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The Good Shepherd

The Scriptures frequently refer to the Savior using the Shepherd-King metaphor. In the Old Testament the prophecy of the coming prince, a descendant of David, is clearly pointing to the Messiah who would come to shepherd God?s people. For example, Ezekiel 34 is a prophecy against the shepherds of Israel who have let the sheep get lost and go hungry (please read the whole chapter to get a glimpse of how God feels about us, His sheep!). After denouncing the shepherds for their carelessness, God promises the forthcoming Shepherd-King: ?Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd? (Ezekiel 34:23). This prophecy was written many years after David?s death, and it refers to a coming descendant of David.

When Jesus, the awaited Davidic king, came to live and die for us, He identified Himself with the metaphor of the Good Shepherd. ?I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. . . . I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep? (John 10:11, 14, 15). Yes, my dear friend, Jesus knows everything about you, and He will take care of you. Your Shepherd intimately knows you, and He has laid down His life for you. That?s how much He loves you!

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Jesus and Joy

A young woman sold fruit at her stand in the market, and every Saturday she closed shop because of her Sabbath-keeping belief. One of the regular customers thought it was foolish of her to do that. He argued that every day is equal before God, but she defended her doctrine. One day the man came by and again wanted to make his point. The young woman was busy serving others, so he simply lined up seven grapefruits and, catching her attention, pointed out that they were all alike. Cleverly, the young woman snatched the last grapefruit and placed a juicy orange in its place. The man caught on without the need for many words: the seventh day is sweeter than the others.

The biblical account says that Jesus went to the synagogue to teach the Word of God on a Sabbath day. In an earlier chapter of Luke we read that it was His ?custom? to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, for it was the house of God (4:16). On one of those Sabbaths, Jesus healed a woman who had been afflicted for eighteen years. According to the passage, some were angry with Him for working a miracle in her behalf. Why were they angry? Did Jesus disobey the law of God when He healed the woman on the Sabbath? How does the Sabbath relate to joy, happiness, and peace?

In the previous study we saw the role of the eternal law of God and the transforming power of Christ that gives us the capacity to live in harmony with the spirit of the law. That law is the basis of His government.

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The Church is God's Vision

In Ephesians, Paul declares that God has ?made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ.? The apostle?s commission was ?to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery.? In past ages the mystery had been ?kept hidden in God, who created all things.? But now it was time to reveal the secret plan, to bring God?s vision and purpose to light: ?His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord? (Ephesians 1:9; 3:9?11).

The vision includes all of God?s strategies, plans, and efforts to save this planet and its people and assure the unfallen worlds of Yahweh?s keeping power. God?s vision has its beginning in heaven, before the foundation of the earth, and will meet its complete fulfillment on earth at the end of the struggle. His vision is not just a forecast of future happenings. It is the living, active instrument of salvation for the planet and its inhabitants. It is His will, and that is already done. And God stepped out in space and said, ?Let there be light!??the first recorded words (Genesis 1:3).

God will not leave any unfinished business, any question unanswered. In the midst of eternity the Creator measured off the time given over to the rescue operation. Then Deity brought the church on the scene to play its part in the mission. There is a time line, a beginning and an end time of probation.

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The Big Five

Have your ever heard someone talk about the ?Big Five? in Africa? The Big Five refer to five animals that were considered by hunters as the most dangerous and difficult animals in Africa to track and hunt on foot?the lion, the elephant, the cape buffalo, the leopard, and the rhinoceros. Sadly, for many years hunters have traveled to Africa with the purpose of killing these increasingly rare animals for sport. When I traveled to Africa with my wife several years ago, we spent two weeks on several different safaris in three different countries. The only difference is that I didn?t have a weapon; I had a camera. I bought a special telephoto lens just so I can zoom in as much as possible to photograph these wonderful animals as they roamed around their natural habitat. My goal when I went to Africa was to see how many of the Big Five I would be able to see and photograph. In the end, we were able to see four of the ?Big Five? during our time there. The only one we didn?t see was the most elusive one?the leopard. Seeing animals in their natural habit was one of the most unique experiences I?ve ever enjoyed in my adventures. Let me tell you though, it was not easy to find all of them. Of the four we saw, the hardest one to spot was the rhino. We spotted one on the very last day, and I felt blessed and rewarded at the end of my two-week search for these animals.

Sometimes the good things in life require us to seek them out; rarely do they come and find us. In the book of Matthew we are reminded that every day the most important thing we should seek out is God?s blessings. Don?t just automatically assume that you will be blessed in every single thing you do. Connect with God daily. Talk to Him; share your thoughts and worries and goals with Him. God has wonderful things in store for you today; seek Him out!

