[Oct 31]--Thirsty?

John 7:37-44

            On the last and greatest day of the feast, when there'd be the maximum number of people present, Jesus stood up and made an astounding offer. But to get the best understanding of this announcement, it might help to know a little background about what the festival celebrants would've seen up to that point.

            On the last day of the feast of Tabernacles, the high priest would gather the assembly in front of the temple. Together they strode down to the pool of Siloam (which will make another appearance in chapter 9), chanting psalms (probably Psalm 118 among others). At the pool the priest filled a large golden pitcher with water, then led the crowd back to the temple. At the front porch, he poured out the water to commemorate God’s provision of water in the wilderness, and publicly quoted Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”

            Do you see why this context was so important? As this pouring out of water was fresh in their minds, holding onto God’s promise from the Old Testament that he'd pour out salvation for them “someday,” Jesus was telling them that “someday” was today. "You don’t have to wait for salvation to come. You don’t have to be thirsty anymore. I’m here. Come to me now."

            My sources give me different explanations as to what Scripture Jesus was referring to in vs. 38,  but the best one is that he’s paraphrasing Is. 58:11. The important thing to realize is that his promise was fulfilled on Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. John liked to give us a foreshadowing perspective. Later on he recorded that Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper that the Spirit would be sent once he was glorified.   

            But let’s move beyond theology and Bible study to something a bit more practical, shall we? Are you thirsty? As a believer? Have you been trying to quench it with something other than your Savior? Why would you do something foolish like that? You know that only he can satisfy, don’t you?

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for trying to find satisfaction in anything but you. I know better than that. Please forgive me, and let’s start over.

[Oct 30]--Not Ready Yet

John 7:25-36

            We need to read God’s word carefully; otherwise we can make some serious errors. When John uses the term “the Jews,” he’s usually referring to the religious leaders (although sometimes to the Jewish people as a group), but it’s always a neutral connotation at best, and most of the time it’s in a negative context, as in rejection of Jesus.  Of course, it’s ludicrous to suggest, as some have, that the writers of the New Testament were Antisemitic (which would be strange since all but one of the authors in the N.T. were Jewish, all the apostles were Jewish, and the entire first generation of believers were all Jewish). But when it came to the pilgrims who made it to the feast, there was definitely a mixed reaction, which John faithfully recorded for us. It ran the entire gamut, from “He’s a con-artist and a false Messiah” to “When the Messiah comes, will he perform any more miracles than this man?” (Hinting that the speaker was starting to believe in him). The religious leaders didn’t know what to do with him, but ordered the “temple guards” to arrest him (more about them tomorrow). It looks like no one knew exactly what to think of him.

            I’d like to spend just a moment on the last phrase in 27: “when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” One of the common beliefs about the Messiah was that he'd suddenly appear out of nowhere—no birth, no hometown, no childhood, just “there.” The reason for this is because of a misinterpretation of Malachi 3:1. Obviously the Lord had already plainly predicted to them that he'd be born in Bethlehem, but they hadn’t caught that part. I think that this is a great time to point out that it’s a good idea to know your Bible and be familiar with all of it, not just the parts you happen to like. This one misinterpretation closed them off from accepting their own Messiah.

            His point in vs. 28 seems to be “You know enough about me already. You know me, or at least enough about me to make the right decision.” When he mentioned his Father again, they tried again to arrest him, but “his time had not yet come.” There'd come a time when he'd fall into their hands, and they'd have the chance to vent all that anger that'd been simmering up to that point. He'd be arrested, tried, condemned, tortured, and brutally executed, but not yet. Why? Because they were incompetent, or just weren’t quite devoted enough to his destruction? No! Jesus was on the Father’s timetable, and nothing would happen to him until that point. No one took his life from him—he would lay it down of his own free will, when the Father told him to.

            Another thing to note is the last recorded reaction in today’s passage. Several of my sources found it very likely that John was being ironic, or looking backwards from his perspective years after this took place. The truth is, he did go on to “teach the Greeks” in a fashion, through his representatives. His own people, as a general rule, didn’t accept him, so eventually the Lord removed the “natural” branches and grafted in “wild olive shoots” (that’s us) into the Tree of God’s family.

             Maybe you feel like the Enemy’s had carte blanche in your life, just like with Job. This is a good reminder to all of us: As God’s children, nothing can happen to us which isn’t sifted through his perfect, loving plan. He's claimed us, and we belong to him. Bad things might happen (nothing compared to the Passion, of course), but it’s all woven into the tapestry of his ultimate plan for us. Please trust him.

Father, I do trust in you, but it’s pretty shaky at times. Please help me to see that you’re in charge, and the Enemy’s not.

[Oct 29]--Sermon at the Feast

John 7:14-24

            Despite the mockery and derision from his brothers, Jesus did attend the feast, but only on his terms. He was not going as a pilgrim like everyone else. He had a mission from his Father, and he was going to carry it out.

            The festival he was attending was the Feast of Tabernacles. It was also called the Feast of Booths, because for a week the Hebrews were supposed to live in shelters outside made of palm leaves, sort of like camping. It was also called the Feast of Ingathering, since it celebrated the end of the harvest season. Based on Ex. 23:16 and Lev.23:33-36, 39-43 (among others), it reminded the Israelites of the past and also showed gratitude for the Lord’s provisions. The reason they lived in “booths” was to remind themselves of how the Lord had provided for them in the wilderness for 40 years, and the sacrifices they offered was to remind them of how the Lord provided for them in the Promised Land. This was the most popular Jewish religious ritual (both back then and now), so there would be the maximum number of people to hear what Jesus was proclaiming. Pilgrims from all over the nation came to celebrate, people who wouldn’t there at any other time during the year.

            Now he was publicly teaching, and the immediate reaction was exactly the same as towards his apostles a couple of years later: astonishment that an unschooled man could teach with such depth and authority. We need to remember that the Jews (like most people throughout history) valued tradition and precedent over innovation (the exact opposite from us). If a teacher could cite a well-known rabbi in support of his position instead of saying “I have a brand-new revelation or insight from God,” that would be far more credible. Then--as now--they valued formal education and distrusted mavericks. But Jesus didn’t quote or cite any rabbis, only the Old Testament itself, and he was not afraid to show how the common or established interpretation of God’s word was seriously flawed and needed correction (a good portion of the Sermon on the Mount is dedicated to this).

            But Jesus was not just some crazy teacher who claimed things that he couldn’t deliver on, and he didn’t expect people to just accept him based on his say-so. He had four reasons, listed in this passage, as to why people should listen to him, and eventually place their faith in him: 1) His teaching came from God himself, not something he made up, 2) It could be confirmed by testing, 3) His actions demonstrated his selflessness, and 4) His teaching was right in line with God’s word, not something brand new. By the way, the “one miracle” he referred to was the healing of the paralytic in 5:1-10, and apparently they were “amazed” not because of the healing, but because he'd done it on the Sabbath. He was already well-known as a miracle worker, so he was obviously not just some crank or self-appointed “Messiah” like they'd seen over the years. As he made it clear in vs. 17, he was confident that an honest seeker would come to the right conclusion.

