December 31 - The Great High Priest

Friday, December 31, 2010

December 31 – The Great High Priest

Jesus knows what it is like to be us. He came to earth to stand with us, he faced temptations that we face and though he is without sin, He understands what we deal with every day.

With this great high priest standing before us, we know that we will receive mercy and grace at God's throne. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

The high priest system that had been in place since the time of Aaron had been set forth to represent the Israelites before God. The high priest knew his people and cared for them. He brought their gifts and sacrifices before God and also because of His own weakness, had to offer sacrifices for his own sins. The high priest couldn't just become that on a whim, but had to be called by God. (Hebrews 5:1-4)

Even Christ did not proclaim Himself as high priest, but God called Him to the position. (Hebrews 5:5-6)

While Jesus was on earth, His offerings were made up of the prayers and petitions that He cried out to God. In Revelation 8:3-5, the prayers of the saints fill the golden altar in heaven. Our prayers are the offerings that God craves, Jesus' prayers while He was on earth were the offerings that He could best give to the Creator.

He willingly became the source of eternal salvation through suffering and obedience to the Father. He offers this salvation to us who willingly obey Him.

January 2011 Blog posts

Thursday, December 30, 2010

January 1, 2011 starts a new month and a new year.

During this month, I'm going to look at the uses of the word 'new' in the Old and New Testaments (no, I don't think I'll look at that use - 'new' testament). 

God is the God of creation and through Him all things are made new. We simply can't screw things up enough in our lives that He can't create new for us.  He promises over and over that there will be a new song, there will be new things, we will receive a new name, there is a new covenant, a new heart and a new spirit, there are new days, a new life, a new creation, a new attitude, a new self, a new heaven and a new earth.

We do not have to live with a life filled with an old and decaying spirit.  God can make all things new!

Join me as we look at how God's creative work can transform everything!

December 30 - The Word of God

December 30 – The Word of God

Revelation 1:8 - He is the Alpha and the Omega – or the first and the last.

Think about how cool that is.  The Alpha and the Omega.  They’re letters.  And when you combine letters, what do you get?  You get words.  God makes it so clear to us.  He keeps giving us hints and we’re so dense sometimes.  Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh.  God is the Alpha and the Omega.  He created words with those letters!  He is the Word! 

In Ephesians 6:17, we find the passage about putting on the full armor of God.  Paul tells us to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the WORD of God.  The Alpha and the Omega.  The beginning and the end – and all of the words in between.

Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active.”

Jesus Christ is living and active.  He is the Word of God!

People are continually looking … searching for Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.  What they don’t realize is that the Word of God, the law, the prophets, the poetry, the history - in all of this we find Jesus.

Psalm 1:1-2  “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

The law was the Deuteronomic or Mosaic Law.; the original covenant between God and mankind.  These were the original spoken words given to guide the Israelites as they learned about the relationship that they would have with God and why He chose them.

Deuteronomy 8:3b, “…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

In John 6:32-33, Jesus follows up this teaching from Deuteronomy with some intense information about Himself:

“Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’”

His disciples had to have remembered the scripture passage from Deuteronomy:  “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” But they did not understand what Jesus was telling them.

Going on in verse 34:

“Sir,’ they said, ‘from now on give us this bread.’”

Isn’t that so like us?  We want it, we just don’t know what it is that we want!  Oh, they wanted that bread … the true bread from heaven … they wanted the Word of God and it was right in front of them.

Verse 35: “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.  But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.’”

The Word of God – Jesus, the active, alive powerful Word of God.

Isaiah 40:8. “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Matthew 5:18. “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

Jeremiah 15:16 “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty.”

Romans 10:8. “But what does it say?  ‘The word is near you, it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming.”

Jesus Christ is the living, active Word of God.

December 29 - Word of God

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December 29 – Word of God

In Revelation 19:11, John sees heaven standing open. A white horse whose rider was called Faithful and True is before him.  In Rev. 19:13, John says that “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.”

Jesus as the Word of God is one of my favorite things to write about, to talk about, to consider, to read about.  It’s such a profound thought.  If you get weary of reading this – I’m sorry.  I’ve also run into trouble calling the Bible, the Word of God … these are the ‘words’ of God, but the Word is Jesus Christ.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)

Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

The word ‘Elohim’ translated as ‘God’ in this verse is a plural form of that word.  This is not a singular God. 

Two things happen in these next verses … “And God said …” (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26).  First of all, God spoke creation into being.  When someone speaks … what comes out of their mouth?  Words.  Jesus Christ is the active part of creation.  He is the Word that God used to bring creation into existence.

Secondly, if you think that God is completely alone at creation – whom do you suppose He was speaking to as this act of creation occurred? Along this line, one more thing … Genesis 1:26 continues this thought, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness …’”

This is not a singular thought.  The earliest words of the Hebrew Scriptures offer the truth of the fact that the Word (Jesus) was with God and was the active part of creation.

December 28 - The Lamb

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 28 – The Lamb

Using a lamb for a sacrifice goes back before the sacrificial temple system, to the testing of Abraham in Genesis 22.  When Abraham took Isaiah to perform the sacrifice, he assured Isaiah that God Himself would provide the Lamb.

In Exodus 12:21, the blood of the sacrificed lambs was painted over the doorways of the homes of the Israelites to protect their firstborn sons when the angel of death passed over Egypt. 

Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah, calling him a lamb that was led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).

The only time we see Jesus called a Lamb in the Gospels is by John the Baptist, who sees Jesus coming toward him, and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Before Jesus had even begun His ministry, He was identified as a sacrifice.

Paul speaks of Jesus as the Lamb a couple of times, but the greatest emphasis on the sacrificial work of Jesus at the cross comes in the Revelation.  It is only because of this sacrifice that He is able to open the scroll and set into motion events that bring about the end of the world and the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth.  He wouldn’t have been worthy as a military or political leader, but as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, He was the only person found who could take the scroll and break the seals.

In Revelation 19:9, we are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb, and in Revelation 21, the Lamb stands with the Lord God Almighty as the temple in heaven (Revelation 21:22), the glory of God is the light and the Lamb it its lamp (Revelation 21:23) and then we see that the Lamb’s book of life holds the names of those He has purified with His sacrifice (Revelation 21:27).

The sacrifice of the Lamb brings all of creation into worship in Revelation 5.  We can only offer these words with grateful hearts.

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13)

December 27 - Lion of the Tribe of Judah

Monday, December 27, 2010

December 27 – Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5)

One of my favorite physical images is that of the Lion and the Lamb.  For years (back when I was a kid), I thought it came from the “Peaceable Kingdom” passage found in Isaiah 11:1-10, but no … the wolf will live with the lamb (that makes sense, I guess) and the lion will eat straw like the ox (rather than zebras, I suppose).  No, the time when we see the image of the lion and the lamb together is right here in Revelation 5.

Jesus is introduced by the elder as the One who is worthy to open the scroll. When the elder announces Jesus, He is introduced by the title, “Lion of the tribe of Judah.”  But, when John looks, he doesn’t see a lion, but he encounters a Lamb, with all of the marks of slaughter.

