Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
Key Verse(s): She will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)
Jesus means "Savior." Jesus came to earth to save us because we can't save ourselves from sin and its consequences. No matter how good we are, we can't eliminate the sinful nature present in all of us. Only Jesus can do that. Jesus didn't come to help people save themselves; he came to be their Savior from the power and penalty of sin. Thank Christ for his death on the cross for your sin, and then ask him to take control of your life. Your new life begins at that moment.
Jesus was to be called Immanuel ("God is with us"), as predicted by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 7:14). Jesus was God in the flesh; thus God was literally among us, "with us." Through the Holy Spirit, Christ is present today in the life of every believer. Perhaps not even Isaiah understood how far-reaching the meaning of Immanuel would be.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 7:7-14
Key Verse(s): You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
The gate that leads to eternal life (John 10:7-9) is called "narrow." This does not mean that it is difficult to become a Christian, but that there is only one road that leads to eternal life with God, and only a few decide to take it. Believing in Jesus is the only way to heaven, because he alone died for our sins and made us right before God. Living his way may not be popular, but it is true and right. Thank God there is one way!
Scripture Reading: John 3:1-21
Key Verse(s): Just as you can hear the wind but can't tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can't explain how people are born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
Jesus explained that we cannot control the work of the Holy Spirit. He works in ways we cannot predict or understand. Just as you did not control your physical birth, so you cannot control your spiritual birth. It is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:11-14; 2:8-9).
This Jewish teacher of the Bible knew the Old Testament thoroughly, but he didn't understand what it said about the Messiah. Knowledge is not salvation. You should know the Bible, but even more important, you should understand the God whom the Bible reveals and the salvation that God offers.
Scripture Reading: John 6:60-71
Key Verse(s): Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68-69)
After many of Jesus' followers had deserted him, he asked the twelve disciples if they were also going to leave. Peter replied, "To whom would we go?" In his straightforward way, Peter answered for all of us--there is no other way. Though there are many philosophies and self-styled authorities, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. People look everywhere for eternal life except to Christ, the only source. Stay with him, especially when you feel confused or alone.
There is no middle ground with Jesus. When he asked the disciples if they would also leave, he was showing that they could either accept or reject him. Jesus was not trying to repel people with his teachings. He was simply telling the truth. The more the people heard Jesus' message, the more they divided into two camps: the honest seekers who wanted to understand more, and those who rejected Jesus because they didn't like what they heard.
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10
Key Verse(s): God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
When someone gives you a gift, do you say, "That's very nice--now how much do I owe you?" No, the appropriate response to a gift is "Thank you." Yet how often Christians, even after they have been given the gift of salvation, feel obligated to try to work their way to God. Because our salvation and even our faith are gifts, we should respond with gratitude, praise, and joy.
We become Christians through God's unmerited grace, not as the result of any effort, ability, intelligent choice, or act of service on our part. However, out of gratitude for this free gift, we will seek to help and serve others with kindness, love, and gentleness, and not merely to please ourselves. While no action or work we do can help us obtain salvation, God's intention is that our salvation will result in acts of service. We are not saved merely for our own benefit, but to serve Christ and build up the church (4:12).
Scripture Reading: Luke 13:22-30
Key Verse(s): Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He replied, "The door to heaven is narrow. Work hard to get in, because many will try to enter." (Luke 13:23-24)
Receiving salvation requires more concentrated effort than most people are willing to put forth. Obviously we cannot save ourselves--there is no way we can work ourselves into God's favor. The effort we must put out to enter through the narrow door is earnestly desiring to know Jesus and diligently striving to follow him whatever the cost. We dare not put off making this decision because the door will not stay open forever.
The people were eager to know who would be in God's kingdom. Jesus explained that although many people know something about God, only a few have acknowledged their sins and accepted his forgiveness. Just listening to Jesus' words or admiring his miracles is not enough--we must turn from sin and trust in God to save us.
Scripture Reading: Luke 14:15-24
Key Verse(s): Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, "What a privilege it would be to have a share in the Kingdom of God!" (Luke 14:15)
The man sitting at the table with Jesus saw the glory of God's kingdom, but he did not yet understand how to get in. In Jesus' story, many people turned down the invitation to the banquet because the timing was inconvenient. We too can resist or delay responding to God's invitation, and our excuses may sound reasonable--work duties, family responsibilities, financial needs, or whatever they may be. Nevertheless, God's invitation is the most important event in our life, no matter how inconveniently it may be timed. Are you making excuses to avoid responding to God's call? Jesus reminds us that the time will come when God will pull his invitation and offer it to others--then it will be too late to get into the banquet.
Receiving salvation means also receiving the Savior.
It was customary to send two invitations to a party--the first to announce the event, the second to tell the guests that everything was ready. The guests in Jesus' story insulted the host by making excuses when he issued the second invitation. In Israel's history, God's first invitation came from Moses and the prophets; the second came from his Son. The religious leaders accepted the first invitation. They believed that God had called them to be his people, but they insulted God by refusing to accept his Son. Thus, as the master in the story sent his servant into the streets to invite the needy to his banquet, so God sent his Son to the whole world of needy people to tell them that God's kingdom had arrived and was ready for them.
Scripture Reading: John 17:1-5
Key Verse(s): This is the way to have eternal life--to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (John 17:3)
Receiving salvation includes entering into a personal relationship with God.
How do we get eternal life? Jesus tells us clearly here--by knowing God the Father himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. Eternal life requires entering into a personal relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ. When we admit our sin and turn away from it, Christ's love lives in us by the Holy Spirit.
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:14-41
Key Verse(s): Peter's words convicted them deeply, and they said to him and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter replied, "Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:37-38)
Receiving salvation is a powerful, personal response to the gospel.
After Peter's powerful, Spirit-filled message, the people were deeply moved and asked, "What should we do?" This is the basic question we must ask. It is not enough to be sorry for our sins--we must let God forgive them, and then we must live like forgiven people. Has God spoken to you through his Word or through the words of another believer? Like Peter's audience, ask God what you should do, and then obey.
Receiving salvation means we must repent of our sins.
If you want to follow Christ, you must "turn from your sins . . . and be baptized." To "turn from sin" means changing the direction of your life from selfishness and rebellion against God's laws. At the same time, you must turn to Christ, depending on him for forgiveness, mercy, guidance, and purpose. We cannot save ourselves--only God can save us. Baptism identifies us with Christ and with the community of believers. It is a condition of discipleship and a sign of faith.
Scripture Reading: Romans 10:1-15
Key Verse(s): Salvation that comes from trusting Christ--which is the message we preach--is already within easy reach. In fact, the Scriptures say, "The message is close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart." For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. (Romans 10:8-10)
Receiving salvation is simple, direct, personal, and public.
Have you ever been asked, "How do I become a Christian?" These verses give you the beautiful answer--salvation is as close as your own mouth and heart. People think it must be a complicated process, but it is not. If we believe in our heart and say with our mouth that Christ is the risen Lord, we will be saved.
Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Key Verse(s): To those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the mighty power of God and the wonderful wisdom of God. This "foolish" plan of God is far wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God's weakness is far stronger than the greatest of human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:24-25)
Receiving salvation is simple, yet many still refuse.
Paul continues to emphasize that the way to receive salvation is so simple that any person who wants to can understand it. Skill and wisdom do not get a person into God's kingdom--simple faith does--so no one can boast that his or her achievements helped secure eternal life. Salvation is totally from God through Jesus' death. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation; we need only accept what Jesus has already done for us.