes up to God and says, “You know, with human cloning and all the things we can create, we don’t really need You anymore.” God replies, “Then why don’t we have a man-making contest - and let’s do it old-school, like I did with Adam.” “No problem,” says the scientist, and he bends down and picks up a handful of dirt. “No, no, no,” said God, “get your own dirt!”
So, then, we see that all healing does come from God, whether He chooses to make cancer disappear, or whether He uses ibuprofen and a physical therapist, or whether He uses a replacement limb. Recognizing Him as the source for all healing, not just the miracles, enables us to more greatly see His hand at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.
We’ll definitely need some more context - let’s look beginning with verse 10, going through verse 20.
10as it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one. 13Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. 14Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. 15Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, 17and the path of peace they have not known. 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.
19Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. 20For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
The block quote in the passage above is a compilation of verses from the Old Testament. I won’t paste all of them here, but these can be found in Psalm 5:9, Psalm 10:7, Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 36:1, Psalm 53:1-3, Psalm 140:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, and Isaiah 59:7-8. In each of these passages, what immediately follows these descriptions is a call is for God to judge the people who are displaying these tendencies, and deliver His people from them. The passage in Isaiah is no different; the prophet writes how the Lord is going to judge those who have wronged Him and His people. Here’s how he described the coming judgment…
15Truth is missing,
and whoever turns from evil is plundered.
The Lord saw that there was no justice,
and He was offended.
16He saw that there was no man -
He was amazed that there was no one interceding;
so His own arm brought salvation,
and His own righteousness supported Him.
17He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and He wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak.
18Thus He will repay according to their deeds:
fury to His enemies,
retribution to His foes,
and He will repay the coastlands.
19They will fear the name of the Lord in the west,
and His glory in the east;
for He will come like a rushing stream
driven by the wind of the Lord.
That’s quite a picture! The “rushing stream driven by the wind” is a powerful image. We’ve seen images of floods on TV - it’s amazing how just a little bit of water can completely overpower anything in its path. This is a strong force, but it is not indiscriminate, like a normal flood; the Lord is repaying people according to their deeds. At this point, we may be thinking “Boy, I’m glad I’m not one of those people who has wronged Him or His people!” But, are we really innocent? Let’s take a look further in Romans 3…
23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
I once had a pastor who said that in this verse, “all” is from the Greek, meaning “all.” There is little ambiguity about whether you and I are part of the “all” that Paul is talking about - every one of us has sinned against God, and deserve any punishment we receive from Him.
So, we’ve wronged God, and God demands justice. How are we going to make this right? (Notice above in Isaiah 59:16, “His own arm brought salvation…”) Let’s see what Paul says.
21But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed - attested by the Law and the Prophets 22- that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.
The word “propitiation” is an interesting word. When I started reading versions other than the King James Version, I thought for sure that “propitiation” was one of those words that wouldn’t make it. However, the more modern translation versions NASB, ESV, NKJV, and HCSB all have this word in this verse! The NIV translates it “sacrifice of atonement,” and that’s a good way to put it. The dictionary defines propitiation as making something favorably inclined or appeasing it. God presented Jesus as a way to appease His demand for justice! Since Jesus appeases this demand, all we have to do is believe in Him and accept Him (v. 26 “He would… declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus”). Not only does he declare us righteous, God will “pass over the sins previously committed.” (v. 25)
This is really good news. I imagine your experience on this earth is much like mine in this regard - I simply cannot always do what I know I’m supposed to do. I get angry. I say mean things. I let resentment build in my heart. If it were up to me to apologize for my sins and try to do better, I would be toast. But, look at what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross can do for us! If we accept Him, God counts us righteous and doesn’t demand any further payment for our sin! (We may still have to deal with consequences here on earth - God forgives our sin; He never promised to save us from our bad decisions.)
Notice the end of verse 22 - “to all who believe, since there is no distinction.” There’s that “all” again, and yes, it’s still talking about you and me. This free gift, this payment for sin, is available to all people without distinction. Any race, any gender, any age, any marital status, any intelligence level, any financial status… well, you get the idea. Most importantly, it is available for you! If you are reading this, Jesus knew about you when He died on the cross; He paid for your sin with His life. All you have to do is accept that gift - as Paul and Silas told a jailer in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” If you would like more information on how to accept this gift, you can look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, which details more about this; also, feel free to contact me using the “Contact” link found at the top of the page.
In this passage, Paul is illustrating the access that we now have to the Lord by contrasting it with Moses’s encounter with God when he received the Ten Commandments, along with plans for the Tabernacle and other laws. Here is the description of this from Exodus:
18Then Moses said, “Please, let me see Your glory.”
19He said, “I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim the name Yahweh before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20But He answered, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” 21The Lord said, “Here is a place near Me. You are to stand on the rock, 22and when My glory passes by, I will put you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take My hand away, and you will see My back, but My face will not be seen.”
29As Moses descended from Mount Sinai - with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands as he descended the mountain - he did not realize that the skin of his face shone as a result of his speaking with the Lord. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face shone! They were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called out to them, so Aaron and all the leaders of the community returned to him, and Moses spoke to them. 32Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he commanded them everything the Lord had told him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34But whenever Moses went before the Lord to speak with Him, he would remove the veil until he came out. After he came out, he would tell the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35and the Israelites would see that Moses’ face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil over his face again until he went to speak with the Lord.
