Monthly Archives: March 2016

The First Sign

John 2:1-12

IMG_0640John incorporated seven signs (miracles) into his gospel. The signs were recorded as proof that Jesus is the Son of God. Why is that important? If Jesus is God’s son, then he has the authority and power to forgive sins.

The first sign recorded in John’s gospel took place at a wedding. Bible commentaries suggest that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was in attendance because she was a relative of someone in the bridal party. Jesus and his disciples were likely in attendance because Mary was there.

During the celebration, the guests ran out of wine. This would be a humiliating act in a culture that prides itself on hospitality. It is apparent that Mary believes Jesus has access to supernatural power. After all, she has first hand knowledge that he is the Son of God (Luke 1). Her words, “Do whatever he tells you” demonstrate her faith.

For me, Jesus’ words, “Woman, why do you involve me?” were not a put down, rather, they established that everything he did or said was designed to bring glory to God, or fulfill the will of his Father.

Jesus is also quoted as saying, “My hour has not yet come,” which seems like an odd statement for him to make given that he had already been preaching and gathering disciples. Could this be referring to some later act or event such as the redemptive work of the cross?

Whether it is Mary’s faith in him or some other reason, Jesus elects to honor her request. From behind the scenes Jesus instructs the servants of the house to draw water and put into six, 20-gallon jars. These jars were used to hold water for ritual cleansing, symbolic of the old covenant.   Water in the jars was immediately changed into wine. Today, we understand wine to be a symbol of the new covenant (the blood of Jesus which was shed for all humanity).

The obvious outcome of this miracle is the disciples putting their faith in Jesus (John 2:11). But, as J. Ramsey Michaels points out in his commentary, there is a message beneath the obvious. The disciples were not the main focus of the story. It was the servants who responded to Mary’s comment, “Do whatever he tells you.” It was the servants who were obedient to Jesus’ commands “Fill the jars with water” and “take the contents of the jars to the master of the banquet.” It was the servants who knew, “where the good wine came from.” The suggested message in this case is anyone who knows where Jesus comes from and does as he commands will see the glory of God revealed (J. Ramsey Michaels).

By demonstrating his ability to take care of a non-essential physical need in miraculous fashion, Jesus is establishing his credibility to meet our emotional and spiritual needs as well.

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It’s You Again

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I thought I was through with you because so many years have passed peacefully.

These recent years are a gift, the best years of my life.

I suppose I have you to thank for that.

The loss and pain you caused has forced me to appreciate what I still have.

 

Why did you contact me again?

I thought I made it clear that I wanted nothing more to do with you.

You haven’t changed one bit; you’re the same self-absorbed, ruthless marauder.

I loathe the thought of you invading my life and violating my privacy again.

 

When you first forced yourself on me, fear prevented me from fighting back.

To me, your actions were a declaration of war and I vowed to retaliate.

Those I now call saints helped me wage my own little shock and awe response.

I’ll never forget having to sacrifice part of myself to be completely rid of you.

 

While you were gone I found others engaged in a similar fight.

Together we’ve found a measure of peace and comfort in our shared experiences.

As I pick up the pieces, I’ve discovered God-given strength I never knew existed.

It’s His Spirit that has given me hope, courage and an eternal song.

 

So, here we are, two adversaries facing off again.

I don’t know how you’ve managed to slip back into my life and catch me unaware.

Not one bone in my loving Christian body welcomes you back.

Your acts are vile and despicable, spreading tumors and malignancies.

 

Though you’ve come to take my body, you can’t have my spirit.

You may rob me of my breath, but you will not take my song.

I have found strength in weakness; I have found peace in the midst of sorrow.

Certainly, dreadful days lie ahead, but soon I’ll be smiling as I settle into my heavenly home.

For Mom

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Come and See

John 1:15-34

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I don’t know why but once in a while I read something in the Bible that makes me wonder, “How realistic can that be?” Don’t get me wrong, I accept the accounts in the Bible as truth but I sometimes wonder if there’s more to the story than the brevity in which it’s told. Take for example the disciples reaction to Jesus’ words, “Come and follow me.” We are told that the disciples left their families and fishing business to follow someone they seemed to have just met (Matthew 4:19-20).   These guys were not religious scholars, but fishermen who worked with their hands. So I ask myself, “was it really that cut and dry?”

