Refresh & Restore — January 11, 2023

I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.[1]

2 Corinthians 12:1-10


Greetings Sojourners!

This week’s devotion is for me. I have been looking at this passage for a couple of weeks now and am so thankful that it exists! I need this.

But it is for you, too! We all need to be reminded of Jesus’ words here.

And there’s even better news: I aim to be brief in this week’s Bible study! The spring semester of school is well underway, and my classes at William Carey are back in full swing. So, I have several irons in the fire at the moment. This is important, though – too important to go unsaid, too necessary for me to say.

I hope it helps you as much as it has me.

A Thorn in the Flesh (vv. 1-7)

The content of verses 1-7 are widely debated, and I do not intend to wade into that debate today. When it comes to Bible interpretation, I tend to take the Alistair Begg approach: in Scripture, the main things are the plain things. Chas Rowland puts it a little clearer: in Scripture, the important things are clear, and the clear things are important. There are parts of this passage that are clear and parts that are purposefully unclear.

When I say purposefully unclear, I mean that the Holy Spirit obviously did not decide to give us the specific details regarding the content of the “visions and revelations of the Lord” (v. 1), what it means to be “caught up to the third heaven” (v. 2 – and which Paul himself did not know whether it was “in the body or out of the body”), what it means to be “caught up into paradise” (v. 3 – which Paul states only “God knows”). If I were to give my best and most theologically sound interpretation of these things, it would be two-fold: 1) I don’t know, and 2) it cannot be (fully) known.

It is okay to say “I don’t know” when it comes to Bible interpretation. That does not mean we do not need to study or that it is not okay to dig into God’s Word to search for answers. Those are good and valuable things. But it is important to be able to be honest about what we do not know or understand, especially if the alternative is to teach or proclaim things that may be untrue or dangerously heretical.

Some might balk at my saying that it cannot be fully known, but we are limited to what God has given us in His Word – and rightly so! The Bible contains everything that can be known about God. There are commentaries galore, but they are written by men. Peter’s second letter deals with this at length in a section that immediately precedes a section on how dangerous false teachers are. Look at this passage from 2 Peter talking about the importance of the revelation of God found in His Word versus the direction men (or women) may take it:

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:19-21

Peter is talking about the illuminating value of God’s revelation through Scripture. Man’s interpretation can be helpful, but it is the Word that is a lamp for our feet and light to guide our path (Psalm 119:105)!

So, here is what is plain or clear in verses 1-7 and therefore main or important.

  • Paul was given visions of “surpassing greatness” (v. 7). Based on the context (“third heaven” and “paradise)”, he was given some sort of glimpses into heaven.
  • These visions were so great that Paul wished to boast about and that took great pains to keep him from boasting. Paul had written earlier to the church at Corinth about the dangers of such boasting, explaining that is why God chooses “what is low and despised in the world…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29) and reminding them – and apparently himself – of the Lord’s words in Jeremiah 9:23-24: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.”
  • Paul was given “a thorn in the flesh” to “keep [him] from becoming conceited”. There are three main categories that interpretations of this “thorn” fall into: “(1) spiritual or psychological anxiety (such as anguish over Israel’s stubborn unbelief); (2) opposition to his ministry or message; and (3) a recurring and tormenting physical malady”.[2] Scholars and theologians find reasons in the text for all three. I have speculations but find no value in sharing those with you here. What is clear is that God allowed this “messenger of Satan to harass” Paul just as He allowed similar with Job – just for different reasons. It is the same God who decided not to give us more information in this section of Scripture. I trust Him and His wisdom.

If you are uncomfortable with not knowing more about this, let me give you a little guidance on how to proceed. First, I would tell you to dig into the biblical cross-references (those little letters that point you to other places in the Bible that talk about similar things/topics). Limit yourself to what can be known in the Bible. Second, be careful about letting your favorite Bible guy or gal tell you fully what the Bible limits. Our Father knows best, and if He has not fully revealed something, be wary of a “preacher” who touts full revelation. That means what has been revealed to him (or her) did not come from the Bible. I am scared of those people. I would rather be a Bible-guy, satisfied with what is in it, than a popular preacher spreading my own words.

The good news, especially for us in this Bible study is that what comes after verses 1-7 is clear and plain and, therefore, important and main!

Sufficient Grace (vv. 8-10)

Whatever the “thorn in the flesh” was, it was so bad that Paul says that he “pleaded with the Lord” about it three times that it would “leave” him (v. 8). The word translated “plead” means to “call for or upon someone as for aid, to invoke God, to beseech, entreat”.[3] Paul was literally begging God to make this “thorn”, this “messenger of Satan” that was harassing him to go away – because God was the only one who could make it go away! Apparently, Jesus’ answer was a different one than Paul was looking for: no.

I know something of struggling and begging God to take the struggle away. I also know a little bit about the answer being no. Thankfully, Paul’s “no” carried with it an explanation. Paul’s “no” got a verbal answer from Jesus (notice the red letters). Rather than taking away this thorn (which again was allowed by God) was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Rather than immediate – or eventual since we do not know if this thorn was ever removed – relief, Jesus told Paul that He would supply the strength to endure the thorn, that sufficient grace would be provided in his moments of need.

