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.

Not Home Yet: His Love is Stronger

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Are you a list-maker? Do you love to itemize and bullet-point your way through homework assignments, top tens, and potential dates? The apostle Paul was a serious list-maker; you can see it all the way through his writing in the New Testament. And today’s two verses might be my favorite of all his lists. (It would, at least, make the top three.)

nothome_350Even better: His list is the Word of God. It is absolutely and unalterably true. These are, in fact, the things which canNOT separate us from the love of God that we experience through Jesus. The list could almost be summed up as “everything in all the universes combined.”

Bottom line: There is nothing left for us to be afraid of. There is nothing left to worry about stealing us away from God’s forever love for us. Nothing spiritual. Nothing physical. Nothing inside of us. Nothing outside of us. Nothing bigger. Nothing smaller. Nothing now. Nothing then.

God’s love for us is stronger than all of it. As people in Christ, we will not ever be unloved, rejected, unwelcome, or turned away. He is now and will always be our Father.

Think: If you’ve ever worried that your salvation was not secure, that God’s love for you could be lost, what did you think might somehow steal it away? Is that thing covered by Paul’s list?

Pray: Thank God that nothing will ever separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Do: Write today’s verse as a list wherever you normally write lists and find a way to look it over a few times during the next week.

Not Home Yet: Who Will Separate Us?

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’ ” (Romans 8:35-37)

Greeting cards and love songs have sucked all of the meaning out of words like “love” and “forever.” We toss them around too easily and forget what they really mean. No matter how romantically it is delivered, very few of us really believe the phrase, “I will never stop loving you.”

nothome_350Paul wasn’t being romantic. He wasn’t writing a pop hit or a Valentine’s Day card from Jesus. He was stating cold, hard fact: Jesus will not ever – no never – stop loving anyone who is in Christ, a Jesus-follower, a Christian.

The promise wasn’t that nothing bad would ever happen. Just the opposite: Terrible things will happen in this life. Death. Torture. Disease. Hunger. No, the promise was that there is power – eternal, life-giving power to keep trusting God – that comes with the endless, unconditional, superglue love of Christ.

No matter how bad it gets, his love will give you the power to keep hoping, to keep believing and waiting and living for the Day.

Think: What’s the value of being loved by the Son of God forever? Why does it matter?

Pray: Thank God that nothing will ever separate you from the love of Christ. Thank him that you will be “more than a conquerer” through the One who loves you.

Do: Look up the word “conquer” in a dictionary and write down one of the definitions. Think about what it means to be more than a conqueror in terrible times.

Not Home Yet: God is Strong Enough

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:33-34)

I’ve got a good friend right now waiting for a judge to make a decision that could change his whole life. The judge has to decide if my friend is telling the truth or if the other person is. He is listening to the accusations and defenses from both sides. What’s at stake could impact my friend’s life for years and years to come.

nothome_350Paul is using the metaphor of a court of law here at the end of Romans 8. We were the ones on trial for our sin, and we know we’ve done things that someone could use to get us condemned. We have sinned. We were guilty.

But Paul wants us to hear loud and clear that the judge has already declared us NOT guilty. He already condemned Jesus to serve our sentence, to pay the price. Jesus has already died for us. The trial, conviction, and sentencing phases have all ended. The case is complete.

Even if the enemy comes back to accuse us of more sin, God has already ruled. And Jesus stands nearby, continually making the case for us: “I paid for that sin. And that one. You already ruled, Father. The case is over. The defendant is forgiven.”

Think: Do you ever feel like you are the one accusing yourself to God, convinced that your sins are too big to be forgiven? Why is that attitude prideful? How does it make less of the price Jesus paid for our sin?

Pray: Thank God for justifying you. Thank him that Jesus is at his right hand interceding for you.

Do: Next time you see a court case on TV, remember that God has already declared you forgiven.

Not Home Yet: God is For You

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)

How can God love me after all the gross stuff I’ve done? And he’s got to know how much I want to do even grosser stuff, right? Can he really look past all of that? And if he does love me so much, why did that terrible thing just happen? Couldn’t he have stopped it? Is He punishing me? Is he mad at me? And if he has a plan for my life, why don’t I have a clue what to do next?

nothome_350Those are all important questions, but Paul wants us to set them aside long enough to understand one bottom-line answer:

God is for you. And he proved it when he traded Jesus’ life for yours.

God is for you, and he will give you everything you need – and much, much more. You can trust him.

Think: Are you completely convinced that God is for you? Are you convinced that he will give you everything you need and many things you really really want?

Pray: Thank God that he is for you and will graciously give you all things. Ask him to help you to be more and more convinced of that.

Do: Write down three of your hardest questions about your relationship with God, then write down this statement under each of them: “God is for me.”