One day, I sat down and layered the four gospel accounts one on top of the other as I prepared for a Sunday school lesson. I put the accounts in the order I thought would make the most sense.

After John the Baptist baptized Jesus, he immediately went into the wilderness to fast and pray. Jesus’ calling came into focus during the 40 days he spent in the wild. When he faced temptation in the wilderness, it did not weaken his resolve, but steeled him.  Jesus emerged from the wilderness and began to teach (Luke’s account).

John the Baptist pointed Jesus out to his disciples as he passed by and two of them called out to Jesus asking where he was staying. “Come and see,” Jesus said. These two men followed Jesus and spent a whole afternoon with him getting acquainted. The brother of Simon Peter, Andrew, was one of these men. He was convinced that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah and rushed to tell Peter about him. “Come and see,” others were told, and introductions were made to a handful of men who would later become some of Jesus’ disciples (John’s gospel).

E68AE11B-D201-407D-A43D-2300321EE742Peter, an impulsive fisherman, would find out first hand the power of the Son of God. Jesus was teaching from Peter’s boat. By now they (Peter, Andrew and others) were acquaintances of Jesus and probably heard him speak on a number of occasions. But Jesus desired to take his relationship with some of these men to the next level. After he finished teaching, he asked Peter to row out away from the shore and put down his nets. Peter voiced his objection, because the fish weren’t biting that day. He became astonished, however, at the catch of fish from Jesus’ intervention and demonstration of God’s power. Peter had to call on his fishing partners, Andrew, James and John to help haul in all the fish (see Luke’s gospel). Peter, Andrew, James and John now had an even greater understanding of who Jesus was and what a relationship with him would entail.

Next, I moved to the accounts found in Matthew and Mark, which are very similar. They simply state that Jesus encountered Peter, Andrew, James and John as they were fishing and told them, “Come and follow me.” Based on the relationship and experiences these men already had with Jesus, when he spoke these words to them, I could imagine them dropping their nets and following him without hesitation—leaving everything and everyone they knew to do so.

The four gospels together seem to tell a more complete picture. From this I concluded that the disciples didn’t follow Jesus for a weekend religious experience, they followed him completely because each one desired a serious relationship with Jesus.

Isn’t this the way our lives work? We meet many acquaintances as we journey through life; often, it’s our loved ones who introduce us. Some of those acquaintances may progress into friendships. One or two of those friendships might even develop into a serious relationship. For some of us, we took one serious relationship to extreme lengths and m
arried the person we esteemed above all others. It’s the relationship I have with my wife, not the institution of marriage that keeps us together. So it is with Jesus Christ. A true Christian does not subscribe to a religious institution but a relationship with their Savior, Redeemer and (best) friend.

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah.” And he brought him to Jesus.  (John 1:41-42)

Look, Looking

Chapter 1:15-34

IMG_0411I thought, “Look, Looking” would make an interesting title for this section of John chapter 1. When was the last time you tried to find something? Maybe you spent hours looking for it. If, on the other hand, you are trying to help someone else find something, you might point it out to them by saying, “look, there it is!” This is what I believe is happening here, as we examine the ministry of John the Baptist.

A complex statement is made at the beginning of this section. ”We have received grace in place of grace already given.“ One of the reasons the Jews needed a sacrificial system was to provide an instrument for the forgiveness of sin. This statement explains how Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross replaced the need for animal sacrifices to deal with the issue of sin. The “Law” given to Moses references the old covenant, while Jesus being full of grace (forgiveness) and truth  (the message of the Gospel) references the new covenant.

Moving on to the next section, John the Baptist seems to be causing quite a stir with his preaching (a voice crying out in the wilderness). Those who heard him were so enthralled they were telling others about him. The Jewish leaders soon heard the news and they went looking for John to talk to him. It was their job to confront persons claiming to a messiah or a prophet and decide if they were legitimate. They asked John, “Are you the Messiah…the Prophet…or Elijah?” In verse 26 John attempts to help the Jewish leaders find what they were looking for, “But among you stands one of you,” adding, “But I am not he.”

A few days later John the Baptist points out Jesus to his own followers, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John knew who the Messiah was because he had inside information. In verse 33 we are told that John was watching for the person, whom after he was baptized would have the Holy Spirit come down on him like a dove and remain. This person will baptize with the Holy Spirit, which John observed in the person of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11).