This may not seem like good news since we live in an era where immediate gratification is what many people are seeking, but it is truly good news. I am not saying this out of some sense of religious hocus pocus. When I cry out for God to rescue me from a struggle that has plagued and harassed me, I want immediate deliverance, too! I begged Him for relief earlier today and earnestly hoped that the malady would leave me right then and there. But it didn’t. It didn’t immediately go away, and it will be back. Paul’s “thorn” would not go away, but neither would Jesus! Jesus – Emmanuel (“God with us”) – would meet Paul’s weakness and provide sufficient – enough to overcome and get through – grace and strength to carry Paul through! Jesus meets me in my struggle and stays with me. He provides the same sufficient grace for you and me today.

Paul pleaded and begged and received more than a response from Jesus; he received the presence of Jesus and the full strength of God Himself to overcome the struggle! I hate my struggles. I hate being weak. More often than not, I find myself feeling hopeless when the struggles linger and return. But I am so thankful that in the midst of struggle, I find the presence of God. I find His strength. I find grace sufficient to do more than survive but to live and thrive in Christ. I find new mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23). I, like Paul, find Jesus.

The good thing for us is that we do not have to wait for a word from the Lord to intervene. The words – those red letters – in today’s passage are spoken to us as well. We don’t have to wait for God to speak because He has spoken!

Paul just thought that the visions he had were of surpassing greatness, but through the sufficient and continual grace of Jesus he grew to understand that there was something better than even the best visions. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi came at the end of his life, shortly before his death (by martyrdom). He did not talk to them of a thorn or visions. He spoke to them of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ [his] Lord” (Philippians 3:7). He explained to the church at Philippi and to us that everything he had previously boasted in – his Hebrew heritage, his Pharisaical pedigree, his exorbitant education, and even his most-valued visions – was equivalent now and counted by him as “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8). For context, the word translated “rubbish” was the word used to describe “refuse of grain, chaff, or of a table, of slaughtered animals, of dung, and figuratively of the filth of the mind”.[4]

I want you to think about what these visions likely showed Paul and what this statement means. Paul’s vision was one of heaven – of paradise! But it paled in comparison to the “surpassing worth” of Jesus! Heaven, without Jesus, (pardon the crass language here) is crap. Read that again. Heaven without Jesus is nothing. A Jesus-less heaven is worthless – as the kids say, “straight trash”. Does that seem odd to you? If it does, you are boasting in the wrong things!

Paul was at risk of boasting in the wrong things in our passage today, but by the grace of God, he received a thorn. The Lord allowed something bad to bring about the grace to help Paul boast only in Christ. What did not seem like a blessing – and definitely would not have been had it not been for Christ – was a blessing because of the grace given to Paul to withstand. The question for us, and honestly the question I have to ask myself often, is whether or not I can be satisfied with the grace and presence of Christ in the face of continued difficulty.

Wrapping Up

I am thankful that Jesus is better than my struggles. His power is enough to withstand. His Spirit never leaves me nor forsakes me. And, just as He promised, He is with me always, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). But I need constant reminding.

If I am not careful, I can be so boastful. God’s power becomes eclipsed in my mind by my pride. His grace gets masked by my desire to be my own man and get through in my own steam. Thankfully, I have the Word of God and passages like ours today to remind me of the gift of God’s sufficient grace!

What about you?

Are you satisfied with the idea of heaven apart from Jesus? Would you rather have a mansion and immediate release from your earthly troubles rather than be in the presence of God and experience His sufficient grace?

These are difficult questions, but they are necessary ones. They are questions that I struggle with as I plead for relief. But God is big enough and strong enough for our questions. His loving-kindness can withstand and carry us through our doubts. His mercies and sufficient grace are enough to get us through whatever thorns tear at us.

I pray that I can boast like Paul did at the end of today’s passage that he was able to be “content” – to “be well–pleased”[5] – in “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” because when he was weak, he was strong because of Jesus’ sufficient grace. I am not there yet, but there is sufficient grace to get me there eventually. That’s good news! And I needed to hear it today. I hope it helps you as well.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 12:1–10.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, “The Letters and Revelation,” in NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 2096.

[3] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[4] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[5] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

Songs for Sunday, January 8, 2023

Join us tomorrow at Christ Community Church as we worship Jesus! Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Scripture | Psalm 96

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth!

10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord, for he comes,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.

  • Scripture | 1 Peter 1:17-21

17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.


Songs for Sunday, January 1, 2023

Here are our Scriptures & songs:

  • Scripture | Lamentations 3:19-24

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”

  • Scripture | Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.



Songs for Christmas Sunday

What a beautiful opportunity it is to get to gather on the Lord’s day to adore Him in worship, thinking on His first coming, life, death, and resurrection, and looking expectantly toward His return!



Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Scripture | Luke 2:8-17

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14    “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.

  • Song | Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • Song | Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  • Scripture | 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2

     5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

     6:1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

       “In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

  • Song | The Son of God Came Down
  • Song | Joy to the World
  • Invitation | What Child is This?


Advent 2022 — The Story of Christmas

Throughout this Advent season, we have continually discussed the “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10) that the angels spoke of to the shepherds. That good news – that gospel – is as sweet and good for us today as it was two millennia ago.

Paul gives a succinct picture of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures….