In Genesis 49, Jacob (Israel) calls his sons around him before he dies and prophesies over them.  Some call this a blessing, but for several of his sons, these were not words of blessing at all.  He begins with Reuben, Simeon and Levi – those aren’t pleasant words at all, but when he gets to Judah, the words change.

“Judah, your brothers will praise you; your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down to you. You are a lion’s cub; O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness – who dares to rouse him?  The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is his.” (Genesis 49:8-10)

The words of Jacob regarding the tribe of Judah will be fulfilled in the person of the Lamb of God.  This designation of the Messiah, along with Isaiah 11:1, 10 – “root of Jesse,” was very important in early Jewish thought concerning the coming King.   Both are found in Revelation.  Jesus identifies Himself in Revelation 22:16 as the Root and Descendant of David (Jesse’s son).

The roaring power of the lion, the tenderness of the sacrifice of the Lamb … found together in our Savior.  We could be in no better hands whether it is in this life or in eternity.

December 26 - Faithful Witness

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 26 – Faithful Witness

For the last few days of the month, I want to look at some of the images of Jesus taken from the Revelation.  The first description is found in Revelation 1:5 where Jesus is described as “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

The word ‘martyr’ is a Greek word that as a noun translates as ‘witness,’ as a verb translates as ‘to witness’ or ‘to testify.’  Early martyrs were those who testified to the power of Jesus Christ in their lives and then, because of that, lost their lives.

Jesus’ ministry on earth was all about being a witness to us about God.  He says so over and over. 

John 8:27, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know who I am and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for always do what pleases him.”

John 8:38, “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

John 8:54, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing.  My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word.”

All through the Gospels, we find Jesus testifying to the work of God.  The purpose of this was to bring us to God. 

John 12:49-50. “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say I is just what the Father has told me to say.”

John 14:16-17, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather it is the Father, living in me who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”

Jesus’ testimony … His witness to the Father’s power within Him was evidenced in His words and in the miracles that the people saw.

Jesus Christ is the faithful witness.

December 25 - The Messiah

Saturday, December 25, 2010

December 25 – The Messiah (Matthew 1:1-17)

The first seventeen verses of the Gospel of Matthew were problematic for me when I was young.  Why in the world would I care about the genealogy of Jesus?  Obviously someone did, since it was placed predominantly at the beginning of the first of the books in the New Testament.  It seemed boring and unimaginative for the introduction to a story that would change the world.

This was one of the first passages I had to survey for my Inductive Bible study course on Matthew and I have not yet spent the time that I desire to spend learning about the people in this lineage.  Now I find myself enchanted with this genealogy.

Luke’s genealogy traces Jesus back to Adam, but Matthew has a different emphasis.  He wants his readers to recognize that Jesus is very much a Jew. He begins with Abraham and the first thing we should understand is that Jesus is a product of the Covenant God made with Abraham.  Fourteen generations later (Matthew 1:6b), King David is named.  This is the renewal of the Covenant found in 2 Samuel 7.  God declares that He himself will establish a house for David and that His offspring will establish the kingdom.  In 2 Samuel 7:16, God tells David that his house and his kingdom will endure forever.

The third set of fourteen generations begins with the exile and ends with the birth of Jesus, who is called Christ – Messiah.

This genealogy begins with the Covenant and ends with the Messiah.  Its groupings emphasize high points in Israel’s history, reminding them that the Messiah has been prophesied and has been promised to the people of Israel.  They are reminded of great moments in their history with the reign of David and Solomon and they are reminded of very low moments with memories of the exile to Babylon.

Three different times, Matthew tells his readers that he is writing of Jesus … the Messiah.  He says it in Matthew 1:1, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  He says it again in Matthew 1:16 at the end of the record, “…Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”  He writes it one more time to finish the passage in Matthew 1:17, “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.”

Any time we find a word, thought or idea repeated, there is a reason.  Matthew repeated the message of the Messiah so that his readers would know that the man, Jesus was born to be the Messiah, the one who would save Israel and through them, the world.

Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus is born!

December 24 - Image of God

Friday, December 24, 2010

December 24 – Image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

There are some extraordinary words in this sentence.  Doxa is the Greek word that is translated as ‘glory.’  There are several definitions for the word: brightness, splendor, radiance; the idea of a human being in a transcendent, heavenly experience; being in the next life; reflecting the radiance of God; recognition of status or fame – honor; being magnificent (Solomon in all his glory … Mt. 6:29); a majestic, transcendent being.  That’s quite a few definitions to choose from when looking at the context of a word in the Greek New Testament.

This sentence combines a few thoughts … the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. 

The word ‘gospel’ is translated from the Greek word, “evangellion.”  You can see the word evangelism in there.  It is also translated as good news. This is news that shines with the greatness of Christ. 

While I don’t want to spend much time today on the beginning phrase of this sentence, the god of this age is Satan and he continues to blind the minds of unbelievers.  As we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Messiah to earth, that this still happens is heartwrenching.

Luke 2:32 quotes Simeon as saying that he has seen God’s salvation (in Jesus) who is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles …”

Matthew 4:16 tells us in quoting Isaiah 9:1-2, that Jesus fulfills prophecy in that, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light;”

John uses the imagery of light a great deal in the first chapter of his Gospel when referring to Jesus.  “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

Looking deeper into the Corinthians passage, we find that Paul asserts Jesus is the image of God.  This is not an item that has been created to look like another item – such as a sculpture or a painting … this is a living image … and the light that is coming from Jesus is the light of God’s glory that is reflected so that we can see it.

 Jesus said in John 6:57, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father …”

He is the living image of God, sent to earth to bring light to mankind.  He reflects the light of God so that the earth will no longer be in darkness.  There are those who are blind to this light.  While Jesus was on earth, there were those who remained blind to His light.  We must always watch for ways to show the light of Christ – that reflected light of God – to the world so that their eyes may be opened.

December 23 - Restorer of the Penitent

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 23 - Restorer of the Penitent (John 21:15-19)

There’s nothing worse than getting caught saying something and having it proved wrong.  Remember back in John 13 when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and Simon Peter declared his great love for Jesus?  He declared then in John 13:37 that he wanted to follow Jesus and lay down his life for him.

Peter was all about declaring his love for Jesus and trying to understand the relationship that Jesus had with the disciples and the world.  But, when it came down to it, poor Peter washed out.  He failed as miserably as anyone could possible fail.  Jesus had to rebuke him several times during their years together, and even still, Peter was one of the inner circle, one of the leaders of the twelve.

He was willing to thwack off a man’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus, but when it came to simply acknowledging that he was one of the twelve … he just couldn’t do it.  He didn’t want to get caught up in the insanity that surrounded Jesus’ trial.

That is some serious betrayal and for Peter to be the man that Jesus wanted him to be, to lead the church and to be the strength of the disciples going forward, Jesus needed to deal with the rather large elephant in the living room … or leviathan on the beach (since that was where they were eating).

