Day 15 – The Myth of Neutrality
“He who is not with Me is against Me.” Matthew 12:30
I sat in the family room of a young couple who were beginning to establish a connection to our church. She was taking the children to Sunday School and beginning to show interest in the truth about Jesus Christ. He was friendly but not proactive about spiritual things. As we talked he stated his agreement with the essentials of the gospel. He agreed he was a sinner, separated from God and in need of Jesus who had died for his sin and rose again. He agreed that he must receive Christ as Savior and honor Him as Lord. But he said he was not “ready”. He was pro-Christ but chose inactivity – a type of neutrality.
Pilate found no fault in Jesus (John 19:4, 6) and preferred to release Him (v.12), but would not act on what he knew to be right. Neutrality towards Jesus is always like that – it ends in a decision against Jesus and for something else. Pilate chose political expediency over Jesus (and the criminal Barabbas went free, Jesus was crucified, and Pilate himself eventually fell out of favor with Rome and, some say, committed suicide). My indecisive friend chose the world over Jesus (and if I told you the rest of his story, you would learn of two broken marriages which resulted). It is a dangerous thing to avoid the decision to follow Jesus.
Many are not actively or even deliberately against Christ and the gospel. They’re just not for Him. “He who is not with Me is against Me.” (Matt. 12:30) Neutrality is a myth.
- Read John 19:1-16
- If you are one who is “neutral” towards Jesus Christ, ask yourself what holds you back from being all out for Him. Really, what is it that restrains you from a full commitment to Jesus?
- Notice that John 19 identifies a group that was strongly against Jesus (the chief priests and officers – verse 6) and Pilate who was trying to be neutral – he was simply “not with” Jesus as the Lord put it in Matthew 12:30. Is there any similarity between these two? (Both were protective of their positions and saw it necessary to rid themselves of “the Jesus problem”.)
Day 16 – False Teaching
“If anyone come to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting.” II John 10
I wonder how much false teaching I allow into my life. I know that Satan is the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and that I am susceptible to deception (Jeremiah 17:9), so it makes me wonder. I could be deceived because I fail to screen the many messages which come at me each day, or because I neglect to equip myself with the truth, or because I am lazy (accepting, for example, the world’s filtering systems as good enough). One of the world’s filters is the movie rating system. I may think that if it is “G” or “PG” that’s enough, but often there are more subtle messages than language, sex, or violence to deal with, messages of self-sufficiency, good works, ‘I’m OK you’re OK’, etc. which may not be biblical.
The Secord Epistle of John warns us not to accept false teachers into our homes (v.10). Truth is defined as “continuing in the teaching of Christ” (v.9). I am sure that this includes ALL of the teachings of Christ, not just the “big” doctrines – the how-to-live parts as well as the what-to-believe (doctrinal) parts. This warning is important because even the most mature Christian can lose rewards and what she or he has gained through diligent study and faithful living to date (v.8).
God gives us this message because He is full of grace, mercy, peace, truth and love (v.3) and knows that we will be people of joy only when we walk in truth (v.4). We can thank God for His warning messages.
- Read II John (all 13 verses).
- Think of the places messages you have heard today have come from – for example, newscasts or music on the radio, TV shows, books or magazine articles you have read, conversations with family, friends, colleagues, or others, advertising, Bible reading. Which sources have the most influence on you? What ones could you say you trust more than others? What is your measurement of truth?
- A good place to listen to the teachings of Jesus is in His famous “Sermon on the Mount”, found in the Gospel of Matthew chapters 5-7.
Day 17 – Expectations
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25
The 144,000 of Revelation 14 are redeemed, moral in conduct, truthful in speech and doctrine, and faithful to the Lamb. They are also part of a larger number of saints who delight in worship of the Lamb. These are qualities expected of any follower of Christ in any era.
