Key Bible Verse: “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’” – John 18:4
Bonus Reading: John 18:1-12
Jesus has led His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. Out of the darkness we see lanterns and torches winding their way across the Mount of Olives toward the Garden. Judas leads Roman soldiers and Jewish officers. Jesus knows what is about to happen. But He doesn’t cower in the corner; He goes out to them and asks whom they are seeking. They reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus answers with three short words, “I am He,” and the power of His words knock Judas, the soldiers and the officers backward. Firmly in control of the situation, Jesus orders the guards to let His disciples go. The soldiers obey, and they flee away into the dark.
Not only did Jesus protect His disciples, He also made one last attempt to reach Judas. In the dark hour to come, when Judas would be overwhelmed with guilt, Jesus wanted him to remember this moment. Jesus was not a helpless victim swept away by Judas’ kiss. Jesus was in complete control. He permitted Himself to be arrested, tried, condemned and crucified. He could have stopped it at any time. But because of His love for the Father and for each of us, He will not end it but carry it through to its completion—and our ultimate salvation.
Because He loves us so much when those powers of darkness were trying their worst, so He also loves us when those powers of darkness come after you in your life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for stepping forward to suffer death for our sins, even death by crucifixion. Give us courage and confidence in the dark hours of our lives to remember that You are still completely in control. Amen.
Palm Sunday (March 25) – 11:00 am
Maundy Thursday (March 29)- Communion – 7:00 pm
Good Friday (March 30) – 7:00 pm
Easter Sunday Sunrise (April 1) – 6:00 am at Grandview Cemetery (Breakfast to follow)
Easter Sunday (April 1) – 11:00 am
Please join us for these special times of worship this Lent.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18
Key Bible Verse: “When Jesus had spoken these words, He lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.’” – John 17:1
Bonus Reading: John 17
Jesus has finished His Last Supper and offers a special prayer before leading His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. We call it the High Priestly Prayer because Jesus our great High Priest offers prayers for Himself, His apostles, and all who believe in Him.
Jesus first prays that God the Father would glorify Himself through Jesus’ coming death. The Roman cross was never connected with glory; it was a symbol of shame and dishonor. St. Paul would call it a “stumbling block to the Jews” and “foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:22). The Jews stumbled over the idea that God would let His own Son suffer and die on a cross, rather than sit in glory on a throne. The Gentiles thought it foolishness that you could receive salvation through someone else’s execution.
Jesus prays to His Father to keep His eleven disciples in His Name. He is about to leave this world, so He asks the Father to keep them in faith, that believing they may share the one true Gospel, which brings salvation by God’s grace through faith for Jesus’ sake.
The final part of Jesus’ prayer touches us, and all who have heard and believed the words of the apostles. May we glorify Him by trusting in Jesus as our only Savior from our sin and death, and tell others of His great and incomparable love.
Prayer: Lord God, as You glorified Your Son Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection, keep us in Your Name through this true faith, and bless us to share it with all those around us. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “… ‘You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.’” – John 16:20b
Bonus Reading: John 16:16-24
The disciples’ heads are spinning at everything Jesus has said to them at His Last Supper. Now He tells them, “A little while, and you will see Me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” They want to know what He means, but are afraid to ask; maybe they’re more afraid to hear the answer He would give.
But it shouldn’t be a mystery. For months Jesus has told them what will happen in Jerusalem. He warned them He would be handed over, beaten, scourged and crucified. He told them He would die and on the third day rise again. Now all His predictions are about to come true. They will be sorrowful, but their sorrow will turn to joy.
The disciples aren’t all that different from us. All of us would prefer to see joy and happiness all through our earthly lives, and none of us is too happy when sorrow, grief, weeping and lamenting come around. We try so hard to deny those things will happen to us, that we miss the tremendous comfort in Jesus’ promise of the resurrection.
Jesus has died and risen again. He promises to come again to restore this fallen creation, and to change our mortal bodies so they will be glorious, immortal and eternally perfect. That fact of Jesus’ resurrection coupled with His promise to give us new eternal life at His return can give us a lasting joy that no one can take away— no matter what sorrow and loss we suffer in this our earthly life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for Your victory over our sin, death and hell. Thank You for the promise Your resurrection brings—eternal life with You. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me.” – John 14:1
Bonus Reading: John 13:36-14:7
What a confusing, depressing night! Their Lord and Master washes their feet like a slave; He tells them the unthinkable that one of them will betray Him. Then Jesus tells Peter, the boldest of the Twelve, that this very night, before the rooster crows at sunrise, Peter will deny knowing Him. What a confusing, depressing night! Looking around at His disciples, Jesus knows just how troubled and shaken they are.