When Jesus said, “Peter, do you truly love me more than these?”  it wasn’t a question regarding Peter’s love for the disciples versus his love for Jesus, it was a question about whether Peter or the other disciples loved Jesus more?  Now Peter wasn’t going to compare himself to his friends, but he was certainly ready to declare one more time, his love for his Lord.  But, Jesus kept pushing and asked the question three times until finally Peter was a little hurt by the encounter. 

Jesus never contradicted him and pointed out all of Peter’s shortcomings up to his final betrayal, He simply commanded Peter to care for those who were left in his care.  All of that was now behind them, it was time to move forward.

Jesus also needed to assure Peter that He knew Peter loved him and encourage Peter down the path, because in John 21:18-19, Jesus prophesied regarding Peter’s coming death.  It would never be an easy life on earth for Peter, but it was going to be worth it because Peter would glorify God.

The closing words of Jesus to Peter were exactly the ones He used when He called Peter to Him at the beginning of His ministry and are the words that Jesus uses to call us.  “Follow me.”

This is how we begin our relationship with Jesus.  All of the other stuff following that point will be dealt with, just as Jesus dealt with Peter.  There were ups and downs, mistakes and grand declarations.  But, at the end, Jesus wants to know that we love Him and that we will follow Him.

December 22 - Conqueror of Death

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 22 - Conqueror of Death (John 20:1-31)

I always know that I have to face Jesus’ death on the cross to get to the Resurrection story.  I am always so grateful for Easter Sunday morning to arrive.

Can you begin to imagine the craziness of the talk surrounding Jesus’ resurrection?  Mary of Magdala saw the empty tomb and thought the worst.  She found Peter and John, worried that someone had stolen the body and got them all stirred up.  They went tearing into the tomb to find out what had happened and when they saw that it was empty, still didn’t understand fully. 

The boys went home, but Mary stuck it out … sobbing beside the tomb.  Two angels tried to comfort her, and then Jesus showed up to assure her that He had risen from the dead.  Her first response – tell the disciples.

Jesus showed up when they were hiding behind locked doors and what did He say to them? “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  He breathed on them and with that, told them to receive the Holy Spirit. 

THAT is HUGE!  They were still in fear of their lives … they had yet to make a commitment to building Christ’s church on earth.  He came to them, offered them peace and the Spirit which would give them power.

Thomas comes forth to express doubt and though it took a week (hmmm, you mean Jesus doesn’t answer our queries immediately?), Jesus showed up and again said, “Peace be with you!” before assuring Thomas of the truth.

It is in the twentieth chapter of John, that we also see his statement of purpose.  He finishes this chapter by saying, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31).

There is one purpose for these gospels … that we may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing we may have life in his name.  It’s really no more difficult than that.

December 21 - Uplifted Savior

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 21 - Uplifted Savior (John 19:16-19)

I didn’t create the titles for these passages – I actually took them from a listing in my Thompson Chain Reference Bible and that means I took them as a challenge – to be able to write something that made sense for both the scripture passage and the title. 

Today it has taken me a bit to move beyond bafflement.  This is a very interesting title for the Crucifixion passage found in John.

As I began doing some reading about this, I find myself floored by the interpretation of this passage.  May saw in the crucifixion of Jesus … His enthronement.  As His body was literally being lifted up, so was the reign that He was to begin.

Notice that John differs from Luke’s story (Luke 23:26) by saying that Jesus carried his own cross as opposed to Simon the Cyrene being pressed into service.  There were several heresies that intimate Simon was actually the one who ended up being crucified and that Jesus escaped with his life, which explained the sightings after the crucifixion.  John was ensuring that people believed Christ was carrying the wood for his cross to the sacrifice, much as Isaac carried the wood for his sacrifice in Genesis 22:6

John is the only one of the gospels to tell us of the notification that Pilate had attached to the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19)  He goes on to say that the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Geek so that everyone would be able to read it and understand.  When the Jewish priests protested and asked Pilate to change the sign, he refused saying, “What I have written, I have written.” (John 19:22)

No matter how much time we spend focusing on the pain of the crucifixion and the terribleness of the act, John simply uses a few words, “Here they crucified him …” (John 19:18)

This moment is seen by John as the moment that Jesus is exalted and reaches the highest heaven.  He is the king … the cross was his throne.  The day of His crucifixion … He was lifted up and became the Savior of the world.

December 20 - Model Sufferer

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20 - Model Sufferer (John 18:1-11)

I have to tell you that moving through the passion story while in the middle of Christmas season is a little difficult for me.  I have enough trouble facing Christ’s death at most other times of the year.  But the fact is, that this process was the greatest gift ever given to humanity and though we will never face what Jesus faced, we can learn a few things from Him.

The passage today is about His arrest in the olive grove.  There are a few essential things in this story that we should note. 

The first is Jesus response to Judas.  Consider your response to a traitor.  Or how about your response to someone who has harmed you or someone you love.  Maybe it is gossip or blatant attack on your personality, your job performance, your children, your lifestyle.  Our first reaction is to respond in kind.  We get defensive, we go back on the attack, we do our best to decimate the other person so that their attack is minimized or eliminated.

Whether or not Jesus knew from the moment He chose Judas to be a part of the twelve that he was going to be betrayed by the man, we can’t know.  But, we can know that Jesus extended love and teaching to him all through the years they were together.  Even at the end, Jesus extended love and respect.  He didn’t talk about Judas to the other disciples, processing on what possibly could have made Judas act the way he did, or do the things he did.  Jesus loved him, knowing what was coming.

In this story, Jesus protected the rest of his disciples.  Once he finally got them to tell the group exactly who it was they were looking for – Jesus of Nazareth – he identified himself and asked that the others be allowed to go free.

Finally, when Peter responded with violence by cutting off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus again responded by refusing to accept the violence as a part of his life.  It is in Luke’s gospel (Luke 22:51) that we see Jesus healing the man’s ear. 

I remember being harassed in high school by a friend of the guy I was dating.  Rick was not a violent person – he was one of the gentlest people I’d ever known.  But, he got so angry at the boy who was harassing me; he punched his friend and knocked him down.  I’m really not sure which of the three of us was more surprised.  It really upset Rick to know that he had that response in him.

The three of us kids were raised with a strict admonition to never strike another person.  We didn’t hit or slap each other while we were growing up, Mom simply insisted on treating each other with more respect than that.  Trying to exercise power and strength through violence never makes another recognize your power or your strength, it only incites fear.

When Jesus taught … He taught about love.  The Jews wanted a Messiah who would be able to incite fear so that they could rule.  Jesus brought something quite different and it was that difference that transformed the entire world.  Fear may change things for a short time, but love will change things forever.

December 19 - John's Birth - Advent Repost

Sunday, December 19, 2010

John was actually born about six months before Jesus. It is pretty wild to think about all of the things that were going through the minds of those people closest to the birth stories of these two men.  Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah and Joseph all seemed to accept the news from the angels and move forward throughout their lives confidently expecting all that was told to them was true and would occur.

