ACCESS THE DEVOTIONALS

Highlands Community Church, let us seize this season of solitude and let God prepare our hearts to reach our community because of this present time of quarantine.

In this Easter season, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. While churches all over the world are always faithful to teach the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, we seldom see the cataclysmic events that followed Jesus’ resurrection in the biblical narrative.

So, I have written these devotions for our use (as well as a version for LifeWay’s use) so that we can glean treasures from these seldom explored Bible texts. Together, we will move day by day from the trial of Jesus all the way across the bridge that connects the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to the Book of Acts wherein the New Testament Church was born. Indeed, Highlands Community Church’s very origins can be traced back to these events stemming from the resurrection of Jesus! The one who shared the gospel with you heard it from someone who heard it from someone who ultimately heard it from the people in the very Bible texts we will study together in this devotional.

We have provided the Scripture text for each day in the Christian Standard Bible translation. Feel free to use another translation if you wish. Each devotional is followed by a reflective question to help you apply your life to the text. Then, we close each devotional with a brief prayer prompt stemming from the Bible text and directing our eyes heavenward through the lens of what God is doing at our beloved Highlands Community Church.

Be blessed. Study rigorously. Prepare for a mighty revival in Jesus’ name.

I love you, my church.

In Christ,

Dr. Jesse Campbell

Lead Pastor
Highlands Community Church


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Now there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout people from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us can hear them in our own native language?”

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This miracle was just as much a miracle of hearing and understanding as it was a miracle of speaking other languages. What was spoken was understood. Highlands is currently offering translations of our sermons in five languages. This is amazing! However, we reside in one of the most culturally diverse areas in the United States. Let’s reach even more.

Cultural diversity in a church is more difficult when there is a language barrier keeping us from communicating with the older generations who do not yet know English. As we have just read, though, our God obliterates language barriers. 

So, in this tradition, reach deliberately across cultural and racial lines to share the gospel with the lost in our community! Let us become more and more diverse as a church because of evangelistic efforts in the tradition of the New Testament Church’s birth at Pentecost. Even if there is a language barrier and perhaps even because there is a language barrier, reach out to your neighbors, coworkers, family members, and friends. Invite them to Highlands Community Church and reach out to our staff to tell us what languages we need. God will provide translators who take the torch of the Holy Spirit’s translating fire and use their translating abilities to do just what the Spirit did in today’s text!

Is God calling you to learn a new language to carry the gospel to those we have yet to reach? Have you been underestimating just how many could be reached by this gospel?

Pray: Ask God to further diversify our church in the tradition of Pentecost. Pray BIG!!!

When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.

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Wow, I wish I could hear that sound like a mighty wind rushing down from heaven (v.2)! That it came from heaven is important. This was not manufactured. It was miraculous! God had gathered them together in one place. They came for the Feast of Weeks, but were dispatched from that place with the incredible news for their synagogues that the Messiah had come.

Mankind all spoke the same language from Eden until well after the flood (Gen. 11:1). Then, as our shared depravity and penchant for collaboration began to put us back on track for another outpouring of God’s wrath, God intervened in Genesis 11:5-9:

Then the Lord came down to look over the city and the tower that the humans were building. The Lord said, “If they have begun to do this as one people all having the same language, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let’s go down there and confuse their language so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So from there the Lord scattered them throughout the earth, and they stopped building the city. Therefore it is called Babylon, for there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth, and from there the Lord scattered them throughout the earth.

The miracle of tongues was not arbitrary. Rather, it served a pragmatic purpose. It allowed the news of the gospel to bypass the confusion of man’s speech worked by God after the Tower of Babel. The tongues of flame were reminders that God alone should receive absolutely all of the glory for what was happening.

What translators do you know who could help us add to HCC’s five languages?

Pray: Ask God to help us reach Seattle’s Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish-speaking communities.

“Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us—from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

So they proposed two: Joseph, called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, know everyone’s hearts; show which of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry that Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias and he was added to the eleven apostles.

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We have to be proud of the disciples for addressing this difficult thing. That there were twelve of them was deliberate. There was a disciple for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. They represented God’s elect in the Old Testament and because of their testimony, we know the gospel today. So, in this final ever casting of lots in the Bible, Matthias brought the eleven back to the biblically complete twelve. He had been there all along – even since the baptism of John (v.22).

