Jesus Our Advocate

1 John begins with the apostle John affirming that he and the other apostles had indeed seen, heard and even touched Jesus when he walked the earth. This first-hand witness proclaimed what he had experienced so that others could have fellowship with Jesus also.

John goes on to urge his readers to walk in the light rather than in the darkness. Those who live in sin do not live in the truth. But if we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.

This doesn’t mean that we can be perfect. As 1:8-10 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

Some people have mistakenly believed that God’s grace is essentially a license to sin. “If our sins are forgiven”, they might say, “then we must be able to live any way we choose.” Paul the apostle often had to deal with this dangerously wrong mindset in his letters. In Rom.6:1-2 he writes, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!…”

So that no one would seek to cheapen God’s grace in such a way, John continues in 1 John 2:1-2, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Rather than use God’s amazing grace as a license to sin, we should strive to live holy lives. Christians aren’t sinless, but we should sin less and less as we mature in our faith. However, when we do sin, the blood of Jesus is our atoning sacrifice, and he is our advocate before God.

You might picture this as a criminal trial. One day you will stand before God to answer for your sins. Satan will be the prosecuting attorney, accusing you of every single thing you have ever done wrong. However, Jesus is our defense attorney. He not only defends us before God, Jesus has already paid the price for our sins by dying a sacrificial death on the cross. The following poem might correctly describe this event as it plays out on Judgment Day:

“I hear the accuser roar

Of sins that I have done.

I know them well, and thousands more

Jehovah findeth none.

Still the restless foe accuses

Sins recounting like a flood.

Every charge our God refuses!

Christ has answered with his blood!”—Unknown author

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Ears Properly Spaced

A missionary was struggling to translate the Bible for a tribe that did not have the Word of God in their own native language. He found it particularly difficult to find a way to convey the concept of “pride”. He finally realized that there was an idea in that culture that some people’s ears were too far apart. So he used the concept of an inflated head to convey the idea of pride.

In the Bible, pride itself is considered a deadly sin, and it has the potential to lead us to commit many other sins. Therefore, we must constantly strive to humble ourselves so that we don’t go through life with our ears too far apart.

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”—Proverbs 16:18.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”—James 4:10.

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Feeling Ashamed

A young girl was once asked how she was able to sell a record number of Girl Scout cookies. She answered, “You have to look people in the eye and make them feel guilty.”

Sometimes we can manipulate people by making them feel guilty or ashamed. This, of course, is unethical. However, there are times when making people feel ashamed is actually a good thing. 2 Thess.3:14 says, “Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.” When someone is caught up in a serious sin, sometimes the first step in restoring them is to make them understand that they are guilty. Their feelings of shame lead them to repentance. Think about some of the times in your life when you have had to make a change in your behavior. Did it not come after you experienced some shame about things that you had said or done?

We live in some dangerous times, times in which we are told that shame is always a bad thing and that people should never be made to feel ashamed for any reason. This goes against common sense and Scripture.

Let’s be extremely cautious about how we use this biblical principle! But let’s not underestimate the way that God uses shame to bring people back to Him.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”—2 Cor.7:10-11.  

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Devoted

Acts 2 records that the Holy Spirit filled the apostles on the day of Pentecost and enabled them to speak the word of God in such a way that everyone could understand in their own native language. Peter explained to the crowd why this had happened and preached the gospel message, exhorting whoever believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus to repent and be baptized so that their sins would be forgiven and so that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (v.38). V.41 says, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

Thus the church was born, and those who were added to it continued to meet together on a regular basis for fellowship and worship. Acts 2:42 is a key verse for understanding life in the early church—“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Let’s take a closer look at the devotion of these believers.

First, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They paid close attention to the words of the men who had been chosen by Jesus to be his closest disciples. The apostles taught the word of God. They explained how the Old Testament had pointed to Jesus, and that Jesus had perfectly fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah who was to come into the world. In addition to this, they no doubt shared the teachings that Jesus had uttered during his ministry on earth.

Secondly, they devoted themselves to fellowship. They shared their lives together. They met in each other’s homes. They took care of one another’s needs to the extent that they gave generously so that the poor among them would have all of life’s necessities. They leaned on each other for support and encouraged one another in times of trouble.

