[Nov 30]—Peace

John 14:27; 16:33

There’s not a lot of Scripture to read today, because I want us to focus just for a moment on this one word—peace—and what our Savior is telling us about it in these two verses. I’m really reluctant to pretend like I’m adding anything to them, but here are my thoughts:

• He’s leaving us, at least physically. His physical body is not here, but he’s leaving something behind: peace. And how? How can he guarantee this? Well, the verse prior to 27 tells us: His Spirit. He’s not here physically, but he’s here in the Person of his Spirit.

• And what type of peace is this? Well, in verse 27 he defines by contrast. He doesn't give us peace (or anything else, by the way) like the world gives. What type of peace does the world “give”? First and foremost, the peace of the world is temporary at best. Nations which we used to be allies with (like Russia) turned into enemies as soon as their interests called for it. That’s because the leaders of most of the nations are not out for the public interest, and they’re not guided by high-minded ideals. At best they’re looking out for the interests of their own nation, and more often than not they’re only looking out for their own selfish desires. What’s called “peace” is often nothing more than a period while the nations reload.

• And this is true in our personal lives as well. Why do most people want to be rich (or at least richer)? Is it just a desire for money? Or is money something that promises something else—security? Folks tend to think that if they just have enough money, they’ll be safe from all (or more of) life’s dangers. But you can read the biographies of the extremely wealthy, and you’ll discover really quickly that this is a lie. No amount of money will grant a good night’s sleep, and it never will. The only true “fortress” that really offers safety is not found in anything you can buy.

• That’s because the way the world defines peace and the way our Lord defines it are very different. They define it as “the absence of open conflict.” If they’re not actively shooting at each other, then they claim that they’re at “peace.” But the Hebrew word Shalom captures God’s idea of peace much better. Shalom means everything where it’s supposed to be. Imagine a house where there’s chaos: Laundry is all over the floor, food is spilled out on the table, the furniture is scattered all over and is blocking people’s way. Then imagine a house in the opposite condition: The laundry is on hangers and in drawers, the food is put away, the furniture is arranged in an orderly fashion. That’s Shalom: Everything in its place. In the spiritual realm, this is a helpful concept. What’s supposed to be in the center of everything? Our Lord. He’s on the throne, and everything revolves around him, and is in complete submission to his expressed will. To the degree you have that, you have peace. To the degree you don’t have that, you have chaos.

• There are at least two products of his peace, two major benefits which we can enjoy when we’re in sync with him. First, our hearts won’t be troubled. As a bit of trivia (as pointed out to me from R. C. Sproul), what’s the most repeated command of Jesus? What does he command us to do more times than anything else? His most repeated command is “Don’t be afraid.”

• The other benefit is victory over this world. It doesn’t matter what the world throws at us: a lost job, a broken marriage, declining health, financial catastrophe, or anything else. What could the world possibly throw at me which could possibly be compared with what the world threw at Jesus? The Enemy and the world system threw its worst at him, and he overcame it all. And the good news? His victory is ours. He promised A) We will have trouble in this world, and B) We can take heart in the midst of that trouble, because he’s here with us.

Aren’t you glad?

Lord Jesus, thank you so much for your promises. I know I’m going to have trouble here, but I don’t have to be troubled in heart. You’re here, and all is well.

[Nov 29]--Anything?!

John 14:8-14

So Jesus made these momentous claim regarding himself: No one comes to the Father except through him, and he is the Way (not a way), the Truth (not a bearer of truth), and the Life. And he told his disciples that from that point forward they knew the Father and have seen him (not going to see him, but have seen him).

I love Philip in vs. 8: He might be sticking his foot in his mouth, but he was saying something a lot of them were probably thinking: "We have seen him? So where is he?"

Our Lord’s answer is simple: Right here. When you see Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. Everything that the Father is--in his nature, his character, and in his works—the Son is. If anyone wants to see God without going through Jesus, they’re wasting their time.

Now we come to mysterious verses which need to be examined carefully. I personally am trying to be cautious to say what the Scriptures say, nothing more and nothing less. First off, what does our Lord mean when he says that we (as his followers) will perform “greater works than these”? He healed lepers and blind men and crippled men with a word! At his command, demons fled out of poor people whom they'd possessed for years. Hello, he raised the dead! I haven’t done that lately, have you? How can we say that the Church is performing “greater” works that what Jesus did while on earth?

There are two ways to interpret this. Now, some people say that the problem is a lack of faith. If we aren’t healing people in the exact same way as Jesus did, then something’s wrong with us. Nope, don’t buy it. In the two thousand years since Jesus walked around, there's never been a time that’s been recorded with the quality and quantity of Jesus’ miracles. Has everyone been completely out to lunch since he left? Every single believer?

Maybe, just maybe, we need to reexamine our definition of “greater.” Notice that he didn’t say “as good as mine.” He said “greater.” What could be greater than raising the dead or healing with a word?

Well, I have two answers to that. First, there's the simple answer of extent and scope. During his earthly ministry, our Lord limited his ministry to a small back-water province that most people in the world had never heard of. On top of that, he mostly worked among Jews--not because he loved us Gentiles any less, but because that was the Father's plan and timetable. So he was touching a sliver of one percent of the world's population. But now, all such limits are gone as of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit--sent by Jesus after he returned to the Father--empowers and spurs the Church to reach out to all the world in the Name of our Savior. Ultimately there will be no corner of the world where people aren't touched by his grace and power.

Second, there is a greater work than physically raising people from the dead. Lazarus died again. The lepers whom he cleansed? Their bodies eventually fell apart again. All of his physical miracles only had a temporary effect. But if someone is resurrected spiritually, if they’re raised to new life in Christ, that’s permanent. And just as miraculous.

And we have a part in that. When you share the Good News (in the power of the Spirit, so Christ is really doing it through you), then you have a part in doing something greater than any physical miracle which Jesus performed on earth.

Now, how’s about this seemingly unlimited promise: “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” Two quick points:

• We need to clarify “in my name.” It's not just tacking Jesus’ name onto the end of your prayer and expecting him to leap forward like a starving waiter to serve you. Praying is not magic or a science, where you submit the right input or formula and thus get the output you desire. “In my name” means praying--asking--with his interests in mind, praying for things he wants. You don't get a new Ferrari because you end with your prayer with “in Jesus’ name, amen.”

• And why is Jesus going to do as we ask when we truly ask “in his name”? So that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Not so you can gratify your personal desires.

Having said that, I think I might be too cautious. I was raised in an atmosphere in which I was warned repeatedly against the excesses of the Pentecostal/Charismatic side of Christianity, so I’m instinctively always on guard against the extremes to which their belief system is inherent. But are my prayers bold enough? Do I really believe that he can do anything he wants, and he delights in answering the prayers of his children? Maybe my view of my Savior is too small.

Lord Jesus, I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I don’t want to sell you short. You're Almighty God, and you’re intimately involved in the lives of your children. May my prayers reflect that.