The ministry battlefield is fraught with the corpses of pastoral careers derailed by duplicity. What do you do when someone you thought was fully devoted to Jesus falls? You do what the disciples did in today’s text. God worked even through Judas. Judas was among the disciples as they were temporarily commissioned as apostles to go out and evangelize in Mark 6:7.

Every word a fallen leader taught you from the Word of God is still true today. Your faith was in God and that imperfect man who failed you was simply His flawed messenger. The gospel is intact. Besides, if it were not for the fall of Judas, Matthias would not have been drafted into the pros like this!

Do you harbor unforgiveness in your heart toward a fallen leader? Have you used his or her failure as an excuse for your own? Do you resonate with Matthias? Is this your moment?

Pray: Pray for the pastoral staff of Highlands Community Church: that their marriages would be intimate, fruitful, anointed, and protected replicas of the relationship between Christ and His Church.

27. Acts 1:15-20

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers and sisters —the number of people who were together was about a hundred and twenty—and said: “Brothers and sisters, it was necessary that the Scripture be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David foretold about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.” Now this man acquired a field with his unrighteous wages. He fell headfirst, his body burst open and his intestines spilled out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that in their own language that field is called Hakeldama (that is, Field of Blood).  “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: Let his dwelling become desolate; let no one live in it;  and Let someone else take his position.

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This is quite brutal to imagine, but the seemingly conflicting biblical accounts as to what happened physiologically when Judas hanged himself likely align. Even this grisly suicide fulfilled something David prophesied in Psalm 69 and 109. Matthew 27:3-5 reads, “Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,’ he said. ‘What’s that to us?’ they said. ‘See to it yourself!’ So he threw the silver into the temple and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.”

There is some confusion over this, but there are actually two fields whose names are translated “Field of Blood” in the biblical text. The one purchased in Matthew 27:7,9 by the chief priests with the blood money initially paid to Judas and then later returned by Judas was named with the Greek word Argos. The property purchased by Judas according to this text was named with the Greek Chorion. Both words are aptly translated “field,” thus the confusion in English.

Take a moment to appreciate the full arc of Peter’s development into a bold leader. The burgeoning church had multiplied to almost ten times the number of disciples! Right before the crucifixion, Peter cowered at the accusation of a servant girl, denying Jesus. Now, he was rising up as a leader.

 Is this season your Acts 1:15 moment like it was for Peter? Is it time to rise to leadership?

Pray: Ask God to redeem your tragedies. He worked through Judas. He can work through you.

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

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The resurrected Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8 that they would receive power and be His witnesses, telling His story, right there in Jerusalem where they were staying. From Jerusalem, the gospel would spread across the region of Judea. From Judea, they would then go across lines of cultural tension to bring it to even the Samaritans. This cultural tension long lingering between the Jews of Jerusalem and their distant relatives still using an ancient altar setup by Abraham was the context behind Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. From Jerusalem to all of Judea, across cultural lines to Samaria, the testimony of the disciples would go out to all the earth until you heard it. Does it cease with you?

Note the important presence of women among the revolutionaries in this text. These words were written long before women had the same legal standing as men. No other religious worldview holds women in such high esteem historically as Christianity. That women would be the first people to share the news of the resurrected Jesus was truly revolutionary.

Note also the words of verse 14, “They were all continually united in prayer.” All of them prayed. They prayed without ceasing. They prayed in a way that was united. Join the rest of Highlands Community Church in praying that we would help people of all nationalities, races, and ethnicities in our incredibly diverse area find and follow Jesus. God broke history in half with these motley, ragtag, uneducated, and imperfect disciples named in verse 13. What might He do through Highlands Community Church?

 List the reasons you stop praying. Look at this list with a machete. You know what to do.

Pray: Rejoice all day. Pray constantly. Thank God for every single thing He does today. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

After he had said this, he was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven.”

