Julio was biking across the George Washington Bridge—that busy, double-decked thoroughfare connecting New York City and New Jersey—when he encountered a life-or-death situation. A man was standing on a ledge over the Hudson River preparing to jump. Knowing that the police wouldn’t arrive in time, Julio acted quickly. He recalls getting off his bike and spreading out his arms, saying something like: “Don’t do it. We love you.” Then, like a shepherd with a crook, he grabbed the distraught man, and with the help of another passerby, brought him to safety. According to reports, Julio wouldn’t let go of the man, even after he was safe.
Two millennia earlier, in a life-or-death situation, Jesus, the Good Shepherd said He would lay down His life to save and never let go of those who believed in Him. He summarized how He would bless His sheep: they would know Him personally, have the gift of eternal life, would never perish, and were secure in His care (John 10:28). This security didn’t depend on the ability of the frail and feeble sheep, but the sufficiency of the Shepherd who will never let one be snatched “out of [His] hand” (vv. 28–29).
When we were distraught and feeling hopeless, Jesus rescued us. So we can feel safe and secure in our relationship with Him. He loves us, pursues us, finds us, saves us, and promises to never let us go.
Human beings are not special—at least according to the London Zoo. In 2005, the zoo introduced a four-day exhibit: “Humans in Their Natural Environment.” The human “captives” were chosen through an online contest. To help visitors understand the humans, the zoo workers created a sign detailing their diet, habitat, and threats. According to the zoo’s spokesperson, the goal of the exhibit was to downplay the uniqueness of human beings. One participant in the exhibit seemed to agree. “When they see humans as animals, here, it kind of reminds them that we’re not that special.”
What a stark contrast to what the Bible says about human beings: God “fearfully and wonderfully” made us in “his image” (Psalm 139:14; Genesis 1:26–27).
David began Psalm 139 by celebrating God’s intimate knowledge of him (vv. 1–6) and His all-encompassing presence (vv. 7–12). Like a master weaver, God not only formed the intricacies of David’s internal and external features (vv. 13–14), but He also made him a living soul, giving spiritual life and the ability to intimately relate to God. Meditating on God’s handiwork, David responded in awe, wonder, and praise (v. 14).
Human beings are special. God created us with marvelous uniqueness and the awesome ability to have an intimate relationship with Him. Like David, we can praise Him because we are the workmanship of His loving hands.
Since 2006 a group of people have celebrated an unusual event around the New Year. It’s called Good Riddance Day. Based on a Latin American tradition, individuals write down unpleasant, embarrassing memories and bad issues from the past year and throw them into an industrial-strength shredder. Or some take a sledgehammer to their good riddance item.
The writer of Psalm 123 goes beyond suggesting that people say good riddance to unpleasant memories. He reminds us that the Lord bids good riddance to our sins. In his attempt to express God’s vast love for His people, the psalmist used word pictures. He compared the vastness of the Lord’s love to the distance between the heavens and the earth (Psalm 103:11). Then he talked about God’s forgiveness in spatial terms. As far as the place where the sun rises is from the place where the sun sets, so the Lord has removed His people’s sins from them (v. 12). The psalmist wanted the Lord’s people to know that His love and forgiveness were infinite and complete. God freed his people from the power of their transgressions by fully pardoning them.
Rejoice! We don’t have to wait until the New Year to experience Good Riddance Day. Through our faith in Jesus, when we confess and turn from our sins, He bids good riddance to them and casts them into the depths of the sea. Today can be a Good Riddance Day!
It’s not unusual for utility bills to be surprisingly high. But Kieran Healy of North Carolina received a water bill that would make your heart stop. The notification said that he owed 100 million dollars for his water bill. A 100-million-dollar water bill! Confident that he hadn't used that much water the previous month, Healy jokingly asked if he could pay the bill in installments.
Owing a 100-million-dollar debt would be an overwhelming burden, but that pales in comparison to the real—and immeasurable—burden sin causes us to carry. Attempting to carry the burden and consequences of our own sins ultimately leaves us feeling tired and riddled with guilt and shame. The truth is, we are incapable of carrying this load.
And we were never meant to. As Peter reminded believers, only Jesus, the sinless Son of God, could carry the heavy burden of our sin and its weighty consequences (1 Peter 2:24). In His death on the cross, Jesus took all our wrongdoing on Himself and offered us His forgiveness. Because He carried our burden, we do not have to suffer the punishment we deserve.
Instead of living in fear or guilt, the “empty way of life handed down to” us (1:18), we can enjoy a new life of love and freedom (vv. 22–23).
After five deaths and 51 injuries in elevator accidents in 2016, New York City launched an ad campaign to educate people on how to stay calm and be safe. The worst cases were people who tried to save themselves when something went wrong. The best plan of action, authorities say, is simply, “Ring, relax, and wait.” New York building authorities made a commitment to respond promptly to protect people from injury and extract them from their predicament.