He knows how we get shaken up too. He knows the circumstances that crush us, problems that confound us, and the pressures that weigh on us. Yet through it all He is always at our side. Jesus tells us to turn our eyes away from our problems and focus our attention on Him. Believe in God the Father and believe also in Jesus. He assures us that we will not always live in this world of hurt, pain and sorrow, but He is preparing a safe, joyous and wonderful place for us to live with Him forever.
We know where we are going because Jesus is the Way to heaven. He came to this earth not to be our example to guide us to heaven by our good living, but to earn heaven for us by His perfect life, innocent death and glorious resurrection. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Perhaps these devotions find you or someone you love drawing near to death. In the midst of our sorrows, fears and anxieties when we focus on Jesus His mighty word calms our fears and stills our hearts.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, bring peace to my troubled heart and mind, and give me the Spirit that I may believe in You always. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “… ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’” – John 13:21b
Bonus Reading: John 13:21-30
“One of you will betray Me.” Judas must be totally shocked by Jesus’ words. One by one the disciples ask a question that floats around the table. With rising suspense Judas watches the question work its way around the table to him—and he even joins his voice to theirs: “Is it I, Lord?”
If Judas’ voice didn’t give him away, what Jesus does next will make it crystal clear. He dips the morsel of bread and hands it directly to Judas.
Have you ever stopped to think about how Jesus turned the tables on Judas?
At this moment the betrayer is at the mercy of the One he was going to betray. Jesus holds Judas in the palm of His hand. With a word Jesus can betray Judas to the other disciples, who are armed with several swords. Jesus is in complete control; He can betray Judas. Instead, our Lord sends His betrayer on his way: “What you are going to do, do quickly.” As Judas rushes out from the danger, the other disciples have no idea what Jesus means.
Which one of us hasn’t betrayed another—gossiping secrets that should never have been shared or exposing another’s shame just to flatter our own self-righteous pride? How often have we in effect handed Jesus’ over to His enemies by our sinful actions or our silence?
Judas walked out into the darkness. But in this same darkness Jesus will still reach out to him one last time when Judas leads the soldiers into the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Him. Jesus still reaches out to you and me with hands that bear the mark of the nails.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your steadfast love is amazing to me. Keep reaching out to bring me back from my sins. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “… (Jesus said) ‘You are clean, but not every one of you.’ …” –John 13:10b
Bonus Reading: John 13:1-20
Jesus has preached His last message to the crowds. Now He spends one final night before His suffering and death with His disciples in the upper room, preparing them for what is about to happen.
In the middle of supper Jesus does something totally unexpected. Taking off His outer garments He goes around the table washing the disciples’ feet one by one, the way the lowliest slave in the household would. It is a demonstration of His absolute humility, love and care—a demonstration He will repeat for the whole world the next day on the cross.
For Peter it is too much. He objects and receives a firm correction from Jesus: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Then Peter goes to the other extreme asking Jesus to wash all of him. Jesus points out that the one who has had a bath does not need to bathe again, only to wash the part of him that is unclean.
Jesus is pointing to Judas, the one who has abandoned his Lord and become unclean and is even now awaiting the chance to betray Him. The other eleven are forgiven, cleansed of their sins because they still walk in the light by faith; Judas has rejected that light and walks in darkness. Very gently Jesus reaches out to His lost disciple in an unforgettable demonstration of His love, forgiveness and acceptance. It’s a demonstration He wants Judas to remember when he is gripped by guilt and remorse for what he is about to do.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive my wandering heart. Help me to see Your great love for me and remember what You have done to save me. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself. ” – John 12:32
Bonus Reading: John 12:33-50
The crowds are confused. Jesus has told them He will be “lifted up,” and they know exactly what He means. Being “lifted up from the earth” was a familiar phrase describing death on a cross. But they all know the Christ remains forever, so how can Jesus be the Christ if He will die on a cross?
It’s easy for us to share that confusion too. God’s light doesn’t always make sense to our sin-darkened minds. Jesus simply tells them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.” Satan is always trying to overtake us, trying to snatch away the light from us.
One of the tools he uses is the confusing things that happen in this life, things that don’t always make sense to us. Often our search for answers leads us to question God and doubt His love. Jesus just encourages us to walk in Him. He invites us to lay those questions at the foot of His cross, to focus instead on the extent of His love for us. It’s a love that moved Him to lay down His life in terrible suffering that we might be forgiven.