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Man, it’s a good thing I’m not an angel because I would prank the snot out of people if I were one. I would likely be an angel of the smart aleck variety…similar to these two in Acts 1:11. While descriptions of angels are usually more enigmatic when they are observed in the heavenly realm, they appear more relatable when they speak to people on earth in the biblical narrative. For example, Isaiah and Ezekiel saw angels in God’s heavenly throne room whose very anatomies were symbolic in nature and less structurally designed to aesthetically accommodate the physical needs brought on by our physical universe, these two angels appear dressed in white. Mary from Magdala saw two angels dressed in white when she came to Jesus’ empty tomb in John 20:12. “Men of Galilee,” the angels in Acts 1 ask, indicating that they knew all about the disciples, “why do you stand looking up into heaven?” Angels have a unique perspective. They see God and they see you. I would bet that angels get frustrated with us. They likely look to us as we struggle, then look to our omnipotent God on His throne and wonder why we don’t pray more often.

Just as Jesus ascended to heaven, He will one day come down from heaven. Revelation 1:5b-8 reads, “To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood,  and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father—to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him. So it is to be. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘the one who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

Would angels be frustrated with you for believing too little about God, or not praying enough?

Pray: Step outside to see the clouds, then give an honest, “Amen,” to the prospect of Jesus’ return.

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

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The disciples’ narrow question in yesterday’s text is answered with an eternity-wide response from Jesus in today’s text. “It is not for you to know,” is humbling to read, isn’t it? The disciples asked about the immediate political needs of Israel, but Jesus’ response lifted their chins to the eternal horizon of his second coming. That second coming’s timing is deliberately made mysterious. In a fascinatingly rare teaching on the trinity, Jesus shows us in Matthew 24:36-44 that not even He knows the timing; only the Father knows. Because we do not know when Jesus will come back (v.7, Matt.24), we must live in a state of his constantly imminent return. 

As you read Acts, you perpetuate it. In Acts 16, Paul and company were heading around the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and were stopped twice from heading northward, once by the Spirit of Jesus (possibly the same manifestation Paul encountered upon his conversion in Acts 9) and again by the Holy Spirit. As a result, they continued farther west until God gave them the vision of the man in Macedonia (named for Alexander the Great’s father) which would become part of the cradle of Europe. From Europe came the Puritans who migrated to the new world. As the new world colonies became a nation that expanded westward, the state of Washington (obviously the most beautiful of all the United States) was established in 1889. In 1946, Highlands Community Church was established and in 2020, the lead pastor of Highlands wrote the devotional you’re reading. Today, you as a member of that church whose roots are in the very power prophesied by Jesus in Acts 1:8, will take this mantle forward.

Because Jesus’ prophecy spans from Jerusalem where they stood in verse 8 to the whole earth, is racial reconciliation God’s will? What verses in Revelation support your answer?

Pray: Boldly ask God to show you that power firsthand. Commit to go to whatever nation He calls you, then reach out to our International Missions team to see how you are called to carry the light forward.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”

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This is the classic metaphysical error of the Jews regarding the Messiah; they hold an entirely too narrow view of the scope of the Messiah’s work, relegating Him merely to a political work in the interests of the historically and seemingly perpetually oppressed Israel as a singular nation. The disciples committed this error with their question in today’s text and modern day orthodox Jews commit the same error.

Otherwise, they would be Christians, or perhaps Messianic Jews – holding to the ceremonial feasts and ceremonies that commemorate Israel’s past while modifying or sometimes abstaining from the rituals that would assume the Messiah has not yet come.

Because there is still war surrounding Israel and because the Messiah is prophesied to bring peace, Jews struggle to believe that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus) was the Messiah. This is a pitiful brand of peace compared to the universal and eternal peace we have in Jesus. Such a view fails to remember what God actually promised Abraham. Sure, it was first to create a great nation through Abraham, but the promise’s ultimate fulfillment over and over again was to bless more than Israel alone. In Genesis 12:3, it was to bless all the peoples of the earth. In Genesis 18:18, it was to bless all the nations of the earth. In Genesis 22:18, it was again for all nations. In Genesis 26:4 again it was for all nations. To restrict the Messiah’s work to the political interests of Israel alone is to miss the gospel.