Are you looking for truth? If you have found the truth and have been set free by it, are you willing to point out the way to others?

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Believing is Seeing

 John 1:6-14

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As I continue to contemplate John’s usage of “the Word,” for the Son of God, two additional thoughts come to mind. First, “Word” is capitalized. The writer seems to be emphasizing that Jesus is the source or author of all truth and knowledge. Second, when I revisited the creation account in Genesis chapter 1, one statement was repeatedly made, “and God said.” Each element of the created order was spoken into existence using words. “The Word” spoke creation into existence.

Here are my thoughts on verses 6-14 of John chapter one. As I read I immediately notice another John is introduced, not the fishermen turned gospel writer, but a baptizer. His role, according to the text, was to testify that Jesus is the spiritual light of the world. In other parts of the Bible we are told that this John (a) is a relative of Jesus (Luke 1:36-66); (b) his job was to prepare the way for Jesus by preaching a fiery message of repentance (Matthew 3:1-12). John baptized (with water) those who have confessed their sins. There had to be something unique or compelling about the message of John the Baptist because people were talking about him. He was drawing large crowds of people from all over the territory of Judea to hear him speak.

John the disciple then shifts gears back to the subject of light. Spiritually speaking, if we turn (repent) from our sinful ways and reorient ourselves to the true source of light, then we are able to receive life-giving salvation. I am reminded of how plants orient their leaves to maximize the energy they can produce by the sun’s light. Later on in John’s gospel, Jesus proclaims that he is the way to salvation, the source of truth and life (John 14:6).

Next, John emphasizes that light of the world, Jesus, literally entered the world as one of us. He was a helpless babe just as I was. He grew from a child to an adult just as I did. As Jesus aged and matured he followed the Jewish religion of his family, adhering to rituals, observing festivals and performing the required sacrifices.

John tells us that Jesus’ own people did not recognize him as the Messiah even though they were looking for one. Jews of his day were under Roman governance. They were oppressed and longed for a messiah to come, someone who could lift them from the yoke of oppression. They believed the Messiah would establish God’s kingdom and rule it just as King David had done countless centuries earlier. Not only was Jesus not recognized as the Messiah, his fellow Jews rejected his claim that he was (is) the Son of God.

From here, John identifies the true children of God. “Believe” and “receive” is the terminology John uses to establish the criteria for becoming a child of God. Believe in the name of Jesus, who he is and what he stands for. Receive him into your heart, which equates to placing Him on the throne of your spiritual self.   A throne previously governed by a person’s self-will, which by the way, habitually rebels against God. The goal, then, of the devoted Christian is to orient his or her will towards the will of God by continually seeking God’s will for their life and responding accordingly.

Spiritually, “believe” and “receive” equates to believing is seeing. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, one can experience and understand things he or she has been spiritually blind to previously such as attitudes and behavior. This would seem to run contrary to what we have been taught by our culture, where “seeing is believing,” sort of a try before you buy approach. Are you tired of believing only what you see (or hear) or are you ready to reach out in faith, to believe and truly see?

“Then Jesus said to him (Thomas), “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”” John 20:29

 

Introducing the Gospel of John

Let me reintroduce you to my study of the Gospel of John.

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IMG_0674Wow, what a change the New Year has brought. Suddenly life is spinning wildly around me, and important decisions that will need to be made are lurking on the horizon. I had hoped to make progress this year on the devotional book I started writing a few years back.  Now, I wonder if that will be possible.  So, in an effort to prepare my heart to reengage the story and provide my mind with some much-needed inspiration, I thought I would post some devotional notes on the Gospel of John as I study it.

The first note I would make: the gospels (the first four books of the New Testament) were not biographical accounts of the persons writing them. Instead, they focused on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John felt it was extremely important to communicate to us that Jesus is who he says…

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Favorite Words

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Grace, it’s extended by a person and not a creed.
It reached out to meet me, a wretch in need.

Belief, let’s just say it’s required of me,
For Jesus to cleanse my heart and set me free.

Faith, more than a belief God is loving and just,
It’s an anchor that holds safely in life’s stormy gusts.

Trust, faith can’t wield its power without trust,
A willingness to be guided—dawn to dusk.

Hope, born out of faith it never grows old,
It’s an assurance death has no claim or hold.

Love, a litmus test applied to the faith I hold.
When directed towards others, Jesus’ story is told.