            So what does this mean to you and me today? If we’re believers, hopefully we’ve gotten the issue of whether Jesus was really sent by God out of the way. But are we open to what the Lord's saying to us today? His truth might come from an unlikely source, and odds are it's going to be something we need to hear instead of what we'd like to hear. He’s speaking to you right now, if you only have the ears to hear it. Are you listening?

Father God, please give me listening ears and a soft heart, where your truth always has a welcoming home.

[Oct 28]--Family Problems

John 7:1-13

            From the long and public discussion/confrontation in chapter six we turn to a much more intimate scenario. Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ home life, the household in which he grew up? I certainly have. Of course, the vast majority of his life (30 years out of 33) is a complete mystery to us. We suspect that Joseph was dead by the time Jesus started his ministry, since he isn’t mentioned past the time of boyhood. It seems that Mary believed in him, especially since she came to him during the wedding feast in chapter two. But what about his brothers (actually half-brothers)?

            Jesus himself said that a prophet would never be accepted in his hometown, and apparently this extended to his own family. Why is that? Why would a prophet not be accepted among his own family and the other people he grew up with? The answer's found within the question. They grew up with him. They lived with him.

            If you have siblings, did you have one who was the “goody-two-shoes” with your parents? It seemed that the favorite son or daughter could do no wrong, and you could do no right. Of course, any siblings we have are sinners like the rest of us, so they weren’t really perfect. But Jesus was. We know that he subjected himself to his parents’ authority, and he didn’t have to. He never disobeyed them, at least as long as they were following God. He never lied to them, never stole anything from anyone, and never bullied anyone or forced someone to do something for him out of selfish motives. He always put other peoples’ needs before his own, and was always wiling to serve others. So how'd you like to have a brother like that?  Can’t you hear his parents now: “Why can’t you be more like your brother Jesus? He never gives us any problems!”

            So how did they respond to Jesus’ ministry? In Mark 3, they came to take him away, because they literally thought he was out of his mind. And in today’s passage they’re taunting him, trying to get him to preemptively declare himself as the Messiah. “If you’re the Messiah, show yourself! Go to Jerusalem if you want to be famous!” But he didn’t take the bait. He would reveal himself, but only according to the Father’s plan and timing. The rest of the chapter deals with his encounters with the crowds there.

            But for now, I’d like to make a few more notes about his family before we move on. We don’t know what happened to all of his half-brothers, but we know a bit about two of them. After his resurrection, our Lord appeared to several people, among them his half- brother James. This James (who's different from the James who was an original apostle) became a pillar in the church and was mentioned several times in the book of Acts. He presided over the first official council of the church in Acts 15, and yes, he’s the one who wrote the book of the bible named after himself.

            The other one we know is Jude. Tradition states (and based on verse 1 of the epistle that bears his name), that he also was a half-brother of Jesus who became a believer after the Resurrection. So we have two half-brothers of Jesus who rejected him at first but who became leaders in the church (and who added to Scripture). 

            I realize that many people who read this devotional, like myself, were raised in a Christian family. If that describes you, please stop and thank God right now for that incredible blessing. But if not, if you’re alone in your family in serving Christ, please take heart. Your Savior went through the jeers, the misunderstandings, and the heartbreak of having family members reject you because of what the Father has called you to be. And don’t lose heart: There just might be a James in your family who hasn’t appeared yet. You never know, do you?

Father God, for all those who read this who have this heartache, please be with them. Be their Father, their brother, their all-in-all. Lord Jesus, as only you can, please make your presence known to them. Comfort them, please.

[Oct 27]--Falling Away

John 6:60-71

            I was a member of a small church plant for about 10 years, and I hold no regrets on that score. But one of the hardest things I’ve had to face is that of drop-off. It’s a common problem for every church, but it seemed worst in the one I was at: Severely dysfunctional people came in through the front door, got their lives straightened out, then left through the back door.

            When faced with another member leaving, it’s passages like this that comfort and strengthen me. Our Lord Jesus--the Son of God--didn’t hold onto the crowds who followed him. The people who followed him (literally) to the other side of the lake, as we mentioned before, were not there for any great spiritual reason: They wanted to see more miracles, especially those which left them with a full belly. He rebuked them for this, and tried to get them back on the right track. He pointed them away from physical bread to himself as the Bread from Heaven, which a man could eat and never die.

            But these were Jews, and the notion that they were to “eat [his] flesh. . .and drink his blood” was more than strange to them: It was disgusting. They were expressly forbidden to eat meat with blood still in it, much less eat another person. And to drink blood, like the pagans in their blasphemous worship? Never!

            Of course he wasn’t referring to his physical body and blood, as we talked about yesterday. But they didn’t stick around to get any clarification. They heard something that was a “hard teaching” and left. But Jesus didn’t immediately go after them and yell out “Hey guys! You misunderstood me! I was only talking about believing in me! Come back, let’s talk about this!”

            No, the only reaction he gave was to turn to the rest of the disciples and make sure they wanted to stay. His question expects a negative answer: “You don’t want to leave too, do you?” He wasn’t asking for his benefit (as if he didn’t know their hearts), but for theirs. He wanted for each one of them (minus one) to confirm their decision for themselves in their hearts.

            This holds several applications for us. First, we shouldn’t be discouraged when people leave. It’s only natural to react to that negatively, I understand. And we should take steps to minimize it. But Jesus himself lost followers. Not real believers, but just people hanging around looking for thrills. They won’t stay, no matter what we do, unless God changes their hearts. And in minimizing losses we must never, ever, ever even get close to compromising what the Father has told us to say. Jesus didn’t even bother explaining himself in order to keep people from leaving, at least not in this instance. And even among these last twelve, one of them was a “devil,” a false disciple.

            Second, God will always save a remnant for himself. Out of the big crowd that eventually dwindles, he will sift out quality people whom he will use. As one of my heroes Jonathan once said, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” I’m not saying that more people wouldn’t be a nice change, but God isn’t hindered by the numbers. Using these “twelve” (minus Judas, plus Paul) he changed the world. If he can accomplish all that with those few men, think what he could do with you and me, if we just surrender to his plans and let go of ours.

            And that leads me to the third application. Why did Peter and the others stick it out? Was it because they'd figured out what Jesus was doing? Was it because they understood what he really meant when he talked about eating flesh and drinking blood? No, it was because they understood that he was the only game in town. If they wanted real life, abundant life, eternal life, there was nowhere else to go. Whatever he said that didn’t make sense, it didn’t ultimately make a difference. They trusted in him and were going to follow him, because they knew who he was, not because they understood his plan.

Sounds like a great example for me to follow. What about you?

Lord Jesus, I belong to you, twice over. Whatever you want me to do, wherever you want me to go, I’m yours. I don’t care what you tell me that makes absolutely no sense, I’m not turning back.