That is going to be our focus. This Christmas, we are going to look at what is “of first importance”, just as it was “received”. We are going to read the accounts of the birth of Jesus from the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and we will read through them chronologically. You can find a link to the audio below, but it will not contain verse references. Those can be found below.



The Beginning of the Good News

Mark 1:1a The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[1]

Dedication

Luke 1:1 Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. So it also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.[2]

Prologue

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life,, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, 13 who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.

14 The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him and exclaimed, “This was the one of whom I said, ‘The one coming after me ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.’ ”) 16 Indeed, we have all received grace upon grace from his fullness, 17 for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him.[3]

The Record of Jesus’ Ancestors

Matthew 1:1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:

Abraham fathered Isaac,
Isaac fathered Jacob,
Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers,
Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar,
Perez fathered Hezron,
Hezron fathered Aram,
Aram fathered Amminadab,
Amminadab fathered Nahshon,
Nahshon fathered Salmon,
Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab,
Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth,
Obed fathered Jesse,
and Jesse fathered King David.
David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife,
Solomon fathered Rehoboam,
Rehoboam fathered Abijah,
Abijah fathered Asa,
Asa fathered Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat fathered Joram,
Joram fathered Uzziah,
Uzziah fathered Jotham,
Jotham fathered Ahaz,
Ahaz fathered Hezekiah,
10 Hezekiah fathered Manasseh,
Manasseh fathered Amon,
Amon fathered Josiah,
11 and Josiah fathered Jeconiah and his brothers
at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon
Jeconiah fathered Shealtiel,
Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel,
13 Zerubbabel fathered Abiud,
Abiud fathered Eliakim,
Eliakim fathered Azor,
14 Azor fathered Zadok,
Zadok fathered Achim,
Achim fathered Eliud,
15 Eliud fathered Eleazar,
Eleazar fathered Matthan,
Matthan fathered Jacob,
16 and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary,
who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, fourteen generations.[4]

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

Luke 1:5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years.

When his division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, it happened that he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 At the hour of incense the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified and overcome with fear. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. 16 He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”

18 “How can I know this?” Zechariah asked the angel. “For I am an old man, and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. 20 Now listen. You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, amazed that he stayed so long in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them. Then they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was making signs to them and remained speechless. 23 When the days of his ministry were completed, he went back home.

24 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived and kept herself in seclusion for five months. She said, 25 “The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people.”[5]

The Birth of Jesus Foretold

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged, to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was deeply troubled by this statement, wondering what kind of greeting this could be. 30 Then the angel told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.”

34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?”

35 The angel replied to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 And consider your relative Elizabeth—even she has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called childless. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”

38 “See, I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary. “May it happen to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.[6]

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Luke 1:39 In those days Mary set out and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judah 40 where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped inside her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and your child will be blessed! 43 How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what he has spoken to her!”[7]

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

Luke 1:46 And Mary said:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 because he has looked with favor
on the humble condition of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations
will call me blessed,
49 because the Mighty One
has done great things for me,
and his name is holy.
50 His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear him.
51 He has done a mighty deed with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
because of the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has toppled the mighty from their thrones
and exalted the lowly.
53 He has satisfied the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he spoke to our ancestors.

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months; then she returned to her home.[8]

The Birth of John the Baptist

Luke 1:57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she had a son. 58 Then her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her his great mercy, and they rejoiced with her.

59 When they came to circumcise the child on the eighth day, they were going to name him Zechariah, after his father. 60 But his mother responded, “No. He will be called John.”

61 Then they said to her, “None of your relatives has that name.” 62 So they motioned to his father to find out what he wanted him to be called. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they were all amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came on all those who lived around them, and all these things were being talked about throughout the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard about him took it to heart, saying, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the Lord’s hand was with him.[9]

Zechariah’s Prophecy

Luke 1:67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

68 Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited
and provided redemption for his people.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 just as he spoke by the mouth
of his holy prophets in ancient times;
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of those who hate us.
72 He has dealt mercifully with our ancestors
and remembered his holy covenant—
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham.
He has given us the privilege,
74 since we have been rescued
from the hand of our enemies,
to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness
in his presence all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called
a prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord
to prepare his ways,
77 to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God’s merciful compassion,
the dawn from on high will visit us
79 to shine on those who live in darkness
and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

80 The child grew up and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.[10]

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

Matthew 1:18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. 19 So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.

20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 See, the virgin will become pregnant
and give birth to a son,
and they will name him Immanuel,

which is translated “God is with us.”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her 25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.[11]

Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.

Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.[12]

The Shepherds and Angels

Luke 2:8 In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11 Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

14 Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to people he favors!,,

15 When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

16 They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger. 17 After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told.[13]

Jesus is Presented in the Temple

Luke 2:21 When the eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus—the name given by the angel before he was conceived. 22 And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were finished, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord,) 24 and to offer a sacrifice (according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,).[14]

The Prophecy of Simeon

Luke 2:25 There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said,

29 Now, Master,
you can dismiss your servant in peace,
as you promised.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory to your people Israel.

33 His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed—35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”[15]

The Prophecy of Anna

Luke 2:36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,, 37 and was a widow for eighty-four years. She did not leave the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. 38 At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.[16]

The Visit of the Wise Men

Matthew 2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was deeply disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. So he assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the Messiah would be born.