[Nov 28]—Comfort and Confrontation

            Once again we come to some of the best-known and well-loved verses in the Bible, and I have to comment on them. I feel so. . . .inadequate when touching on passages like this. What am I going to say to add to it? Oh well, here goes. . .
            Please keep in mind our Lord’s purpose here. He only has a little more time with them before he faces the cross and all that entails. His disciples are confused by his words and the finality of the atmosphere. The Passover is supposed to be a celebration, and Jesus is talking like this is the last time he’s going to see them alive. They need comfort and encouragement for the hours ahead. Of course, considering what’s in store for him, they should be comforting him instead of the other way around, but that’s the type of Savior we have.
            So he gives them what they need, as he always does. Now, there's some debate about how to translate verse 1: You could render it as "You already believe in God, so I want you to also believe in me," or you could interpret it as "I want you to believe in God and also to believe in me." Either way could be justified by the Greek, but from the context and the background of the disciples, I’d go with the first one. There’s no reason they were struggling with believing in God per se. In fact, most people in history have believed in God or gods or something to that effect. Most people in America claim to believe in God. That’s no great stretch. But Jesus here is linking belief in God with belief with himself: “You trust in God. You believe that he exists. So trust in me in the same way.” That’s what makes the difference between salvation and condemnation. The demons "believe in God" in some sense, but they certainly aren't in a right relationship with him. 
            And what’s the benefit of believing in Jesus? If you do, he has a place reserved for you. It’s got your name on it.
            Now, there are a lot of things which Jesus didn’t talk about. He didn’t indulge our idle curiosity by outlining everything we’d like to know about the afterlife.  But he specifically tells us that if he wasn’t coming back, and if there wasn’t plenty of room in his Father’s house for us, he’d tell us so.
            In vss. 4-6, once again, we see John’s motif of pointing out a place where Jesus says something about the spiritual realm and the listeners misinterpret it to mean something in the physical realm. He tells them that they know the “way” to where he’s going, and they’re thinking about a physical road.
            And here we come to one of the most famous verses in the Bible--verse 6--and it’s something believers have been using to show the lost that Jesus is not one of many ways to God. He’s not option #6 on a list of ways to make it to a good afterlife and restore our broken relationship with the Almighty. There’s only one way into God’s benevolent presence, and he’s it.
            Does this mean that the nice Buddhist/Muslim/Jew I know isn’t going to make it? Well, you tell me—how else do you interpret this? People have gone from Dallas to Fort Worth by way of Houston to try to prove that this verse doesn’t mean what it plainly says. I’ve heard their arguments, and I can’t get around what it tells us.
            The good news is that although Jesus is the only way to God, there are many paths to Jesus. And if someone is really seeking him, they’ll find him.
            And he’s not just a source of truth, like Moses or Isaiah or Malachi. He is Truth Incarnate. The Truth took on human flesh and got a name.
            And he’s not just a source of life, like the sun or the air we breathe. He is Life Incarnate. The Life took on a human body and poured out himself for us. We feed on him, and his life enters us and fills us to overflowing.
            So what do we take from this as believers, aside from the obvious use as a witnessing tool? If he is the Way, then am I careful to keep in close relationship with him? He's the Path I need to take, and as long as I stick close to him, I’ll never go astray. And if he is the Truth, then does my life reflect that as his follower? And if he is the Life, then am I trying to find life in another source? That’s not just sinful and rebellious—it’s goofy. It’s foolish in the extreme, and I know better.

Yes, Lord, I do know better. So why do I try to find Life in any source besides you? And could you please help me to correct that?

[Nov 27]—New Standard

            After washing the feet of his disciples (including Judas), Jesus made a prediction about his betrayal in vss. 18-30, and Judas left the table to sell out his Lord.
            Now we come to today’s passage, which has some of the most meaningful and heart-rending words of Jesus. But to grasp the full impact of vss. 34-35, we need to examine it somewhat dispassionately.
            What does our Lord mean when he says he’s giving us a “new” command? When he was questioned earlier that very week about the greatest commandment of all, he gave the famous reply: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'" The second command is a quote from Lev. 19:18. This was nothing new to Jews who knew the Torah.
            So what is Jesus talking about there? We can find a clue in the rest of the verse. It’s not the command to love others that’s new: It’s the standard that’s changed.
            You see, up to that point, love for others had a high—but not impossible—standard for believers. We were supposed to love our neighbor in the same way we love ourselves. If we see ourselves injured, we take steps to heal ourselves. If we’re hungry, we give ourselves something to eat. If we’re in some other need, we try to meet it for ourselves. And in the same way, if we someone else in need, we’re supposed to step forward and help them as best as we can. That’s the point of the story about the “Good Samaritan,” which if you’ll recall started with a question about how to love our neighbor, and whom we’re obligated to help.
            And of course we have what’s known as the “Golden Rule,” which raised the standard as well. Despite what you might've heard, there are no parallels to it from other religious leaders. Others told you to not do anything that you wouldn’t want to have done to yourself. That’s nice, but that’s not good enough for Jesus. You could walk past someone who’s in need and not do them harm. No, his standard--his command--is a positive one: You need to positively do for others what you would like them to do to you.
            But today's command is even tougher. No, it’s impossible. He tells us that he expects us to love one another as he has loved us. And how did he do that? By dying for us.
            That’s what’s “new” about this command: Not the command to love, but the standard of the love we're supposed to show. 
            And just to twist the knife a little bit more, he sets this up as the sign of belonging to him. Yes, correct doctrine is extremely important. Yes, fidelity to Scripture is absolutely essential. But can I let you into a little secret? The world doesn’t care about those things. It doesn’t give a rat’s. . .you know. . .about all that.
            Let’s put it this way: If you ask an average non-Christian to describe what he thinks of when he hears the word “Christian,” what would he say? “Against abortion.” “Probably Republican.” “Against gay marriage.” “Bible thumper.” Now, I’m strongly against abortion and gay marriage, and I yield to no one in the area of loving God’s word. But I keep coming back to what Jesus said: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
            So how do I reconcile that verse with the fact that when the average nonbeliever thinks of Christians, the furthest thing from his mind is “Oh yeah, those are the people who love each other.” Is this a sign that’s something’s desperately wrong in Christian/Non-Christian relations? How can it not be?

Lord Jesus, what can I do to change this? How can I show your love to a dying world? Better yet, how can I better let you love the world through me?

[Nov 26]--Cleaning Service

John 13:1-17

Like I said before, this is one of the most meaningful scenes in the Gospels for me, and I really wanted to spend a couple of days on it. There are two major applications that I’ve noticed here, and we discussed one of them yesterday: The fact that Jesus—our Lord and Master—took upon himself the role of a slave in order to serve his disciples. Therefore I have no right to complain about any calling to serve.

But there’s another meaning in this passage, and it has to do with Peter’s short conversation with the Savior. Jesus is kneeling in front of him with a towel and water basin, and Peter strenuously objects. He knows—with a good understanding of who Jesus is and who he is—that it isn’t right for Jesus to be serving him. Jesus is the Lord, and everyone should be serving him. So Peter refuses the offer of having his feet washed.

Jesus impressed on him the absolute necessity of having this done: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” So Peter—as he often did—overreacts. “Well, if we’re actually going to do this, then wash my hands and head as well!”