[Oct 26]--Cannibalism?

John 6:51-59

            One of the things that really saddens me is how things that are supposed to unite the church tend to separate believers. For example, Paul said that we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” in appealing to the unity of the Body of Christ, and denominations heartily disagree on baptism.

            Another issue on which the church has disagreed for some time has been the subject of the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. We talked about this last month, but since this passage has been used by the Catholic church and others to present their views, we need to examine it further.

            There are three main views on the Lord’s Supper, and they all center on one question: “What happens to the bread and wine during the ceremony?” Transubstantiation (per the Catholic Church) holds that the elements literally become the body and blood of Jesus, and that he’s crucified and offered again and again every time believers hold Communion. It still looks like bread, smells like bread, tastes like bread, but it’s physically changed into his body. Consubstantiation, as I understand it (as held by Presbyterians and others) means that the substance of the body and blood are alongside the bread and wine, but the bread and wine are not really changed. Traditionally Southern Baptists hold to a memorial view, which means that the elements are merely symbolic. They don’t have any more meaning that we don’t give them.

            I agree that the elements don’t physically or spiritually change, but to call it a memorial sounds somewhat cold. When we partake in the Lord’s Supper, it “tunes us into” his presence like few other things, or maybe like nothing else. It focuses us on him, on what he did for us, on what he’s doing for us now, and what he will do for us. It helps us strengthen our faith and draws us to him in worship. It’s not the elements that change, but us.

            Why do I bring all this up now? Because this is one of the main passages that Transubstantiatists try to use to justify their position. Jesus said that unless you “eat [his] flesh. . . and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” First, it'd be fairly odd that Jesus would be referring to a ceremony and rite which was not even instituted yet. Second, if you contend that he’s referring to Communion, then this means that everyone who goes through this ritual is saved just by doing this. He says in vs. 56 that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

            So what is he talking about here? How do we “eat [his] flesh and drink [his] blood”? How do you take Jesus’ life into yourself? By faith, by trusting in him. It’s pretty obvious from the seven times that the word “believe” or some variant is used in this chapter, and how it’s repeatedly linked with eternal life. The eating and drinking metaphors are equivalent to believing in him and coming to him in faith.

            But let’s not let the controversy about this distract us from the main purpose of all this is: For Jesus to give us life, his life. When we trust in him, he enters us and gives us himself. He nourishes us and regenerates us. Have you been experiencing this life to the fullest, in the way he wants you to? Neither have I.

Lord Jesus, you are my life, and I have no other. Everything you have for me, I want. Whatever it is that’s keeping me from living your life to the fullest, please take it away.

[Oct 25]--Not One Lost

John 6:33-40

            Jesus was comparing and contrasting himself with the work of Moses, specifically the Manna which Israel ate for 40 years, and of course they misunderstood him. Just like the woman at the well, he offered them something eternal and they were fixated on the temporary. I’d like to take a moment today, however, to focus on something a little off topic. We’re going to return to this subject several times over the course of these devotionals, but I thought this would be a good time to bring it up.

            The subject I’d like to discuss is that of eternal security. In case you’re not familiar with it, it refers to the belief that once you’ve truly received salvation/eternal life/spiritual rebirth, etc., you can never lose it, no matter what. I realize that this is controversial among some Christians, and I have several friends who disagree with me. I think they’re sincere, and I'd never break fellowship over this issue, but I think the Bible’s pretty clear on this.

            In short, yes, I believe in eternal security, as long as we’re clear on the concept. Notice that in my definition above I inserted the word “truly received,” and that was no accident. I did that to clarify my answer to some who immediately raise the objection of the backsliding believer: “What about my friend Joe? He walked down the aisle, said he was a Christian, was baptized, and now doesn’t follow Christ at all. The last I saw him, he was bar-hopping and sleeping around with a different woman every week.” I’ll go into more detail at another time, but for now, let me be clear: If someone claims to have been a Christian and shows no interest in obeying Christ, then the Bible offers no comfort for him. If someone truly has placed their faith in Christ, it will show up in a change in their lifestyle. If there’s no change in their attitude towards sin, towards the Bible, or towards holiness, then I question whether or not they ever truly received him.

            But for those of us who do want to follow and obey him, here’s hope. As James said, “We all stumble in many ways,” and all of us struggle with sin. But no matter how hard I fall, he’s there to forgive and restore. And better yet, I know how it’s going to end for me. Read vs.39 again. The Father has given me to his Son. I belong to him, like a jewel in his crown. And out of all that the Father has given Jesus, how many will Jesus lose? 5%? 1%? The answer to that question is pretty clear.

            But I can hear the objection already: “But that’s just the will of the Father. It doesn’t mean that it’ll necessarily happen.” We can have an argument later over whether everything that happens is God’s will, but that’s not the question here. Read the next verse. God’s “will” in verse 39 is the same as his “will” in verse 40. Is anyone going to say that there are some who look to the Son and believe in him who won’t have eternal life?

            The point here is pretty simple. If you’ve truly placed your faith in him, then he'll never lose you. The Enemy has no claim on you anymore, and he never will. You're precious in your Savior's eyes, among his most valuable possessions, bought with his precious lifeblood. He loves you with an everlasting love, and one day you’ll see the full extent of that.

             In case you're interested in this subject, I've included my devotions on this here

Lord Jesus, I thank you so much that my home in Heaven isn't based on me holding on to you, it's based on you holding on to me. You and I are united forever, and nothing I could do can ever change that. You're so good to me.

[Oct 24]--Two Types of Bread

John 6:25-33, 41-50

            As I mentioned when introducing this Gospel, John loved to use physical phenomena to illustrate spiritual truths. This chapter’s description of the feeding of 5,000 and the discussion after it is exhibit A of this. Out of his mercy and compassion, he provided food for all these people, and their reaction was to try to make him king by force. This miracle is found in all four Gospels, but the other three don’t have Jesus’ commentary about it, which we see here.

            They came to him, asking how he'd gotten there, since they hadn’t seen him enter any boats (he actually walked on the water, but we’ve already talked about that). As he did with Nicodemus in chapter 3, he completely ignored what someone was saying/asking and instead answered to the needs of the speaker’s heart. He knew that they weren’t even searching for a circus-like miracle anymore, which would be bad enough. No, all they cared about was that he'd provided them with all the food they could eat. As any homeless shelter volunteer can tell you, if you start passing out free food, you’re sure to be popular.

            But here we get to the crux of the matter: Jesus was trying to get them past simply looking at physical food to much more important sustenance. Just like with the woman at the well on the subject of physical water, he was using the physical food to show something about himself. He was offering them bread that wouldn’t spoil, and would completely satisfy once and for all.

            Being raised in a legalistic approach to God, they asked the obvious question: “What does God want us to do to earn this?” What was Jesus’ answer? “Nothing. Just believe in the one whom the Father has sent, namely me.” In order to appropriate this “bread,” all you have to do is trust in me, utterly.

