ODJ: Hours of Darkness

December 15, 2018 

READ: Mark 15:25-34 

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine (Isaiah 9:2).

Betrayed by a friend and abandoned by His disciples. Arrested, falsely accused and denied justice, He was condemned to die in a most shameful and painful way (Luke 23:22-24).

Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9 a.m. (Mark 15:25). Then something dramatic, climactic, happened: “At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock” (v.33).

When the sun was supposed to be brightest, the day had seemingly turned to night. Luke, a man of science, gave this rather unscientific explanation: “The light from the sun was gone” (Luke 23:45). God, who turned the lights on at creation (Genesis 1:14), turned them off as His Son hung on the cross.

The darkness reflected the evil “power of darkness” that unjustly condemned Jesus (Luke 22:53).

But darkness in Scripture also speaks of judgement (Jeremiah 13:16). The ninth plague, three days of darkness in Egypt, occurred before the Passover lamb was slain (Exodus 10:21-23). And so the three hours of darkness before Jesus, the Lamb of God, died for the sins of the world, also point to the cross as the place where Jesus endured the weighty consequences of our sin (John 1:29).

In darkness, Jesus “personally carried our sins in his body on the cross” so we could be healed (1 Peter 2:24). The darkness veiled the unspeakable agony of the Son as He entered death to break the power of sin (Romans 6:10-11). It was not right for sinful human eyes to see the One who “rescued us from the curse” in His time of greatest suffering (Galatians 3:13).

We no longer have to stumble in spiritual darkness. For out of the “deep darkness” of the cross came the light of salvation (Isaiah 9:2). Because of Jesus, we can walk in God’s light and life.

—K.T. Sim

365-day plan: TITUS 3:1-11

Read Isaiah 9:1-7 to see what it reveals about Jesus, the One who defeats the darkness of the world. 
If you were there at the crucifixion when the sky turned dark, how might you have interpreted the darkness? How has Jesus brought light and life? 

ODJ: Helping and Serving

December 14, 2018 

READ: Galatians 5:5-15 

Serve one another in love (v.13).

When a busy mother asks her teenager to clean her room, the daughter replies in an irritated voice, “Can’t you see I’m busy?” The mother retorts, “You are busy. I’m busy too. But you’re busy with your own stuff, while I’m busy with everyone else’s stuff!”

A similar conversation occurs between a husband and wife. “Could you help me with the dishes?” she asks. “Sorry, dear, I’m busy right now,” he replies, while updating his Facebook status.

Reflecting on this, I’m ashamed to admit I too am often ‘too busy’ to attend to the requests of those closest to me. My perspective is that I’m being forced to help them do something, rather than willingly serve them in love.

Someone made these insightful observations about the differences between a helper and a servant: a helper helps others when it’s convenient; a servant serves others even when it’s inconvenient. A helper helps when the work is enjoyable; a servant serves even when the work isn’t enjoyable.

The apostle Paul reminds us “to serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). Why? Because saving faith always gives rise to love (v.6), and love expresses itself in service. Love compels us to not “use [our] freedom to satisfy [our] sinful nature” but to love our neighbour as ourselves (vv.13-14)—desiring the very best for the other person as much as we would want it for ourselves. Love also prompts us not to use harsh words that destroy (v.15).

My sister recently said, “Even while I’m pursuing my own interests and career, I know I need to help out more around the house.” That’s a concrete example of what it can mean to serve one another in love. May God work in us, providing what we need to serve others in love today!

—Poh Fang Chia

365-day plan: 2 Timothy 3:1-17

Read Mark 1:29-34 and thank Jesus for never being too busy for us. 
What can you do today to serve those closest to you in love? How can you take time to truly serve them in God’s power and strength? 

ODJ: We Are Family

December 13, 2018 

READ: Psalm 133:1-3 

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! (v.1).

During a conference, believers in Jesus discussed differing perspectives on the relationship between Scripture and science. Although we disagreed about important matters, it was obvious the participants on all sides loved Jesus. We didn’t let our differences disguise our bond as members of God’s family. In fact, our unity seemed even sweeter because it shone within our differences.

As Jewish pilgrims walked up to Jerusalem to celebrate one of three annual festivals, they sang of this type of unity: “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” It “is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe” (Psalm 133:1-2). If this happened to me, I’d reach for some shampoo, but an Israelite would have understood. Aromatic oil was used to authorise and empower God’s prophets, priests and kings. It was a tangible sign the leaders belonged to Him.

Pouring oil on someone’s head isn’t a common practice these days, but the unity it symbolised still authorises and energises us. Unity also refreshes, like the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the arid hills of Jerusalem (v.3). Most significantly, Jesus said that when believers are united in love, the “world will know” that God loves them as much as He loves Jesus (John 17:23).

Thank God for like-minded believers who agree with us on disputable matters. But thank Him also for brothers and sisters who see things differently. They not only keep us seeking the Scriptures, but our differences supply an opportunity to rally around Jesus. How “wonderful and pleasant” it is to place our focus on Him!

—Mike Wittmer

365-day plan: 2 Timothy 1:1-18

Read Ephesians 5:1-14. How does belonging to the family of God change how we live? 
Think of one believer with whom you struggle to get along. Pray for him or her. What else can you do to promote unity with others in Christ? 

ODJ: Inside Out

December 12, 2018 

READ: Matthew 5:43-48 

You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect (v.48).

During two different semesters, I taught a “Discipleship Ministries” course to pastors and lay leaders at our local Bible college. As we were reading through the Sermon on the Mount, memorising Romans 12 and reading through Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, one of my students said he’d been convicted. For the first time, he truly understood how Jesus wanted him to live out his faith in his workplace—a place where he’d often been tempted to harbour contempt towards moody and rude customers.

Throughout the Matthew 5 portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He repeats a variation of these words: “You have heard the law that says . . . But I say” (vv.21-22,27-28,31-32,33-34,38-39,43-44). Mostly well-intentioned religious leaders of the time had enacted laws and codes to help people follow God more intentionally. The people started believing, however, that following the rules—going through the motions—could make them pure and perfect.

But Jesus protested such theology. He said that if we’re striving to be like our heavenly Father—pure, perfect, holy (Matthew 5:48)—then it’s not enough to go through the motions on the outside. Obedience to God must be on the inside too—in our hearts (see Psalm 15:2, 51:10,16-17). Only then, when our hearts are filled with love for God and others, will we be on our way to becoming pure in our relationships.

My student told our class he knew Jesus was calling him to serve and love customers who mistreated him. It wasn’t enough to be “kind on the outside”, he said. Jesus, through the strength of the Spirit, was calling him to rid himself of internal contempt and bitterness towards others—to be changed from the inside out.

—Marlena Graves

365-day plan: 1 Timothy 6:3-21

Read Psalm 51:10 and think about what areas of your heart need to be made clean by the Holy Spirit’s power. 
Who is God calling you to love from your heart, not just in outward behaviour? Is it possible to be cleansed from the inside out apart from the Holy Spirit’s work?