Then the Lord makes a rather cryptic statement which I think we need to unpack: “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you,” an obvious reference to Judas. So how do we interpret this?

I’m trying not to be dogmatic about something that isn’t explicitly explained in Scripture, so I’m open to another interpretation if someone provides it. Until then, here’s my understanding: Jesus is talking about two types of cleansing, and he’s not referring to the physical.

When someone comes to a saving faith in Christ, he’s cleansed from “head to toe” in the spiritual realm. All of his sins—past, present, and future—are covered by the blood of Jesus, and as far as God’s justice is concerned, that person is declared “totally righteous” in the final courtroom.

And this is a once-and-for-all cleansing. You have it one time, and then it’s done forever. This only needs to happen once. You can’t lose your salvation or give it away or throw it away. That’s why when Peter asked for his head and hands to be cleaned as well, Jesus told him he didn’t need it, since the Savior was relating what he was doing physically (with a basin and towel) to what he does for us in the spiritual realm, and for Peter’s whole body to be cleaned would violate the symbolism.

But we still need a foot-washing. As believers, we still sin. It doesn’t affect our position in Christ, but it does affect our relationship with him. Let’s say that Bill Gates has an argument with his son. The son and father exchange harsh words, and the son storms out. Then the son falls on hard times, and ends up eating Ramen Noodles in a seedy motel room, fighting off the rats and roaches. If you took blood out of the son and blood out of the father and tested for DNA, what would the test tell you? Duh, the test would say that the young man is still the son of Bill Gates. But is he living like a son of Bill Gates? Should a son of Bill Gates be fighting off roaches for Ramen Noodles? Of course not. What needs to happen is for the son and father to be reconciled. In our case, we need to approach our Father and confess to him that we've done wrong. Until then, the young man isn't living how a son of Bill Gates should live.

As often as I sin, I need my Savior to cleanse me. The reason this is so poignant for me is the image this story presents regarding my cleansing as a believer. When I do wrong, when I sin, when I disobey, he—the wounded party—stoops down in front of me. And he cleans the dirt off. Once again.

Lord Jesus, may I never take lightly what you do for me. It costs you. And you do it gladly. Thank you.

[Nov 25]--The Smell of Service

John 13:1-17

I recently found out about a show called Dirty Jobs. This is a show on the Discovery Channel where the host finds the nastiest and smelliest jobs he can find. He then spends the day working with the guy (usually a male) who's doing the jobs none of us would ever dream of doing. If you thought a garbage collector—sorry, sanitation engineer—had the smelliest job in the world, apparently you were badly misinformed. Of course that’s our segue (such as it is) into today’s passage

I love John’s Gospel for many reasons, one of which is the uniqueness of his material. The reason the other Gospels are called “Synoptics” is because they have the “same view,” in other words a lot of material in common with each other. John’s narrative has by far the longest, most detailed, and most intimate rendition of the Last Supper which the Savior had with his disciples in his last hours before the Passion.

This is so momentous an occasion that we’re going to spend two days on it, focusing on one major aspect of it today and the other one tomorrow.

First off, we’re going to look at the literal foot-washing and what it means to us today as believers. I’ve actually had a figurative foot-washing. I’ve heard of some churches who do literal foot-washings, and I have nothing but respect for them. My only concern for them--and it’s a small one--is that they miss the meaning behind it by focusing on the ritual and instead of what it represents. Here are my thoughts:

I find an extremely poignant point which John makes in his commentary at the beginning of the passage: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he'd come from God and was returning to God” so he proceeded to get up, take off his outer garments, take a towel and wash basin, and wash his disciple’s feet. Please keep in mind that this is the pre-shoe era. I personally wouldn’t want to wash someone else’s feet even with shoes. But don’t just shoot over what John said. Jesus knew these things about himself and his relationship with the Father, and therefore he felt completely secure in serving others. If you’re called to serve, and you hesitate because it’s “beneath my dignity,” that shows that you don’t feel secure in your position in the Kingdom.

We’re heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. What he owns, we share in it, which is everything in the universe. We have privileges as his children that angels don’t even dream about. When all that we see in this world--the cars, the houses, the skyscrapers and castles, the money and gold—are nothing but dust and ashes, our inheritance will be secure.

And there’s something else we might miss here. The Lord of Heaven--the One who spoke creation into existence and before whom angels bow and don’t even dare to look in the face—took off his outer garments, took up a wash basin and a towel, and washed his disciples' feet. This was the job of the lowliest slave. And what does he say once he’s done? Let these words wash over you: "You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

So what rights do I have to complain about some job that’s supposedly beneath my dignity? None. I have no rights. Only privileges which come from grace, from unearned favor.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some examination to do. I think this is going to hurt.

Father, I’m so sorry for and repent from any thoughts of what I deserve. I deserve nothing from you but judgment. Please forgive, and please change me.

[Nov 24]--Words Will Never Hurt Me!

John 12:44-50

Of course, you’ve heard it as a kid: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Oh please. That’s got to be the biggest lie ever foisted on kids, right up there next to “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Anyone who’s been a kid knows what a lie it is.

But there’s another sense in which it’s not true besides the obvious way. As far as we know, these are the last words of Jesus made in public before the Passion. In the last appearance of Jesus in John’s Gospel, he gave a final warning to his listeners. Let’s unpack it.

First, we need to understand that Jesus is the full representation of the Father. He was sent personally by the Father to perform a mission. He was the Father’s fully invested ambassador from the God of Israel. As vs. 50 says, he didn’t speak anything on his own accord, but only what the Father told him to say.

So why is this important? Because if you reject Jesus, you’re not just rejecting him, but the Father who sent him. If you believe in Jesus, you’re accepting the authority of the One who sent him. The Father and the Son stand together.

I listen to some talk radio hosts who are practicing Jews. They’re wonderful people, and I’ve learned a lot from them. One of them in particular, Dennis Prager, has taught me a lot from his studies of the Torah. But they’ve rejected Jesus (or Yeshua) as the Messiah, so what can I say? Either they’re correct, or my Savior is.

But now we come to my point about today’s title. Have you ever had words come back to haunt you? Maybe you made a prediction about a sports event, or maybe in a moment of foolishness you spewed words that you later regretted.

There’s a sense in which words will “come back to haunt” people someday in a much worse and permanent way. Not their own words, but someone else’s.

When someone stands before the Throne, and they’re not one of God’s children through faith, they stand condemned. Yes, the Lord Jesus will stand in judgment over them. But in a real sense, the words of Jesus will be the prosecuting attorney. Just like a recorder or a video camera, the Message of Jesus which they heard will be played back for them. It’ll be read into the record: All the times they heard the Good News and rejected it.

Does that apply to someone who’s reading this? If you are, it’s not by chance. I’m a very imperfect messenger, but I have a perfect Message for you. He loves you, and he died for you. Just like he made an appeal to his audience long ago, he’s making an appeal to you right now. And you never know—this might be his final appeal to you as well. Don’t let it be entered someday in exhibit A. Read this please.

Lord Jesus, I know that I’m saved by your grace. But sometimes you words come back to haunt me too. May your words not fall on deaf ears or on a hardened heart, but on ears and heart ready to receive what you have to say.