The United States, as Israel’s greatest ally, has been blessed because we bless Israel. We are a unique nation founded upon a completely novel idea; the idea that we were born with our rights because God gave them to us. Because of our blessedness and because Christian thought shaped our nation’s founding, we as Americans can be susceptible to the same error: putting our patriotism over our gospel calling. Let freedom ring and let the gospel ring loudly, not only here, but to all nations just as was promised to Abraham and just as Jesus commissioned us in Matthew 28:18-20.

 In what ways have you drastically underestimated the scope of Jesus’ work?

Pray: Pray for our nation, for our president, and for the international missions work of Highlands.

While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “Which,” he said, “you have heard me speak about; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days.”

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It’s true, of course. Jesus had prepped the disciples for the Spirit’s coming. We see the Holy Spirit at various points in the Old Testament, but His outpouring upon the infant New Testament church in Acts was unprecedented. In John 14:15-17, He told them, “If you love me, you will keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you.” In John 14:25-26, Jesus told His disciples, “I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” This is the previous speaking to which Jesus referred in verse 4 of today’s text.

John 15:7b-15 prophesied about the coming Holy Spirit, “It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment.” He continued in verse 13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything the Father has is mine. This is why I told you that he takes from what is mine and will declare it to you.

The baptisms carried out by John the Baptist and his disciples was preparatory in nature. It was for the repentance of sins to prepare the way of the Messiah. This immersion of the Holy Spirit is the presence of God on the earth today. While the new believer’s immersion in the Holy Spirit did entail speaking in tongues sometimes in Acts, this was not the case for the majority of the Spirit’s outpourings.

With total self-honesty, has your Christian walk been saturated in the Spirit’s indwelling?

Pray: Ask God to show you more of what it means to be immersed completely in the Spirit’s power.

I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up, after he had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

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The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. The Book of Acts tells what happened next. It was originally a letter to a man named Theophilus. Luke, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke, wrote the Book of Acts as well. It is important from an interpretive standpoint to remember that, unlike John who wrote the Gospel we just concluded in this devotional, Luke did not walk firsthand with Jesus. This Theophilus was a most fortunate man. Not only did Luke write this historical account for Theophilus, but the Gospel of Luke was originally a letter to Theophilus as well! Luke’s Gospel opens:

“Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us,  just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us. It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in an orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed.”

Can you imagine Theophilus standing in judgment before God, making excuses as to why he never had the opportunity to understand the gospel? This may be the most culpable man ever…but then again we have all received the exact same texts as Theophilus. They are just as the physician/scientist Luke describes them: carefully investigated, orderly, and sequential. Richard Dawkins plans to ask God, “Why did you take such great pains to hide yourself?” Because Richard Dawkins has read the Bible, he is just as culpable as Theophilus himself.  Luke is about to take us on a thoroughly investigated narrative journey through the seldom studied 40 days following the resurrection and we are all held responsible before it.

Who is your own Theophilus for whom you might provide this thorough narrative?

Pray: Pray for your skeptical friends, that they would encounter Christ through His Word and be changed.

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which, if every one of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself could contain the books that would be written.

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Throughout the Gospel of John, John has referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It was how he viewed himself. It was the basis for his whole identity in this Gospel and it is an incredible foundation for your identity as well. Try it. Like John, because of your personal relationship with Jesus, you know the gospel to be true. Like John, you know that Jesus loves you. So, in prayer, say this of yourself, “I am a disciple whom Jesus loves.” No matter what others say of you, no matter your past failures, and no matter what may come, this will be true of you forever. Trends in what is culturally moral, like trends in what is culturally fashionable, will shift constantly, but God’s love for you will never change. So, build your very identity on this solid rock and never leave, God’s beloved.

Take John’s testimony in verse 24 and make it your own. Testify firsthand to the goodness of Jesus. You know the gospel is true. The Spirit’s redemptive work in your own heart is indisputable. So, stand with indisputable confidence when you call your loved ones to follow Jesus, when you call your co-workers to follow Jesus, and when you instruct your kids and grandkids to follow Jesus. You know the gospel is true, so call others into the hope you have. 

Every new believer is another miracle of Jesus. So, the proverbial “books” John suggests in verse 25 would be unending. How many new believers do you think came into our ancient faith today alone?

Why would John devote his written words to the mission of convincing people rather than acting like an historian who recorded every single miracle of Jesus?