            Here we begin the comparison/contrast with Moses and his work. Moses had promised that God would send Israel a prophet like himself, and they were warned to listen to what he had to say. Now that prophet “like Moses” had come, but they were skeptical. Jesus had only fed about 5,000 men one time, while Moses had fed millions for 40 years.

            Here’s where it’s really important to pay attention. First off, it was through Moses that God had supplied the Manna. Moses was a man; yes, he was a man who was amazingly used by the Lord, but he was just a man. By himself, Moses could've done nothing. Second, as wonderful as the Manna was, it wasn't able to really give life. It could stave off death by starvation, but every one of those Israelites who ate it eventually died.  But if you eat this new bread that he was offering, you'd live forever. Of course, he’s talking about spiritual life, since even believers die physically.

            But that really gets to the heart of the issue, doesn’t it? The Manna certainly didn’t change their hearts or restore their relationship with their Creator, did it? You know how rebellious they were, and how it kept them out of the Promised Land. But this new Bread will change everything. Yes, we’ll still die eventually, but death has lost its sting for us. And we'll live forever. Not just exist forever (everyone’s going to do that), but live forever. We’ll be forever in the immediate presence of Life himself.

            All that, just by believing in him. If you’ve “eaten” this “Bread,” if you have his Life within you, then how about some gratitude?

Lord Jesus, thank you. How can I show my gratitude? I’m sure you can think of something.

[Oct 23]--Feeding the 5,000

John 6:1-15

            If you, like me, were raised with any connection with the Bible growing up, then this story is probably familiar to you. I remember hearing about it Sunday School and seeing it in a Picture Bible. It’s definitely one of the more famous stories about Jesus, and it’s easy to see why. Here are a few things to note:

1) This is the only miracle (outside the Resurrection) which is recorded in all four Gospels. Apparently the writers considered it pretty important, since John usually records material which is unique to himself.

2) According to Michael Card, the earliest recorded Christian artwork represented this story in drawings. Not the crucifixion: That would come later as generations could look at the Passion with some detachment. No, the earliest artwork which we have preserved is that which depicts Jesus feeding the 5,000. They felt that the Cross was too momentous to adequately capture in human art, so they took this miracle as symbolic of what he did for us on Calvary. His feeding of the crowd was a beautiful picture of him giving of himself to “feed” the world.

3) Of course, we say “the 5,000,” but it was probably more than double that. As commonly done in that time, John didn’t count the women and children in this crowd. Once you factor those in, this becomes even more amazing.

4) The Bible is very realistic when it comes to human nature. The crowd came out, not to gain spiritual direction but to see more miracles. They'd heard about his healings, so they wanted to see more of it, like people going the circus to be thrilled and entertained. Nevertheless, Jesus condescended to their needs and provided for them in the most compassionate way.

            Then after he fed them, what was their reaction? Believe in him, or at least open their hearts to the possibilities? No. They wanted to seize him and force him to use his miraculous powers to become king and overthrow the hated Romans. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Jesus refuses to be used for earthly political purposes. He did so back then, and he does today. He'll return to be crowned King, but it's going to be on his terms, not ours. He's not the property of any political party or politician. So let’s be careful of that, shall we?

5) And of course there’s the obvious application: He's perfectly able and willing to take care of my needs. I can trust him. If I do what he tells me to do, I can let him worry about my physical and spiritual needs. He who fed millions in the wilderness for forty years on manna, who fed Elijah via ravens, and who fed over 10,000 with a boy’s sack lunch can deal with my problems. Right?

Lord Jesus, please help me to trust you. If I ever have tried to use your name for my own purposes, please forgive me.

[Oct 22]--Testimony

John 5:31-47

            In Jesus’ conversation with the religious leaders, one word keeps coming up: testimony. This is a really important word, not just in its definition but the context behind it. Moses commanded that no one could be accused except on the basis on two or three witnesses, so this formed the background that other claims (other than legal accusations) had to have two/three witnesses as well. Anyone could claim anything, so they would need witnesses to add credibility.

            Jesus had (implicitly) claimed God as his Father (see the discussion a couple of days ago), and the religious leaders wanted proof. Again, anyone could claim anything. You also need to keep in mind how radical this assertion was. Eastern religions tend to be pretty liberal with linking humanity with divinity: “You are god, I am god, this rock is god, everything is god.” But these were Jews, and to them God is unique and separated from his creation. Of all the ancient people, these folks would be the least likely to confuse the Creator with creation. So if someone claimed to be God incarnate, this would be blasphemy of the basest kind (unless, of course, it was true).

            So what proof did he offer? Who else pointed to Jesus was divine? First, there was the Father’s testimony, offered at Jesus’ baptism. This was public, in fact one of his first public appearances. Second, there was the testimony of John the Baptist. He'd repeatedly asserted that Jesus was God’s Son. I spent over a week in August focusing on the Baptist, and his whole raison d'etre was to point others towards Jesus as Savior and Lord. Third there were his works/miracles/signs. As I mentioned before, these were greater than the miracles that Moses and the prophets performed, both in scale and in purpose. Elijah resuscitated a boy who'd been dead for a few hours, while Jesus raised a man who'd been in the grave for four days.  Elisha provided food for a hundred men from 20 loaves of bread, while Jesus fed over 5,000 men with less. But it was more than the scale involved. These signs, I’m convinced, pointed to Christ’s divinity because he was doing what his Father was doing all the time (as we discussed a couple of days ago on the 20th).

            The final witness which Jesus submitted was the word of God itself, which would of course be what we call the Old Testament, particularly the books of Moses. If you ever needed a reason to study the Old Testament, this is it. If you read the Prophets, he’s there. If you read the Historical books like Joshua and Judges, he’s there. Yes, even Moses wrote about him. It’s important to note that, of all Jesus’ confrontational claims and condemnations, this last one would be the most shocking. The religious leaders put their hopes in Moses. He was considered the greatest prophet, the greatest link between man and God that there ever was. But according to Jesus, Moses’ main purpose was to point to Jesus.

            So what does this mean to me? I’m a believer; I’ve placed my trust in Christ. I don’t need to be convinced that he’s God, since I know it already. I guess the main application I can see here is that I need to regain this sense of the authority of Jesus. He’s God’s Son. The Father, John the Baptist, his works, and the Scriptures all testify as one on this issue. I can trust him, and I need to obey him. If you wanted a practical application, there it is.

Lord Jesus, you're so deserving of all my praise, my trust, my obedience, and my worship. I believe that you’re God in my theology, but I don’t demonstrate that belief very well. Please help me to change that.