[Nov 23]--A Grand and Glorious Mystery

John 12:37-43

Why does someone receive Christ as Lord, while another rejects him? We can easily find examples of parents with multiple children who provide a test case. They’re the same parents, with the same parenting style, the same home environment, and the same basic genetics. Their kids attend the same church as children. But one of the children grows up to be a fervent follower of Jesus, while the other turns his back on it and becomes a reprobate.

Theologians from different backgrounds have different answers to this question. Some of them point to certain verses which seem to indicate that God has chosen—from before the beginning of time—who’s going to respond to his offer of salvation, and those who aren’t. If you believe in Jesus, then it’s because he chose you. If you don’t, then it’s because he didn’t choose you. Others point to other verses that seem to indicate that the ultimate decision to receive or reject Christ rests with that person.

Quite frankly, I don’t think that either side has the whole story. The reason the debate hasn’t been settled for so long is because, as I stated before, both sides have verses which seem to back them up. Here’s what the Bible clearly teaches: God is sovereign, and each individual person is responsible for his/her own decision. And the Scriptures make no attempt to logically reconcile those seemingly contradictory statements.

So how I handle this? On what side do I come down?

I don’t. I simply say what the Bible says: God is sovereign, and humanity is responsible for its choices. How exactly his sovereignty and our decision-making process work together is a mystery which we’re not supposed to understand in this life, apparently.

Why do I bring this up, and what does it have to do with today’s passage and the title for today’s reading?

In today’s Scripture reading, we see the two halves of this mystery. As he often did, John provided a summary of how different people responded to Jesus. Their responses ranged from violent hatred and rejection to wholehearted acceptance and belief and submission. Most people were somewhere in between: They respected him and heard inspiring things about him, but they weren’t ready to make a full commitment.

And why did the people who rejected him reject him? Well, from God’s eternal purposes, John quoted from the prophet Isaiah, who said that the Lord had blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts. Otherwise, they would turn to the Lord and he would heal them.

But some—even among the religious leadership—believed in him. They knew he was the Messiah. But they weren’t ready to make a public acknowledgement of this. And why not? Because they made a conscious choice to value the praise of men over the praise of God. No mention of any Grand Divine Plan. They made a decision, and John’s condemnation of them makes it clear what the Lord thought of this. He would hold them to account. They wanted a pat on the back, the praise of men. And in doing so they forfeited something much more precious: God’s approval.

No matter what we might think about God’s eternal plan, what he’s doing behind the scenes, it doesn’t really matter. Quit worrying about it. Be concerned with what you know that God wants you to do. Make choices based on what’s eternal, not on what’s going to be dust and ashes someday. Once again, I’m going to repeat my favorite aphorism: No one in the history of mankind ever did things God’s way who regretted it in the end.

Father God, your ways are so far above my ways, and your thoughts are so far above my thoughts. How’s about I leave you to your job—running the universe, and I do my job—doing what you tell me to do? By your grace, I’ll do it.

[Nov 22]--Two Judgments

John 12:31-36

If you’ve read this blog for a while or if you’re familiar with my teaching, you might know about a certain quirk of mine. I find myself fascinated by “last words.” When Jesus or Paul or Joshua or someone else in Scripture knows that they’re about to die or otherwise be separated from their audience for a long period of time, I attribute a lot of weight to their last words on that occasion. If you knew you were about to die and only had a few moments to spend with your loved ones, you probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time on the weather and sports. One of my favorite aphorisms is from Samuel Johnson: “The gallows doth wonderfully concentrate the mind.”

This is one of Jesus’ last public appearances before the Passion. The book of John has spent a lot of time on private conversations—more so than the other Gospel writers—but there are some public scenes as well. Most of these are actually confrontations: Jesus is confronting his enemies and/or a generally hostile audience.

Before he left the public eye, he had some final words for them. Here are some of my thoughts.

First, I find it interesting that Jesus says that now is the time for judgment on the Prince of this world. Obviously he’s referring to Satan, who holds the entire world in his sway. But wait a minute—isn’t Satan going to be judged in the future? This is something John has addressed before in his Gospel: According to Jesus, if someone doesn’t believe in him, it’s not an question of that person being judged in the future. They’re condemned now. The verdict is already in—they’re guilty. John the Baptist said that God’s wrath (his righteous anger) remains on that person, not that it will come upon him in the future.

Now to be sure, the consummation of something might be in the future. As Jesus said this, he was yet to be crucified, let alone return in glory. But as far as God was concerned, the Adversary was already defeated. To use a World War 2 analogy, Berlin was already surrounded by the Allies.

I need to make a comment on the “lifted up” phrase. First, I need to concede that a lot of preachers and teachers whom I highly respect disagree with me, and it’s certainly not an essential issue. But I can't escape the conclusion that when people quote Jesus as saying “When I’m lifted up, I’ll draw all people to myself” and pray aloud “We’re lifting you up Jesus, right now. We’re going to praise and honor your name,” they’re yanking the verse out of context. The very next verse says that by saying this Jesus was telling them how he was going to die. He was not referring to being “lifted up” in the sense of being praised or exalted. He was talking about being “lifted up” in the sense of being crucified.

And then we come to what I call the second judgment noted in this passage. Yes, the Prince of the world was being judged. His final fate was completely set. His final defeat was (and is) sure. But Jesus leaves them with a word of warning: Make sure you’re on the right side of the conflict. The Light is going to win over the darkness. To whom to you belong?

And how do you cross over from darkness to light? By believing in the Light of the World. By trusting in him and by submitting to him.

And time was running out. Right here, right now, they have the light. That might not be true tomorrow.

For the children of light (every believer), this is a word of hope: You’re on the right side of history. You’re not on the winning side, you’re on the side that’s already won.

For anyone’s who's not child of the light, I have to lovingly tell you that your time is running out. The Enemy's judgment is as sure as if he was being thrown into the Lake of Fire this very moment. And everyone who hasn't placed their faith in Christ share in his condemnation and thus share in his eternal destiny. But your judgment/condemnation doesn't have to end up like his. His fate doesn't have to be yours. Place your trust in the Lord Jesus, please.

Lord Jesus, it’s so true that apart from you I’m just stumbling around in the dark. Thank you so much that your victory is mine.

[Nov 21]--Unless a Seed. . .