That's a lot of trust and a lot of belief in the unknown.  I wonder how we would do with that information today?

December 13, 2008 - John is Born - Luke 1:57-66

I grew up in small towns throughout Iowa. There wasn't much that happened, good or bad, that wasn't immediately known through the community. When I was born, my parents lived in a small town named Gravity, in Iowa. There were only 200 people that lived there. Imagine my mother's shock coming from Boston, Massachusetts to a little tiny town where everyone knew what was happening. There were no such things as locks on the parsonage doors and the women of the church believed quite seriously that the parsonage belonged to them and they could enter at any time, no matter what was happening.

I was born in 1959 and Gravity still had a local operator that connected all of the community's calls. She knew everything that was happening and probably listened in on most conversations. Mom and Dad went to Clarinda to the hospital and when I was born, the operator placed an all-city call. Every single telephone in the community of Gravity rang at the same time and the announcement was made that the preacher had a baby daughter. I suspect that was my 15 minutes of fame - all used up before I even knew what was happening to me.

Elizabeth's neighbors and relatives shared her joy in the birth of a son (Luke 1:58). I can imagine that the news of this spread like wildfire. Her home probably filled with people as the days progressed. Now, I know that I'm a bit of a cynic, but having that many people around just after a birth and this birth was happening to a much older woman, would have made me very cranky.

By the eighth day, it was time to name and circumcise the child. Genesis 17:12 and then again Leviticus 12:3 both tell of the command to circumcise boys by the eighth day. People were all around and being their ever-helpful selves. They were suggesting names and probably making it quite clear that she should name the boy after his father. When she told them what the child's name should be, these busy-bodies decided it wasn't enough, they needed to correct her and remind her (as if she had forgotten) that there was no one among the relatives with the name of John.

At this point I would have wanted to toss the lot from the house, but it got worse for Elizabeth. Since these people weren't going to believe her, they were going to frustrate Zechariah. He obviously could still not speak, and there is some implication that he couldn't hear either because they had to make signs to him asking him what HE thought they should name the child.

He asked for a writing tablet. Can you imagine the hush that came across the crowd as they waited for him to express his desire?

The writing table that he used was probably a piece of wood with a coating of wax on it. A stylus would cut through the wood, making letters. The other end of the stylus would have been flat for smoothing out the wax once he was finished with it. These tablets had been in use for quite some time and were perfect for writing short-term notes.

"His name is John." (Luke 1:63). Immediately Zechariah was able to speak and he began praising God. I imagine (this is in no ways implied or written in scripture) that Elizabeth smiled a tight little smile and stopped herself from stepping on people's toes or tripping them as they scrambled to leave her home and spread the news throughout the hill country.

With John's auspicious beginnings, the people began to wonder, though what he would become? Luke 1:66b "The Lord's hand was with him."

John was created for great things. In 30+ years, some of these people that had spread the news of his birth would hear him preach the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3) and hear him call for preparation to be made for the Messiah!

December 18 - Betrothal ... Advent repost

Saturday, December 18, 2010

As I was typing the blog about Jesus going to heaven to prepare a place for us, I realized that I had posted more information regarding that two years ago.  So ... I'm going to re-post that right now.  Today has been a wild, wild day!  But, I'm done with my first semester and whoosh ... gonna get ready for the next one.  I'll be back with John 18 soon!

December 12 - Betrothal in a Hebrew family - Isaiah 62:5

Several (many) years ago, a friend led us into a beautiful time of communion by sharing the comparisons between a Hebrew betrothal and the commitment that God has made with His people. I was in tears by the end of the presentation and asked for his notes. These are some of the things he shared with me.

Housing in Israel was a series of flat-topped stone homes, one built next to another, like a series of wasps nests. Families would live in clusters of homes. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters - all from the groom's side. There could be over 100 people living in the same area. An entire lifetime would be spent with the extended family.

The groom would build the home for his bride within this cluster of homes.

When Jesus said, in John 14:2-4 that he was going to prepare a place for us in His Father's house, He was speaking as a groom would speak to His betrothed. He says, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." We are confident in His marriage proposal. He has promised to return for us to take us to the home that He is preparing.

The groom's father would choose the bride and would negotiate the price with the bride's father. A daughter was an asset and her father would need to be compensated. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, while speaking of the price of Christ's crucifixion is also a reminder of the relationship between Jesus and His bride. "You are not your own, you were bought at a price."

To seal the deal, the groom's father would pull out a flask of wine and pour a cup, then give this to his son. In Jewish culture, a cup of wine was a symbol of the lifeblood of man. Luke 22:20 says "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." The son would offer this to the bride, "by offering this cup, I promise that I am willing to give my life for you."

At that point the bride had two choices, she could choose to not accept the cup or if she drank from the cup, she was saying that she was also willing to give her life for him. They were then betrothed, and this betrothal could last for 9 months or as much as a year. She would wear a veil which showed her commitment.

The bridegroom would then say to her that he was returning to his father's home to prepare a place for you. He would go on by saying that he would return when he was finished to take her to be his wife.

The father of the bridegroom was the one who would declare that the home was ready. Only the father of the bridegroom knew what day and hour the room would be finished. He would be the one that declared the wedding day and the feast. (Matthew 24:36)

The bride had to keep herself ready. When the father of the bridegroom declared that it was finished, everyone would head to the bride's home. On the outskirts of town, the Shofar would be blown, the bridegroom would enter her home, pick her up and carry her to her new home.

John 3:29 says that the friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. The marriage has been consummated and the groom declares that they are married.

Joseph and Mary were hoping for the excitement of a traditional betrothal and wedding, but God had other plans for them. However, it is absolutely amazing how God translated His love for His children into a betrothal between His Son, Jesus and the bride.

Keep yourself ready! The bridegroom is coming back for us. This is the time of Advent. This is the time to prepare for His return.

December 17 - Great Intercessor

Friday, December 17, 2010

December 17 – Great Intercessor (John 17:1-26)

We all use different postures when we pray whether it be on our backs (or fronts) before we go to sleep or when we wake up, at our desks with heads bowed, sometimes in our cars with eyes wide open (please!), at church with reverence, curled up in a favorite chair, on our knees, standing with arms raised in worship.  There are some who make an intentional time every day to set the world aside and come into God’s presence alone, others who pray through every moment of the day.  The joy of prayer is that it isn’t confined to a single rule-set, it is as creative as the people who participate!

“Jesus looked toward heaven and prayed.” (John 17:1) 

With those words, the most glorious intercessory prayer written begins.  As Jesus speaks out loud to the Father, the words speak to our hearts.

The first pericope in my NIV Bible is entitled, ‘Jesus Prays for Himself.’  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As you read through this passage (John 17:1b-5), you find that He isn’t asking for anything except that He be glorified so that the Father may be glorified and so that the world may know the Father.