[Oct 21]--Grave Robber

John 5:24-30

            I’m not exactly sure why, but of all Jesus’ miracles it seems that resurrecting the dead is the most impressive category to me. As far as we know, he only did it three times during his earthly ministry, and at least one of those was on someone who'd died very recently. So this was not something he did on a regular basis. As we talked about a couple of days ago, he didn’t come to immediately erase every symptom of the Fall but to deal with it at its root. Once the sin issue was solved, he could reverse the effects later, which he eventually will. But of all the effects of sin: alienation from others, war, poverty, sickness, susceptibility to injury, aging, etc., death is the most stark reminder of all we've lost. We were not designed to die: Paul makes it very clear that death came as a result of sin. And what a result! To stand over a newborn baby, so full of life and vigor, and to know that one day (unless Jesus returns soon) that tiny person will die someday can break your heart.

            But there’s hope. First off, we don’t have to fear condemnation. Vs. 24 is one of my favorite promises in the whole Bible. If we just listen to Jesus and believe in what the Father has said about him, then we don’t have to worry about the Final Judgment. He prefaces this statement, as he always does when he wants to emphasize the truthfulness and importance of something, with “I tell you the truth. . .” Literally it's “Amen Amen”: By repeating it he wants to make it absolutely make this promise clear to us. We’ve now crossed over to life, and death no longer has a hold on us.

            On a side note, vs. 24 is also meaningful to me because I've used it for years as part of my "One Verse Evangelism" which you can see on the right side of the web page.

            How do we really know this? How do we really know that condemnation and death no longer have a claim on us? Well, he goes on to answer that. Another figure of speech which is unique to John’s writings is “A time is coming and has now come when . . .” In other words, I’m giving you a foretaste of the future right here and now. There will come a day when I will return and call everyone out of their graves to face judgment. Those who have “done what is good” will “rise to live,” while those who “have done what is evil” will "rise to be condemned." Does this contradict salvation by grace? Of course not! How do I know I’m “good” enough? How do I know that I won’t be condemned? Because Jesus himself said so five verses ago! All we need to do is listen to Jesus’ words and believe in him, and we won’t be condemned. So there are three possibilities here: 1) He’s referring to the rewards we receive for having worked for him. 2) He’s referring to the righteousness we receive from Christ by faith. Or 3) it’s referring to the fact that we show that we belong to Christ by how we live. If we truly have placed our faith in him, then it will show in a change of lifestyle. The NASB renders it as “good deeds” and “evil deeds,” so I would definitely lean more towards the third explanation.

            But the point that I’m making is that Jesus is saying that we don’t have to wait for the future. Yes, he'll one day come down and call everyone out of their graves, but we can experience a little of that power right now. We can, to a limited degree, bask in his presence right now. We can be free from sin’s power right now. We can get a foretaste of real life right now. Why wait?

Lord Jesus, you offer me life to the fullest, and it’s pretty rare when I take you up on your offer. I’m doing that right now.

[Oct 20]--Father and Son

John 5:16-23

            After his encounter with the former paralytic, Jesus’ clash with the religious leaders stepped up a notch. They couldn't have cared less about the healing. If you look again at yesterday’s passage, you might even notice a hint of their priorities in their questioning of the man by the pool: They didn’t ask him “Who healed you?” but “Who's this fellow who told you to pick up your mat and walk?"

            So they confronted Jesus and “persecuted him” in some way. This is just the first of many such disputes between our Lord and the alleged spiritual guardians of the people. We spent several days looking at what was wrong with the Pharisees last month (here if you missed it), so we won’t go into too much detail on that subject here. Instead, I’d like to focus a bit more on the relationship between Jesus and the Father. This passage offers a lot of insight into the subject.

            First off, hopefully this can help dispense with the silly notion which some people insist on advancing, namely that Jesus didn’t claim to be the Son of God in a unique way. There’s a sense in which all of us are “children of God” in the broadest possible meaning: He gives us life, he created us, he sustains us and provides for our needs. This is what Paul was referring to in his sermon in Athens when he affirmed that “we are his offspring.” And there’s another sense in which all people who have been redeemed by Christ’s blood are God’s children in a much more meaningful way. He's given us spiritual birth, and he's claimed us as his heirs.

            But this is not even close to what Jesus was talking about when he claimed to be God’s Son. How do we know this? Because of how his enemies took it, and how John took it. He called God his Father, not in the first sense and certainly not in the second sense. Neither of these meanings equate the “child” with God the Father himself. When Jesus called himself God’s Son, he meant that he was equal to God in every way. His enemies took him at his word, and tried to kill him for it. Jesus never questioned their interpretation of his claims, and John’s commentary makes it clear that they didn’t misunderstand his meaning.

            Second, this passage reveals a very interesting aspect of the Father’s and Son’s relationship with each other: Jesus only did what he saw his Father doing. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in Miracles, his miracles tended to be in miniature what the Father does everyday. Jesus multiplied fish and loaves; the Father does that every harvest season and spawning season. Jesus turned water into wine, while the Father does that on a large scale (and a much slower one) all the time. All healing ultimately comes from God, but most of the time he works through the natural processes which he wove into the cellular structure of our bodies. Jesus healed on a much smaller scale numerically, but was just doing what his Father does everyday, albeit in a faster and much more dramatic way (and of course healing people who could never have experienced it through natural means).

            Then he moves onto even more shocking claims. Jews who believed their Bible also believed that God would one day judge all mankind, past present and future, at the last Day. But here Jesus was proclaiming that the Father had handed all judgment over to himself.

            So what’s the point of all this? What was Jesus trying to say? What difference does this make to us? Among other things, it means that we need to take him at his word. He claimed to be God’s Son (and thus his equal), the Giver of life, and the One who will one day judge all humanity. He’s not Dear Abby. He’s the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you take his word seriously? Do I?

Lord Jesus, you are all these things and more. I take your word so lightly, so flippantly at times. Help me to trust and obey, please.

[Oct 19]--Two Types of Sickness, and Two Types of Healing

John 5:9-15

            We touched on this a couple of days ago, but I think it deserves a more thorough examination. This has got to be one of the most shocking stories in all Scripture when you think about it. It started off in a unique way by the fact that Jesus actually asked the paralytic whether he wanted to be well. Then, without any apparent faith on the man’s part (another unusual aspect), Jesus sovereignly healed the man. What happened next? The man was caught and by the religious authorities for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. They were nothing if not reliable and predictable—they couldn’t care less that a man had been relieved of years of helplessness and poverty by an instantaneous miracle. No, the most important fact to them was that he was carrying his mat and thus doing work on the Sabbath. They questioned and released him. Here’s where the shocking part comes in: Jesus met him again and confronted him with sin in his life. The former paralytic then proceeded to go back to the religious leaders and rat Jesus out. 

            The reason why this is so important is because it’s so illustrative of two types of healing, and shows why one is so much more important than the other. The man had been made physically whole: Not only was the cause of his paralysis removed, but years of atrophy were erased as well. But deep within this man were spiritual problems that weren’t dealt with. We don’t know what sin issues the man had—I'd suggest self-pity and bitterness as prime candidates, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever they were, this man didn’t want to face them, as revealed by his betrayal of his benefactor.

