Countforward: How Long?

“He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ ” (Acts 1:9-11)

I don’t think countforward is a real word, but we’re not counting down any more. The countdown was finished when Jesus walked out of his tomb alive and more powerful than ever. Now the clock is moving forward toward the day he will return.

count_350In the verses right before these, Jesus said we don’t get to know how long. Nobody knows the hour or the day – but there is a specific hour, a day on the calendar, coming. He will be back. The Father knows exactly when.

In the meantime, we have a job to do, you and me and all those who believe all of these things we’ve been talking about all week. We have a job to use real power – the same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead at work in us – to be witnesses of what we’ve seen that power accomplish.

It’s a job that matters. And the clock is ticking. That’s the message of Acts 1.

Think: Are you looking forward to the return of Christ? What difference does his promised return make in your life? How seriously do you take the call to be his witness in your world?

Pray: Ask God to help you to make the best use of the power and time he gives to you to accomplish whatever he asks of you in this life.

Do: Read Acts 1 all the way through.

Easter Countdown: Zero Hour

” ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.’ ” (Mark 16:6)

You know it’s a big deal when the angels show up – and the news is almost always good. This time, it was maybe the best news in human history. The Son of God, dead and buried, was alive. (Just like he said.)

count_350God wouldn’t have had to send angels to let Jesus’ friends and followers know the Messiah was risen. Jesus would appear to them soon enough. But God the Father seems to love making announcements about his Son. (Notice how similar the angels’ message is to the birth announcement delivered 33 years earlier – “You will not find him wrapped in cloths and lying in this tomb. See?”)

The watch had stopped. From the moment God created time, it had been counting down to this – the payment for sin complete, death defeated, the promise of new life for all who believe, and the hope of living forever in the family of God.

Let the world rejoice.

Think: Are you impressed with the power it took to bring Jesus back to life? What are a few of the ways that Jesus’ resurrection has changed – and will change – your life?

Pray: Praise God for raising Jesus from the dead and making it possible for you to one day be raised to new life, as well.

Do: Watch this.

Easter Countdown: 3 Days

“Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ ” (Matthew 26:38-39)

Yesterday, we saw that Jesus knew – had known all along – that his path was leading to the agony of the cross. Today’s verse shows he didn’t march forward without feeling it.

count_350No, he was “overwhelmed with sadness to the point of death.” Is it hard for you to hear him say that before going to the cross for us? It is for me – not out of guilt or shame so much as because I’ve learned to love him now. His sadness in suffering for me makes me sad; I don’t want to see him hurt.

And in the middle of his sadness, he shows me how to respond to God in my own sadness. Instead of using his profound sorrow as an excuse to serve himself, to indulge in self-pity or disobedience (as I have done), he sets his own will aside for the will of the Father.

Think: How often do you use your hard circumstances or painful emotions as a justification to reject God’s will for you and go your own way? What’s the cost of rejecting God’s will when we’re at our lowest point?

Pray: Thank God that Jesus chose the will of his father even when he was overwhelmed with sadness. Ask him to help you to do the same.

Do: Think about Jesus’ act of obedience this weekend as you wait for Easter morning.

Easter Countdown: 1 Year

“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

Jesus was not surprised. By any of it. He knew who Isaiah was writing about. He knew why the angels’ birth announcement called him Savior. He knew why John the Baptist called him the Lamb of God. And he said it right out loud to his followers long before Palm Sunday or Good Friday or Easter morning.

count_350Jesus knew He would die. He knew he would be betrayed. He knew he would be rejected. And he knew the suffering would be intense.

And he kept going, kept walking straight toward the buzz saw. He refused to avoid the choices, words, or confrontations that would create the perfect storm of political, religious, and criminal animosity that would leave him hanging dead on the cross as the substitute and sacrifice for our sin.

Think: Are you awed by Jesus’ courage? Are you amazed by his lifelong commitment to the mission his Father sent him to complete?

Pray: Thank God for Jesus’ courage and commitment to successfully complete the mission he came to fulfill, knowing all along exactly what it would mean for him.

Do: If you’re interested in reading from the Bible what happened on each day of the week leading up to the Resurrection check out this collection of posts from Justin Taylor’s blog.

Easter Countdown: 3 Years

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ ” (John 1:29)

We’re leaping forward 30 years from the birth of Jesus to the beginning of his three-year ministry before the cross. His cousin John the Baptist declares to all who will listen exactly who Jesus is – the Lamb of God.

count_350But how can a lamb take away sin? All those who heard John’s words understood. They had seen the lambs slaughtered as a sacrifice to temporarily pay for their sin. They had seen the blood; they had counted on the fact that those lambs bled as a substitute for them.

Jesus, too, would be sacrificed, along with a quarter of a million lambs killed during Passover. That’s the estimate of some historians of the time, that more than 250,000 lambs were sacrificed in Jerusalem during the Passover celebrations every year.

Those were the lambs of the people. Jesus was the Lamb of God, slaughtered to take away – permanently – the sins of the world, of all those who trust in him for their salvation.