As Jesus moves into praying for His disciples (John 17:6-19), we see the great love He has for these men.  He prays for their protection and in John 17:17, He prays that God sanctify them.  He sends them into the world as God sent Him … that’s a sermon in and of itself!

When Jesus prays for all believers (John 17:20-26), He prays for unity, He prays that we will be with Him in glory and He prays that God’s love will be in us. 

Jesus’ love for the world comes from the Father’s great love for us.  It is apparent in His words.  He continues to intercede for us.  Spend time in these words, sense the immensity of His love.

December 16 - Giver of the Holy Spirit

Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 16 – Giver of the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15)

Jesus says in John 16:7b, “Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

This was an incredible gift give to humanity.  “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” (Acts 1:4b)

In Revelation 5, there is a description of the Lamb who was slain.  “He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:6b)

The Holy Spirit is able to accomplish what Jesus could not and we see how that is possible in the Revelation passage.  Seven is the number that signifies completeness and in Zechariah 4:10, we see that “These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth.”  Jesus was limited by His humanity while He walked among us.  In sending the Holy Spirit, He was able to be omniscient … he could see and know everything!  This allows Jesus to respond to our cries and our prayers.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

As a human, Jesus also couldn’t indwell another and give them power.  But, the Holy Spirit was able to do that.  A small portion of that power was released on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  Paul speaks clearly of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his letters.  This gifts come so that we can give glory to God!

And one more verse: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me …” (John 15:26)

The Spirit comes from both the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb who was slain.  The three work in union to draw mankind to glory. 

December 15 - True Vine

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 15 – True Vine (John 15:1-16)

John is not yet finished with allowing us to see how Jesus compares Himself to something that is commonly known to the people in first century Israel. This time we look at the vine … maybe a grapevine.

The first thing that I want you to see is that Jesus doesn’t say that He is ‘like’ a vine and his Father is ‘like’ a gardener.  This isn’t just a figure of speech.  This relationship between the vine and the Gardener is exactly the description of discipleship that He wants the twelve to emulate.

We can not bear fruit by ourselves.  We are nothing unless we stay on the vine.  If God trims parts of us away, it is only to make us more fruitful.  But when we move off on our own, to pursue our own dreams and set our own goals, we are limited to our own successes.

“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit;” (John 15:5b)  Much fruit!  This reminds me of the verse that I use to head my blog: "Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." (Mal. 3:10b)

We are so limited by the successes of the world around us that we believe that is our goal and those are the true definitions of achievement. 

Look forward to verse seven: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.” (John 15:7)

It is not about us and our success, it is not about us and our achievement.  Jesus very plainly states that in the next verse:  “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

Now … the second half of this passage is the kicker for me.  This is what life is all about, whether or not we are successful.  If we remain in Jesus … the fruit is love. 

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  (John 15:10-11)

Joy and love are intertwined with Jesus.  Not just a little bit, not just what we can see and feel and sense, not just what we can do by ourselves.  It is by remaining in Him, by staying attached to the vine, for that is where true life begins.  The nourishment of love that we receive by staying attached to the vine is incredible.

I have an image in my mind of a luscious, green, full-bodied vine growing.  It’s source is the River of Life found in the New Jerusalem.  It receives more nourishment than it needs and pours it through to the branches that are attached.  Some of these branches are thick and filled with leaves and other branches.  Others have been pruned back by the Gardener so that they can begin to grow again – stronger and healthier.  Then there are branches that have fallen off and are strewn along the path under the vine. These have shriveled to brown, ugly pieces.  Some are bigger than others, some look as if they are ready to turn to dust.

The thing about this Gardener is that He has the ability to graft those that have separated themselves from the true vine back so that they can grow again.  He can graft them to the main trunk or to any other branch.

Jesus is the vine that provides nourishment and stability.  We may think that we are pretty amazing all on our own, but it is only by being part of that vine that we find our true selves … and we find love and joy.

December 14 - Comforter

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 14 – Comforter (John 14:1-3)

I have a lot of favorites in scripture.  I can’t help it! These words do bring a comfort that I can’t explain:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  (John 14:1-3)

In many cases, a bridegroom in first century Israel would build rooms onto the family home.  When they were completed, he would go find his betrothed and bring her there where the wedding ceremony and celebration would take place.  These homes were filled with great big extended families.

The imagery of the God as the bridegroom and Israel as His bride fills the Old Testament and in the New Testament, we constantly find Jesus calling His church the bride and Himself the bridegroom.

He is going to heaven to prepare those rooms for us … His bride. 

Those words from Revelation tell us that this promise will be fulfilled.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.  Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.  Then the angel said to me, ‘Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’’” (Rev. 9:7-9)

The day will come when those rooms will be finished; Jesus will return and take us there to live with Him.  The wedding of the Lamb and of his bride.

December 13 - Servant

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 13 – Servant (John 13:1-17)

Oh, I’ve been to numerous foot-washings and I have to tell you – I’m not a fan.  Getting up close and personal with a person’s dirty foot is not really the spiritual experience they might have you believe.  Yes, there’s a sense of humility about the whole thing, but sometimes those tears are more about the smell … and the embarrassment, than about finding Jesus in the activity of learning to be a servant.

Sometimes we pick up on a first-century tradition and try to make it our own without understanding the context of the moment.

What Jesus did for His disciples that evening was something that servants would do for them.  He lowered Himself to the place of a servant as an example to His disciples so that when He left them and they went out into the world, they would serve those they encountered.

We would see this type of service when a boss brings coffee to her secretary or a spouse takes care of something that they never do in the relationship.  A manager might step into the role of an employee to give them a break, a parent takes the punishment for a child. 

The idea of learning servanthood is to do those things that allow another person to be greater than us, to be more important, to find themselves blessed by our actions.

One of the other things that I never liked about ceremonial foot-washings was that the moment we could run out of the room and back to our lives, we did.  You see, those don’t teach us common, every day ways to be a servant to each other.  In Jesus’ day, foot-washing actually did.  This was an actual, regular occurrence in the lives of the disciples.

In our day, there are many, many ways we can offer ourselves.  We just have to care enough to look beyond our own problems and our own issues to see those needs of people around us.

And the next time you decide to have a foot-washing … announce it, giving plenty of time for everyone to at least wear their nice shoes and socks and take a bath … maybe the tears will be real tears of love.

December 12 - King

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 12 - King (John 12:12-15)

The Jews were ready for nothing less than a King who would come to them riding in on a white horse, prepared to help them as they conquer their persecutors and release them from their oppressors.

In Zechariah 9:9, we read, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

John does it again.  He presents Jesus as someone quite different than the people’s expectations.  Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem on a young donkey, but the people still saw Him as a great and powerful King because of the incredible miracles He had performed and the wisdom with which He taught.

They took palm branches and waved them high as He came into Jerusalem.  They were waving in the King they hoped would deliver them into the kingdom of God.

While they really didn’t understand who Jesus was, they would soon find out. 

On the other hand, we do know who He is and can continue to sing  out with full confidence:

“Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!”