            Do you realize that Jesus could have banished all physical illness from Israel with a word of command? Obviously he didn’t—In fact, there were probably hundreds of sick people at that pool that very day, and as far as we know, he didn’t do a thing for them. Why didn’t he? Didn’t he have a heart of compassion for them? Didn’t he care? Of course he did! He was the most compassionate man who ever walked the planet. I mean this literally: Compassion means to “suffer with” someone, and no one took on our sufferings like he did, even before the cross. But that’s not why he came. He didn’t come primarily to get rid of physical disease. He did heal thousands of people, but mainly that was to show who he was, within the strict guidance of his Father’s plan. That’s why John called his miracles ‘signs,” as in pointing to something greater than themselves.

            The reason he came was not to deal with the symptoms of our problem (i.e., physical ailments) but the problem itself. You can probably guess what I’m referring to: sin. Our separation from God due to our rebellion against him is the ultimate source of every problem we have, including illness, disease, and infirmity. If Jesus had removed all illness from Israel, all he’d have brought into being was a nation of healthy sinners still destined for hell.

            As I said yesterday, this man holds up a mirror in front of each of us. We are so quick to complain about physical problems, and our Lord does care about those. And he will someday remove them permanently. But that’s not his main priority, and it shouldn’t be ours either. Soul sickness is a whole lot more serious, with potentially eternal consequences.

Lord Jesus, I thank you that you really are the Great Physician. You deal with what really needs to be dealt with—the sin in my heart. Please change my priorities. I need that very badly.

[Oct 18]--Trapped By The Pool

John 5:1-8

            In this chapter we’re introduced to one of the more familiar miracle stories in the Gospels. One of the little details which most readers miss is John’s description of the Pool. For hundreds of years skeptics ridiculed this Gospel because archeologists had never seen any evidence of colonnades by any pool in Jerusalem. Leaving aside the obvious fact that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, those skeptics had to swallow some humble pie a few years ago. Archeologists found the remains of a pool in Jerusalem, and guess what? It had not three, not four, but five colonnades. Since the city was destroyed by the Romans in A. D. 70, this would indicate that the author (whom we believe to be John the Apostle) had to have lived in and been familiar with the Jerusalem prior to that date. This means that, contrary to what some folks claim, the Gospel was not written in the second century. It was written in the first century, when many people who had experienced these events were still alive. Yes, you can trust your Bible to be historically accurate.

            So the Lord Jesus was walking among the sick people surrounding the pool, all of them hoping to be healed. Notice that he didn’t heal everyone: As far as we know, the man described here was the only one there who walked away from his suffering. His compassion (and the leadership of his Father) brought him to this poor soul alone, and I’d like to study him for a bit today.

            At first glance, Jesus’ question seems pretty odd, even cruel. Of course he wanted to be well! Wouldn’t everyone? Friend, there are people who don’t really want to be whole. As long as they’re broken, then they can elicit sympathy and don’t have to take responsibility for themselves or their actions. They don’t have to take care of themselves. Wholeness would mean they'd have to (gasp!!!) work for a living instead of depending on the generosity of others.

            I think the man's response shows why Jesus asked him the question. His response is a window into his soul, and it holds up a mirror in which to examine ourselves. Here’s another sign of soul-sickness: self-pity. I'd never deny or minimize his sufferings: I’ve never been paralyzed, and this man had endured it for 38 years. Could I have undergone all that and not indulge in self-pity or bitterness? I wish I could definitely say yes, but I’m not sure.

            If you’re familiar with the Gospels, then you know that Jesus usually healed in response to faith. Typically the person seeking healing might not have had the faith of Abraham, but they at least had enough of it to seek the One who could help them. Here, there's no indication of faith on the part of the paralytic. But for his own reasons the Savior decided to heal the man. Why did he do this? We don’t know, but we do know that he’s sovereign God and does whatever he pleases. He’s not limited by anything outside of himself, so if he decides to just heal someone, they’re going to be healed. Why does he heal an atheist while the Christian in the next hospital room prays for it and gets denied? I don’t know. He's God, and we're not. 

            But before we leave this passage, I need to examine myself, and I invite you to do the same. Do I indulge in self-pity? Do I really want to be whole? Do I want the responsibilities of being mature in my faith, or am I willing to settle for a lighter load so I can shirk them? And have I fully accepted the fact the he’s sovereign God and I’m not?

Lord Jesus, you are sovereign God, and there is no other. For all the times I’ve indulged in self-pity, please forgive me and change me.

[Oct 17]--The Official’s Son

John 4:43-54

            After the incident in the Samaritan village, John records that Jesus went back to the area that he grew up in, namely Galilee. On the surface it looked pretty encouraging, since they “welcomed” him there, but the One who knows the hearts of men wasn’t impressed. They only welcomed him because they saw him as some kind of miracle-worker, not as their Savior and Lord.

            While he was there, a royal official came to him in desperation. We don’t know anything else about him, but the term “royal official” probably referred to some form of government position in Herod’s service. He was an important man, and undoubtedly was the type of man who could make or break someone’s career in politics or elsewhere on “the food chain.” But in this area all his authority and influence were useless as his son lay dying. He had to stand by and watch his son slip away from him, and as a last resort he ran to the Rabbi who was said to perform miracles.

            Jesus’ immediate reply might seem a little cold to us, but beneath it lies a heart of  compassion. He knew that our main problem is not physical, so it couldn’t be solved by a physical healing. He could have wiped out sickness from the entire nation, and all that would accomplish would've been a nation of healthy sinners still destined for hell. Our main problem is that we’re sinners in rebellion against a holy God.

            But the man’s pleas moved Jesus to act, and he announced that the man's son would be healed. What follows is not one, but two miracles. Jesus, as God’s Son, had (and has) the authority to heal with a word. But even more amazingly, “the man took Jesus at his word and departed.” He didn’t know this man Jesus, but something about the Rabbi’s manner and demeanor led him to just go home in faith.

            This led to the second miracle, an even greater one than the physical healing. Once he found out when the son was made well, he and all his household put their faith in Jesus. That by far is the greater miracle. For Jesus to physically heal someone, well, that’s nice and all. But it’s nothing compared to the change that comes when he takes a dead soul, a heart lost in sin and rebellion, and calls it back to life.

            Of course the obvious application is that we need to follow this man’s example. I wish I could say that I always take Jesus at his word, but I don’t. Do you?

Lord Jesus, I don’t know why I don’t unless it’s a matter of not wanting to. You’re entirely worthy of my trust. I do believe, please help my unbelief.

[Oct 16]--Food and Harvesting

John 4:27-38

            Today we finish up our survey of Jesus’ encounter outside the Samaritan village, but today’s passage has nothing directly to do with her. Like yesterday’s reading it has two separate lessons for us.