We don’t understand every reason for everything that happens to us. And we won’t always find all the answers to all our questions,
but we don’t have to. We only need to walk in Christ’s light and keep looking to Him. At the right time He will make everything clear.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I don’t always understand the things I see around me. Help me to come to Your Son’s cross, that there I may know Your love and receive Your strength. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “‘Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.’” – John 12:27
Bonus Reading: John 12:27-33
Jesus has just told His disciples why He has come to Jerusalem: He is to suffer and die for the world. But the thought is not easy for Jesus to face. He says, “Now is My soul troubled.” We see that turmoil again when He falls on His face in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
(see Luke 22).
Here He prays, “Father, glorify Your Name.” He doesn’t ask the Father to save Him from the cross but to use His suffering and death on the cross to glorify His Name. He wants people to look at the cross and believe that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” In Gethsemane God will send an angel to strengthen His Son, but here He speaks to Jesus. “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
We all come face to face with overwhelming situations and struggles in life—heartbreak and loss, grief beyond telling, the shadow of death—whether our own or that of a loved one.
Jesus has come to this hour in His life to be the answer to the overwhelming situations in each of our lives. He will be raised up to draw all men to Himself.
This was done so that in Jesus Christ each of us might find the answer to our problems, the courage for the trials we face and the victory over Satan who brought all these situations upon us through his temptation.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You glorified Your Name in the sufferings of Your beloved Son Jesus Christ. Glorify Your Name through me as You give me strength and courage to face the difficult times in my life. I pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’” – John 12:23-24
Bonus Reading: John 12:20-26
Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph. The disciples were convinced He was about to establish His throne in Jerusalem, so Jesus had to teach them a tough lesson.
Christ Jesus stood alone, the only man whose life on this earth was perfect and worthy of earning heaven. But unless He died on the cross in our place He would remain alone, and we would all perish eternally in hell. By dying in our place, taking our sins on Himself and paying the full price God’s justice demanded, Jesus would save us all, and open wide the gates of heaven.
Our earthly life is similar in many ways. If we wish to selfishly save our earthly life, we will lose it. But if we hate our earthly life in comparison, longing for that better, heavenly life, we will keep it for eternity. Thankfully, Jesus leads the way for us. He did not love His earthly life so much that He was not willing to lay it down on the cross. No, He was looking forward to a better, eternal life with us—a life made possible only through His suffering, death and resurrection.
It’s a good time for us as individuals to stop and examine our attitudes toward our lives, as well as our willingness to leave them all behind for Jesus and the eternal life He gives.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for offering us eternal life through Your Son Jesus Christ. Help us all to hate this life in this dark, sinful world that we may keep our lives eternally in Your light. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after Him.’” – John 12:19
Bonus Reading: John 12:12-19
The great Festival of Passover is near. Huge crowds make their way across the countryside toward Jerusalem, and our Lord Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, riding on a donkey.
The Pharisees throw up their hands in fear and frustration. They say to each other “You see that you are gaining nothing.” The situation is totally out of control. But again they will not stop to consider Jesus’ claims. They only react in frustration and fear of what Jesus might do with the huge Passover crowds gathering around Him in Jerusalem.
It is fascinating to compare their reaction to that of the crowds. The crowds cry out to Jesus, “Hosanna,” which means “help” or “save.” And they are right. The Lord Jesus is the mighty Son of God, who has come to battle Satan, sin, death and hell. He alone can save us from our bitter enemies.
As we begin this week of Jesus’ suffering and death for our sins, we notice He is completely in control. We will notice He is in control through this entire week—clear up to and including His arrest, trials and crucifixion.
That’s important to remember when we look at our own lives. Often we are as fearful and frustrated as the Pharisees, realizing situations in our lives are totally out of control. We can throw up our hands like the Pharisees, or call upon Jesus as the crowds do, remembering that Jesus is still in control, sitting at the right hand of the Father and guiding all things for our good.
Prayer: Lord, please help and save us, especially when circumstances are at their worst and totally out of our control. Remind us that they are never beyond Your control. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.’” – John 12:7-8
Bonus Reading: John 12:1-8
Mary is very grateful to Jesus. She has heard His wonderful words and received her brother Lazarus back from death. As her family gathers around the table with Jesus and His disciples for dinner, she pours an expensive ointment over Jesus’ feet and wipes it with her hair.
Her generosity should be an inspiration for Jesus’ disciples. But it only stirs the darkness in Judas. He complains how the ointment was worth nearly a year’s wages and that the money should have gone to the poor instead. But Jesus stands up in her defense. He boldly commands Judas to leave her alone. She has done this to honor Him, and the scent of that perfume will linger on His body throughout His trials, crucifixion and burial in the coming days.