“In Bethlehem of Judea,” they told him, “because this is what was written by the prophet:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah:
Because out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”,

Then Herod secretly summoned the wise men and asked them the exact time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you find him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship him.”,

After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was—the star they had seen at its rising. It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.[17]

Amen!




[1] Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Mk 1:1–4.

[2] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 1:1–4.

[3] Christian Standard Bible, Jn 1:1–18.

[4] Christian Standard Bible, Mt 1:1–17.

[5] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 1:5–25.

[6] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 1:26–38.

[7] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 1:39–45.

[8] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 1:46–56.

[9] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 1:57–66.

[10] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 1:67–80.

[11] Christian Standard Bible, Mt 1:18–25.

[12] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 2:1–7.

[13] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 2:8–20.

[14] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 2:21–24.

[15] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 2:25–35.

[16] Christian Standard Bible, Lk 2:36–38.

[17] Christian Standard Bible, Mt 2:1–12.

Songs for Sunday, December 18, 2022

Here are our Scriptures & songs:

  • Scripture | Philippians 2:5-11

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

  • Song | O Come All Ye Faithful
  • Song | O Holy Night
  • Scripture | Galatians 4:4-5

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

  • Song | Away in a Manger (CCC version) —
  • Song | King of Kings
  • Invitation | Light of the World (Sing Hallelujah)
  • Offertory | Mary Did You Know? —

Check out our Advent readings:


Advent 2022 — December 15


For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised up on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, the majority of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15;3-6

21 He made the one who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf, in order that we could become the righteousness of God in him.

2 Corinthians 5:21

But what does it say? “The word is near to you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim), that if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who is rich to all who call upon him. 13 For “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:8-13


“Good News of Great Joy, or A Weary World Rejoices

We have spent a good bit of time this week in Luke 2:10 and the verses around it. The declaration of the angels to those poor and frightened shepherds should just about be memorized at this point: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring good news to you of great joy which will be for all the people”. Good news. Great joy. For all people.

The word translated “good news” is often translated gospel, and the message that the angels proclaimed on that hillside 2,000 years ago is a beautiful and succinct picture of the gospel. They preached that the Savior “who is Christ the Lord” was born for them – for those dirty, stinky shepherds – and that He could be found that very day in Bethlehem. It was news that would and could change the trajectory of their lives. They just needed to believe in Him and receive the salvation He had to offer – they would receive grace by faith through Him.

Now, I know that on the day they heard that gospel message Jesus was still laying in the feeding trough, still an infant, and was decades away from His death, burial, and resurrection. But the babe in the manger was still “the Word [become] flesh” (John 1:14). He was still the Lamb slain “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

We sometimes want to overcomplicate things. We know the whole story and want to add and fill in the gaps in the angels’ proclamation that day, but the “good news of great joy” is still just as simple. In fact, Paul gives very succinct proclamations of the gospel, too. The first can be found in 1 Corinthians 15 where he tells the church at Corinth that he is passing on to them the most important message he had to offer – the very same message that he received himself: Jesus died for our sins according to the way that the Bible said He would, He was buried, and He rose from the dead on the third day exactly as the Bible and Jesus’ own preaching said He would. That’s good news!

Paul’s second succinct gospel summary comes in his next letter to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:21. In one little complex sentence, he shares that God put the sins of those who would be saved on Jesus. Jesus had never sinned and did not deserve any condemnation, but He willingly bore our sin on our behalf. Those who trust in Him no longer are under the condemnation and shame due to their sin; Jesus bore that (Colossians 2:13-14). In a great exchange, Jesus traded His righteousness for our sin. He bore the wrath of God and exchanged it for God’s favor. Basically, He traded His extravagantly full bank account for our bankrupt one so that when God looks upon those who Jesus has saved, He does not see their sinfulness but Jesus’ righteousness! That’s good news!

The gospel is good news, but there is also bad news. Those who do not confess Jesus as Lord and believe He died for their sins and rose again do not receive part in that great exchange. They remain in their sin. Their condemnation remains their own. It does not have to be that way. All who call out to Jesus in faith will be saved. Anyone who believes in Him will not be but to shame (Romans 5:5), but not believing leaves the shame where it belongs – on the sinner (John 3:18).

Look at how the Christmas hymn “O Holy Night” puts it:

            Long lay the world in sin and error pining
            Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
            A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
            For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
            Fall on your knees!

Those who are without Jesus are still in their sin and “pining” after the wrong things, sinful things. But everyone – all people – have the opportunity to fall on their knees, believe in Him – confess Him as Lord, and repent of their sin. And those who do will not only have heard the good news of great joy but also to have believed it and received the salvation Jesus offers.

I love the phrase “good news of great joy” because 1) it is straight from the Bible, and 2) it captures what Jesus offers. But I also love the way the writer of “O Holy Night” captured what it is to be a sinner and receive Christ: “a weary world rejoices”. If you have been reading with us over these past two weeks, you have read snippets of the “good news of great joy”, but have you received it? Have you believed on Jesus, or are you still on the fence? If you haven’t, I urge you: fall on your knees, believe what the Bible says about Him, confess Him as Lord, and rejoice in the salvation He brings!