            The first subject is food, specifically Jesus’. His disciples brought him food and urged him to eat, and he demurred, saying that he had other food that they didn’t know anything about. They were puzzled, and again (a common theme in this book), they misunderstood his spiritual meaning and thought he was talking about a physical reality. His explanation is very instructive, and it’s both very comforting and discomforting at the same time. He said his “food” was to do the will of his Father who'd sent him. His nourishment, that which sustained him and gave him strength, his very life itself, was to please and obey his Father.

            This is very comforting because this is a strong reminder of the positive righteousness of Jesus Christ. I’ve learned from R. C. Sproul, who got it from the Reformers, that we're saved both by the negative and positive righteousness of Christ. By negative he means that Jesus was entirely without sin, in thought, word, and deed. By positive he means that Jesus positively and purposefully obeyed the Father in everything. Why is this important? It’s not enough just to avoid sin. You could argue that babies haven’t consciously sinned, but they’re not righteous. Jesus not only chose not to sin, but chose to obey. This is so important to me because Jesus Christ is my righteousness, and I claim no other. Other people might claim a church attendance, their charitable giving, or lack of blatant sin in their life. My righteousness is Christ, and Christ alone. So knowing that he could honestly claim that his very food and drink was to please the Father is pretty comforting to me.

            It’s also discomforting. He’s not only my Savior, but my example as well. Could I honestly claim that pleasing God is as important to me as the food I eat? When I’m not totally pleasing, do I hunger after it like a starving child? I wish I could say yes, but that would just make me a liar.

            Let’s talk for a moment about harvesting, which is the other subject at hand. He urged them to look at the harvest fields, which are more than ready. We sometimes talk about waiting for God’s timing on something, but when it comes to sharing the Good News with people who need it, the right time is now.

            And one final note about harvesting. Please note that the “sower” (the person planting the seeds) and the “reaper” both work on the same people, and they rejoice together once the harvest comes in. Let me make this abundantly clear: There's no room for competition in God's Kingdom. Not in the sense of one ministry competing with another ministry, or one preacher versus another preacher. We can challenge each other and encourage each other to strive to please him better than we've been doing so far. But if Person A plants the seed and Person B comes along later and brings that person to a saving knowledge of Christ, Person A is supposed to rejoice with Person B. I wish this warning wasn’t needed among God’s people, especially ministers (who should know better), but it is.

Lord Jesus, I want what you have: An all-consuming desire to please and honor and obey the Father. I can only do that as your Spirit replicates your life within me. Yes, that’s what I’m asking for, what I’m pleading for.

[Oct 15]--Witnessing and Worship

John 4:15-26

Let’s continue in this pivotal conversation with the Samaritan woman. As the title suggests, there are two main areas in which today’s passage can teach us some lessons.

The first is in witnessing, by which I mean sharing the Good News with someone who’s lost. I’ve done this with lots of people over the years, and do you know what the number one obstacle is? It’s not some logical flaw which they find in the Bible. About 99% of the time the main problem is distractions, both from the Enemy and from the person who needs Christ. I’ve been witnessing to someone, and suddenly, out of the blue, just when we’re getting to some very important truths, the phone rings. They apologize, answer it, and lo and behold it’s some long-lost cousin from out-of-state who suddenly--by sheer coincidence--decided to call right at that moment. Of course, I don’t believe in coincidences: I'm convinced this is the work of our Enemy. Once you start confronting someone with their need for Jesus, you’ll definitely get his attention, since you’re invading his territory and trying to steal some of his property.

The other distractions I’ve seen come from the person himself, which we see today. Jesus casually asked her to go get her husband so he can join into this conversation. Of course, he knew quite well that she was a five-time divorcee and was currently shacking up with another man. As soon as Jesus brought this up, what did she do? You can almost hear the alarm bells going off in her head: CHANGE THE SUBJECT! CHANGE THE SUBJECT! Suddenly she wants to steer the conversation A) from the sin in her life and how much she'd screwed up to B) some theological controversy which had absolutely nothing to do with what they had been talking about.

I’ve seen this dozens of times. You know you’ve started to hit home when they suddenly want to talk about the Pygmies in Africa or who was Cain’s wife. Or a personal favorite of mine: hypocrisy in the church. My answer when they bring up red herrings like these: “You know that’s a very interesting question. I tell you what, why don’t we tackle that after we’ve talked about the main issue. I promise you, when someone stands before God on Judgment Day, the subject won’t Cain’s wife or those hypocrites. The subject will be their personal sin and what they did with Jesus Christ. After we finish talking about that, I'd be happy to talk about any other questions you have."

Let’s turn from that to worship. Jesus indulged her theological question, since he could use it to steer the conversation back to the subject at hand: Her broken relationship with God. But I think it sheds light on the heart of God like nothing else in Scripture. What does God look for, what does he desire? Worshippers, people who declare the “worth-ship” of himself. We exist to declare how wonderful he is, both to his ears and to other people as well. And what type of worshippers is he seeking out? Incredible singers? Skillful musical players? No. He’s looking for people who will worship him "in spirit and in truth." He wants people to declare who he is (praise) and what’s he’s done (thanksgiving) from our heart, not just with our lips. The geographical location matters not at all to him. What matters is that we’re completely “tuned in” to his presence (see here if you don't get the reference). Are you worshiping him in spirit and in truth?

Father God, you are worthy of all praise, honor, glory, and thanksgiving. I want to be that type of worshipper, not just on Sunday morning but every waking moment. I’m nowhere near that standard, but by your grace I want to start in that direction. Please.

[Oct 14]--Encounter At The Well

John 4:1-14

Both chapters three and four are devoted to one-on-one encounters with Christ, but the latter is much more detailed than the former. We start with some background as to why our Lord was going through Samaria. The Pharisees heard that a lot of people were getting baptized in the name of Jesus, and this brought their negative attention. He knew that if he stayed so close to them, it would provoke a premature confrontation and an attempt to arrest him. His time for that had not yet come, so he retreated back to Galilee, his own native area.

I won’t go too much into detail about the history of the Samaritans, since we dealt with that back in May. If you remember that the Jews hated the Samaritans as half-breed apostates and the hatred was quite mutual, you know the really vital background.

Now Jesus “had” to go through Samaria. Why? We know that it was more convenient to go through Samaria on the way to where he was going, but did he “have” to go for this reason? Of course not. Let’s remember, he’s God. He can go anywhere he wishes in the blink of an eye. There’s only one reason why he would “have” to do anything. He wasn't constrained by geographical consideration, nor by distances, or by any human timetable. He was constrained by only one thing: The Father’s plan. If the Father had told him to make a detour to the moon, he’d do it.

As we’ve mentioned before in May, our Lord couldn't possibly have cared less about the racial prejudice (on both sides). The Father had sent him on a mission, and that was all he cared about. You might also want to know that he was breaking more taboos by just opening his mouth. Jewish men, especially Rabbis or other religious leaders, didn't speak with non-relative women in public. Especially women who were sexually immoral. But he casually asked her for a drink of water.