Think: If someone asked why Jesus was sacrificed like a lamb to pay for our sins, how would you explain it?

Pray: Thank God for sacrificing his Son Jesus as a lamb to take away the sin of the world.

Do: Read Hebrews 10:1-14 to hear more about Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice.

Easter Countdown: 33 Years

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ ” (Luke 2:10-12)

We’re time traveling this week as we countdown to Resurrection Sunday. We’ve jumped more than 650 years from Isaiah’s prophesy of the crucifixion to the announcement of Jesus’ birth.

count_350This “good news of great joy” feels different to me when we’re standing closer to the cross than to the Christmas tree. We know at Christmas that Jesus was born to be the Savior, but we remember at Easter that his saving mission was to suffer and die for our sins before being raised back to life.

The words in these verses were followed by an army of angels splitting the night sky to praise God for this act of peace, this gift of his favor. The Father wasn’t subtle when announcing his son or Jesus’ reason for coming to be with us.

Think: Why do you think God announced the Savior with angels? What other moments in Jesus’ life can you think of when God either spoke himself or sent angels to tell someone something about Jesus?

Pray: Thank God for the good news of great joy that he sent Jesus to be our Savior.

Do: Read Mark 16:6 and notice the similarities between that Resurrection announcement and this birth announcement.

Easter Countdown: 700 Years

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

According to Bible scholars, the prophet Isaiah wrote these words 700 years before Jesus was crushed, punished, wounded, and killed for our sins. And if you read the whole chapter of Isaiah 53, you’ll see that it describes both what happened and why it happened in some detail.

count_350That would be like discovering a document from the 1300s clearly describing what has happened in our time. It’s almost as if the same God who sent Jesus to live and then die and then live again told Isaiah about it ahead of time. And that’s exactly what we believe.

For our study this week, we’re going to start the countdown clock for Easter with Isaiah and start leapfrogging forward in time each day as we get closer and closer to the discovery of that empty tomb. Our first leap will be the biggest, so come back tomorrow.

Think: If God is outside of time, how hard would it be for him to reveal to Isaiah something that was going to happen 700 years in the future? Does thinking about this give you more or less confidence in the reliability of God’s Word?

Pray: Thank God for sending Jesus to be pierced, crushed, punished, and wounded for our sins so we could have peace with God and be healed.

Do: Read the whole chapter of Isaiah 53.

Late Night with Jesus: Why Would He Give His Son?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

As the proud dad of a son, I cannot imagine any amount of love that would compel me to trade his life for, well, anyone’s. My instinct is to protect him from any bad guys, from anyone that might hurt him.

latenight_350God’s enormous love compelled him to do exactly the opposite; he traded Jesus’ life for the lives of all of us bad guys: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

I don’t get it, honestly. But I love my Father for sending his Son to let me be his son, too. My belief in Jesus was all he required to sign the adoption papers to change me from sinner to son, to save me from eternal death and give me the eternal life I could never earn.

Think: Have you ever wondered why God acted first to save us while we were still against him? Would we ever have been able to reach him if he had not acted to save us?

Pray: Thank your Father for the gift of his son Jesus and the gift of eternal life through believing in him.

Do: Pray the prayer above later today again.

Hear and Do: Pure Religion

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

The new Testament uses this word translated “religion” only 4 times. It’s not surprising. The apostles were teaching a radical move away from the rigid structure of the Law and into a greater understanding of God’s grace and how we can love and trust him more deeply and with greater freedom.

heardo_350That said, there’s nothing wrong with practicing our faith in an organized and systematic way. Religion isn’t a bad thing if that religion is built on God’s Word and our understanding of his grace. We do not save ourselves by being more “religious.”

That said, too, any system of following God that is based on His Word will include two major lifestyle choices – taking care of women and children who need family and money and not letting the world’s values water down our obedience to God.

Think: How are you “doing” God’s Word when it comes to helping the needy and shaking loose of the world’s values?

Pray: Ask God to help you grow in your helpfulness to needy people and in how you avoid letting the world’s values set the course for your life.

Do: If you don’t know, ask someone what your church does to help “widows and orphans in their distress”?

Hear and Do: Whoa Tongue

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)

We’re fond of saying Christianity is not religion; it’s a relationship with God through Jesus. And that makes sense. We usually think of religion as man trying to reach God. Christianity is God taking the initiative to redeem humans, adopting us as his children.

heardo_350But James is writing to a religious people. He doesn’t want them to be content in mindlessly following all the rules and regulations of their practice. He wants them (and us) to ask if their worship is changing them. And the number one measuring stick for change in humans is the words that come out of our mouths.

Don’t lie to yourselves, he says. If your religion isn’t giving you control over your words – if you still spew verbal unkindness, immorality, deception, and hostility – then your religion isn’t working.

Think: Does your “faith practice” work? Are you finding yourself changed in the way you talk, in the words you choose?

Pray: Ask God to help you see how your genuine relationship with him is genuinely changing you to be more like Jesus.

Do: Listen to how the people in your life talk this week. Notice anyone whose religious faith is or is not making a difference in their choice of words.

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