December 11 - Prince of Life

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December 11 - Prince of Life (John 11:1-44)

I can’t imagine that there are many of us who haven’t felt the pain of loss because of death.  While reading this chapter, there is great comfort in knowing that Jesus felt that same type of loss when his close friend, Lazarus died. 

Jesus knew where Lazarus would go.  He knew how incredible eternity was. He knew that Lazarus was going to be with His father.  He knew all of those things and still … He wept. (John 11:35)

In that moment, we see the true humanity of Jesus Christ.  The pain of sorrow and grief, the caring and love that he had for a family.  Two sisters would be grieving and Jesus hurt for them.  He hurt for himself because He loved Lazarus like a brother.  This is Jesus, the man.  This is the reason that God came down from heaven in the form of Jesus.  He knew grief and sorrow, just like the rest of us do.  He knew the incredible pain that can come from loving someone and losing them forever.  Jesus felt what we feel.  He didn’t feel it for us, He didn’t feel it through us.  He felt it for Himself and that moment made Him more like us than the moment of His birth.

The glory of this story is that while this shows us Jesus’ true humanity, it also shows us His true divinity.  It was one thing to heal blindness, to feed the five thousand, to walk on water, to change water into wine; but it is a completely different thing to bring a man back from death.  Jesus Christ is God.  Resurrection will happen at His hands. 

Our faith is centered in the Lord, who cries for the loss of a friend yet has the power to bring life from death.  He is truly man.  He is truly God. 

December 10 - Good Shepherd

Friday, December 10, 2010

December 10 - Good Shepherd (John 10:1-16)

Jesus uses another metaphor to describe his relationship to the world in this passage and once again, we’ll read in John 10:6, “Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.” 

There’s a word that describes sections of scripture.  In our Bibles, these sections are usually marked by headlines.  The word is pericope = pe – ri’ – cuh – pee.  Say that a couple of times – it’s a cool word.  It doesn’t sound like periscope without the ‘s,’ but actually uses all four syllables with the accent on the second syllable.  In Greek, there are very few silent letters.  Every time there is a consonant, another syllable is indicated.  Why do I want you to know this word?  Because it’s just another great word used to describe a section of scripture and uses a lot fewer letters!  And it’s a cool word!

So … this pericope (ahh, that’s nice), is filled with chunks and nuggets with which we’ve become very familiar.

The shepherd calls his own sheep by name … they follow him because they know his voice.  (John 10:3-4).  But, Jesus goes on to say that they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (John 10:5). 

Is that true?  Do we run from a stranger or are we caught up in the sound of the new voice and chase after things that aren’t Jesus?  I wonder…

Now, in John 10:7-10, Jesus also tells us that he is the gate for the sheep.  The sheep can come in or go out of the gate and always find safe pasture.  Jesus has come to bring life … to bring fullness of life.

Sheep are gathered in the evenings behind a gate.  This is to keep them safe while the shepherd sleeps.  In the morning, he comes to the gate and leads them out to the rich pastures where they will be able to fill themselves.

With Jesus as the gate, he tells us that whether we are in or out, there will be rich, full pastures.  Life – fullness or abundance of life – no matter where we are at.

I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. (John 10:11)  I am the good shepherd.  I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15) 

Jesus loves us so much.  He knows each of us well.  When we trust him, we learn his voice, we live in fullness of life and our protection comes from him … to the point that he willingly lays down his life for all of us.  He is the good shepherd.

December 9 - Light of the World

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 9 - Light of the World (John 9:1-12)

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5)

Jesus says these words and then proceeds to spit in the dirt, make some mud, place it on a blind man’s eyes and send him off to wash.  When the man did, he could see. 

That’s the entirety of this message.  Jesus says to us, “I am the light of the world.”  Then He covers our sin, asks us to wash it off and we are healed.  We are healed before we wash it off … but sometimes we just can’t understand the truth of that.  We walk around with the mud in our eyes and don’t realize that underneath that mud, the healing has already taken place. 

If this man had never obeyed Jesus, he would have lived as a beggar for the rest of his life, never knowing that all he had to do was take a simple bath and his life could be changed.  But, he obeyed the One who had done such a strange thing. 

After he had washed out his eyes and discovered the healing, he encountered people who had known him before.  They were curious.  “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?”

People denied that the change could have happened, “No, he only looks like that man.” 

But the poor man insisted, “I am the man!”

These are the same attitudes that surround us when we are so completely healed by Jesus that our lives look different than they did before we encountered Him.  “Aren’t you the same person that we knew before?”   “No … it only looks like that person.”

And we want to shout, “I am that person … but I am changed.”

From blindness to sight.  Jesus offered this man the opportunity to see light once more.

John’s gospel is heavy on metaphorical / spiritual insight by using common ideas and examples.  “I am the light of the world.”  From blindness to sight … from darkness to light.  Jesus is the one who brings light to our lives.

December 8 - I AM

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 8 – I AM (John 8:48-59)

We are so conditioned to see Jesus as the righteous Son of God that it is difficult to imagine how the early Jews viewed him.  At the beginning of this passage, the Jews think that they are justified in asking if he isn’t a Samaritan and demon-possessed!

The Samaritans were a group of people that had come from long-ago unions between Jews and Gentiles.  In 2 Kings 17, the king of Assyria had brought a group of foreigners into Israel when he had defeated the country and they soon began to intermarry.  The foreigners adopted Judaism but it was, in actuality, different enough to cause schism and dissension.   This accusation was a great insult to anyone who was a pure Jew.  Not only did they accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan, but it got worse – he had to be demon-possessed.

When Jesus explained to them that he honored his Father and that if a person were to keep Jesus’ word, he would never see death, the Jews were incensed!  Abraham and the prophets had all died, did Jesus really think he was greater than Abraham?  Who did he think that he was? (John 8:52-53)

Jesus continues to attempt to explain to the Jews that God glorifies him.  Even though the Jews don’t know God – Jesus does.  Then, he finishes it by telling them that Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing his (Jesus’) day; he saw it and was glad.

They were lost.  Jesus was still a young man – how could he possibly have seen Abraham.  Oh, the lack of understanding that was in their hearts. 

Jesus replied with the words that God had spoken to Moses so many years ago.  “I am!”  Before Abraham even was born, Jesus said, “I am.”

As I was re-reading this passage and discovered the question by the Jews – “Who do you think that you are?” I remembered reading through the passage in Exodus 3 when God tells Moses that He (God) is.

As Moses was questioning God about His choice in sending Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, the question Moses kept asking was “Who am I?  Who do you think that I am?  What shall I tell them?”

God never told Moses who he was.  It was never about Moses, it was simply about God.  When Moses asks, “Who am I?”  God responds with “I will be with you.” 

When Moses asks, “Who shall I say sent me?” God responds with “I AM.”

I AM sent Moses.  I AM was there before Moses was born.  Who does he think he is?  He is I AM.