Pray: Ask God to make your yet Christian friend or family member the next indisputable miracle of Jesus by saving him or her.

So Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them, the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and asked, “Lord, who is the one that’s going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”

“If I want him to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

So this rumor spread to the brothers and sisters that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not tell him that he would not die, but, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”

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Peter wanted to know what Jesus had planned for the other disciple, but Jesus almost rebuked him for it. Do you look at another believer’s life and wish that you could trade? Remember how Jesus corrected Peter. No matter how things look from the outside, you do not know what it is like to walk someone else’s path with Jesus. You do not know what hardships they face on their yacht. You do not know the difficulties they face living with that otherwise attractive spouse. You do not know what cancer diagnoses await their loved ones. Focus instead on what God has called you to do. You will not be judged on how well you could have done in someone else’s circumstances.

It is beautiful and challenging that Jesus would reiterate to Peter the same words He used when calling Peter to be a disciple in the first place. “Follow me,” the Savior said once more in verse 22. Though others prosper, follow Him. Though you suffer more than anyone else, follow Him. Though He slay you, hope in Him. Though the world burns, follow Jesus just like you did in your very first days as a newly called disciple. Follow Him.

Describe a time in your past when things looked great on the outside, but were actually incredibly difficult on the inside. Who might have naively wanted to trade with you?

Pray: Grit your teeth, clench your fists, and express to God your resolve to live out whatever He has called you to face regardless of how easy other believers’ walks appear to be.

“Truly I tell you, when you were younger, you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to indicate by what kind of death Peter would glorify God. After saying this, he told him, “Follow me.”

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Historic tradition maintains that Peter himself was crucified and that he insisted his cross be turned upside down because the resemblance to Jesus’ death was too stark and he felt undeserving. Jesus prophesied such a death as crucifixion with his warning in verse 18. Note the word “glorify” in verse 19. We glorify God by our faith in the midst of suffering. Praising God while we prosper is easy, but praising Him while we suffer brings out a particular brand of praise that may be more sincere. God is worthy of worship both when we win the lottery and when we lose a loved one to cancer. So, resolve based on this text never to confuse suffering with a disproof of God’s Word. Those who mistake faith in Christ for a free pass from suffering are ignorant of Scripture. To the Christian, suffering is an opportunity to demonstrate faith.

Meditate on the words “carry you where you don’t want to go.” What do these words indicate about Jesus’ prophesied will for Peter? Are you currently being carried somewhere you don’t want to go? Have you harbored bitterness toward God because of this, or has the experience shaken your faith? If so, would you consider how God dealt with His own beloved Peter in this text? Your being dragged into something that glorifies God is not a disproof of God or His goodness, but it could be proof that you are at the epicenter of what God has planned for you. Now, glorify God precisely where you are.

Jesus just told Peter that His will for Peter was a brutal death against Peter’s wishes. Where do people get the idea that following Jesus brings only happiness on earth?

Pray: Acknowledge before God that all the days of your life will be either in the midst of suffering, or awaiting suffering as it approaches from the horizon. Commit to praise Him in both seasons.

When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to him, “you know that I love you.”

“Feed my lambs,” he told him. A second time he asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to him, “you know that I love you.” “Shepherd my sheep,” he told him.

He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved that he asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep,” Jesus said. 

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On the night leading up to the crucifixion, in Matthew 26:34, Jesus humbled Peter. Peter, exhibiting the immaturity of an untested believer proclaimed his willingness to die before denying Jesus. “‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to him, ‘tonight, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’” Sure enough, Matthew 26:74 reads, “Then he started to curse and to swear with an oath, ‘I don’t know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed,” following Peter’s third denial of Jesus.

So, after asking Peter if he loved Him more than this miraculous fisherman’s grand-slam, Jesus confronted and commissioned Peter three times, once for each of Peter’s denials. Drawing upon the Old Testament theme of God shepherding His people, Jesus put Peter to work as the one who would launch the church into the New Testament era. If you have failed Jesus before, consider bringing these failures before Him that He might heal you and put you back to work. 

What is that sore spot in your heart that you hope God does not bring back to mind? Journal what it would be like to turn that former failure into a brand new ministry.