In the book of Acts, Peter preached a sermon that addressed the error of trying to save ourselves. Luke, who wrote the book, records some remarkable events in which believers in Christ were speaking in languages they did not know (Acts 2:1–12). Peter got up to explain to his Jewish brothers and sisters that what they were witnessing was the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy (Joel 2:28–32)—the outpouring of the Spirit and a day of salvation. The blessing of the Holy Spirit was now visibly seen in those who called on Jesus for rescue from sin and its effects. Then Peter told them how this salvation is available for anyone (v. 21). Our access to God comes not through keeping the Law but through trusting Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
If we are trapped in sin, we cannot save ourselves. Our only hope for being rescued is acknowledging and trusting Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
On a particularly hot day, eight-year-old Carmine McDaniel wanted to make sure his neighborhood mail carrier stayed cool and hydrated. So he left a cooler filled with a sports drink and water bottles on their front step. The family security camera recorded the mail carrier’s reaction: “Oh man, water and Gatorade. Thank God; thank you!”
Carmine’s mom says, “Carmine feels that it’s his ‘duty’ to supply the mailman with a cool beverage even if they’re not home.”
This story warms our hearts, but it also reminds us that there is One who will “meet all of your needs,” as the apostle Paul phrased it. Though Paul was languishing in jail and uncertain about his future, he expressed joy for the Christians in Philippi because God had met his needs through their financial gift to him. The Philippian church was not wealthy, but they were generous, giving to Paul and others out of their poverty (see 2 Corinthians 8:1–4). As the Philippians had met Paul’s needs, so God would meet theirs, “according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
God often sends vertical help through horizontal means. Put another way, He sends us what we need through the help of others. When we trust Him for what we need, we learn, as Paul did, the secret of true contentment (v. 12).
What do you do when there is a mountain in your way? The story of Dashrath Manjhi can inspire us. When his wife died because he was unable to get her to the hospital to receive urgent medical care, Manjhi did what seemed impossible. He spent twenty-two years chiseling a massive gap in a mountain so other villagers could get to the local hospital to receive the medical care they needed. Before he died, the government of India celebrated him for his achievement.
Rebuilding the temple must have looked impossible to Zerubbabel, one of the leaders of Israel who returned from exile. The people were discouraged, faced opposition from their enemies, and lacked resources or a big army. But God sent Zechariah to remind Zerubbabel that the task would take something more powerful than military strength, individual power, or man-made resources. It would take the Spirit’s power (Zechariah 4:6). With the assurance of divine aid, Zerubbabel trusted that God would level any mountain of difficulty that stood in the way of rebuilding the temple and restoring the community (v. 7).
What do we do when there is a “mountain” before us? We have two options: Rely on our own strength or trust the Spirit’s power. When we trust His power, He will either level the mountain or give us the strength and endurance to climb over it.
In the article “Leading by Naming,” Mark Labberton wrote about the power of a name. He said: “I can still feel the impact of a musical friend who one day called me ‘musical.’ No one had ever called me that. I didn’t really play an instrument. I was no soloist. Yet . . . I instantly felt known and loved. . . . [He] noticed, validated, and appreciated something deeply true about me.”
Perhaps this is what Simon felt when Jesus renamed him. After Andrew was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, he immediately found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus (John 1:41-42). Jesus peered into his soul and validated and appreciated something deeply true about Simon. Yes, Jesus saw the failure and impetuous nature that would get him into trouble. But more than that He saw the potential of Simon to become a leader in the church. Jesus named him Cephas—Aramaic for Peter—a rock (John 1:42; see Matt. 16:18).
And so it is with us. God sees our pride, anger, and lack of love for others, but He also knows who we are in Christ. He calls us justified and reconciled (Rom. 5:9-10); forgiven, holy, and beloved (Col. 2:13; 3:12); chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14). Remember how God sees you and seek to let that define who you are.
One of my favorite television programs is The Amazing Race. In this reality show, 10 couples are sent to a foreign country where they must race, via trains, buses, cabs, bikes, and feet, from one point to another to get their instructions for the next challenge. The goal is for one couple to get to a designated finishing point before everyone else, and the prize is a million dollars.
The apostle Paul compared the Christian life to a race and admitted that he had not yet arrived at the finish line. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Phil. 3:13-14). Paul did not look back and allow his past failures to weigh him down with guilt, nor did he let his present successes make him complacent. He pressed on toward the goal of becoming more and more like Jesus.
We are running this race too. Despite our past failures or successes, let us keep pressing on toward the ultimate goal of becoming more like Jesus. We are not racing for an earthly prize, but for the ultimate reward of enjoying Him forever.