            Since we’ve discussed the Triumphal Entry before, we’re going to skip ahead to a narrative which isn't found in any of the other Gospels. I almost would’ve expected to find this in Luke, since he loves to point out when Gentiles and other outcasts come under Christ’s beneficent attention.
            These Greeks were God-fearers, Gentiles who believed in the God of Abraham, but who weren’t ready to undergo complete Jewish conversion. They were barred from entering through the first barrier past the outer courts, and Christ had, at the beginning of his ministry, emptied their official worship place of the distractions of merchants. If we’ve worked out the events of the last week accurately, he'd just cleared out the temple for the Gentiles a second time. And now they wanted to meet Jesus. Again, notice that every time Andrew is mentioned in Scripture, he’s introducing someone to Jesus.
            We don’t see exactly how Jesus received the Greeks, but we do see his general reaction. It’s a theme we see repeated in John’s Gospel over and over: Jesus’ “time” had not yet arrived. He was on the Father’s timetable, and it was going to be followed to the last second. Now some God-fearing Gentiles come to see him, and that’s the point at which he says that his time to be glorified has now arrived. Why?
            We can only make a guess, since the Master doesn’t explain his cryptic statement. Here’s mine. Jesus, throughout his earthly ministry, had served mostly Jews. There were a few exceptions, but only a few. After his death, this would all change. His last words before he ascended told his disciples that they'd be his witnesses to the utmost corners of the world. And this was a precursor of the New Beginning. This was why he'd come, and it was about to be fulfilled.
            And how was it going to happen? Just like a seed, he was about to “fall to the ground” and die. Unless this happens, no harvest. But once that seed gives up its life, it produces a hundred or even a thousand-fold. It multiplies past all reckoning and all accounting.
            And just in case you think this is just talking about Jesus, there’s more to come. This is a Kingdom principle. It applies first to our King, but to a much lesser degree it applies to everyone else within it. If we give up our life, we’ll find it. If we just horde our life to ourselves, then that’s the only “harvest” we’ll see. But when we see a life given over to the Savior, a life which reckons itself a “living sacrifice,” the possibilities are endless. And the rewards are boundless as well. Again, to a much smaller degree, his pattern is ours: Submit to the Father, doing your utmost to glorify him, and he will—at the right time and in the right way—lift you up in return.
            I love the perfect tension we see here in the nature of Christ. In his humanity, his heart is “troubled.” “Troubled.” Right. When you realize what he’s going to go through in just a few days, that’s quite an understatement, isn’t it? But in a pattern which culminated in the Garden, he submitted his natural desires to the will of the Father. You can sense in these words his frustration and fear, but it’s overwhelmed by the desire to see the Father’s name glorified.
            And this cry was answered in an audible way. There are only three times in which the Father publicly spoke to his Son: Here, his baptism, and his transfiguration. When our hearts are in line with God’s purpose (to see his Name glorified), he'll respond. Regrettably, even when he reveals himself in such a public way, the people don’t all respond in the way they should. Not that he isn’t speaking clearly, but our ears need to be unclogged.

Father, you’re speaking all around me. That’s not the problem. The problem is my deaf ears, my hardened heart. May my priorities be in complete sync with yours: The glory of your holy, awe-inspiring Name. 

[Nov 20]--Anointing At Bethany

            One of the ways you can tell how important something is to someone is by the attention they give to it. The life of Jesus between his infancy to his young adult has only one short story (when his parents lost him at the temple). After that we have the “silent years” until his public ministry which he started around thirty years old. And of those three years, the lion’s share of space is given by the Gospel writers to the last week of his earthly life.
            The reason I say this is because it’s especially true for John’s Gospel. Chapters 12 through 21—almost half the book--is devoted to this period, his last week on earth. Apparently he thought this was pretty important, so I think we should too.
            We went into Jesus’ relationship with the family at Bethany before, so I won’t belabor the point. I'd like to point out that he wanted to spend some time with his good friends before all the events of the next week. They didn’t know it, but this was going to be the last time they saw him for a long time.
             The family didn’t know this, but Mary acted out of an instinct which was more appropriate than she knew. Most of the time Jesus didn’t get anywhere close to the devotion he deserved. He walked among us, and because the veil of his humanity successfully hid his innate glory, very few people had any real understanding of who he was. But Jesus had given Mary her brother back, and she was going to show her devotion for him in the only way she knew.
             By the way, did you notice what Martha was doing while this was going on? Serving everyone. Seems like a pattern. I know we (rightfully) give her some grief over what happened in Luke 10:38-42, but quite frankly we could stand some more people who were more like her. I know I could stand to imitate her more at times. I know that Mary’s the main hero here, but I think John mentioned Martha in passing to make sure she got her due.
            If Mary’s the hero here, it’s not difficult to pick out the villain, right? Just on a side-note, this indicates to us just how egregious Judas was. The treasurer was a trusted place of responsibility, and he abused that trust. He wasn’t the first to cynically use “the poor” as a cloak to hide a bad agenda, and he certainly wasn’t the last. If someone invokes “the poor,” don’t take that at face value.
            Does this story mean that Jesus didn’t care about the poor? Of course not. He was poor, or at least lower middle class. This is the same God who gave multiple warnings to not abuse the poor and to help them when we can. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a section of Scripture (the Law, the Historical books, the prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, etc.) that doesn’t exhibit God’s concern for those who can’t support or defend themselves.
            But in this special instance, the priorities were right. Jesus would be dead within a week, and then in under two months would ascend back to his Father’s side. If they wanted to show personal devotion to him, it'd have to be now. They wouldn’t have time to bury him properly on the actual day of his death (with the Sabbath approaching), and then after that the point would be moot (what with the Resurrection and all).
            But this was a special case, and we can’t use it as an excuse to ignore the physical needs around us. We need to approach these needs biblically--and no, that does not usually mean we just hand them money--but we can’t ignore them either.
I just love the last point that John makes in today’s passage, don’t you? Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in front of hundreds of witnesses. As a result, lots of people were coming to faith in him. So what was the response of the religious leaders? Kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. Um, sure. That’ll work. Yeah.
            There’s not one big application that I notice here, just a few small ones. I think they’re pretty clear, or at least I hope so.

Father God, I need to be more like your Son, specifically a servant’s heart. When I contemplate what he gave up and what he went through, I realize that I have no rights. None. Only a need for gratitude. 

[Nov 19]--Surprising Sources of Truth, Part Two

John 11:45-57

 We’ve discussed this concept before, but I wanted to take a close look at this passage, since it reveals so much about how God works in the world.

Remember the story of Balaam as he prophesied?  God sometimes reveals his truth in ways you don’t expect. He primarily speaks to us through his word, through the Holy Spirit, and through other believers. But there are times in which he speaks to humanity in ways he doesn’t usually utilize. Let’s look at bit closer at what’s happening in today's passage and see what we can learn from it.

The Jewish Sanhedrin (the religious leadership) met to discuss what to do about Jesus. They obviously wanted to get rid of him for a host of reasons, but they were reluctant to arrest him publicly because they were afraid of rioting. They recognized the frightening possibility that if they didn’t handle Jesus, then Rome would step in and destroy their nation. Rome didn’t really care all that much about your religious beliefs or how you worshiped. But they had a serious zero-tolerance policy when it came to inciting sedition. Anyone going around calling himself the King of the Jews would--sooner or later--gain Rome’s attention, and not in a good way.

Then steps in Caiaphas, the high priest. Was he a follower of Jesus? Of course not. I sincerely doubt that he was an open and honest seeker of the truth, like Nicodemus. But he prophesied. The Holy Spirit spoke through him just as much as through Paul writing the book of Romans. Through Caiaphas, the Spirit revealed that the Messiah would die for the entire nation, in fact the entire world.

