February 23: Freedom

Leviticus 14; John 8:31–59; Song of Solomon 7:1–4

“Even though I know it’s wrong, I sometimes think, ‘If I hadn’t accepted Christ, I would have so much more freedom.’ And then I venture down that road and realize just how terrible it is. It takes me to a very dark place.”

This deep, heart-wrenching statement by a friend made me realize there are countless people who probably feel this way about Jesus. And what if, unlike my friend, they hadn’t figured out the latter part of this statement? They were probably walking a road closer to legalism than the road Christ envisions for our lives. Or they could be so far from actually experiencing grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that they have yet to see how incredible a life lived for Jesus can be.

Jesus promises freedom: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who had believed him, ‘If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ ” (John 8:31–32). What we often gloss over in this passage, though, is that Jesus is speaking to believers. If you haven’t begun to fully trust in Jesus, the thought that He gives us freedom is difficult to understand. Someone could ask, “Isn’t He creating a system that forces us to live a certain way?” The answer is no: Jesus is setting up what will be a natural response to His grace.

The context of this verse also makes me wonder if someone who hasn’t yet truly sacrificed for Jesus, beyond just a simple tithe, would fathom what freedom with Him looks like. The Jews Jesus is addressing would have already been experiencing some sort of social ostracism for their belief in Him—they would have understood that sacrifice brings spiritual freedom.

This concept isn’t easy to grasp, but in the simplest terms possible, Jesus frees us from religious systems and gives us the Spirit to empower us to do His work. This Spirit guides us and asks us to make sacrifices for Him, but those sacrifices are minimal compared to the eternal life He gave us through the sacrifice of His life. These sacrifices don’t become a system with Christ, but something we strive to do because we want to. That’s the freedom of the Spirit.

Have you experienced freedom in Christ? How can you seek the Spirit’s presence so you can experience more freedom?

John D. Barry

February 24: The Day of Atonement

Leviticus 15–16; John 9:1–12; Song of Solomon 7:5–9

When it comes to the cost of sin, the average person probably thinks in terms of “What can I get away with?” rather than “What does this cost me and other people emotionally?” These calculations aren’t made in terms of life and death, but that is literally the case when it comes to sin.

The Day of Atonement is a beautiful, though horrific, illustration of this. It takes three innocent animals to deal with the people’s sin: one to purify the high priest and his family, one to be a sin offering to Yahweh that purifies the place where He symbolically dwelt (the holy of holies), and one to be sent into the wilderness to remove the people’s transgressions (Lev 16:11, 15–16, 21–22).

After the blood of the first two animals is spilled on the Day of Atonement—demonstrating the purification of God’s people—the final goat demonstrates God’s desire to completely rid the people of their sin. “Aaron shall place his two hands on the living goat’s head, and he shall confess over it all the Israelites’ iniquities and all their transgressions for all their sins, and he shall put them on the goat’s head, and he shall send it away into the desert” (Lev 16:21).

The Day of Atonement symbolized God’s desire for His people: one day, sin would no longer stand between God and His children. Like the goat, Jesus lifts the people’s iniquities (Isa 53:12). He fulfills this prophecy, becoming the ultimate ransom; no other sacrifice is ever needed.

As the author of Hebrews says, “For the law appoints men as high priests who have weakness, but the statement of the oath, after the law, appoints a Son, who is made perfect forever” (Heb 7:28). He then goes onto say, “And every priest stands every day serving and offering the same sacrifices many times, which are never able to take away sins. But this one, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb 10:11–12).

The price of sin may be great, but Christ has paid that price.

In what ways do you take Jesus’ sacrifice for granted? What can you do differently?

John D. Barry

February 25: The Fear

Leviticus 17:1–19:37; John 9:13–34; Song of Solomon 7:10–13

We often don’t realize that we’re guilty of fearing others. At the time, it can feel definite and look legitimate. Fearing others can also take the form of a meticulous house, staying late at the office, or passing anxious, sleepless nights. When we hold someone else’s opinions higher than God’s, we suddenly find our world shaky and imbalanced.

Jesus’ healing of the blind man reveals that the fear of people is not a modern concept. The Pharisees had a stranglehold on Jewish life: “for the Jews had already decided that if anyone should confess him to be Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue” (John 9:22). The blind man’s parents were victims of their mission, but they were willing victims. Even within the ruling ranks, though, opinions were divided, but the fear of people still ruled (John 9:16). John reports elsewhere that “many of the rulers believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it.… For they loved the praise of men more than praise from God” (John 12:42–43).