Third, they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. Most scholars agree that this is a term Luke used for communion, also called the Lord’s Supper. Jesus had instituted this ceremony to help his followers remember the sacrifice that he made on the cross to pay for the sins of the world. Every time they ate the broken bread and drank from the cup, it reminded them of the broken body of Jesus on the cross and the precious blood that he shed for the forgiveness of our sins. According to Luke, the historian of the early church, Christians came together every Sunday to devote themselves to taking communion together (Acts 20:7).

Finally, they devoted themselves to prayer. Someone once said that the early church did not think that prayer was a good thing; they thought that prayer was the only thing! Prayer was the passion of believers in the first century. They took seriously the admonition to “pray continually” (1 Thess.5:17). They had some moving prayer meetings. Acts 4:31 says, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken…” As they devoted themselves to prayer, the God of heaven moved, and his kingdom grew in leaps and bounds.

Now it’s time to consider our own level of devotion. Do you spend significant time reading the word of God and then doing what it says? Are you really involved in the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you faithfully participate in the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis? How important is it to you to pray? These are serious questions for us to consider. Let’s strive to deepen the level of our own devotion to Jesus Christ and the church that he purchased with his precious blood!

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Improvement

Jack Katz

In the early 1960s the University of Florida football team was running wind sprints for conditioning. One of the large linemen, Jack Katz, who played tackle, had proven himself to be the fastest lineman on the team. Katz walked up to coach Ray Graves and asked if he might run sprints with the faster backs. Permission was granted.

For the next several days Katz managed to finish last in every race with the backfield runners. Nobody was surprised. The coach asked if he wouldn’t rather be a winner with the linemen than a loser in the competition with the backs.

Katz responded, ”I’m not out here to outrun the linemen. I already know I can do that. I’m here to learn how to run faster; and if you’ve noticed, I’m losing by a little less every day.”

We all should be so diligent in trying to improve ourselves.

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.”   —1 Timothy 4:15.

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Debt Forgiveness

Excited Wilberforce students

Graduations are usually a time of exuberant celebration, as those being awarded their hard-earned degrees joyfully acknowledge their accomplishments and look toward the future with high hopes and expectations.

But the 2020 and 2021 graduates of Wilberforce University had even more reason to celebrate at the commencement ceremony this past spring. The school, a university affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, gave their students an additional cause to be joyful. Officials at Wilberforce decided to forgive any debt that these students had incurred to the university.

The president of Wilberforce, Eldred Anthony Pinkard, announced, “Because you have shown that you are capable of doing work under difficult circumstances, because you represent the best of your generation, we wish to give you a fresh start. So therefore the Wilberforce University board of trustees has authorized me to forgive any debt. Your accounts have been cleared and you don’t owe Wilberforce anything. Congratulations.”

To say that the news was well-received by the students would be a huge understatement. The president’s announcement was interrupted by screaming, shouting and jumping. The smiling and laughing Pinkard had to pause before continuing his announcement. When he finished there were more cheers, screams and jumps from the jubilant students. They were extremely appreciative to receive this unexpected and generous gift.

This reminds us of the grace and mercy that God has shown us through his son Jesus Christ. Unlike the students who were deemed worthy of such an honor, we are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. We in no way earned the salvation that we are freely offered, nor do we deserve such a great blessing. No, it is a matter of God’s grace. He loved this sinful world, and every single sinner in it, so much that he sent his one and only son Jesus to die on a cross to pay for the sins of the world. For anyone who receives Jesus as their Lord and Savior, their debt of sin is paid; it is forgiven.

Just as President Pinkard made the announcement that the students’ debt had been cancelled, God has announced that our debt has been forgiven if only we will accept Christ and live for him. The Bible over and over makes the announcement of the news that is so good that it is difficult for many people to believe. But it’s true! Jesus has paid the debt we owed. We only need to accept his grace and respond to him in faith that is demonstrated through repentance, confession and baptism.

And just like the forgiven students responded with shouts and cheers, it is only natural that we Christians who have been forgiven respond with our exuberant worship and joyful obedience. Those who are saved joyfully and thankfully serve and praise the One who would rather die in our place than live without us in heaven!

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us…”—Ephesians 1:7-8.

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Cheering

A huge crowd lined the streets, enthusiastically cheering the marching soldiers in uniform who were about to ship out overseas. A young recruit, who had watched the crowd for some time, turned to the veteran next to him and asked, “Who are all those people cheering?” The seasoned soldier replied, “They are the ones who are not going.”