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From the Lions' Den to the Angel's Den

The deliverance of Daniel from the lions? den is among the most beloved stories of the Bible. From a literary perspective, it parallels the story of the deliverance of the three Hebrew worthies from the blazing furnace (Daniel 3). Both narratives show God?s faithfulness by empowering His servants to remain faithful amidst the most harrowing trials. Both showcase captives challenging a royal decree and demonstrating their loyalty to God at the risk of their own lives. Both contain a divine messenger entering the fray to support and deliver them. And interestingly, just as Daniel?s whereabouts are not known when his companions went through the fire, we are not told where his friends were when Daniel spent the night with the lions. But wherever they were, they would have, like Daniel, retained their integrity. After all, they relied on God, not on each other, to face life?s predicaments.

The story implies that Daniel?s integrity and loyalty to public service had the new king planning to appoint him over the whole kingdom, provoking the jealousy of Daniel?s colleagues. Resorting to subterfuge, they crafted a scheme to get rid of him, only to have it blow up in their faces. As the narrative shows, God was with Daniel and vindicated him before his enemies and the king.

Daniel?s experience models a lifestyle for the ages and shows that God remains faithful to His people. He may not deliver everyone from physical pain and death on this earth, but everyone will eventually be vindicated when the great controversy comes to a close.

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The Holy Ones of the Most High

To every Christian comes the word that was addressed to Peter, ?Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not? (Luke 22:31, 32). Thank God we are not left alone. This is our safety. Satan can never touch with eternal disaster one whom Christ has prepared for temptation by His previous intercession, for grace is provided in Christ for every soul, and a way of escape has been made, so that no one need fall under the power of the enemy.

Satan is preparing many and strong temptations with which to assail the people of God. He is represented as walking to and fro like a roaring lion, seeking for some unguarded soul whom he may be successful in deceiving through his subtlety, and may finally destroy. We are not safe without Christ for a single step. But what comfort is treasured for us in the words, ?I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not?! Satan does not sift chaff; it is the wheat that he desires to have in his hands. Then let us take courage and pray at all times.

?That I May Know Him, p. 286.

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What the Kingdom of Light is Like

Take an imaginary trip with me back in time. Back before Christ and the Cross. Back before Adam and Eve. Back before Lucifer?s rebellion in heaven. Back even before the Trinity had created angels. It was just the three of Them. And They were lonesome. They had each other, to be sure, and we can only faintly imagine what the love that flowed between Them was like, but it must have been profound.

Yet it wasn?t enough! They wanted more beings whom They could love

and who could love Them.

If you and I want someone to love, we go in search of that someone, and we keep searching till we find him or her (or keep hoping we will). But the Trinity had just the three of Them. There weren?t any other ?someones? out there whom They could find to love. So They created them. Huge numbers of them! If the biblical math is anywhere close to correct, the Trinity may have created as many as 150 trillion angels.1 God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must have been truly lonesome!

Of course, They couldn?t just create all of these angels and then put them ?out there? to get along as best they could. Every society of intelligent beings needs a government to organize their interactions. James Madison, one of the founders of the American republic back in the late 1700s, once said that ?if men were angels, no government would be necessary.? That?s actually not correct. Every society needs a government with laws and the authority to enforce them, and that?s as true of heaven?s perfect society as it is of any of our imperfect societies on Earth. I?m choosing to call heaven?s government the Kingdom of Light.

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Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst

?How can we know what Jesus wants from us? We can find those answers in the Bible, the Word of God. His words in the Bible are like springs of water, and drinking from them will bring us face to face with Jesus. As we begin to absorb His Word, certain verses and stories will light up with new meaning, and we will understand truth in new ways and see clearly how these truths relate to our salvation. We will know that Jesus is satisfying our hunger to know Him better.

?As the Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible, we will be able to remember its truths and we will want to share them with others. Fresh, reassuring thoughts about the love of Jesus and His work in us will bubble up like water from a spring whenever we speak to others, whether or not they are fellow believers.

?The Bible says, ?Give and it will be given to you? (Luke 6:38, NIV), because God?s blessings are like a fountain of water. When we drink from this fountain of love, we find ourselves wanting more. And as we share our growing understanding of Jesus? love, we understand it more and feel it more deeply. The more we know of God, the more we will be able to know and the more we can share His love with others. ?With God?s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine? (Ephesians 3:20 [NCV]).

?When Jesus left behind His life in heaven in order to come to our world and save us, He was given the unlimited help of the Holy Spirit. Each of Jesus? followers can have the same help if they will invite the Spirit to live in their hearts. God?s command that we be filled with the Spirit is also a promise that we will be Spirit-filled if we surrender ourselves to Him.

?Like showers of rain that refresh the earth, God pours out His love to everyone on earth through the Holy Spirit? (Blessings, 25, 26; see also Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 20, 21).

