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“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:14-17

In Number 21:4-9 is the account of the children of Israel and the bronze serpent which Moses lifted up on a pole. The people became discouraged along the way in the wilderness and spoke against both God and Moses, questioning why God and His servant Moses brought them out into such a desolate land where they had neither food nor water. Because of their lack of faith and their evil words, the LORD God sent fiery serpents among the people to bite them, and many of the people died.

The people then acknowledged their sin and asked Moses to pray to the LORD that He remove the serpents from them. Instead, God commanded Moses to make a serpent and lift it up on a pole so that anyone bitten by the serpents could look at the serpent on the pole and live rather than die. As God commanded, Moses made a serpent of bronze and mounted it on a pole, and anyone who was bitten by one of the fiery serpents, if he looked in faith at the bronze serpent, he lived.

In the same way, because of our sinful and unbelieving hearts, we do not follow after the LORD God and walk in His ways. We grumble and complain of His commandments and of the things which God permits to arise in our lives. Like Adam and Eve, who failed to trust in the Word of the LORD and ate of the tree of which God had commanded them not to eat, so we fail to trust in the Word of the LORD and so often think we know better than God what is good for us.

Thus, when God says, “You shall not,” we question His goodness and wisdom and do those things He says not to do. When He tells us what He would have us do, again we think we know better and do our own thing instead.

In the same way as God did not immediately remove the fiery serpents from among His people, so He has not removed from us all the consequences of our sin. Like Adam and Eve, we must suffer sorrow and hardship in this life and finally die.

But God has provided a way for us to live and not suffer eternal death and damnation. As He promised Adam and Eve that Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness that all who, in faith, looked to it could live, so God sent His only begotten Son into the world, the Seed of the woman.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so also Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, was lifted up when He was crucified and condemned upon the cross for the sins of the whole world. Though we are still bitten by the old evil serpent and have the poison of sin flowing through our hearts and veins, God in His great love for all mankind sent His only begotten Son into the world, not to condemn us for our sin, but to bear our punishment and save us from eternal death and damnation.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and those who looked upon it in faith lived, so also sinners today can look to Christ Jesus, who was crucified for our sins and has risen again in victory; and those who look to Jesus in faith will not die eternally but live!

Jesus, when He was lifted up upon the cross, paid in full the just penalty for the sins of all people. His resurrection is proof. Those who look to Jesus in faith will not be condemned to hell for their sins; for in Jesus, God graciously forgives their sins and give them everlasting life instead. In Jesus, we who should die for our sins are given the everlasting glories of heaven. O how great God’s love toward us is in Christ Jesus!

Dear Jesus, I have sinned and turned aside from loving, trusting and honoring You with my life. Do not deal with me as I deserve on account of my sin. I look to You and Your cross for salvation. Forgive my sin, cleanse my heart and grant me life eternal with You in Your everlasting kingdom. Amen.

[Scripture is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” John 21:15-17

Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” And three times Peter affirmed his love for Jesus and was commissioned by Jesus to feed and tend to His sheep.

What is not so obvious in English translations are the different words behind the words “love” and “feed” or “tend.” Two times Jesus asked Peter if he loved (agapao, or selfless love) Him and Peter replied with the Greek word indicating that he had brotherly or reciprocal (phileo) love for Jesus. And the third time, Jesus also used the word for reciprocal love in His question to Peter.

And, in Jesus’ commission to Peter, He used two different words in regard to caring for the sheep. Peter was commanded to feed (bosko) Jesus’ lambs, to tend or shepherd (poimaino) His sheep and to feed (bosko) His sheep.

Peter was grieved that Jesus would ask him three times of his love for Him, for Peter had three times denied knowing Jesus or being His disciple (John 18:15ff.). Peter, in the strength of his own flesh, had before assured Jesus that He was ready to die with Him (Luke 22:31-34). But, of course, that dependence upon himself failed Peter — three times!

And Peter was now being called and commissioned by Jesus to bear witness of Him and testify of His person and work before the world — He was to tell all that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16), and that Jesus suffered and died for the sins of all and rose again on the third day (cf. Luke 24:44-49). In fact, Peter would be called upon to suffer greatly for his testimony as a disciple of the Lord Jesus (John 21:18f.). He would need to love Jesus enough to die for Him, as Jesus had loved His sheep enough to die for them and redeem them (cf. John 10:11; Rom. 5:8).

What about us? I sometimes wonder how many times Jesus would have to ask me if I love Him for, even though I may not have denied Jesus in the same way as Peter, I have often denied Him by failing to speak up in His name, by failing to follow Him and by going my own way instead of His.

And, without love for Jesus, how can we begin to fully trust in Him for our salvation, deny ourselves and follow Him, obey Him and live in accord with His commandments or be faithful to Him unto death? The Bible tells us that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10; 1 Cor. 13:1ff.; 1 John 2:5; 5:2-3; Matt. 22:35-40; Rev. 2:10).

Indeed, Jesus’ love for me is selfless, undeserved love. My love for Him falls so far short of His love for me. It is reciprocal love at best — I love Him because He first loved me and gave Himself for me (cf. 1 John 4:9-10,19).