Songs for Sunday, December 11, 2022


Below, you will find the Scripture passages and songs for worship tomorrow at Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS. You’ll also find our daily advent readings!


Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Scripture | Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

  • Song | O Come All Ye Faithful
  • Song | Adore Him
  • Scripture | Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

  • Song | Noel
  • Song | Your Great Name
  • Invitation | God With Us
  • Offertory | Light of the World

If you have not been gathering, consider gathering with your church family again. We have a 10:00 Bible study where Jamie Harrison is walking us through the book of Revelation. If you are at-risk, this Bible study would be perfect for you so you can spread out (and even dip out the side door before the 11:00 worship gathering begins).


Refresh & Restore — November 23, 2022

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”[1]

Luke 17:11-19


Greetings Sojourners!

It’s been too long! But I’m glad to be back studying God’s Word with you!

I’ve been writing – just a different sort of writing. As I have said before, I am blessed to be a part of the Masters of Christian Theology program at William Carey University. It has not been easy, but it has been a blessing to me. As bad as I hate to admit it, I have lost a step or two since I was last in school (as a student), but it has been good to grow in my understanding of the Word of God and in theology; it’s even been good to grow as a writer through the (many) research papers.

While I have, unfortunately, been a little more hit-or-miss in the writings here, that is something that I hope will be remedied between now and when I graduate – and definitely beyond if the Lord allows. I have enjoyed our time spent studying Colossians, but we are going to pause that study for the time being. In the meantime, I will shift the writings between now and graduation to dive into passages that fit into and overlap with passages I am diving into either in personal devotional time or in my studies for Christ Community or at Carey.

Even as I look at how to better maximize my time and strategize to use it more effectively, I am thankful to get to be a part of all I get to do. I get to be a follower of Christ. I get to be a husband. I get to be a father. I get to teach and write and serve. I am even thankful for the time I must schedule all these aspects of my life.

This week is a time set aside in America for one to be thankful. The fourth Thursday in November is supposed to be a holiday devoted to celebrating all we have to be thankful for. Since the invention of social media, some challenge themselves to find and commemorate something they are thankful for every day in the month of November. Part of me thinks that it is sad that we need to be reminded to be thankful, but the rest of me knows just how selfish I am and that, left to my own, I will neglect to be grateful. Maybe you don’t need reminding, but I find that I do.

Today, I would like to look with you to God’s Word at a passage that reminded me to be thankful and convicted me of my own lack of thankfulness.

Meeting the Master and Finding Mercy (vv. 11-14)

Any time I study a passage in the latter half of Luke, I cannot help but think of Luke 9:51: When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. That phrase “set His face” could also be translated “he steadfastly set his face to go”[2]. This describes Jesus’ attitude and mindset when the end of His life was drawing near, knowing full well that the cross is why He was headed to Jerusalem. You see, He was not caught off-guard by His crucifixion. Luke’s gospel records this as the moment of Jesus “turned to Jerusalem to complete his work through the predicted betrayal, death, and resurrection.”[3]

This is important because it highlights that His sacrifice was willing. The fact that “He set His face” illustrates that He was resolutely focused on getting there. It brings to mind the sort of focus that an Olympic athlete has when preparing to compete. They focus only on things that are necessary to carry out that goal. Jesus, however, did not stop doing what He came to do – seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10), which is what He was going to the cross to do! So, the encounters He had with those who needed saving were not random encounters or detours, they were part of His mission.

Jesus and His disciples were, as we saw in Luke 9:51, still “on the way to Jerusalem” (v. 11) when they encountered ten lepers. Leprosy meant that these men would have had to declare that they had leprosy when approaching other people by crying out “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45-46) so that 1) people would not come into contact with the infected person[4] and 2) those concerned with being clean according to the Law would be made aware so they would not become unclean.

Leprosy was a catch-all term in the New Testament that referenced any skin disease from the period, but it is safe to say, regardless of the level of severity, that these men had been ostracized and at a distance from society for some time. They would have been unable to work or socialize with others, even family. They would feel isolated and alone. More than that, they were isolated and alone. When these men saw Jesus, they respectfully kept their distance, but they ceased their cries of “unclean” to cry out to Jesus: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (vv. 12-13).

Time and again, those who are outcast and downcast found their way to Jesus seeking help from Him. These particular outcasts asked Him for mercy. The word translated “mercy” here meant “to have compassion or mercy on a person in unhappy circumstances” or “to be gracious toward [or] bestow kindness”.[5] This request for mercy would have been the same whether they were asking for charity or alms or to be healed, so it is difficult to tell exactly what they were seeking. They found more charity than they could have ever hoped to receive.

No matter what they were seeking, they were likely confused by Jesus’ response. He did not toss them a coin or lay hands on them for healing. He didn’t even make mud and rub it on them (John 9:6) or tell them to bathe in the Jordan (2 Kings 5). He simply told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” If they had been familiar with the Law, they would have recognized that this was what those who were cleansed of leprosy were told to do in Leviticus 14:1-32 – to go and show themselves to the priest so that he could confirm they were clean and make an offering for their guilt and atonement for their sin. When the text says, “as they went” (v. 14), it shows that the men – all ten of them – departed to go to the priest. They had faith. Or at the very least belief or held to 1st century Judaism.