Do we have Mary’s tremendous sense of gratitude and love for our Lord? Do we really appreciate what He has done for us, what He has given to us, and the promise of a glorious future because of Him?
How striking to compare Mary’s devotion with that of Judas—who has replaced his devotion to Jesus with a love for money. For, as John tells us, Judas had no intention of helping the poor with that money. He only wanted to get his hands on it—as he had stolen money from the disciples’ moneybag many times before. Sadly, in the next few days he will do far worse for a much smaller amount of money.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, stir up in my heart true love, gratitude and appreciation for all Jesus has done for me. I pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.’ … So from that day on they made plans to put Him to death.” – John 11:49-50, 53
Bonus Reading: John 11:45-57
In Lazarus’ resurrection on the fourth day, Jesus performed an undeniable miracle greater and more widely known than healing a man born blind. Since this miracle took place near Jerusalem word spread quickly, which the Jewish leaders found to be particularly troubling. But they never stopped to ask if they might be wrong, if Jesus might possibly be the Christ.
They only knew many people were seeing Lazarus and believing in Jesus. Gathering their Council together, they searched for some kind of answer—something they could do to stop the madness.
Finally, the high priest broke through it all. He alone seemed to realize there was only one solution: Jesus must die. If Jesus continued living, the entire nation would be destroyed. And from that moment on, the Jewish leaders sought Jesus’ death.
But God had long ago reached that same decision. In fact, John tells us that Caiaphas did not say this on his own, but the Holy Spirit inspired him to say it. It was the truth. If Jesus would not die on the cross for the sins of the world, then the entire Jewish nation would be destroyed, and with it you and me and all people. If this one man died, then all of us could live.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, what amazing humility You showed in being willing to be put to death to save me and all people. Give Your Church true faith and gratitude that we may tell Your story to all people. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” – John 11:25-26
Bonus Reading: John 11:1-44
Jesus is about to do one of His greatest miraculous signs. He receives a frantic message to come to Lazarus who is gravely ill. But Jesus remains where He is. His disciples think Jesus is avoiding Jerusalem where the crowds had tried to stone Him a short time ago. But Jesus waits two days before finally heading out for Bethany, a small village near Jerusalem. Thomas tells his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
Jesus finally arrives after Lazarus has been dead four days. Martha says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” But Jesus had a reason for His delay. Jewish rabbis believed a person’s soul hovered over the body for three days, and then finally departed when decomposition set in. By waiting for the fourth day, Jesus would be performing a miracle none of the Jewish leaders could deny.
Sometimes we get confused by the struggles in our life. Like Martha we plead with the Lord to help, but when we need Him most He seems to delay, or not to hear. But Jesus has a purpose and a plan for everything He does for us.
Jesus told Martha “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus proved that by raising Lazarus from the dead—and by His own resurrection on the third day. When we are discouraged, beaten down and depressed, we can look to Jesus and know our future is secure.
Prayer: Lord, give me confidence in Your victory during the dark days when I need You the most. Amen.
Don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead one hour tonight, or you’ll be arriving for your Sunday morning worship service just when everyone is leaving!
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me.” … “and I lay down My life for the sheep.” – John 10:14, 15b
Bonus Reading: John 10:11-39
In today’s reading Jesus identifies Himself as our Good Shepherd. This, of course, means that we are like sheep. That automatically says two things about us: we are helpless creatures, and we have powerful enemies against which we are defenseless. But are the crowds willing to admit this—that they need Jesus to be their shepherd?
Jesus tells them He will freely lay down His life to save them from their enemies. He will lay it down on Good Friday when He is nailed to the cross and gives up His life for the sins of the world. But He will take it up again on the third day when He rises in glorious victory.
The crowds hear this great news, and find themselves divided yet again! Some say He has a demon, or He is insane. But others, thinking how Jesus healed the man born blind, ask, “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Jesus made some very bold statements about Himself and the work He came to do. Few are as powerful or as comforting as these words. Jesus Christ has been pleased to take us as His very own sheep, and will guard us, protect us, lead us to good pasture, care for us in body and soul and finally lead us through death to life everlasting.
Jesus stretches out His hand to you today. If you are His sheep, listen to His voice, He will protect you from all enemies and guide you safely home to paradise. He promises that nothing can snatch you out of His hands.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for offering to hold me firmly and safely in Your hands. Let me never wander away in unbelief. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’” – John 9:39
Bonus Reading: John 9:24-41
Over and over again Jesus’ light shone over the people around Him through His words and His countless miracles. But the Jewish leaders refused to see. Despite a thorough investigation into Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, they can find no way to disprove the miracle. Still, they refuse to believe the evidence right before them.
