Les Miserablés begins with paroled convict Jean Valjean stealing a priest’s silver. He’s caught, and he expects to be returned to the mines. But the priest shocks everyone when he claims he’d given the silver to Valjean. After the police leave, he turns to the thief, “You belong no longer to evil, but to good.”
Such extravagant love points to the love that flowed from the fountain from which all grace comes. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter told his audience that less than two months before, in that very city, they had crucified Jesus. The crowd was crushed and asked what they must do. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Jesus had endured the punishment they deserved. Now their penalty would be forgiven if they put their faith in Him.
Oh, the irony of grace! The people could only be forgiven because of Christ’s death—a death they were responsible for. How gracious and powerful is God! He has used humanity’s greatest sin to accomplish our salvation! If God has already done this with the sin of crucifying Jesus, we may assume there’s nothing He can’t turn into something good. Trust the One who “in all things . . . works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Carl had contracted cancer and needed a double lung transplant. He asked God for new lungs, but felt odd doing so. He confessed it’s a strange thing to pray, because “someone has to die so I might live.”
Carl’s dilemma highlights a basic truth of Scripture: God uses death to bring life. We see this in the story of the Exodus. Born into slavery, the Israelites languished under the oppressive hands of the Egyptians. Pharaoh wouldn’t release his grip until God made it personal. Every eldest son would die, unless the family killed a spotless lamb and slathered its blood across their doorposts (Exodus 12:6–7).
Today, you and I have been born into the bondage of sin. Satan would not release his grip on us until God made it personal, sacrificing His perfect Son on the blood-spattered arms of the cross.
Jesus calls us to join Him there. Paul explains, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). When we put our faith in God’s spotless Lamb, we commit to daily dying with Him—dying to our sin so we might rise with Him to new life (Romans 6:4–5). We express this faith in baptism and every time we say no to the shackles of sin and yes to the freedom of Christ. We’re never more alive than when we die with Jesus.
“The Gathering” in northern Thailand is an interdenominational, international church. On a recent Sunday, Christians from Korea, Ghana, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, America, the Philippines, and other countries came together in a humble, thread-worn hotel conference room. They sang “In Christ Alone” and “I Am a Child of God,” lyrics that were especially poignant in this setting.
No one brings people together like Jesus does. He’s been doing it from the start. In the first century, Antioch contained eighteen different ethnic groups, each living in its own part of the city. When believers first came to Antioch, they spread the word about Jesus “only among Jews” (Acts 11:19). That wasn’t God’s plan for the church, however. Others soon came who “began to speak to Greeks [Gentiles] also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus,” and “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (vv. 20–21). People in the city noticed that Jesus was healing centuries of animosity between Jews and Greeks, and they declared this multi-ethnic church should be called “Christians,” or “little Christs” (v. 26).
It can be challenging for us to reach across ethnic, social, and economic boundaries to embrace those different from us. But this difficulty is our opportunity. If it wasn’t hard, we wouldn’t need Jesus to do it. And few would notice we’re following Him.
Dewberry Baptist Church split in the 1800s over a chicken leg. Various versions of the story exist, but the account told by a current member was that two men fought over the last drumstick at a church potluck. One man said God wanted him to have it. The other replied God didn’t care, and he really wanted it. The men became so furious that one moved a couple kilometers down the road and started Dewberry Baptist Church #2. Thankfully the churches have settled their differences, and everyone concedes the reason for their split was ridiculous.
Jesus agrees. The night before His death Jesus prayed that His followers would “be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” May they “be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me” (John 17:21–23).
Paul agrees. He urges us to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3–4), and these cannot be divided.
We who weep for Christ’s body broken for our sin must not tear apart His body with our anger, gossip, and cliques. Better to let ourselves be wronged than be guilty of the scandal of church division. Give the other guy the chicken leg—and some pie too!