Nothing miraculous had happened to spark their journey, merely the command of Him from whom they sought mercy. But after they headed out on their journey, the miracle happened. They were cleansed. The sores on their skin were healed, yes, but something more happened. They were cleansed. Those who had just moments before needed to cry out “unclean” when they approached others were made clean by Jesus. They did not need lengthy washings or offerings by a priest because they had been cleansed by the God those priests served. Those ten men’s lives were changed in a moment. But the heart of one was touched more than the other nine.

Gratitude and Grace (vv. 15-19)

I cannot imagine what those men must have felt in their hearts – and in their bodies! It is important for us to look at the distinctions between the one and the nine in this narrative. Before we judge the nine too harshly, it is important to note as we did in v. 14 that they likely were heading exactly where Jesus had told them to go – to the priest. They were being obedient to Jesus and to the Law. The one who turned back would have had a hard time fulfilling that command, though, because he was a Samaritan.

All my life, I have heard the issue with Samaritans oversimplified to say that there was simply a sort of racial tension between Jewish people and those from Samaria. They have a long history of division. The Samaritans are largely the descendants of people brought in to colonize the region when the Assyrians conquered the land.[6] Those inhabitants were later educated in the Law after God had sent lions into the land to attack them (2 Kings 17:25-26) and some intermarrying occurred with the northern tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.[7] They claimed the same or at least similar beliefs as their Jewish relatives, but they had different holy places and places of worship. So, the tensions over ethnicity are accompanied and highlighted by the religious differences. The Samaritans were not accepted by Jewish people.

A leper would have been ostracized, but a Samaritan leper would have been a total outcast. So, for the Master (v. 13) to show such grace apparently made quite an impact. Ten lepers were cleansed. Nine Jewish former-lepers went to show themselves to the priest like Jesus commanded them. But only one stopped to thank Jesus. In fact, saying that he stopped to thank Jesus is an understatement. Look at what the text says. He saw that he was healed, turned back to where Jesus was, praised God, fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, and thanked Him (vv. 15-16).

Imagine what led this man to have such a reaction – a potentially incurable and infectious skin disease, seeking charity in a foreign land that is hostile to you and your people. Then, he encountered the One from whom mercy could be found. Imagine the feeling when looking down at your hands, expecting them to be covered in sores and boils but seeing clear skin. You would still have to go to present yourself to the priest, but Jesus was still standing there. Being cleared by the priest would mean you could go back to your life, but the One who healed you is right there.

What we see as a display of thankfulness was an act of worship for this man. What does that say for our thankfulness for what God has done for us?

Jesus asked the man some important questions: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” What can he ask of us?

Jesus knew the man’s heart. He knew what he meant when he asked for mercy. And He knew what drove the man to his face at His feet in praise and thanksgiving. Rather than showing himself before a priest, this man laid himself down at the feet of the Great High Priest. Jesus told the man, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Amen.

Wrapping Up

I asked you to imagine what the man must have been feeling, but, if you are in Christ, you know. If you are in Christ, you were formerly outcast (Ephesians 2:12). You were formerly not His people (1 Peter 2:10). You were His enemy (Romans 5:10). And you were dead in your sin (Ephesians 2:1-2, Colossians 2:13). Any of those are hopeless, but all of them leaves one desperate and despondent. Or it leaves one callous and defiant (Ephesians 4:17-19).

If you are in Christ, that means that you have been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). You did nothing to save yourself (Ephesians 2:9). In fact, you were and are completely incapable of saving yourself (Romans 3:10-12). Jesus did it all (Titus 3:4-5). When you respond to Christ by believing that He died for your sins and was raised again and confessed Him as your Lord (Romans 10:9-10), a transformation takes place (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). The outcast is brought near (Ephesians 2:13). Not-His-people becomes His people (1 Peter 2:9-10). His enemy is adopted into His family (Romans 5:8-11, Galatians 4:4-6). And the dead is made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5, Colossians 2:13-14).

If that is true of you, does it move you to worship? Does it move you to gratitude? When is the last time that you cast yourself on your face before God and thanked Him for His love and grace and mercy?

Religion does not produce such a reaction.

When John the Baptist sent His disciples to Jesus to make sure He was the Messiah, Jesus answered them by paraphrasing Isaiah 29:18-19 and 35:5-10: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” This answer satisfied John, and it points us to who Jesus is and what He does. He is the God who saves! One thing is for sure, dear Sojourner, the ones who can now see or walk who couldn’t before, the ones who were cleansed from their leprosy or given the ability to hear, those who were dead and are now alive – they are grateful! What does it say for me if I am not?

I needed this reminder. It is so easy to forget sometimes what it was to be lost, what it was to be dead in my sins. But there is a Savior who has earned my gratitude. He is worthy of better worship than I can offer.

I urge you to examine your heart – not because tomorrow is the fourth Thursday in November but because encountering Jesus produces a response. Encountering Him either drives us to repent of our sins and put our trust in Him or to vehemently deny Him. There is no middle ground. The good news is that if you find that you are not saved, He is still the God who saves! And I would love to help you encounter Him today.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 17:11–19.