December 7 - Living Water

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7 – Living Water (John 7:37)

When we read the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, He introduced Himself as the living water. We find Him reinforcing that image quite a while later. John tells us over and over that the people following Jesus around do not understand metaphorical imagery. It had been a long time since the prophets walked among them, teaching in images that forced them to really listen to the ideas behind the words.

Jesus wants those who come to Him, to understand that He offers more than just the tedium of every day life. He offers more than just being born of a woman. He offers more than the bread that is put on a table for a meal. He offers even more than the manna that was sent down each day to ensure the Israelites were fed. He offers more than water that quenches thirst for a short period of time.

Jesus’ offering of living water to the people around him was about much more than what they could comprehend. It’s more than we can comprehend.

Living water that flows from within. Paul and the other writers of New Testament letters spend a great deal of time teaching us how to live as a Christian in a distinctly unChristian world. Jesus begins this teaching simply by telling us that as we drink from the source (Jesus), this water will well up within us and overflow. The Spirit will not be contained within us and will pour out from us in an unending flow due to the abundance that fills us.

December 6 - Bread of Life

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6 - Bread of Life (6:32-58)

The Jews were just speaking with Jesus about the Manna from heaven that came down for the Israelites during the Exodus.  Jesus says, “…it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.”

Just like Nicodemus misunderstood the spiritual aspects of being born again and the Samaritan woman at the well asked for water that would forever quench her physical thirst, the Jews asked for him to give them bread that comes from God. 

Jesus is waiting for them to fully understand who He is.  He declares, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry.”

This didn’t help His status among the Jews.  They were quite concerned with the fact that He told them He was from heaven when they knew full well that He was just the son of Joseph – in fact, many of them know his father and mother. (John 6:42)

Then comes the statement that gets everyone all freaked out.  Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  This sounds like there are those who the Father doesn’t draw … but, we have to keep reading.  “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”  (John 6:44-45)

These verses are simply amazing to me.  Jesus wants the Jews to understand the power of His ministry on earth.  The one thing that the Jews know quite well from their history is the story of the Exodus and the glorious gift of manna that was sent down to keep them alive on their journey.  This story is what Jesus needs to transform for them.

That bread that gave them life during the Exodus is an important story.  Jesus, however, wants them to know that manna was not as important as He is.  He is the true bread of life.  Their forefathers ate manna and died (6:49), but eating the true bread of life … believing in Him … will bring everlasting life.

God is a living God … Jesus is the representation of that living God on earth. 

Manna could only remain fresh for a day- then it withered up and died until a fresh batch was given from heaven.  Jesus remains alive.  As the true bread of life from heaven … he offers life forever.

December 5 - Great Physician

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December 5 – Great Physician (John 5:1-9)

The story of the healing at the pool found in John 5 begins with a great deal of descriptive information.  One of the fun things to observe when reading these passages is the use of this to set up a story.  It doesn’t happen often, but John uses it quite beautifully.

There were many gates in the walls of surrounding Jerusalem. In Nehemiah 3:1-2, we find that the priests rebuilt the Sheep Gate when they returned to Jerusalem from being in Babylonian Exile.  They also rebuilt the Fish Gate, the Jeshanah gate, the Valley gate, the Dung gate, the Fountain gate, and the Horse gate in the third chapter of Nehemiah.  The Sheep gate may have been the gate that the sheep being offered for sacrifice at the Temple were brought into the city.

The pool was called Bethesda which either means ‘house of mercy’ or ‘a place of flowing water.’  Don’t you just love the Greek language?  There can be many translations that occur. 

Obviously this pool was a haven for sick and disabled people.  The man that we are about to meet had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  I cannot imagine a life like that, but am certain that it would be difficult to have a productive life. 

Jesus saw this man lying there and learned that he had been sick for a long time.  The first question Jesus asked the man was, “Do you want to get well?”

That is the question that Jesus asks us, “Do you want to get well?  Do you want to live a healthy life?” 

The invalid’s response is one that most of us toss out any time we run into trouble.  It is always someone else’s responsibility.  “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.  While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

After thirty-eight years, this poor man could no longer fathom any way that he could care for himself.  He had given it all up because there was no one there to help him.  Now, while we believe that we should pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, notice what happens next.  Jesus doesn’t care whether or not we take care of ourselves or rely on others.  He wants us to rely on Him.  At the moment we rely on Him fully, He is there to say, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

December 4 - Soul Winner

Saturday, December 4, 2010

December 4 – Soul Winner (John 4:7-29)

Most of us lead pretty insulated lives.  We don’t spend a lot of time with people outside our own culture, lifestyle, and even religious preference.  We stick pretty close to home, raise our children among people that look like us, talk like us, go to church with us, play the same games we play, eat the same foods.  While there are a few that skirt the edges of our societal norms, we know that with a little work and maybe some prayer, they’ll probably come back to the center and all will be well.  I suspect that some of us broke out of that mold for a few years while we were in college, but once that experience was over, we dropped right back into the patterns that we were comfortable with. We lead very insulated lives and we’re content to stay that way. 

Jesus really wasn’t.  The day He walked into a Samaritan village and actually spoke to a Samaritan woman, He announced to the world that He saw things differently.  He asked her for a drink of water and from her viewpoint was practically willing to drink from her cup.  This was simply unheard of. But, Jesus crossed the boundary because there was something very important at stake. 

It seems obvious, but her relationship with God was more important to Jesus than His perceived place in the world. Once they moved past the difference that separated them, He moved right into deeper things with her.

Jesus spoke in metaphors a lot … didn’t He?  He talked about being born again with Nicodemus and with the Samaritan woman at the well, He talks about living water.  A spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Just like Nicodemus, this metaphor seemed to fly right over the woman’s head.  Of course she would want water that would quench her thirst so she could save the time it took to travel to the well. Who wouldn’t?

Then, just to confuse the issue, Jesus asked for her to bring her husband.  Before they got to the bottom of the issue, we discover that she had gone through five husbands and was with a man who wasn’t her husband.  She sidesteps the issue and Jesus doesn’t return to it.  But, He has made it very clear to her that He knows her better than she could imagine. 

She asks Jesus about the difference in worship between the Samaritans and the Jews.  If Jesus is as close to God as she thinks He is with His intimate knowledge of her life, He should be able to explain which the correct way to worship is. 

While salvation will come from the Jews in the form of Jesus (John 4:22), a time is coming when neither the mountain the Samaritans worship on nor the temple in Jerusalem will house true worship.  True worship isn’t about the location, it is about the relationship worshippers have with God.  Those that worship Him must do so in spirit, for God is spirit, and in truth.

Do you have a question as to whether or not Jesus identified Himself as the Messiah?  To the Samaritan woman at the well, the answer was given.  When she told Jesus that she knew the Messiah was coming, Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:26)

Jesus would do anything and go anywhere to bring people into relationship with God.  That was His purpose for coming to earth.  Believe it or not, that is our purpose as well.  But, it’s not going to do us much good if we stay comfortably in our small communities with those who bring us safety. 