It is interesting that though our circumstances and situation of service vary, believers are still held to the same expectations. The musicians and singers of Rev. 14:1-3 may be saints who suffered and died during the Tribulation period; the 144,000 possibly are believers who were preserved through that terrible time. Some who follow Christ endure much suffering, even martyrdom, while others are protected or, like many of us, live in a time or place where to suffer for Christ is not the norm. Yet, regardless of the external pressures we face, we share in our need to be redeemed (having accepted the work of Christ on the Cross as the payment price for forgiveness and release from our sins and acceptance by God). We also share in the responsibility to live moral, truthful, and faithful lives which are characterized by a focus on Jesus Christ which results in worship.
These truths are echoed by the Apostle Paul in Galatians. There, he reminds his readers that the way to God (our redemption) has always been by faith and not by doing good, religious works (3:13-14). He adds the challenge to live righteously and faithfully (1:6-8; 5:16-25), all the while keeping the focus on the Lamb, Christ (2:20). In any age, such a life is a song of praise to God.
- Read Revelation 14:1-5 and Galatians 5:16-26.
- How are you doing when it comes to living up to God’s expectations for you?
- Believers have the advantage of the Holy Spirit living within them and available as a guide and enabler. See Galatians 5:16 and 25. How can you do a better job of listening to Him?
Day 18 – Love Your Neighbour
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus answers the question about what is the greatest commandment by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The focus of the second great commandment is to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In his book What Jesus Demands from the World, John Piper helps us to understand what this means when he writes, “You all want to be happy. You all want to live, and to live with satisfaction. You want food for yourself. You want clothes for yourself. You want a place to live for yourself. You want protection from violence against yourself. You want meaningful or pleasant activity to fill your days. You want some friends to like you and spend some time with you. You want your life to count in some way. All this is self-love. Self-love is the deep longing to diminish pain and to increase happiness.”
Now, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a very big demand, a very costly one. If I truly love my neighbor in this way I will have to go out of my way for another and lose something for myself. But we must remember that this is the second commandment. The first is, “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” We must realize that in God we find the greatest satisfaction of heart, soul, and mind that we fundamentally desire. The way to love ourselves is to love God first and foremost. Then, we desire that same fulfilling love for our neighbor. Our deepest satisfaction and joy comes from loving God and it is no threat or loss if we extend the same desire for our neighbor. We love him or her by showing generosity and compassion as God has given us the same; by introducing them to God’s friendship and grace, as God has extended His to us. If we have obeyed the first demand of God, we can also honor the second.
- Read Matthew 22:34-40.
- What holds us back from loving our neighbor as we love ourselves?
- When we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves, what does that say about how much we love God? How dependent are these commandments upon each other?
Day 19 – Ups and Downs
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32
Peter certainly had his ups and downs. He chose to follow Jesus, made a great declaration about Jesus being the Christ, walked on water, and was the bold leader of the first half of the Book of Acts. But he also was the one (confirmed as Peter in John 18:10) who, in Luke 22:47-62 swung a sword at the servant’s ear and who denied his Lord three times. The two failing incidents of Luke 22 were somewhat different in motivation in that the first came out of a desire to defend Jesus and fight the enemy at any cost, while the second evidenced a repeated, fearful disassociation with Jesus in an effort to spare himself trouble.
Disloyalty to our Lord can manifest itself in times of blundering bravado as well as in times of cowardly silence. In the one case we seem to be standing up for Jesus but are doing so in a foolish way that shows a lack of preparation and prayerful dependence. In the other we are calculating the sacrifice we might have to make and are showing ourselves to be embarrassed followers. In both cases, we regret the whole thing afterwards. Peter was rebuked by Jesus for using his sword and forewarned by Jesus about the betrayal. He “went outside and wept bitterly” and afterward needed Jesus’ forgiveness, comfort and reassurance (John 21:15-19). Thankfully, our Lord offers those things in abundance – often.
Tests of loyalty come in “up” times and “down” times. Satan wants to sift us (Luke 22:31) in either and trip us in our misguided enthusiasm or trap us in our self-reliant fears, as the case may be. Dependence upon Jesus Christ is needed when we feel strong and when we feel weak – in both the ups and the downs of life.
- Read Luke 22:47-62.
- Think of a time when you publicly identified with Jesus Christ and a time when you wish you had but didn’t. Does it amaze you that you are part of the cosmic world of satanic attack on Christ and God’s divine affirmation of His person and His people? Seeing your temptations this way can help you see how valued you are by Christ.