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[3] Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 151.

[4] Brenda Heyink, “Leprosy,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[5] Zodhiates

[6] Robert T. Anderson, “Samaritans,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 941.

[7] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Samaritans,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1886.

Refresh & Restore — September 8, 2022

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.[1]

Colossians 3:9-11


Greetings Sojourners!

When we first started in these devotions a few years ago, all we had was an opportunity to help people dive more deeply into God’s Word and a desire to make that possible. We have, for the most part, been able to keep that going on a weekly basis, but for the next little while that will not be possible. Our desire has not changed. We still want to give opportunity to help people study God’s Word. The study that makes it possible sometimes requires a bit more time than life offers.

Part of that study will be completed in May. As I have mentioned before, I am getting to be part of a Master of Theology program at William Carey University. I began this past February and am thankful for all I have learned, am learning, and will learn before it is over (as well as continue to learn as these skills are applicable for the rest of my life). But that level of study, especially as a husband, father, teacher, pastor, and aspiring writer, takes time – time that takes me away from writing Bible studies like these, but time that also better equips me to write them.

Please, do not take this as complaining. I am thankful to get to do everything God allows! However, I am definitely learning my own limitations as He grows me more into who He is making me to be.

Having said all that, I am glad to be back in our study of Colossians, especially as we transition out of what we once were in our trespasses and sins (dead) and into looking at what new life in Christ is meant to look like.

When a person comes to Christ, more happens than simply joining a church or walking an aisle. Everyone who is not in Christ is dead in their sin (Colossians 2:13, Ephesians 2:1-2) no matter their religious affliliation. So for us to say that we have new life in Christ recognizes 1) that the old has gone/died and 2) there should be a marked difference in the new because that which was dead now lives through Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5)! When Paul transitions in our passage today from taking off the sins of the old life to putting on Christ, he is doing more than talking about behaviors; he is showing the Colossians what the new life in Christ is supposed to be like (and what it is not).

Seeing That You Have Put Off the Old Self with Its Practices (vv. 9-10)

The last of the sins Paul told the Colossian believers to “put…away” in verse 8 was to put away “obscene talk from [their mouths]”. In verse 9, he tells them not to “lie to one another, seeing that [they] have put off the old self with its practices” (emphasis added). You can see here that this is more than morality and the monitoring and modifying of behavior – it is about the “new self” (v. 10).

Too often, Christians and church-folks[2] put either too much or a wrong emphasis on behavior, so, for us to understand what Paul is talking to them about, it may be helpful for us to first clarify what we are not talking about.

Church-folks worry a lot about the way behaviors look. They hurry up and stop arguing as they pull in the church parking lot. They have expectations about the way that people carry themselves while at church, too. They think no cussing should occur in the church building; no obscene talk in there. If a lost person comes into the building, they want them to learn how to act and behave because the image of being sanctified or reverent or holy is more important than being sanctified, reverent, or holy. They are a caricature of Jesus said the Pharisees were like: “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). Basically, they want to look like they have been changed by Jesus – look like they have new life – when they are actually still dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2, Colossians 2:13).

If they were to repent of their sins and seek Jesus, everyone would know that they are not perfect. Everyone would know they are sinners. If this describes you, I hate to tell you, but people already know. Church-folks ain’t fooling anyone.

What Paul is telling the Colossians when he says “you have put off the old self with its practices” (v. 9) is a reminder that they have encountered Jesus. It is a reminder that they do not have to live like dead men and women because Jesus has made them alive! That would be like Jesus coming back to Bethany to visit Lazarus after he had been raised (John 11, 12:1) and finding him hanging out back at the tomb. That would be foolish, right? No, after Lazarus had been called out of death and hopped out of the tomb, Jesus found him in the house reclining at the dinner table (John 12:2). He was eating and hanging out. He was alive and no longer dead because Jesus made him alive (John 11:43-44, Ephesians 2:4-5)!

What about you?

Has Jesus made you alive, or are you still dead in your sins? Are you trying to convince others that you are not a sinner or yourself?

Paul wanted the Colossians to be reminded that they have “put on the new self” – that who they are after coming to Christ is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (v. 10). Everything that sin has done, is doing, and will do since the Fall (Genesis 3) has effectively marred how man bears God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). When Jesus saves us – when He brings us from death to eternal life in Him, He begins correcting that image. We go from looking like the world, little-by-little and day-by-day, to looking like Him again. The longer we walk with Him the more significant the change!

That’s good news!

Here There is Not…. (v. 11)

Think about all of the categories and labels that Paul lists in verse 11 and how that compares to the image of God: Greek, Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free. Each of those words was a worldly description of somebody in the church at Colossae. Some of those categories were even Biblical or are part of the unique and beautiful way that God created that person. Others came from the way that other men had labeled them to either belittle or marginalize them. But none of them compare to what it is to be in Christ!

Those who are in Christ are His (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Titus 2:14). They have been adopted into His family (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5). The labels and categories that are so emphasized here on earth just cannot compare to belonging to Him – to being alive in Him. That is why Paul tells them that their ethnicity, their religious affiliation and practices, their nationality, or even whether they are free or owned by another person pales in comparison to “Christ [being] all, and in all” (v. 11).