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God's Plans the Best

Our plans are not always God?s plans. He may see that it is best for us and for His cause to refuse our very best intentions, as He did in the case of David. But of one thing we may be assured, He will bless and use in the advancement of His cause those who sincerely devote themselves and all they have to His glory. If He sees it best not to grant their desires He will counterbalance the refusal by giving them tokens of His love and entrusting to them another service.

In His loving care and interest for us, often He who understands us better than we understand ourselves refuses to permit us selfishly to seek the gratification of our own ambition. He does not permit us to pass by the homely but sacred duties that lie next us. Often these duties afford the very training essential to prepare us for a higher work. Often our plans fail that God?s plans for us may succeed.

We are never called upon to make a real sacrifice for God. Many things He asks us to yield to Him, but in doing this we are but giving up that which hinders us in the heavenward way. Even when called upon to surrender those things which in themselves are good, we may be sure that God is thus working out for us some higher good.

In the future life the mysteries that here have annoyed and disappointed us will be made plain. We shall see that our seemingly unanswered prayers and disappointed hopes have been among our greatest blessings.

We are to look upon every duty, however humble, as sacred because it is a part of God?s service. Our daily prayer should be, ?Lord, help me to do my best. Teach me how to do better work. Give me energy and cheerfulness. Help me to bring into my service the loving ministry of the Saviour.?

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The Lost Coin

Searching takes work and diligent effort. But this is what God has done and what He wants to do for you? and He wants us to treat others in that same way. Jesus lived and taught among the ordinary people, especially those who didn?t know God and who were lost and confused. He was an anchor that people could cling to. At the very heart of God is an unquenchable desire to reach out to people and help them find their way.

But in our culture today, we easily dismiss as insignificant or bothersome those people who have the greatest needs? the poor, the needy, the sick, and the lonely. Remember Jesus pursued those kinds of people. Maybe you are one of them. He hunts for them, and He is intensely searching for you. He longs to pick you up from the dusty floor of life and show you there is an escape plan. Have you already been found by Jesus? Then share the love and hope He has given you with others.

What is the value of a human life? For Jesus, it is of infinite value? so much so that He was willing to die for you and for me. The promise of Scripture is that ?God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us? (Romans 5:8). First John 3:16 states, ?By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.? If God places that kind of value upon us, we must value others in the same light.

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Have you ever seen a bird flying around inside a store? One day I watched a sparrow flying and cheeping and looking for the way out. I wanted to help the bird, so I went to the door and opened it. But the sparrow didn?t come to the door and fly out. It just kept flying around near the ceiling. I thought, If I could be a bird for just a few minutes, I could show it how to get outside and be safe.

Jesus thought the same thing when people stopped trusting Him and got trapped in sin. He said, ?I will become a human and save them. I will show them the way out.? And that?s just what He did.

Like God the Father, Jesus has always been alive. It was Jesus who created our world and the people who live here. And even before Adam and Eve sinned, He had a plan to save people and to help them love and trust God again.

As part of His plan, Jesus was born as a human child. Somehow, He became both a human being and God at the same time. Then He grew up and lived just like we do. He was tempted to be selfish and mean, but He was always kind instead. He always treated others with kindness and love. His life shows us how to live that way too.

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A Forgotten Interpreter and a Judgement

The pagan king?s words to Daniel are noteworthy: ?Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah?? (Daniel 5:13). Such patronizing address smacks of prejudice or racism. This mindset led Belshazzar to ?forget? that the ?captive from Judah? had served as one of the highest officers of Babylon and was a close advisor of Nebuchadnezzar. Prejudice, racism, and anti-Semitism appear whenever people forget that we have all been created in the image and likeness of God. Indeed, we are all brothers and sisters whose nationality is humanity.

Next, Daniel refuses the reward for his services, since such a huge reward might be understood as pressure to return a favorable interpretation. Besides, a reward would be useless in view of the impending demise of the king. Interestingly, after the interpretation is given, Daniel accepts the rewards since at that point the unfavorable interpretation would raise no suspicion of undue motivation.9 Belshazzar offered Daniel the third position in the kingdom because Belshazzar was a coregent with Nabonidus, hence the third in rank was the highest offer the king could make.

But before giving the interpretation, Daniel offers a lengthy preamble, reminding the king of his own family history. The prophet recounts how God granted Nebuchadnezzar riches and power. But he became so arrogant and arbitrary that God removed him from the throne to topple his pride. Next, Daniel explains that Nebuchadnezzar repented, acknowledged God?s sovereignty, and was restored. Finally, the prophet indicts Belshazzar, making it clear that the king has no excuse for not learning from Nebuchadnezzar?s experience. Belshazzar?s sins are the following: lack of humility, pride, exaltation against God, desecration of the temple vessels, idolatry, and failure to glorify God. At this point, it seems evident that the sins of the king are somehow related to the handwriting on the wall, which Daniel proceeds to interpret.

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