Pray: Confess to God what He already knows about your past failures and ask Him to use these past failures to minister to others.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus told them. So Simon Peter climbed up and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish—153 of them. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.

“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus told them. None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 

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In verses 1-8 of John 21, Peter had gone straight back to fishing. Taking other disciples with him, he returned to the very thing he was doing when Jesus first called him. Have you ever done that? When a stranger on the shore convinced them to cast once more, leading to a miraculously large catch, they immediately knew Who it was. Verse 9 could be one of the most underappreciated miracles of the Bible. Charcoal fires take time, but Jesus miraculously made one because He knew this was an important moment. 

I believe that the 153 fish are what Jesus would gesture toward when asking Peter, “Do you love me more than these,” in the upcoming verse 14. I do not have any personal interpretation of the significance of the exact quantity 153 in this text, but I do see its exactness as deliberate and I do have some firsthand experience that allows me to speak to the significance of the catch. I grew up fishing with cast nets constructed identically to Peter’s, but made with a more sophisticated monofilament fiber. The most fish I have ever seen in a cast net of this construction was 40 and even our modern monofilament nets struggled to contain these.

This was a miraculous catch and John was there first hand to witness it. Just as he repeated in his epistles of First, Second, and Third John, he wrote about what he had seen with his own eyes and touched with his own hands. This was the disciples’ third encounter with the resurrected Jesus. The process of preparing them to forever change the world began in Jesus’ teachings before the crucifixion and is culminating in the events of these chapters leading up to the ascension in the beginning of Acts.

What are your own firsthand encounters with Jesus that you could share evangelistically?

Pray: Ask that the people of Highlands would have similarly intimate walks with Jesus to share firsthand.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

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The Gospel of John is a work of meta-nonfiction because it is a true piece of literature that acknowledges itself as literature. In fact, in verse 31, John shared by the Holy Spirit his whole purpose in writing at all. He wrote so that you would believe and that, by believing, you would have life in Jesus’ name. Life! While the Gospel of Matthew was originally intended to convince Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, this Gospel of John was aimed initially at everyone else in the world. Its original purpose was to show Gentiles that Jesus is the Messiah, it fulfilled that purpose perfectly for its original readers, and it still fulfills that purpose perfectly today! When someone who does not know Jesus reads the Gospel of John and the Spirit of God shows up, the spiritually dead come to life as they read.

I am amazed at how effective this Book still is. It fulfills its original intent perfectly. It convinces Gentiles that Jesus is Lord. I have led just a couple of orthodox Jews to faith in Christ as far as I know or remember and both of these involved the Gospel of Matthew. However, for the dozen or so militant atheists I have led to Christ in my life so far, the Gospel of John has been my go-to text because it does exactly what John hoped it would do in these two verses.

The coordinating conjunction “but” (ταῦτα δὲ, meaning “these, however”) is used to start verse 31 instead of the word “also” or κἀγώ. John could have provided us with a rapid-fire parade of miraculous proofs, but instead he provided the Gospel of John: the story.

Why would some skeptics, like the Pharisees who saw almost all of Jesus’ miracles, refuse to believe even if God gave them yet another miracle?

Pray: Ask God to guide you to someone whom He wants to save through the reading of the Gospel of John, then be prepared to give that person a digital or printed copy of it!

But Thomas (called “Twin”), one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were telling him, “We’ve seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

A week later his disciples were indoors again, and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” Thomas responded to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

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The nickname “Doubting Thomas” may not be fair to Thomas. It is true that he insisted on empirical proof (like many skeptics today) before he would believe in Jesus’ resurrection, but Jesus evidently had a higher expectation of faith from Thomas than He had for the other disciples. When the “first” Christian missionaries entered India, they found churches planted…by Thomas!

An entire week went by between verses 25 and 26. Jesus could have appeared any time during that week, but chose not to. As a result, Thomas missed out on the blessing that we receive today by believing without seeing. We have the same opportunity as Thomas today! Let us not, like Thomas, miss out on the blessing and let every person in our lives who is far from God likewise believe and be so blessed.

Practice how you would share verse 29 with the person demanding that God visibly show himself.