When Christian Mustad showed his Van Gogh landscape to art collector Auguste Pellerin, Pellerin took one look and said it wasn’t authentic. Mustad hid the painting in his attic, where it remained for fifty years. Mustad died, and the painting was evaluated off and on over the next four decades. Each time it was determined to be a fake. Until 2012, when an expert used a computer to count the thread separations in the painting’s canvas. He discovered it had been cut from the same canvas as another work of Van Gogh. Mustad had owned a real Van Gogh all along.
Do you feel like a fake? Do you fear that if people examined you they’d see how little you pray, give, and serve? Are you tempted to hide in the attic, away from prying eyes?
Look deeper, beneath the colors and contours of your life. If you have turned from your own ways and put your faith in Jesus, then you and He belong to the same canvas. To use Jesus’ picture, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (v. 5). Jesus and you form a seamless whole.
Resting in Jesus makes you a true disciple of Him. It’s also the only way to improve your picture. He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5).
The coronavirus pandemic canceled schools around the world. In China, teachers responded with DingTalk, a digital app that enabled class to be held online. Then their students figured out that if DingTalk’s rating fell too low, it might be removed from the App Store. Overnight thousands of one-star reviews dropped DingTalk’s score.
Jesus wouldn’t be impressed with the students shirking their responsibilities, but He might admire their ingenuity. He told an unusual story about a fired manager who on his final day slashed the bills of his master’s debtors. Jesus didn’t praise the manager’s dishonesty. Rather He commended his cleverness and wished His followers would be equally shrewd. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).
When it comes to money, most people look at how much they might lose. Wise people look for what they can use. Jesus said giving to others “gain(s) friends,” which provides safety and influence. Who is the leader in any group? The one who pays. Giving also gains “eternal dwellings,” for our willingness to part with our cash shows our trust is in Jesus.
Maybe we don’t have money. We do have time, skills, or a listening ear. Let’s cleverly plot ways to serve others for Jesus. What we lose is less than what we’ll win.
Someone said we go through life with three names: the name our parents gave us, the name others give us (reputation), and the name we give ourselves (character). The name others give us matters, as “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1). But reputation can be wrong. Character matters more.
There’s yet another name that matters most. Jesus told the Christians in Pergamum that though their reputation had suffered some well-deserved hits, He had a new name reserved in heaven for those who fight back and conquer temptation. “To the one who is victorious, I will give . . . a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (v. 17).
We aren’t sure why Jesus promised a white stone. Is it an award for winning? A token for admission to the Messianic banquet? Perhaps it’s similar to what jurors once used to vote for acquittal. We simply don’t know. Whatever it is, God promises our new name will wipe away our shame (see Isaiah 62:1–5).
Our reputation may be tattered and our character may be seemingly beyond repair. But neither name ultimately defines us. It’s not what others call you, nor even what you call yourself that matters. You are who Jesus says you are. Live into your new name.
Louis Zamperini survived, somehow. His military plane crashed at sea during the war, killing eight of eleven men onboard. “Louie” and two others clambered into life rafts. They drifted for two months, fending off sharks, riding out storms, ducking bullets from an enemy plane, and catching and eating raw fish and birds. They finally drifted onto an island and were immediately captured. For two years Louie was beaten, tortured, and worked mercilessly as a prisoner of war. His remarkable story is told in the book, Unbroken.
Jeremiah is one of the Bible’s unbreakable characters. He endured enemy plots (11:18), was whipped and put in stocks (20:2), flogged and bound in a dungeon (37:15–16), and lowered by ropes into the deep mire of a cistern (38:6). He survived because God had promised to stay with him and rescue him (1:8). God makes a similar promise to us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). God didn’t promise to save Jeremiah or us from trouble, but He has promised to carry us through trouble.
Louie recognized God’s protection, and after the war he gave his life to Christ. He forgave his captors, and led some to Jesus. Louie realized that while we can’t avoid all problems, we need not suffer them alone. When we face them with Jesus, we become unbreakable.
Someone said we go through life with three names: the name our parents gave us, the name others give us (our reputation) and the name we give ourselves (our character). The name others give us matters, as “a good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (PROVERBS 22:1). But while reputation…