The blind man is the antithesis of all this. Perhaps, marginalized at birth, the opinions of others didn’t hold as much weight for him. Under interrogation, he is bold, quick-witted, and over-the-top incredulous. He is enraged that the Pharisees do not accept the basic facts of the story: “I told you already and you did not listen! Why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become his disciples also, do you?” (John 9:27). While he has yet to confess in Jesus, he knows what he has experienced—he was blind, and now he sees. And as far as he can tell, only one sent by God could perform such a miracle.

Fearing people involves holding their opinions higher than God’s. At its heart, though, it’s an inflated opinion of our own selves—self-protection or self-esteem. But the blind man was willing to proclaim the truth about the Son of Man who healed him—physically, and then spiritually. He was willing to give up everything.

How are you guided by the opinions of others? How can you make decisions that are aimed at bringing glory to God?

Rebecca Van Noord

February 26: Patiently Waiting

Leviticus 20:1–22:33; John 9:35–41; Song of Solomon 8:1–5

Delayed gratification is a foreign concept to our natural instincts. Our culture doesn’t encourage patience or contentment; we would prefer to have our desires met the moment they arise.

The woman in Song of Solomon tells us that she is delighted in her beloved. She praises his attributes and tells of the wonders of their love. But throughout the poem, at seemingly random moments, she also warns the daughters of Jerusalem about love: “I adjure you … do not arouse or awaken love until it pleases!” (Song 8:4).

This is not the first time she has “adjured” them to wait and have patience: the same refrain is found elsewhere in the poem, and it acts like an oath (Song 2:7; 3:5). Although the elevated poetry glories in love, delight, and fulfillment, it also warns about immediate gratification. The woman urges us not to force love. It is something that must be anticipated and protected, not enjoyed before it’s time.

It doesn’t feel natural to wait and anticipate, but in many ways, staying faithful and being hopeful characterizes our faith. Waiting doesn’t mean we’re not bold or risk-takers. It means we’re faithful to God—we’re waiting for things to happen in His time. We know God has something planned for us that is beyond our expectations.

How are you patiently waiting and anticipating?

Rebecca Van Noord

February 27: Reality Can Bite

Leviticus 23–25; John 10:1–21; Song of Solomon 8:6–9

Reality shows are all about people who are known or want to be known—they have celebrity syndrome. The root cause of this obsession is probably, like most things, a disconnect from our Maker. As people disconnect from the God who made us, we seek affirmation from other sources. And as wrong as this desire may be, our culture makes it feel like second nature.

The Jewish people Jesus spoke to also felt displaced. They were a people who had lost touch with their guide—their shepherd. Jesus is the answer to their call.

Echoing Ezekiel 34:11–24, He says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” But Jesus goes one step further by adding, “and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15). Jesus promises that He will know us, and by echoing the very words of God, He is claiming that He is the God of Israel—He is the way God will know us. He offers the affirmation we’ve been looking for; He essentially says, “I chose you.”

But lest we understand this passage only to be about Jesus fulfilling what God had promised to the Jewish people, He remarks, “And I have other sheep which are not from this fold. I must bring these also, and they will hear my voice, and they will become one flock—one shepherd. Because of this the Father loves me, because I lay down my life so that I may take possession of it again” (John 10:16–17).

Jesus came as our good shepherd, as the one who guides us back to God. When we have the urge to obsess over those who are known to the world, or when we desire to be known ourselves, we can be assured that Jesus knows us. He knows you, and me, and He was still willing to die for us.

In what ways are you seeking to be known by people or obsessing over those who are well-known? What can you do to change that?

John D. Barry

February 28: Neon Gods

Leviticus 26–27; John 10:22–42; Song of Solomon 8:10–14

Idolatry seems archaic. Who worships idols anymore?

We all know that in other countries, traditional idol worship of gold and wooden statues still goes on, but we often forget about our own idols. What does all our furniture point toward? Why do we care who is on the cover of a magazine? How do you feel if you miss your favorite talk show? If we’re really honest, what do we spend the majority of our time thinking about?

Idols are everywhere, and most of us are idol worshipers of some kind. When we put this in perspective, suddenly the words of Lev 26 become relevant again. The problem that is addressed in Leviticus is the same problem we’re dealing with today.

Leviticus 26 and its harsh words against idolatry should prompt each of us to ask, “What are my idols?” and then to answer with, “I will end my idolatry.” And if the temptation is too great with these things present in our lives (like the tv), we should say, “I will exile them from my home and presence.”

It’s not put in these terms often enough, but it should be. The “noise” of idols is keeping us away from God, and even more so, our worship of the noise is doing so. Likewise, our obsession with possessions and celebrities is standing between God and us.

In their song “The Sound of Silence,” Simon and Garfunkel described the same situation in modern culture: “The people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made.”

What neon god are you worshiping? And what are you going to do about it?

John D. Barry[1]


[1] Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.