- Does your failure to follow Jesus fill you with shame and self-doubt? Think now of how gracious He is in forgiving and comforting you (John 21:19b, “And after this he said to him, ‘Follow Me.’”).
Day 20 – Honouring Jesus
“Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented their decision and action, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” Luke 23:50-52
Serving Jesus requires different people meeting different needs. In the instance recorded in Luke 23:50-56), some women and a man named Joseph of Arimathea found opportunity to serve Him even while His body lay in a tomb. The women had openly followed Jesus during His brief public ministry. Joseph had quietly (and “secretly” it says in another Gospel) come to a place of faith and trust only to decide in the critical last moments of the trial and crucifixion to openly identify with the Lord.
You may have wondered at some time in your walk with Jesus whether you would have the courage to declare yourself for Him in a time of crisis or risk or danger. If you, like Joseph (who was sincerely “waiting for the kingdom of God”), are truly His child, then surely God will grant you the boldness you need to speak up or take sides with Jesus when God asks you to declare your stand.
In April 1521, Martin Luther was told to recant his interpretation of scripture and said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” In 1939 Dietrich Bonhoeffer made his way to safety in the United States but soon decided that he must return to Germany and stand with believers who were resisting Hitler: “It is never in thinking of myself, but it is always in thinking of the call of Christ, that I shall be set free for genuine responsibility.” More recently, a Vietnamese pastor wrote, “We have learned that suffering is not the worst thing in the word … disobedience to God is the worst.”
Though our obedience to God may not involve physical harm, it almost certainly will at some time and place mean being different from the world around us, and with that difference, probably bring some cost to us socially, economically, relationally, or otherwise. Joseph honoured his Lord regardless, as should we.
- Read Luke 23:50-56.
- There is a cost to following Jesus, but there is also much honour. I’m sure Joseph of Arimathea considered it a privilege to offer the use of his tomb by the Master.
- What resources (talents, opportunities) has God provided you that can be, in turn, offered to Him when needed?
Day 21 – Balanced Virtue
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5
There are some obvious parallels between the John 13:1-16 and Philippians 2:1-11.
John 13:3, Jesus knew that Phil. 2:6, Who, being in
the Father had put all very nature God, did not
things under his power, consider equality with God
and that he had come something to be used to
From God and was his own advantage;
returning to God
The next thing we read in John 13 is that Jesus humbled Himself by taking on the role of a servant and washed the dusty feet of His disciples. And in Philippians 2, it is that Jesus, knowing Who He was, namely very God, made Himself nothing by becoming a human being and the one who died on a cross.
So, Jesus came to earth in human form and later performed the foot washing while being conscious of His power and His destiny. It has been said that humility is true self-knowledge. The Lord knew what he was leaving when he came to earth as a baby. When you have legitimate credentials, you don’t have to advertise them. The Lord’s credentials were encompassed in His very eternal nature as God; He didn’t need them conferred by anyone.
The fact is that by His incarnation and humble service, the Lord, if it were possible, added to His credentials by evidencing humility and service. These latter virtues are in no way lesser ones than deity and authority. They were companion ones to all else that Jesus was and is, and they should be for us, too. The best credentials are those that are found within – a child of God, a follower of Christ, a person who is growing in Christlike character. This is, in fact, what the Lord and the Apostle Paul challenge us to do:
John 13: 14 Now that I Phil. 2:5, In your relationships
have washed your feet, with one another, have the
you also should wash same mindset as Christ Jesus.
one another’s feet.
- Read John 13:1-16 and Philippians 2:1-11.
- Peter expressed (John 13:6, 8) the astonishment that the other disciples no doubt also felt – mouths gaping at what Jesus was doing in washing their dusty feet – something servants did, not masters. But, as Jesus said, He and they ought to be servants first. Can you think of someone who advertises his or her accomplishments? What do you think of the statement above: “When you have legitimate credentials, you don’t have to advertise them.”?
- It is easy to list on a resume countable credentials like education, awards, and experience. Can those who act as your references also testify to your character?