Now, what was on Caiaphas’s mind when he was saying this? Did he mean that Jesus was going to die for the sins of the entire world? No. When he said this, the only thing he was thinking about was the political expediency of executing Jesus in order to keep Rome off their backs. In his mind, when he said that Jesus was going to die “for the people,” he was only thinking about being saved from the wrath of Rome. But behind his words lay deeper and greater truth, namely that Jesus was going to die in the place of Israel (and the world) in order to save us from the wrath of the Almighty.

So what’s my point here? God can use even nonbelievers, even people opposed to his cause, in order to reveal his truth. Let’s take for example person X, who happens to be a movie producer in Hollywood. He’s not a Christian; in fact, you’d never catch him dead in a church. But he has an idea for a movie about redemptive love, and he gets it made. And God can use that to draw people towards himself, or at least prepare them for the Good News of Christ. I personally think that this is precisely happened in regards to Forrest Gump, my favorite movie of all time. Maybe someday I’ll go into more detail as to why it’s my favorite and why it’s so illustrative of God’s love for us.

So keep on the lookout for God’s truth which he’s scattered all over this world. You never know: You might find his truth in the most unlikely of places, whether on the lips of a murderous high priest or hidden in the midst of our popular culture.

Father, you’re reaching out to this fallen world, and your ways of doing so are pretty unexpected at times. How can I help?

[Nov 18]--Resurrection: God’s Part And Ours

            Now we come to the climax of the chapter, one of the most dramatic moments in the entire Bible. Jesus was done weeping at the funeral of his friend. Now he was going to do something about it. Notice that he prayed out loud, not for his sake or the Father’s sake, but for the sake of the people around him, so that there was no doubt as to who was doing this.
            As some people have humorously noted, it’s a good thing that Jesus called out Lazarus by name; otherwise the entire graveyard would've been emptied. He called his friend back from the land of the dead and gave him back to his family.
            On a side note, I have to feel more than a little sorry for Lazarus. He was beyond pain, beyond any fears or heartaches or illness or sin. He was enjoying the company of the saints he'd only heard about: Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc. He was in perfect Paradise, and got pulled back into this sin-infested, nasty, fallen world where there are plenty of tears, pain, suffering, and sin. I know that his family was missing him, but I do feel for the man.
            Now we come to a great lesson for us. These verses present a wonderful illustration of our salvation and the Christian life. I know that illustrations don’t prove anything and we can’t base our doctrines on them, but I think it’s pretty interesting and useful. I title this illustration “God’s part and ours.”
            Jesus stands in front of a man’s tomb and calls him out of it. Only the Lord himself can do that, both physically and spiritually. In the spiritual realm, Paul says that we weren't just in bad shape or on our deathbed: We were spiritually dead. This is not the EMT’s putting paddles on the victim and yelling “Clear!!!” This is being laid out on the slab with a sheet over you and the family coming to identify the remains.
            And Jesus comes along and calls you. He calls you out of death and into life. He calls you out of darkness and into his light. He calls you out of Satan’s kingdom and into his own. No mere human can do that. I can stand in front of a tomb all day and call Fred Smith out of his grave, but I don’t think I’d be successful.
            But I do have a part to play, just like the crowd gathered around did. Lazarus was walking (more like hopping) out of the tomb, and he was still wrapped up in his grave clothes. He’s still dressed like a dead man. And Jesus is telling us--you and me and everyone involved in the church--to help that man get properly dressed.
            In fact, that’s a pretty good description of what we’re doing in the church. All of us are in the process of removing the grave clothes, and none of us are perfectly dressed yet. All of us need some help getting out of these stinky bandages and into the proper clothes for God’s family. I know I need some help. Don’t you? Well, let’s help each other, like our Lord said.

Lord Jesus, I’m continually amazed at how you called me out from my grave. Only you could do that. So whom do I need to help get dressed?

[Nov 17]--The Shortest Verse

Jesus had just proclaimed himself as the Resurrection and the Life, and said that if someone believed in him, he'd never really die. He comforted Martha with these words, and then he met with Mary for a few minutes before he went to the tomb. I find it interesting that she repeated the first sentence that Martha had led with, but without the word of confidence that had followed when her sister had said it. Did she believe, like Martha, that Jesus could raise her brother if he wanted? We don’t know, but if she did, she didn’t express it. 

Now we get to the shortest verse in the Bible, and one of the most mysterious. Of course, the immediate meaning is pretty clear. For some reason, Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb. Now, we know that he planned to raise his friend from the dead and give him back to his sisters. So that raises the question: Why did he weep? If he really is the Resurrection and the Life, then why the tears at a funeral? There are at least three explanations I’ve found, and all of them have a case to make. I also want to point out that these explanations are not mutually contradictory at all. 

Before we get to them, however, let’s look at one more piece of evidence. Vs.33 might furnish us with a clue: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” So this tells me that the reason behind his weeping might lie (at least in part) behind their grief.

The first explanation is that he was just joining them in their grief. Yes, he knew that he was about to restore Lazarus, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t sympathize with them up to that point. I believe that he weeps with us now: When we lose a loved one, he sorrows with us. The Psalmist tells us that God “daily bears our burdens.” And if he does weep with us at our loss, that too is in the shadow of the great resurrection. We’re going to be reunited with our loved ones (who are saved) just as Lazarus’s family was. It’ll just take a little longer.

The second explanation, which I have a little more trouble with, is that he was grieved by their lack of faith. He'd proclaimed himself to be the Resurrection and the Life, and they were still grieving as if they had no hope. Quite frankly, I don’t buy it. Paul had no problem with grieving for a lost brother, even though he believed in the resurrection as much as anyone. This explanation sounds a little too heartless to me.

The third theory--which I get from C. S. Lewis--has to do with death itself. We were not originally designed to die. Death is an intruder, one which our first parents let in when they opened the door to sin. The ancient Greeks, because of their hatred of the physical body, actually wrote poems about death. They saw it as a release from the crude body into a glorious spirituality. But that’s the not the message of the Bible. God hates death. It’s not the natural state for us; it’s the ultimate corruption of his creation. Yes, it’s a defeated foe, and yes it’s the means by which the Lord brings us into his presence. But it’s still a foe, not something to be embraced for its own sake. And one day the One who is the Resurrection and the Life will swallow it up forever, and the victory which Christ started at his own resurrection will be completed. So the reason why Jesus wept over the tomb of Lazarus was the same feeling which an artist displays when he sees his work destroyed or damaged. He designed that body lovingly within the mother’s womb. Those weren’t tears of pity; they were tears of holy anger at what sin had done to his work.

Like I said, we can’t be totally sure why Jesus wept. I sort of lean towards the first, while the third really intrigues me. But ultimately we don’t want to miss the main point: We have a Savior who weeps. When we suffer, he weeps. Our loss is his. Our pain is his. And unlike the tears of our other friends, the tears of Jesus represent a determination to do something about it. Decisively.

Thank you Lord Jesus for being God-with-us. You're not out there, somewhere removed from our suffering. You're here, closer than a heartbeat, closer than the breath on my lips. 