As a pastor, I am called “to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2-4). But every believer and disciple of Jesus is called to love the Lord Jesus and to love those for whom He died and rose again (1 John 5:1; Eph. 4:1ff.; 4:11ff.). Every believer is called to follow Christ, bear witness to Christ and to suffer with Christ.

It takes love for Christ to have love for those for whom He died. It takes love for Christ to be willing to give up ourselves and serve the needs of others. It takes love for Christ to be willing to suffer and possibly even die as His followers.

Jesus asks you, and He asks me, “Do you love Me?” He knows all things. He knows our hearts. Do we merely pay lip service? Or do we truly love Him enough to follow Him and serve him? Do we call upon Him who knows all to search and test our hearts, as did Peter (cf. Psalm 139:23-24)?

And, if we find ourselves short in the love department, if our lives reveal a lack of love for Christ, what’s the answer? We can’t generate love by our own efforts or determination. Self-generated love will fail. True love for God is generated by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit through the Word (cf. Gal. 5:22-23; 1 Cor. 13:1ff.). “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

When the Holy Spirit reveals our utter sinfulness and unworthiness before God and then shows us the great love of God for us in Christ Jesus — sending His own Son into the world to suffer and die for our sins and rise again — the Spirit works faith in our hearts and love for Christ Jesus as a fruit of His great love for us sinners.

Therefore, if we desire to grow in our love for Jesus, the first step is considering His love for us. As John writes: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10; cf. John 3:16; Rom. 5:5-9; 8:28-39).

Grant us to know Your love for us, dear Savior, that we may love You, trust in You and bear witness to You and the salvation You won for all. Grant us an ever-growing love for You. Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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“Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not uncovered your iniquity, to bring back your captives, but have envisioned for you false prophecies and delusions.” Lamentations 2:14 (Read Lamentations 2)

In the midst of the images of horror and judgment upon God’s people for turning aside from serving the LORD God and not walking according to His Word, Jeremiah, in his laments, points out one of the causes of the calamity which had come upon Judah and Jerusalem: their prophets had not uncovered and rebuked the sin and iniquity of God’s people but had told them false prophecies and delusions. In other words, the prophets who should have been warning God’s people and calling them to repentance were not uncovering and pointing out the people’s sins but were speaking false words of comfort, assuring them that all was well with their souls when, in fact, God’s judgment was at the doors.

The same thing happens today when pastors overlook sin and fail to uncover it, rebuke it and warn of its consequences (cf. Eph. 5:11). It happens when pastors preach peace and forgiveness where there is no peace and forgiveness because there is no true repentance or faith.

And we, too, would often prefer delusions to the truth. Few wish to face the truth that we all sin in our thoughts, desires, words and actions and that sin damns. It is as the Bible teaches: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23); “There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Eccl. 7:20); and, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

While many would prefer that pastors know nothing of their lives but what they see on Sunday mornings, it is the job of pastors to uncover sins. No, they are not to be out spying on their parishioners or conducting investigations into their personal lives; but they are to uncover sins by shining the light of God’s Word upon their lives.

They do this by preaching God’s law in all its severity — not watering down or softening its demands or its judgments in the least. Pastors must preach against sin in their own lives and sin in their parishioners’ lives and point out that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20; cf. 33:1-11). They must warn that those who continue on in their sinful ways will not inherit the blessings of heaven (cf. Rom. 6:1-23; Heb. 10:26-31; Eph. 5:3ff.; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Such uncovering of sin is not pleasant and all of us, as we are by our natural birth, would rather avoid it. Jesus said in John 3:19-20: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Of course, such uncovering of the sins in our lives which lead to eternal condemnation would do little good if pastors did not also proclaim God’s remedy for our sin and just condemnation. It is as we often confess, not only are we guilty of sin before God but we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.

Therefore, to those whose sins are uncovered and stand condemned by God’s law, pastors preach and proclaim God’s remedy in Christ Jesus. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures … He was buried … He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3,4). “Jesus Christ the righteous … is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 1:1,2). “He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:6,7). “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-26).

To the penitent — those who see and acknowledge their sinful and lost condition — pastors proclaim God’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. They give their hearers the assurance that, through faith in Christ, their sins are forgiven and that God accepts them and gives to them eternal life in His heavenly kingdom.

And, so, I ask you to examine yourselves in the light of God’s Word. Where God’s Word uncovers and reveals sin in your life, don’t cover it back up or quickly turn off the light. Rather, acknowledge and confess it as sin to the Lord God, and look to Him for mercy in the Son, Jesus Christ. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).

Then, as a fruit of your faith in Christ, seek the guidance of God’s Word and the help and strength which only the Holy Spirit can give to amend your lives, rid yourselves of the sin and live for Him who died for you and rose again (cf. 2 Cor. 5:15).

Let the light of Your Word shine into our lives, O God, that we might see our sin and look to Christ for mercy and forgiveness and seek the help and aid of Your Spirit to walk in Your ways. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

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