She was obviously shocked by his boldness, and brought up the old racial barrier objection. The Lord simply ignored her first reaction and offered her “living water,” of course without expanding on his meaning. This is a wonderful tool for opening up a conversation about the Good News, by the way. Simply find some common object or situation and make an observation about it that would pique a person’s interest. For example, when I participated in Beach Reach several years ago, we used to offer free pancake breakfasts and van rides to partiers on Padre Island during Spring Break. I would start up conversations with people who were riding with us on the vans, make sure they knew about the breakfast, and then casually ask them “Oh, has anybody told you about the free gift we’re offering?” That would get their attention, and I'd use that as a springboard for the Good News.

As with Nicodemus, we see the theme of misunderstanding: Jesus makes a statement about spiritual reality, and his listener thinks only in terms of the physical realm. She challenges him on his authority, because to her Jacob’s well was far greater than any source of water he could provide.

Au contraire! The water that could come out of the well could only quench thirst for a short time, but his “living water” would quench it forever and permanently. On a side note, this is good evidence for “eternal security,” the teaching that a Christian can’t really lose his salvation once he’s redeemed. This “water” only has to be consumed once, and the action needs no repetition. This can’t refer to our fellowship with him, since that requires constant effort on our part. If I don’t spend my time alone with my Savior, I get “thirsty” for him really quickly, just like the Psalmist. So if he isn’t referring to our salvation and he isn’t referring to our fellowship with him, what is he referring to?

But let’s not get so far into theological controversies that we miss the main point: This is a wonderful promise from our Lord. Imbibing this world and trying to quench our spiritual thirst with its trinkets is like trying to quench physical thirst with salt water. But thank the Lord, once we’ve taken him into ourselves, and made his life ours, we'll never thirst again! In fact, he'll plant within us a never-ending “well-spring.” We won’t have to find anything we need anywhere else.

Lord Jesus, I want to follow your example. I want to accept no other considerations besides the Father’s plan. Make me like you, please.

[Oct 13]--Nighttime Visitor Part Four

John 3:19-21

For several years after I got serious in my faith, I was heavily involved in apologetics. In case you’re not familiar with the term, it has nothing to do with apologizing for anything. Instead, it’s a reasoned defense of the faith before nonbelievers. I devoured books like Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell, and Who Moved The Stone? by Frank Morrison, along with other works which attempted to present evidence in favor of biblical Christianity.

I still believe that there’s a place for apologetics. After all Peter commands us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” There’s nothing wrong with it in itself, and there are people whom God has called to use their gifts to present the best possible logical arguments in the Kingdom’s cause (like my hero C. S. Lewis).

You can sense the “but. . .” coming, cant’ you? Today’s passage presents to us a perfect balance, especially to people like me who are tempted to try to reason people into the Kingdom. Please read it again. When people are presented with an accurate portrayal of the Good News about Christ, and they reject it, why do they do that? Is it because the presenter didn’t make his case well enough? Can the honest seeker, after taking a close look at Jesus, reject him in all sincerity?

I wouldn't claim to be an expert on the human heart or soul. I don’t even know myself as well as I should, much less another human being, whose mind I can’t read. But Jesus could, and did, and does know all of us down to the core, and he knows (as we read a couple of days ago) exactly what lies in the hearts of men. And according to him, from reading this passage, the problem is not a lack of information or evidence. The main problem is “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” They love their sin, and they don’t want to let go of it. They love their independence, and they don’t want anyone telling them what to do. That’s the issue.

So what does this mean for us? For believers, this has two main applications. First, this takes a lot of pressure off you as the person presenting the claims of Christ to the lost people around you. You don’t have to come up with the perfect presentation or be able to answer every single objection. Just submit the truth as you know it, and relax a bit.

The other application for me is to notice the spiritual aspect of what we’re doing when we’re witnessing to people. You actually could come up with airtight arguments, but the person will never receive Christ as Savior until the Holy Spirit turns his heart of stone into a heart of flesh. That’s what you have to pray for: That the Spirit will penetrate that person’s heart and lead him to a saving knowledge, to know how much he needs Jesus and how much Jesus loves him. Only the Spirit can do that.

Father God, please forgive me for trying to be an amateur Holy Spirit. Please give me the courage and wisdom to speak the truth in love.

[Oct 12]--Nighttime Visitor, Part Three

John 3:16-18

I have to admit that I haven’t been looking forward to writing today's devotional. It’s not that I don’t love vs. 16—I do. The problem is that this is undoubtedly the most famous Bible verse in America, if not the world. I couldn’t begin to count the sermons and commentary space which has been devoted to this one verse, and most of it’s a lot more eloquent than me.

By the way, although I titled this under the “Nighttime Visitor” series, it's possible that it’s not part of this nighttime conversation at all. There were no quotation marks in the original Greek, so we have to figure out quotations from the context. Because of this, there's a possibility that Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus ended with verse 15, and 16-21 are actually commentary by the author of the Gospel. Not that this would affect our theology in any way: John’s commentary is just as inspired by the Spirit (and therefore just as infallible) as the words of Jesus himself.

I won’t spend a lot of time on this verse, for reasons I mentioned above, but can we camp out on it for just a moment? I came across this a few years ago. I haven’t been able to isolate the original source, but here for your approval I submit “The Gospel in a Nutshell”:

For God (the greatest Giver)

so loved (the greatest motive)

the world (the greatest need),

that He gave (the greatest act)

His only Son (the greatest gift),

that whosoever (the greatest invitation)

believes (the greatest decision)

in Him (the greatest Person)

should not perish (the greatest deliverance),

but (the greatest difference)

have (the greatest certainty)

eternal life (the greatest possession).

Moving on to vs. 17, doesn’t this contradict some peoples’ view of Jesus? They seem to think that this is the main thing about our faith is condemnation of sin. If that’s the view of the world around us, if they see us as only being against stuff, then they’ve missed the point, and we haven't communicated clearly. Yes, the Good News starts off with bad news, but that’s certainly not the main point.

I love how vs. 18 provides a perfect balance to vs. 17. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to save it. But those who don’t believe in Christ will be condemned someday. Wait a minute, that’s not what it says. It says that if we don’t believe we stand condemned already. And why is that? Is it because of some heinous sin that we’ve committed, like murder? Nope—It’s because we’ve failed to avail ourselves of the one way to be forgiven.

I guess there are several ways you can apply this, but I think there’s one way that God is showing me on a personal level. How is my attitude towards people who are outside of Christ, who lead blatantly sinful lives? Is my first instinct to pray for them and share Christ’s love? Or is it to condemn them? Friend, I don’t need to condemn them. They’re condemned already. Like my Savior, I'm not here to condemn anybody, but to point them--with my words and my actions--towards the only hope they have. I think I need an adjustment in my thinking. How about you?

Lord Jesus, the only difference between me and the worst sinner in the world is your grace. Please give me your mindset, your attitude, your love for people who are lost. I need that very badly sometimes.