Pray: Profess to the unseen God your belief in Him, thank Him for this promised blessing, and ask Him for patience until that beautiful day when you finally see His face!

When it was evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because they feared the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Having said this, he showed them his hands and his side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” After saying this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

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Being sent is at the very core of Christianity. You cannot be a Christian and be not sent. So, go. By the same breath of God that brought Adam to life, that brought the valley of dry bones to life, and that inspired all Scripture, Jesus empowered His disciples with the Holy Spirit and sent them. Similarly, modern believers have been given the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Similarly, modern believers may know that He is with them even to the end of the age.

Look closely at the core of the disciples’ fear in verse 19. It was a fear of the ones who crucified Jesus. In a very real way, it was a fear of their peers. That same fear can grip the church today. My prayer as the lead pastor of Highlands Community Church is that our people would be filled with boldness to engage their peers rather than cloister in fearful isolation from them.

The cowardly Christian’s precious reputation would mean nothing if presented as an excuse before God in judgment. Let us exchange our cowardice for the mighty breath of God described in verse 22. Let us break out of quarantine with a holy, desperate zeal to help the lost find and follow Jesus!

With brutal honesty, are you excelling at something that is meaningless (your reputation) while failing at the one thing that is eternally meaningful (sharing your faith)?

Pray: Ask the mighty breath of God to assure you of His anointing Holy Spirit that you would bust out of your hiding place and proclaim freedom to your captors.

“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus told her, “since I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what he had said to her.

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If Jesus was referring to Mary and Joseph’s biological children, his half-brothers who did not believe in Him, then Matthew 12:46-50 and Mark 10:29-30 make more sense in light of today’s passage. In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus was told by the crowd that his mother and brothers were waiting to speak with Him and His response indicated that He thought of His disciples and all who do God’s will as His brothers and sisters.

In Mark 10:29-30, however, Jesus did speak more directly about his earthly siblings and the results can be hard to accept. “‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said, ‘there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, who will not receive a hundred times more, now at this time —houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions —and eternal life in the age to come.’” Jesus’ biological half brothers’ earthly father, Joseph, adopted Jesus and now Jesus’ heavenly Father would adopt them despite their rebellion.

Even those who are far from God and those who reject Jesus for a time can be radically saved. We have essentially just read what led to the salvation of James for whom the Book of James is named! Though his half-brothers had mocked Jesus before (John 7:1-9), they ended up becoming powerful, praying believers. Acts 1:14 reads, “They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”  Let your heart be filled with ambitious hope that those in your life who mock God now may one day become evangelists in Jesus’ name!

Was Mary Magdalene, by proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus in this text, the first evangelist? Why, or why not?

Pray: Thank God for having even skeptics on His heart and ask Him to draw the skeptics in your life near by the power of the Holy Spirit right this very nanosecond!

But Mary stood outside the tomb, crying. As she was crying, she stooped to look into the tomb. She saw two angels in white sitting where Jesus’s body had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“Because they’ve taken away my Lord,” she told them, “and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”

Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know it was Jesus. “Woman,” Jesus said to her, “why are you crying? Who is it that you’re seeking?”

Supposing he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you’ve put him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Turning around, she said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”—which means “Teacher.”

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Jesus is near even when it seems that He is far away. Mary cried because, even after having encountered angels in Mark 16:1-7 and Luke 24:1-9 that morning, she had still not fully grasped the resurrection. Jesus is, as prophesied, our Immanuel. He is “God with us.” He knew Mary’s name. He knows yours too. He comforted Mary. He can be your Wonderful Counselor too.

Jesus was near Mary, but she did not recognize Him (v. 14). Consider now the omnipresence of God and our own ignorance of all that He is currently doing on our behalf. In Genesis 28:16, Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” Oh how ubiquitous, yet unseen the Spirit of God is in the earth and in our own lives. Like the spirit of wisdom described in the first three chapters of Proverbs, knowledge of God calls out to us in the streets, but we seldom take heed and abide in His presence.

What stones ought you turn over now to discover God’s unseen work in your life? What trials has He evidently spared you from and what previously unseen blessings have you not thanked Him for?

Pray: Thank God for being your near, intimate, and close Immanuel. Praise Him for His grace and thank Him for being your Comforter.

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