December 3 - Divine Teacher

Friday, December 3, 2010

December 3 – Divine Teacher

In John 3:2-21, Jesus teaches Nicodemus about being born again.  This is such an incredible passage and though we know John 3:16 quite well, another pivotal moment for Nicodemus occurs in John 3:10-13. 

Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  John identifies him as one of the leaders of the Jews.  In the NIV, we read that Nicodemus was a ‘ruler of the Jewish council,’ (Jn 3:1) but the Greek word calls him specifically a leader.  A direct translation would read “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus his name, leader of the Jews.”

He showed up to see Jesus at night.  This was more than likely not to hide from the other Pharisees, the community was too small for that, but to actually get a chance to talk quietly with Jesus without the crowds that generally surrounded him.

Now, Nicodemus knew that Jesus was something special.  He tells Him right away that He recognizes that Jesus has come from God.  No one could do those signs if God weren’t present.

Jesus needs to teach Nicodemus about the relationship that a common man can have with God, but it isn’t something easy for this Pharisee to swallow.  It simply doesn’t make sense.  He isn’t able to comprehend the words that Jesus uses in His description of this activity.  When Jesus describes a birth, He uses a common word that has everything to do with human sexuality and reproduction and nothing to do with spirituality.  Why would it occur to Nicodemus to make that leap?

But, Jesus seems astounded Nicodemus doesn’t and calls him to task.  Nicodemus is Israel’s teacher!  If he doesn’t understand these things – how will the people of Israel over comprehend the reality of Jesus?  (John 3:10-11)

Jesus says to Nicodemus that He has tried to describe this re-birth in earthly terms and it makes no sense to him, now how in the world is Jesus supposed to describe the things of heaven to Nicodemus?

But He really tries.  Jesus explains that the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him can have eternal life (John 3:15).  Do you think Nicodemus understands yet?  Probably not.  No one is going to understand until Jesus actually does what it is He has come to earth to do.  When He is crucified and then lives again, ascends into heaven … that is when the full understanding will come.

Nicodemus is being given the words of truth.  Jesus is the light of the world.  He has come so that He can save the world from its sin. God sent Him … His Son to save the world through Himself. 

You must be born of water … humanity and the spirit … God.  You must believe in the name of God’s one and only Son.  You must live by the truth and come into the light.  Jesus has come to save the world. 

Poor Nicodemus was being exposed to truth he had never before heard.  We don’t yet know what his response was.  But, what is yours?

December 2 - Son of Man

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2 – Son of Man

Isn’t it interesting?  In Matthew and Luke’s Gospels we are made aware of Jesus’ humanity right off the bat because we see that he was born of a woman.  In John’s Gospel, the thing that makes him human is a party.

At the end of John 1, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man and then he goes to a wedding party with his mom.  That places him fully in the human realm.

Not only does he go to this party, but it happened just after he called the first of his disciples.  Andrew left John the Baptist to follow Jesus and then went to get Simon Peter, James and John.  Philip and Nathaniel came next.  John tells us that the disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

They were well into the party when the wine ran out.  The bridegroom had obviously not prepared for the size of the party.  Were there more people at the party because of Jesus being in attendance? 

In Matthew, we read about John the Baptist’s popularity.  People from all over the area, including the Pharisees were coming to the Jordan River to be baptized.  The crowd that observed Jesus’ baptism and heard John’s words regarding the Lamb of God (John 1:29-34) would have been pretty large.  If people saw the Spirit of God rest on Jesus’ at His baptism, he would have gained some notoriety.  It was a very small world in those days.

What would a young bridegroom do if someone that popular showed up at his wedding and many people came because of him?  The rules of hospitality were clear.  No one was turned away. Food and wine would have kept coming out for the guests, no matter how it depleted their stores, no matter how many attended.

But, tragedy of tragedies! They ran out of wine.  This would have brought a great deal of shame to the bridegroom and would have devastated him and his bride.  We don’t really understand the concepts of hospitality and shame and how far reaching those ideas were.  But in first-century Israel, this could change his status in the community whether it went well or poorly.

Jesus’ mother was paying attention.  She knew that Jesus could do something about it.  Now, think about that for a moment.  This woman had known him for thirty years.  I’m quite curious as to the number of things that Jesus would have done in their home to make her approach him about handling this situation. 

He didn’t want to.  He wasn’t prepared to face the onslaught of changes this would bring to his life, to the lives of his family and to those disciples he had just called to be with him. But, she wasn’t to be thwarted.  It was time. The first public miracle would take place in a very human celebration.  His ministry began.

Jesus came as the Son of God and He came to the earth to participate fully as a Son of Man.  What better place to begin than at a wedding … a party.

December 1 - Son of God

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 1 – Son of God

Well, this is it.  The first real study I’ve done since I’ve begun my Greek study.  As I was attempting to write today, I found myself caught up in the Greek text and realized it was getting me nowhere - especially since I began reading things and finding that there was so much more than my translation offers to me.

I wanted this to be simple.  I wanted to dig into the passage (John 1:1-18) and tell you how God identifies Jesus Christ as His son.  That’s not what happened … not at all.  John never uses the word ‘Son’ when describing Jesus in this first chapter (he does use it throughout the rest of his gospel), but he uses a very interesting term:  monogenos.

Take a few moments to look at that word.  You see the prefix – mono.  We use it a lot to mean exactly what it does mean – ‘only.’  The second part of the word – genos – is part of our word for genome, genealogy … and in Greek refers to a relationship – generally a descendant to an ancestor. 

The essence of this word in context is that John calls Jesus a unique offspring of God.  There is none like him … there are no brothers or sisters, no other family members.  Everything about Jesus Christ is unique.  John uses the word in John 1:14 and then again in John 1:18.

If he wanted to call Jesus – God’s Son, he would use the word uios – which means ‘son.’  That term is actually used quite often in the Gospels, but in this section, at this time, John wanted to point out the unique relationship between God and the man that came to earth as a human being.

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we are introduced to a very human baby boy, born of Mary.  He is quickly identified as the Son of God, but here we find something incredibly powerful about the Word made flesh.

Yes, Jesus Christ came to the earth as a man, which gives Him the qualities of being what we recognize as a son.  That relationship is important to God.  But, the relationship between Jesus and God is so much more than something that simple.  It is more than what we see when we look at a father and his boy. 

Think about the father / son relationship for a moment.  A son learns from his father, he may do better or worse than his father in any given area.  In some ways he may stand as an equal, but with his dad, there will always be a great difference.  As the son grows and matures, the father changes roles.  He no longer has to correct and guide his son, but encourages him as he becomes his own man.  Then, the roles change again as the son grows into full maturity and the father approaches the end of his life.  This is the relationship that we know and are comfortable with.

That relationship is not at all what occurs between the Father and Jesus.   John makes that clear in the opening sentences. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)

There is no maturation, there is no growing old, there is no guiding and learning.  There is a unique, incredible relationship – one that we may find impossible to understand.

Jesus is not just God’s Son.  He is in a unique relationship with the Father.  He is the Word made flesh so that God could live among us.