But Jesus isn’t ready to give up on them yet. If they won’t accept the evidence, maybe they will listen to the man who had been healed. In eloquent testimony the man told them, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” But again, they stubbornly refuse to see the light and answer, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” Then they threw out the man born blind.
Hearing that he had been thrown out, Jesus found him and revealed Himself to him. Jesus told those around Him that He came to give sight to the blind, and blindness to those who see. Some Pharisees heard Him say this and asked if they were blind. Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
That is a terrifying thought. These Jewish leaders had seen overwhelming evidence time and again that Jesus is the promised Savior, God’s Son, yet they refused to believe.
How much evidence have we seen? How many Bible readings have we heard in services? How many times have we received Holy Communion? Do we believe?
Prayer: Lord, You know the darkness within each of us, take away my blindness and help me see Jesus clearly through the eyes of faith. Amen.
In John 8 we read,
“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’”
The whole scene was a plot to trick Jesus. Once again, Jesus perplexes me. He simply squats down and starts playing in the dirt.
Then I read Numbers 5:11-31 and I think Jesus was having a silent conversation with the Pharisees.
Go ahead and read the passage. See if you catch it.
To my North American eyes, the passage is outrageous. What does barley flour, holy water and dust from the tabernacle floor have to do with sexual sin?
During a trial for sexual sin, the priest mixed water and dust from the tabernacle floor. If the accused could drink it and not get sick, the person was innocent. If the accused got sick, a curse would be on them.
In John 8, the woman brought before Jesus had already been caught in the act. Her guilt was sure: she knew it, the Pharisees knew it.
After reading Numbers 5, it appears that Jesus touching the dirt was a nod to the law and its demands for guilt. Yet Jesus put the leaders on trial, expecting them to take inventory of their hearts.
Like the adulteress and the Pharisees, our guilt before God is sure. If we were required to drink the cup of bitter water that God’s justice requires, we would surely die.
In the coming days, Jesus would pay for their guilt and mine, drinking the cup we all deserved, carrying our curse.
On days like today, it is good for me to see a glimpse of what my sin cost Jesus by remembering the law. It was, after all, initiated by God so that I might experience God’s holiness and see more fully my need.
It increases my gratitude for Him.
It fills in my understanding of His unrelenting love for me.
It causes my heart to soften toward Him in worship.
How does a deeper understanding of the law affect you today?
Key Bible Verse: “Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such things?’ And there was a division among them.” – John 9:16
Bonus Reading: John 9:1-16
Leaving the temple grounds Jesus passes through Jerusalem. Along the way His disciples point out a man born blind. They ask if his blindness is a result of his parents’ sin or his own. Jesus rejects both claims, and says this man was born blind so the works of God may be displayed in him. Then Jesus gave the man sight.
When word reaches the Pharisees there is a sharp division among them. Some immediately reject Jesus because He healed on the Sabbath day. Blinded by their tradition they are unable to see God’s great purpose for the Sabbath—to let people rest from their labors and let God work in their lives. Others realize the magnitude of the work Jesus has done. Like Nicodemus before (see John 3), they know no sinful man could perform such a mighty miracle. So a division arises among the Pharisees.
Jesus continues to divide people today. Some listen to His words, consider His miracles and are led by the Holy Spirit to the certain faith that He is God’s Son, the Savior of the world. Others ignore the plain truth and take issue with the way Jesus taught and the demands they think He makes on their lives. They doubt His relevance and prefer to live their lives their own way.
God grant us His Holy Spirit to know Jesus as God’s Son, our only Savior and Lord, and to follow Him through all.
Prayer: Spirit of God, strengthen my faith in Jesus Christ my Lord, and give me firm confidence when others are divided over Him. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Many United Methodists know John Newton’s words so well that we can sing more than one verse of this great hymn from memory. We may be a little fuzzy, however, on the concept of grace.
Newton’s lyrics echo those of scripture, like Ephesians 2:8, “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift.” Both the Apostle Paul and the hymn writer teach us that our salvation is not something we earn or deserve. It comes to us because of God’s great love for us.
The gift of God
The Rev. Matt O’Reilly, pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama, wants United Methodists to know that when we speak of the grace of God, we are not talking about a substance. It is instead a description of God at work in our lives.
“Grace is primarily about how God relates to us,” O’Reilly teaches, “not based on our merit, but based on God’s resolve and love for creatures made in God’s image.”
“Human effort does not play any role,” shares the Rev. Nday Bondo Mwanabute, professor of theology at Africa University, Mutare, Zimbabwe. “All that is required from human beings is to avail themselves to receive everything from God by faith.”