This is a very interesting story. In the first part, Moses has been taking down laws from God for quite some time (in the Scripture, since the bottom of chapter 20), and he asks to see Him. God tells him that he can’t look on His face and live, but he can see His back. In the second part, every time Moses spoke with God, he had to wear a veil on his face afterwards, because the people could not look on him due to how radiant his face was! In some sense, one’s closeness to God determined how much of His glory one could see. Only when Moses had entered into the inner part of the Tabernacle could he remove this veil.
Now, we come to the time after Jesus has come and given His life for us. Let’s look at today’s verse in its context.
12Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness - 13not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel could not look at the end of what was fading away. 14But their minds were closed. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside [only] in Christ. 15However, to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, 16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Let’s skip verse 12 for now, as verses 13-15 describe the way it “was” instead of the way it “is.” Moses put a veil over his face due to the closed-mindedness of the Israelites. In verse 15, “reading Moses” refers to the reading of the first five books of our Bible, what we call the Pentateuch, but Hebrews call the Torah - to this day, the Torah is read as part of traditional orthodox Judaism. It does not recognize Christ as having fulfilled the law, so the focus is continually on following the law given in these Scriptures. Paul says that when this happens, the veil remains.
Verse 12 and verses 16-18 describe the way it “is” now. We can use boldness because the veil has been removed. Verse 17 describes this as “freedom,” translated in the King James Version as “liberty.” We don’t have to go through a “closer-to-holy” intermediate person like Moses in order to get to God, and it’s not a one-way God-to-us communication either. We can go directly to Him, and He can speak directly to us, either in our hearts or through His Word. When Jesus was crucified, God even gave a symbol of this.
50Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. 51Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom…
This curtain was the entrance to the Holy of Holies, the inner part of the temple that was restricted to priests once a year to offer the sacrifices for the people. Jesus’s payment for our sins was complete - we are no longer restricted when coming before Him!
Finally, in verse 18, we see the reason for this. We come before God with no veil, and can view His glory directly. We benefit from this, as we are transformed and become closer to the image of God. However, this also benefits others - we, like Moses, should reflect this glory! Others should be able to look at us and see Him. This is my prayer this week - that we will become so close to God that we will reflect His glory to the world around us.
In this case, I believe that some context would help. Philippians 3:14 is a very popular verse, but let’s look at verses 12 through 16 to get the full picture.
12Not that I have already reached [the goal] or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this to you also. 16In any case, we should live up to whatever [truth] we have attained.
Paul was a traveling evangelist, and the last person to see Jesus face to face (Acts 9:1-7). If there was anyone on this earth who would have achieved “perfect Christian” status, it would have been Paul. But, here in verse 12, Paul tells the church that he is not a fully mature Christian - he still struggles to grow in Christ. In verses 13 and 14, he tells them that he doesn’t think that he’s arrived, but that he pushes on every day, reaching towards that goal.
In verse 15, Paul encourages the church to adopt his mindset. And, we should adopt it as well - none of us will ever know everything there is to know about the Christian life, and the blessings that God has in store for us. And, notice what Paul says will happen to us when we do this - if we “think differently about anything,” God will correct our errant thinking.
This brings us to verse 16. Whether we’re striving towards the goal, or we’re content to sit stagnant in our current level of knowledge and fellowship with God, we are responsible for living up to the knowledge we have. As the Spider-Man adage goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We have been given knowledge and power by the One Who has all the power and knowledge in the universe. We are definitely responsible for discharging this power and using this knowledge the way He wants us to.
When Jesus was on earth, He told a parable about a servant who had been given responsibility while a master was away, and what happens when that servant does not faithfully use what he has been given.
42The Lord said: "Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time? 43That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded. 44I tell you the truth: he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten. 48But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly. Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.
Notice verses 47 and 48 - the one who knew what he was supposed to do and did not do it would be punished severely, while the one who didn’t know what he was supposed to do would be punished much more lightly. In the case of us knowing God’ Word, though, knowing that God expects us to study and learn the Bible means that we know our Master’s will.
So, then, our responsibility with regards to Philippians 3:12-16 is two-fold. First, we must strive to know God on a deeper, more intimate level, and the way to do that is by studying His Word. Second, we must live up to the knowledge that we do have. While ignorance of the law does not necessarily make one’s actions illegal, knowingly violating the law not only makes one’s actions illegal, but shows a lack of respect for laws and the ones who have made them. The same principle applies spiritually - knowingly disobeying God’s laws shows contempt for the One who has made them.
I pray that each of us will gain knowledge and understanding, and, having gained it, be able to live up to its expectations in our lives.
This is an end-of-the-letter salutation from Paul to the church at Thessalonica. Paul began and ended most all of his letters by talking about the “grace and peace” of our Lord, and his hope that it would remain with those to whom he was writing. This theme of peace is one that is woven throughout the Bible. The word “peace” (or some form of it, like “peacemaker”, “peaceful”, etc.) is found in 266 verses in the HCSB. We’re not going to look at the other 265 verses, but we’ll look at a few of them.
Peace was used as a greeting to Gideon…
23But the Lord said to him, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die.”
In these four verses, we see a common theme - the source of peace is God, through His Son Jesus. But how to we get this peace? Ask God for it! According to Peter, the disciple of Jesus who went on to lead the early church…
10For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, 11and he must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it, 12because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.