[Nov 16]--A Very Important Question

            After waiting two more days after hearing the news, Jesus set out with his disciples for Bethany. To the natural eye, he showed up waaaaay too late. He'd performed healings, and he'd even raised people from the dead before (twice). But on both the earlier occasions, the person had only been dead only a short time. This man was dead for four days, and his body was in the process of decay.
            Notice the first words out of Martha’s mouth when she sees Jesus: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." From the fact that her sister Mary says the exact word-for-word plea to Jesus when she meets him, we can guess that this is something the sisters had been telling each other for the last four days. They'd been saying to each other “Once the Master gets here, he’ll heal our brother" over and over and over and over, slowly losing hope and becoming more desperate as they had to watch their brother deteriorate before their eyes. And those words undoubtedly turned extra bitter once their brother breathed his last and succumbed to the sickness. “If only he’d been here! What was so important to him that he let our brother die?!”
            But let's go back to Martha's conversation in today's reading. Her first sentence upon meeting Jesus was laced with despair and maybe some bitterness. But her very next sentence proclaims hope. She hints that even now, God would give Jesus whatever he asked, which would include raising Lazarus from the dead. She doesn’t even dare give full voice to her hope, but it’s there.
            The Lord responds with what she understands to be just a vague general statement of theology. “Of course my brother will rise again. . .on the last day, right?”
            And then the Savior gently corrects her, and moves from the general to the very specific, inviting her up to a whole new level of understanding of himself. “Yes, your brother will rise on the last day, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I am the resurrection and the life. The resurrection that'll happen someday? That will be me. All will be raised through me. All will be given life through me. He might die physically, but he’ll really be alive. And he won’t die, not really. He won’t die spiritually, and when I come back, that pesky physical death will finally be dealt with as well."
            And then we see one of the most important questions ever asked: “Do you believe this?” All of this is true, but it won’t benefit you if you don’t believe in me. And fortunately, she had the right answer. I’d like you to notice that she didn’t have a complete knowledge of the Savior, nor did she need it. That'd be helpful, but not necessary. She knew that he was the Messiah, the Son of God sent into our world. She definitely didn’t know what we know from reading the book of Romans. But she knew enough.
            There might be someone here who needs this question asked of them. Jesus died on the cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins. He rose three days later. He ascended to the right hand of the Father. He’ll come again someday to bring to completion God’s plan of restoration of all creation. He’ll judge every person who’s ever lived, and he’ll be the determining factor for every person as to where they spend eternity. All these things are true, but it does you no good to know about it if you haven’t believed in Christ. There’s a huge difference between knowing facts of theology and knowing Christ on a personal level. He’s made some pretty incredible claims about himself. And he’s asking you, right now, “Do you believe this?” Not “Do your parents believe this?” or “Does your spouse believe this?” Well, do you? If you have any doubts about this, please read this

Yes Lord, I believe that you’re the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of God, the One sent to save me. Thank you for showing that to me, since it makes all the difference in the world.

[Nov 15]--Friends in Need

 My wife is one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever met. If she sees someone in need, her first instinct is to rush forward and help them in any way she can. I admire that about her, and I try to become more like her at times. But as this passage shows, sometimes our Lord doesn’t do it like that.

Jesus had a family that he loved to hang around with. We don’t know how he came to know Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. But today’s passage, along with the rest of the chapter, indicates that he had an especially warm and intimate relationship with them. Likely this is where he and his apostles regularly stayed when he visited Jerusalem, since Bethany was only about two miles outside the city. 

By the way, what does it mean that he “loved them”? Does this mean that he didn’t love everyone else? This also brings up the phrase when referring to the author of this Gospel. He keeps on calling himself “the one whom Jesus loved.” Does this mean that he didn’t love the other disciples? Of course not. He loves all of us. And he died for each one of us, so in that sense he loves all of us equally. But there's a sense in which he can “love” someone more than someone else. I think it means what I said in the last paragraph. Some of his followers have more of an intimate and warm relationship than others do. And I'd guess that if I don't have as intimate a relationship with Jesus as I'd like, that's probably my fault. 

But here we have a very mysterious phrase. Vs. 5 tells us that Jesus loved those people. But vs. 6 tells us, "So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days." Let's not try to soften the blow. Jesus loved the family, so he waited two more days before leaving to help them.

Why did Jesus’ love for them compel him to wait while his beloved friend lay dying in agony, not to mention the emotional agony of the sisters? I don’t know for sure, but I guess we can speculate. Jesus makes it clear in this passage that he was planning on raising Lazarus from the dead. So maybe he wanted them to experience a deeper understanding of who he is. Maybe he wanted them to have a more solid faith in him. He does say that this whole situation has been brought into the plan because “it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it.” Exactly how that works into the fact that he loves them, I don’t know.

But I do know this. I’m sure that just about everyone who's reading this can relate to Mary and Martha. We know that he loves us, and that he has compassion on our suffering. And if we’re mature believers, we know that he has a higher purpose than our comfort. But the thought that he’s letting us suffer because he loves us? 

That’s a tough lesson. All I can say, both to you and to me, is that he knows what he’s doing. And in the end we won’t regret trusting him to do all things well.

Lord Jesus, I do trust you, but sometimes it’s so hard when I don’t understand what you’re doing. Please help. 

[Nov 14]--The Purpose of Miracles

John 10:31-42

             It always amuses me how Jesus’ worst enemies at least treated him with more respect than many people today who claim to respect him. If you respect someone, then you pay attention to what they say. If Grandpa is getting up in years and is suffering from dementia, we might love him and care about him, but we don’t listen to what he’s saying when he starts talking about space aliens in the backyard. We tend to humor him, but we’re not treating what he says with any seriousness.

            Say what you will about Jesus’ enemies, at least they took what he said seriously. When he claimed to be God’s Son, they didn’t say “Oh, that Jesus! He’s talking whacky again!” No, they knew that he meant what he said and said what he meant. He didn’t mean it in the sense that we’re all God’s children, that God created all of us in his image. He didn’t mean it in the sense of the Greeks or the Eastern mystics, who would have no problem with believing that someone walking around was divine in nature. No, Jesus said this in the sense of Creator God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sending his Son to earth. The Almighty taking on human flesh. That’s the sense in which they took it. And Jesus didn’t correct their interpretation of what he said. He didn’t say “Uh, guys, put the rocks down. Let me clarify what I meant. . .”

            What did Jesus mean in his response? He pointed them to Psalm 82:6, in which God calls some unjust judges “gods” and pronounces judgment upon them. Jesus’ point is that Scripture sometimes uses the word “god” to refer to beings other than God himself. Now, before you argue that this discounts the main point of the last paragraph, take a look at the last part of vs. 36. In other words, Jesus is saying “If Scripture calls those human judges ‘gods,’ then how much more is it right for me to call myself ‘God,” since I’m the One whom the Father set apart and sent?” He deserves the title of God’s Son so much more than any human pretender.

            Also notice how much weight he attaches to Scripture. He’s not talking about the Torah or the Prophets, but the Psalms. And not even a famous one like the 23rd. The 82nd Psalm is not one of the best-known, but Jesus gives it equal authority with that of the Torah: It cannot be broken.