Wesley taught that our entire spiritual lives are an act of God’s grace. He names at least three periods in our spiritual development and the ways God’s grace is at work during those times—prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace. It may sound like he is talking about three different graces, but that is not the case.
“The issue is timing,” O’Reilly explains, “not so much different stuff.”
Justifying grace: God making things right
The grace with which we are most familiar is what Wesley called justifying grace.
The Bible tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Try as we might, we cannot be good enough. We need God to make things right between us, to justify us.
“Justification is another word for pardon,” John Wesley writes in a sermon called The Scripture Way of Salvation. “It is the forgiveness of all our sins; and, what is necessarily implied therein, our acceptance with God.”
The Rev. Gary Henderson of United Methodist Communications uses an illustration from our word processors to help us understand what it means to be justified.
“I’m typing and the words and the lines are all over the page… and it looks like a mess,” Henderson begins. “With a keystroke or two, I can bring it all together and order it and align it. They call it justifying to the left, to the right, or to the center… Sometimes it seems as though our lives are in pieces. We need a sense of order.”
When we are justified, we are made right with God. Our sins are forgiven and God begins the process of lining our lives up to God’s original design for us.
We are created in God’s image, but that image is distorted by sin. By God’s grace, through faith, we receive forgiveness. All of this is God’s gift to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Justifying faith implies, not only a divine evidence or conviction that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,’” Wesley writes in another sermon, Justification by Faith, “but a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for ‘my’ sins, that he loved ‘me,’ and gave himself for ‘me.’ And at what time soever a sinner thus believes…God justifieth that ungodly one.”
Those familiar with Wesley’s recounting of his Aldersgate experience in his journal, may hear echoes of similar themes in this description of justifying faith.
In a pamphlet titled The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained, Wesley likens this moment in our spiritual development to a door. At the moment of justification, we cross the threshold from unbelief to belief. This, however, is not of our own doing.
As Ephesians 2:8 reminds us, salvation is a gift offered to us by our gracious (i.e. grace-filled) God. We do not earn it. Not one of us is worthy of it. We simply receive it in faith.
Getting to the door and growing on the other side of it, are also by God’s grace. We will look at these dimensions of grace in the coming weeks.
Look for upcoming posts about prevenient grace and sanctifying grace.
Key Bible Verse: “So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” – John 8:59
Bonus Reading: John 8:45-59
Now the crowd could prove whether they were truly children of God as they claimed, or children of the devil as Jesus had said. Would they come running to the Savior for forgiveness and life, or cling to the dark lies of Satan? John tells us their grim decision: “they picked up stones to throw at Him.”
You and I go to church and in Baptism God made us His very own children. But how often do we live as if we weren’t? How attentive are we when we hear or read Jesus’ words? How closely do we follow Him in our words and actions? Are we willing to pray “Your will be done?” or do we only want to accept Jesus on our own terms? Are we as quick to turn on Him as the crowds were?
Jesus miraculously hides Himself and leaves the temple grounds. The time for His death is drawing near, but He will not die at the hands of an angry mob under a pile of rocks at the temple. He will be dragged outside of the city at the hands of the Roman soldiers and nailed to a cross.
Even today Jesus’ words often bring a violent reaction. If we are walking in darkness we are not always excited to hear the truth. But Christ promises to wash away our sins and restore us in faith. He will guard and protect us and finally bring us to our eternal home where we will always walk in His light.
Prayer: Lord, give courage to all Your faithful people who bring Your light into our dark world. Empower me to turn from the darkness and share my faith as You guide and protect me. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
When disaster strikes around the globe—Haiti’s 2010 earthquake or Typhoon Haiyan in 2013—so many watching the drama unfold on our living room televisions feel entirely helpless. How could any one person make a difference in the wake of such widespread devastation? As responders around the globe scramble to help survivors, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR, is prepared to act.
So don’t be fooled by the word committee.
Since 1940, when UMCOR’s forerunner was established to meet the needs of those suffering overseas at the onset of World War II, we’ve continued to respond to those in desperate need—today throughout more than eighty countries around the world.
The response of UMCOR isn’t something “they” do, it’s something “we” do.
When You Give You Equip Christ’s Body to Serve in His Name
That’s because your generous giving to UMCOR Sunday (formerly One Great Hour of Sharing) is what allows UMCOR to act as the arms and legs of Christ’s church, moving toward the most vulnerable in their darkest days. Convinced that all people have God-given worth and dignity—without regard to race, religion or gender—together we are assisting those impacted by crisis or chronic need.