There will not be a gate for entrance into heaven for American Christians, Evangelical Christians, Catholics, or Protestants. Their will not be gates per ethnicity or culture. Those are qualifications sinful people make up to either lift themselves up, tear others down, or some mixture thereof. No, in heaven there will be none of that foolishness! I love the beautiful picture from John’s vision of heaven in Revelation 7:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

Revelation 7:9-10

Everyone will be together. All those who are in Christ will stand before His throne. He will be the focus. Amen!

He is either “all, and in all” – or He ain’t. To paraphrase Ricky Bobby: if Jesus ain’t first, He’s last.

Wrapping Up

 Since today’s verses are transitioning from our last passage to what comes next, I am afraid that this might have come across a bit disjointed, so I want to clear things up a bit. To do so, there are two statements my pastor John Goldwater has made at Christ Community Church recently that stand out in my mind as I write this. Let me paraphrase them for you:

  1. There was a Sunday a while back where we had a noticeably large group of visitors. During the announcements, he told them that if they had come to Christ Community looking to see their social status raised by attending or are looking for some sort of worldly benefit they had come to the wrong place. He told them all we had to offer was Jesus and His gospel and that those looking for social capital would never find it with us.
  2. He is preaching through Matthew and was going through the passage where the Pharisees were angry at Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:1-14). As he talked about how the morally-elite and religiously-superior Pharisees were lecturing God Himself on what He should and should not have done, he reminded us that we do not have time to teach people how to act in church because that is all they will learn (acting). No, he reminded us that if we point them to Jesus – if we share His gospel with them, they can learn Christ, be saved, and Jesus will change their lives. All acting will do is teach lost, dead sinners how to hide how dead they are.

What Paul was doing for the Colossian church, and for believers today, is helping them to see that there is supposed to be a difference between those who have been saved – those who are in Christ – those who have been made alive by grace through faith in Christ alone – and those who are still dead. I hope you can see, beloved Sojourner, that there should not even be a comparison here much less confusion. We should be able to easily tell the difference between death and life. We should not be satisfied going back to the cemetery when Jesus is preparing a room for us in the Father’s house (John 14:1-6)!

But, sadly, we allow ourselves to be. “But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:20)

If someone taught you to act like a Christian but you have not been born again (John 3), you are dead in your trespasses. No amount of service or behavior or the Academy Award quality acting that even has your grandmama fooled will get you through the gate. Those who are not in Christ will not hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21) because they are not His servant. They will cry out that they had preached in the name of Jesus, done mighty works in the name of Jesus, and had even cast out demons in the name of Jesus (Matthew 7:22), but they had never believed in Jesus (Acts 4:12, Romans 10:9-10) – they had never called upon His name to save them (Romans 10:13). No, all acting will get is this declaration from Him: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

On the other hand, there are those who have called upon Him and have been saved. They have been convicted in their hearts of their sins (Psalm 73:21), repented (Psalm 51), and confessed Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9). They were dead, but Jesus made them alive.

They may not always act right, but Jesus is still working on and in them. They need to be reminded like their Colossian brothers and sisters of old to stop doing the sins of the old self and put on Christ and His new life. They need to be reminded to get out of the cemetery and come to the table. They need to be reminded that Jesus has more for them than this world. He has given life and His Spirit to help them live it.

Which describes you?

John was right. No amount of social capital can compare with an encounter with Jesus. And no amount of acting will earn heaven when the credits roll.

I am reminded of my son Xander when he got saved about a month ago. He had asked questions for months and months. He understood that everyone is a sinner and that those who die without believing in Christ go to hell. He knew lots of information and details. The more he asked, the worse he acted. There were times where he was so worried over acting this way or that – over trying to seem like he did not sin at all – that his behavior was worse than it had ever been before. He seesawed between trying to earn salvation and acting like hell until he finally changed his question. Mid-sermon one Sunday morning, he turned around and, instead of asking how to be saved, he asked, “How do you know God will save you?” He was shocked at how simple the answer was: “You do what the Bible says to do to be saved, and you trust God will do what He promised for them.”

He was relieved. None of it depended on him. It all depended on Jesus. I imagine the Colossian church was relieved, too. They did not need to be circumcised because they had been saved. They did not need to act this way or that, or celebrate this religious festival or another, because they had been saved. All they needed was Jesus. And, dear Sojourner, that is all you need as well. If you do not know Him, I would be glad to talk to you or help you find a pastor or believer where you live to sit down with you. If you are part of a church that gives acting lessons over the gospel, I would love to help you find one where the Word of God is open and His gospel offered freely. As always, know that I am praying for you and thankful that the Spirit works through His Word!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 3:9–11.

[2] When I say church-folks, I mean religious people who go to church who use the name Christian without actually having been saved. The area of the southeastern United States where I live is inundated with church-folks. Even within my denomination, Southern Baptist, which prides itself on regenerate church membership (fancy seminary term for you must be saved to join the church), there are people who are allowed to join the church for what they bring to the table – for their gifts, talents, or, sadly, the size of their bank account – instead of having been made alive in Christ. This is important to clarify because, despite how it looks to the outside world, a church building full of dead people is not a church. It can’t be because the church is a people not a building or organization. Christ’s church is made up of those He has made alive. Church-folks are something else entirely.