Christ went to the cross so that we would not have to pay the price for our sins. He paid the price for us. The only proper response is to gather together and cheer him. In a sense, that is what we Christians do when we gather each Sunday and celebrate communion.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”—1 John 2:2.

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Dangerous Passenger

Clovis Chappell wrote about an interesting situation that occurred years ago, in the pioneer days of aviation. A pilot was attempting to make a long distance flight when he noticed that there was a rat in the plane with him. It had gotten on the plane unnoticed before he had taken off. The pilot realized that this was potentially a very serious situation. Rats are notorious for gnawing through whatever they can find to chew on. This rat could very well gnaw through a vital cable or an important wire, causing the pilot to lose control of the plane. It was a very dangerous scenario.

The pilot was concerned to the point of being anxious. At first he did not know what to do. It was two hours back to the landing field from which he had taken off and more than two hours to the next landing field ahead.

Then he remembered that the rat was not made for the heights. It was made to live on the ground and under the ground. So the pilot began to climb. He kept going up until he reached a height where the oxygen level was so low that the rat could not survive. When the pilot landed, he found the dead rat and got rid of it.

The Bible warns us against the sin of worry. Worry is a dangerous passenger to carry with us on the journey of life. Worry can damage our health, weaken our ability to minister and limit our witness to others. However, worry cannot exist in the spiritual heights where God dwells. It cannot breathe in the atmosphere where Scripture and prayer give life. Worry dies when we ascend to the heights of the Lord through prayer and His Word.

Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34).

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Don’t allow worry and anxiety to become a dangerous and unwanted stowaway on your journey with the Lord! Follow the teachings of Scripture and turn every trouble over to the Lord in prayer.

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In Trouble Now!

An older couple who had never flown before decided that they would get on a plane in order to make the long journey to see their grandchildren. Their flight started out smoothly, but after a while the pilot’s voice came over the intercom: “This is your captain speaking. Ladies and gentlemen, I feel that I ought to let you know that one of our three engines has failed. However, there is no cause for alarm. This plane is entirely airworthy flying on two engines, but I regret to say that we will arrive at our destination one hour later than planned.”

About a half hour later, the pilot spoke to the passengers once again: “This is your captain speaking. I regret to tell you that we have lost the second of our three engines. But let me assure you that we have every expectation of making a safe and normal landing at our destination. However, we will be three hours late in arriving.”

At this news, Grandma turned to Grandpa with a hint of irritation in her voice and said, “If that third engine goes out, we’ll be up here all night!”

Of course, an airplane can’t fly without an engine. Nor can a Christian operate without the Holy Spirit.

“Do not quench the Spirit.”—1 Thessalonians 5:19.

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Clear Communication

A woman showed up for her appointment with a lawyer and got right to the point—“I want to divorce my husband.” To this the attorney replied, “Do you have any grounds?” She answered, “Why yes, we have a couple of acres.” The puzzled lawyer then said, “You don’t understand. What I want to know is do you and your husband have a grudge?” The lady answered, “Actually, we don’t, but we do have a nice carport.” At this, the lawyer shook his head and said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I just don’t see any reason why you should divorce your husband.” The woman looked at him and said, “It’s just that the man can’t carry on an intelligent conversation.”

Marriage isn’t the only place where unclear communication can cause problems. It also happens in the community. Two farmers were talking in front of the bank. One remarked, “I hear that you made $60,000 in corn.” His friend replied, “Well, that isn’t quite right. It wasn’t me, it was my brother. It wasn’t corn, it was soybeans. It wasn’t $60,000, but $6,000. And he didn’t make it, he lost it.”

Business expert Peter Drucker estimated that 60 percent of all management problems are a result of faulty communications. A leading marriage counselor says that at least half of all divorces result from faulty communication between spouses. And criminologists tell us that upwards of 90 percent of all criminals have difficulty communicating with other people.

Unclear communication is a problem throughout society and, sadly, it often causes trouble in the church. Misunderstandings often lead to pain and confusion. That’s why the Scriptures urge us to strive to communicate clearly.

James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

People often get this wrong. Very few are good listeners. Many, instead of listening to the other person, are mentally rehearsing their response. Then they are quick to speak, rather than taking time to think through what they want to say. The result of poor listening and rash speaking is that somebody gets angry, and then all kinds of bad things start to happen.

In order for good things to happen in the church, we have to strive to communicate clearly. It starts with being a good listener and continues with giving thoughtful and helpful responses to what the other person says. Then, “…speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

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