Because you give, the United Methodist Church’s compassionate response to human suffering continues today:
- When tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma, we responded
- When children in Zimbabwe lost parents to AIDS, we responded
- When a massive tsunami devastated lives in Japan, we responded
- And when the next mass crisis occurs, we will be prepared to respond
UMCOR will be able to offer aid in Jesus’ name to those who suffer because United Methodists give through UMCOR Sunday, (formerly One Great Hour of Sharing). In fact, it’s your generous giving that allows us to respond when disaster strikes.
Ensure the United Methodist Church Can Keep Helping
Will you continue to give to UMCOR Sunday (formerly One Great Hour of Sharing)? Will you continue to meet the needs of the children, families and communities who’ve experienced devastation in the wake of disaster?
When we meet the needs of those who suffer we actually minister to Jesus, who said:
“I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” (Mt. 25:35-36, CEB)
As we respond, we recognize Jesus in those who are reeling in the wake of disaster.
To give by mail:
Send checks to: GCFA
Please put name of Sunday in note section.
Key Bible Verse: (Jesus said) “‘You are of your father the devil.’ …” – John 8:44a
Bonus Reading: John 8:31-45
Jesus stands firm. But His enemies are standing firm too. The only way He can save them is by bringing them out of their darkness into His light. So Jesus first offers a promise, then He tightens the screws.
He begins with the promise, “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But in pride and arrogance they claim they are already free.
So Jesus explains their true condition, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” They just aren’t getting it. So, slowly, Jesus knocks each prop of self-righteousness out from under them.
They claim to be Abraham’s children, but they are not because Abraham would have welcomed Him, not seek to kill Him as they are.
They claim God is their father, but if they were God’s children they would love Him and receive Him as God’s Son.
There is only one reason why they cannot stomach what Jesus is saying: their father isn’t God; their father is the devil!
Just as he murdered Adam and Eve by his lies, and brought darkness and death on all God’s good creation, so are they now seeking to murder Jesus— God’s only begotten Son.
How could Jesus have been any more clear and to the point? Their thoughts and desires, their words and their deeds were making that very clear.
And what about us? Jesus asks you and me to examine our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions. Do they look more like God or like Satan?
Who is your father?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I was born a child of Satan through my sinful nature, but You gave me new birth as Your child in Baptism. By Your Spirit empower me to live as Your child and love what You command. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “Again Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the Light of the world.’ …” – John 8:12a
Bonus Reading: John 8:12-30
Jesus’ enemies want Him dead. Has He pressed too hard? Is it time to lighten up or compromise to find common ground? No! Jesus knows there is only one way for them to be saved. So He presses even harder. He declares, “I am the Light of the world.”
Instead of backing down Jesus draws a line in the sand and says, “Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” But to those who reject Him, He says, “I am going away, and you will seek Me, and you will die in your sin.”
Their hearts should be stirred, but instead they stubbornly refuse to listen. In idle curiosity they ask each other if Jesus’ talk of “going away” means He will kill Himself. Jesus answers, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will know that I am He.”
When they lift Him up and nail Him to the cross, they will know who He is. The miraculous signs at His death: the darkness, the earthquake, the torn curtain in the temple and His glorious resurrection will make it clear to them that Jesus is the mighty Son of God, the promised Messiah.
Which side of the line are you walking on? Are you truly walking in the light of Christ or the darkness of this unbelieving world?
Jesus warns all of us that our time is short. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Today is the day to live in Christ through faith, rather than die in your sins.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, bring me out of the darkness of my sin to the light of Your Son Jesus Christ. I pray in His Name. Amen.
Key Bible Verse: “… ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?’” – John 8:4b-5
Bonus Reading: John 8:1-11
Unable to arrest Jesus in front of the crowds, His enemies look for a chance to turn those crowds against Him. They bring a woman caught in adultery and set their trap, “Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?” Certainly the crowd is ready for a stoning. Jesus will lose popularity if He stands in the way.
Jesus answers them. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” He was the only one qualified to be her Judge, the only one who has the right to throw that first stone. One by one they drop their stones and walk away.
Jesus tells her, “Go and from now on sin no more.” She can walk away unpunished because He has taken her guilt and sin upon Himself, along with the punishment she deserves from God for that sin. She goes away free while He prepares to suffer in her place on the cross.
We don’t like to admit it, but each of us is a sinner like that woman. God catches us in every single one of our sins, and we deserve something far worse than being stoned to death. We deserve the fires of hell under the wrath of God.
But Jesus Christ steps forward to take our condemnation on Himself and pay the full price for our sins as He suffers and dies on the cross. On Judgment Day we will walk away free. He will not condemn us either.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You set me free by being condemned in my place. Help me show true gratitude by forgiving others and sharing Your salvation with them. Amen.