            Now we get to the point behinds today’s title. As I mentioned yesterday, there’s a reason why John’s Gospel calls miracles “signs.” He also takes care in choosing the miracles he includes. There are only seven, which is in stark contrast with the other Gospels. Every “sign” in this Gospel is there for a specific reason. A sign points to something larger than itself, like a sign to a city. The signs are there to point us to Jesus and tell us something about him and why he came. In this case the end result was that people put their faith in him.

            This is a very important thing to keep in mind. Why did Jesus heal the people he did? He didn’t heal everyone he met, as we’ve seen. He fed 5,000 + people in one setting. Why didn’t he feed people all the time? Because the primary purpose of miracles was not for the physical benefit of those healed. Yes, Jesus had compassion on all the suffering people he encountered. But he didn't come primarily to heal. He came to glorify the Father by laying down his life for us.

            That definitely applies today. Does God still heal miraculously? I believe he does. But when he does, it’s not primarily for the sake of the one who’s healed. It’s primarily for his own glory, and we just happen to be the beneficiaries of that. And if he chooses not to heal us in this life, that’s not due to a lack of compassion on his part. He loves you. Just trust his plan. He knows what he’s doing.

Lord Jesus, I do trust you. Whatever you decide to do, it’s fine by me. You’re God’s Son, and you deserve all praise, honor, glory, and obedience.

[Nov 13]--In Good Hands

John 10:22-30

It’s funny how effective some advertising can be. I don’t know if you can recognize this slogan, but if you’ve ever seen it on TV, then you probably will never forget it: “You’re in good hands. . . with All State.” In other words, this insurance company wants you to trust it. When you need it, it’ll be there.

I think of that slogan every time I read today’s passage, and with good reason. Chapter 10 really is a series of confrontations Jesus had with the religious leaders. In the midst of this passage, Jesus is contrasting his opponents with his sheep, his true followers. And it’s in the midst of this confrontation, almost as a side-issue, that he gives us some of the most comforting verses in all Scripture.

Before we get into that, notice the reason why they don’t believe in him. They’re not part of his flock. They'd seen plenty of miracles, and they'd listened to his teaching. If they had any openness of mind at all, they would've realized who he was. Now, it's true that he'd never publicly proclaimed himself as the Messiah, because that wasn't the Father's plan. But he'd fulfilled Scripture right in front of their eyes, he'd performed miracles (there’s a reason they’re called “signs” in John’s Gospel), and he'd strongly hinted at who he was. When it comes to belief in Jesus, you’re either one of his sheep, or you’re not.

But now let’s get to the positive side of this passage. Let’s see what he says about his sheep:

• His sheep listen to his voice. How do we listen to his voice today? Well, he can lead us by his Spirit, but the primary (and the only 100% reliable) way he speaks to us is through the Scriptures. As we read more and more of his word, and as we learn to listen to the Spirit’s calling, we understand it better. Also we learn to better distinguish it from a false shepherd’s.

• He knows them. Not just about them, but he knows them, like a parent knows a child.

• They follow him. What’s the surest sign that you’re one of his sheep? That you follow him. Not perfectly, because we all sin and disobey at times. But we’re talking about the general direction of your life.

• He gives them eternal life, life that never ends.

• And as a result, they'll never perish. However many sheep Jesus claims as his own, none of them shall perish.

• No one can snatch them out of his hand.

• The Father, who's greater than all, holds us in his hand as well, and no one can snatch them out of his hand either. The best explanation I’ve heard of this is that Jesus is in the Father’s hand, and we’re in Jesus’ hand. Notice that all of us have been given to Jesus from the Father. We're the Father’s presents to the Son.

And then we see one of the most shocking statements ever uttered by human lips. Jesus said “I and the Father are one.” They’re one in purpose, one in agenda, and one in nature. We’ll get into this next month when we discuss the nature of Christ, but for now, let’s just understand that whatever the Father is in his nature, Jesus is.

So what does this mean to you and me? We're doubly protected. We’re in Jesus’ hand, and Jesus is in the Father’s hand. Someone might say “Well, Satan can’t snatch you out of his hand, but maybe you can jump out.” When Jesus said no one can snatch me out of his hand, he included me in that list. I’m forever safe and secure, and I'll never perish. I can count on that.

Lord Jesus, thank you so much for the security I have in you. No matter how little I deserve it, you claim me as one of your own, both now and forever. Help me to show that.

[Nov 12]--Shepherd, Part Two

John 10:11-21

            Today’s passage continues Jesus’ discourse on shepherding and various Jews’ response to it. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: You really can’t understand the full meaning of the N. T. without knowing the O. T. When Jesus called himself “the good shepherd,” it should've reminded his first hearers of Ezekiel chapter 34. That whole chapter details God’s utter disgust with the “shepherds” (spiritual leaders) who'd completely abandoned their duties. They were supposed to be protecting the people from harm, but instead were abusing them and misleading them into destruction.

            But in Ezekiel the Lord promised that he himself would come down and take over their duties, seek out and gather the lost sheep, and be the Shepherd they needed.

            The rest of Jesus' teaching could be summarized under the heading of "stark contrast": The complete apathy of the “hired hands,” and the complete self-giving of the true Shepherd. Who were these ‘hired hands”? It seems that they were the spiritual leaders, again, who weren't caring about the sheep. They’re “fair weather” leaders, caring about the sheep only as long it doesn’t cost them, and who flee at the first sign of trouble.

            In stark contrast stands our beloved Shepherd, who shows his dedication to us by laying down his life for us. Now that’s devotion! In fact, five times in this passage he predicts that he’s going to lay down his life for us. And there are three things we need to note about this.

            First and foremost, the laying down of his life is the mission from his Father. He didn’t come primarily to teach or to physically heal. He was sent by the Father in order lay down his life for lost sinners. That’s you and me. Yes, Jesus loves you and me, and he demonstrated that love through the events we call the Passion. But the primary reason he came was in obedience to his Father.

            Second, this reminds us of the sovereignty of Christ. The religious leaders did not take his life from him, and neither did the Roman soldiers. He freely laid down his life, and he was free to take it back up again. Pontius Pilate and the Sanhedrin thought they were in charge of the trial and what happened after, but they were only able to do any of that because of his decision.

            Third, the fulfillment of his mission would bring unity out of diversity. There are some debates about who the “other” sheep are, but the best explanation seems to be that it’s referring to the influx of Gentiles into God’s household. When he spoke this, he had other sheep out there, and by his cross he has made all of us one in his body.

            On a final note, I love how he just throws these momentous lines out there. We mentioned intimacy yesterday, and today he takes it notch higher. In vs. 14 he says that we know him and he knows us. How closely? I don’t want to say too much about this, since it delves into a glorious mystery, but in the next verse he says that we're to know him and he knows us just as he knows the Father and the Father knows him. Wow!!!!

            Finally we have the various responses from the Jews. Again, we could accuse him of being “divisive.” And their responses mirror the modern ones. Some say that he’s demon-possessed, while others are at least willing to listen some more. Are you?

            There are several ways to apply this passage, so I’ll briefly mention them. It affects our view of the essential unity of the Church. It affects how seriously we teachers take our duties. But mostly it leaves me in awe of the Shepherd who laid down his life for me. He didn’t have to, but he did.

Lord Jesus, words fail me. Except. . .maybe. . .thank you.