While broken, this woman is both authentic and humble and I like that. Plus I know what it means to wrestle with sinful patterns in my own strength, only to come up short. I think she and I could have an honest conversation about sin, suffering and our need for hope.
I’ve made some assumptions about the woman that draw me toward her story. I bet she didn’t go looking for a bad reputation. I assume the sins that lead her into a scandalous reputation started just like mine do – with a single, seemingly insignificant, choice.
Maybe it was a lie she did not rebuke. Maybe it was a hurt she couldn’t forgive. Maybe it was a bait-and-switch situation where someone promised her the world, used her, and then left her to figure out what to do next.
Whatever it was, the woman in Luke 7:35-50 gave in and embraced the reputation that her sin awarded her. It was probably easier that way – that’s one of the enemy’s great selling points.
But I do that:
I give in to ‘little’ sins that redirect my heart bit-by-bit.
I accept my sharp tongue by justifying, “They know I’m kidding.”
I spend money as if this world is where my hope lies.
When there is tension in a relationship I distance myself, opting for ambiguity rather than authenticity.
I lose sleep feeling like the weight of the world is on my shoulders.
The bottom line is, I must stop living in the past and start living in light of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. He offers me freedom when I am His.
The weeping woman recognized her only hope in this life was to convert her sin into repentance at the feet of Jesus. Causing a scene in a Pharisee’s home was the least of this woman’s cares. Living with a clean slate was worth everything to her.
And I bet she wasn’t expecting to hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Where would you love to hear God say “You are forgiven?” What are you willing to do to get to His feet?
Key Bible Verse: “They (the Pharisees) replied, ‘Are You from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.’” – John 7:52
Bonus Reading: John 7:32,45-52
The Jewish leaders hear the crowds wondering if Jesus might be the Messiah. They decide it’s time to act. So they send the temple guards to arrest Him. But it isn’t Jesus’ time yet. Impressed by the authority of Jesus’ words the guards return empty handed. The Light will keep shining a little while longer in the darkness.
Jesus is trying to break through the darkness of the Jewish authorities through their temple guard. If these men are willing to listen to Jesus, perhaps the chief priests and Pharisees will follow their example. But the leaders harden their hearts and accuse the guard of being deceived like the crowds who must be under a curse.
If they won’t listen to the guards, perhaps they will listen to one of their own. Nicodemus speaks up.
He suggests they give Jesus a fair hearing rather than blindly condemning Him. Instead, they turn on him with two exaggerations. First, they claim none of the authorities believe in Him—though at least Nicodemus does. Second, they claim no prophet ever came from Galilee, but they overlook Jonah who was from Galilee. They attempt to close ranks against Jesus through intimidation and lies.
We often plant our heels in the sand and refuse to budge no matter what anyone might say, no matter what the church might say, no matter what God’s Word might say. But Jesus suffered and died for our stubbornness just as He did for all our other sins.
God continues to work through His Word and Sacrament to break through our persistent unbelief and move us to understand and accept the truth.
Prayer: Lord, forgive my stubborn pride, and move me to true, sincere faith. Amen.
As many of you already know, Pastor Jan was tripped up by a coat hanger at the curb in the dark on Saturday, and fractured her right hip. She had surgery on Sunday, and has come through the procedure well.
Key Bible Verse: “Jesus said, ‘I will be with you a little longer. …’” – John 7:33a
Bonus Reading: John 7:33-44
People are divided over Jesus. Some believe in Him. Others don’t. Many are undecided.
Jesus warns them to make up their mind: “I will be with you a little longer.”
I learned that lesson the hard way when I was 19. One Friday afternoon my boss handed me my paycheck on the way home. A couple hours later he collapsed at his bowling alley and died. My chance to talk to him, learn from him, and reach out to him was gone forever.
Soon Jesus will be gone. He will die on a cross and be buried. After three days He will rise again, but the vast majority will never see Him again—only a few select believers God will choose to be witnesses of His resurrection to the world.
The clock is ticking for us too. Each of us has only a limited amount of time before we die and our chance to find salvation through faith in Jesus Christ ends forever. But often we are content with the way life is going. Or we think it doesn’t matter what you believe, God will be satisfied if you just try to live a good life.
But that is a false hope and a false comfort.
God has provided only one way to save us, and that is through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus satisfied God’s holiness and justice by taking our sins on Himself and suffering and dying in our place on the cross. No one else could do it.
Now is the time to come to Him and walk in His light.
Prayer: Lord, draw me to You while there is still time. Shine in my life that others may turn to the Light of the world, while they still have time. Amen.