Tag Archives: gospel of John

Grace and truth

I heard a sermon recently about being an authentic Christian.  I wouldn’t describe my pastor’s words as comforting.  I have been thinking about two words ever since; grace and truth.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth through Jesus Christ.  John 1:17

I understand that grace and truth are a part of the Christian’s salvation experience.  But for some reason we followers of the gospel end up gravitating towards one of two camps over the course of time as we journey.

Grace without truth is meaningless.  You might know them as chameleon Christians who are tossed by the wind when they encounter change or challenging issues.  Conversely, truth without grace leads to legalism. Often times people find them to be an angry, condescending bunch when others make different choices than they do.

Having found myself in each camp at one time or another in my life, my pastor’s message troubled me.  Grace and truth are both needed as we journey.  Truth says to me, “You know right from wrong, yet you still make wrong choices sometimes.  You are in constant need of grace.”  Grace whispers, “I have embraced you time each time you have asked for it, so why not demonstrate it to others by loving God and your neighbor.”

We do need both.  Truth grounds us in the faith, and lovingly extending grace to others affirms our witness.  Thank you Pastor H. for bringing this to my attention.

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If your dog could talk…

faced-with-guilt-2126526_960_720Let’s face it, our pets see a side of us few others do.  If you could have a conversation with your canine “best friend,” what would they say to you?  Would they compliment you on your repeated generosity, love or kindness?  OR, would they express concern over your selfish behavior, or your lack of compassion? Be a true friend today!

“If you love me keep my commands.” John 14:15

“This is my command: love each other.” John 15:17

 

Religion or Relationship

John 3:1-21

img_1152Two great teachers enter into a dialog. Both are skilled communicators and extremely well versed in the Holy Scriptures we call the Old Testament. Nicodemus, an ambitious Bible scholar his whole life, rose to the ultimate rank of Pharisee. Jesus, a lowly carpenter, learned the scriptures as a boy and began teaching barely three years prior to this conversation.

Why did Nicodemus come to see Jesus under a cloak of darkness? Was he afraid of being seen with Jesus? Was he impressed with the things Jesus was doing?  He knew that Jesus performed miracles, a sure sign that the Spirit of God was with him. And then there was the Carpenter’s teaching, which seemed to contradict the Jewish beliefs Nicodemus labored so hard to protect.

Nicodemus opens the conversation with flattery. With the skill of a learned scholar he calls Jesus a great teacher. Surely this will soften his rhetoric. Nicodemus reminds himself that he, too, is esteemed albeit by men.

Undaunted, Jesus responds by openly stating that if Nicodemus is not born again (born from above) he will not see heaven. Whatever soapbox Nicodemus hoped to climb up upon has suddenly vanished. He senses that the Carpenter’s words were not meant to insult him or cause embarrassment. Instead, they were spoken with love, truthfully, and with conviction.

I imagine Nicodemus’ mind was racing at this point. Judaism, the religion to which he belonged, was a system of sacrifices and festivals designed to help men, women and children earn God’s favor. What people did or didn’t do mattered most to God, right? What was this talk about being born again?

Immediately Jesus clarifies his position. You must be born of water and of the Spirit. The realm of water referred to could be a reference to physical birth, or more likely, water baptism. It is a point modern commentators continue to debate.

The Apostle Paul, in Romans 6:1-7, would later explain that baptism (immersion) offered a picture of the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus. We are to “die” to our sins he said, be “buried with Him through baptism into death” and be raised to “walk in newness of life.” By receiving Jesus Christ as our Savior we can have a new birth or new beginning.

Jesus continues to speak concerning being born of the Sprit, likening it to the wind. You can’t see it but it is real and its presence is felt. Like the wind, the Spirit “blows wherever it wishes.”

Now it’s Jesus’ turn to refer to Nicodemus as a great teacher, which only serves to highlight the Pharisee’s lack of understanding. Nicodemus is frustrated. He is not used to being in a position of an unlearned student, yet the words of Jesus have stirred something inside him.

Jesus, aware of Nicodemus’ struggle to understand offers an example from the life of Moses. Moses is a man Jews hold in such high regard that to speak ill of him is equivalent to blasphemy. The Pharisee knows every detail of Moses life.

The obscure reference Jesus gives is from Numbers 21:4-9. The people of Israel, wandering aimlessly in the desert, were once again disobedient to God and because of this He brought a plague of venomous snakes upon them. The Israelites who were bitten began to die one by one. God instructed Moses to fashion a snake out of brass and lift it up on a pole. He told Moses that anyone who was bitten by a venomous snake need only to look upon the brass image and they would not die. Only an act of faith would spare them.

Jesus likened himself to the brass serpent. He, the Son of Man, is the one God has chosen to be the savior of the world. Faith in Jesus leads to life not death.  Jesus was sent from heaven to redeem mankind, not to judge it.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus fades from the passage without apparent resolution. Jesus certainly gave Nicodemus a lot to think about.

But Nicodemus’ heart was not hardened as was the case with so many of the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  He did not abandon Jesus. We are told in John 19:38-9 that after the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea, accompanied by Nicodemus, took the lifeless body of Jesus, prepared it for burial and laid it in the tomb owned by Joseph. Joseph and Nicodemus and other believers in Jesus would experience being born of the Spirit at Pentecost. (Acts 2)

IMG_0837The ultimate question the passage asks is do you have a personal relationship with God or are you just observing certain religious practices? Jesus warns against trying to earn our way to heaven solely through religious observances. To do so means fighting against a natural inclination of selfishness, which can defeat all who try at every turn. Instead, Jesus offers an alternative, embrace Him as your Savior, and let the Spirit of God give you new life.

The truth, they say, will set you free. I know of no higher truth than to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God.

Merchants and Moneychangers

John 2:13 – 25

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Countless times I have come to a passage of scripture, which after casual reading doesn’t appear specifically relevant to me. It is only after further study and reflection that its meaning pulls into focus like the zoom lens on a camera. The temple cleansing performed by Jesus in John 2:13-25 is one of those passages.

There is a debate among scholars as to whether Jesus cleansed the temple once or twice during his earthly ministry. I think I’ll skip that debate here. John tells us that Jesus drove the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple courts on the eve of Passover.   Passover is an annual feast commemorating God’s deliverance, the Jewish exodus out of Egyptian slavery.

In this passage, merchants penned up animals in the outer court of the temple area making them more accessible to worshipers. Worshipers could conveniently acquire a lamb for Passover, but paid a premium for this service. Likewise the temple tax had to be paid with a certain coinage. Moneychangers were on hand to exchange currencies while pocketing a tidy profit.

So why was Jesus upset? Merchants, moneychangers, the temple treasury and worshipers all seemed to benefit from these transactions. Maybe it was because God’s house had become a marketplace; a place where needs could be tangibly met by merchants and moneychangers. Was God being remembered at all in the transactions or was worship more about getting there and getting it done and over with?

The offended merchants asked Jesus for a miracle to prove he had the authority to behave in such manner. Jesus predicted a miracle, which would come several days later. According to John, the disciples of Jesus tied the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection back to this event.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5:6-8:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Fast-forward 2000 years, the Jewish temple where the presence of God dwelt lies in ruins but God is still with us. Today, the Spirit of God dwells in the hearts of believers. For the Christian, it is an intimate relationship made possible by the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Only those who acknowledge Jesus as God’s Son, and accept the free gift of salvation have access to this special relationship. Jesus is our Passover Lamb, offering eternal life and liberation from the bondage of sin.

Putting myself in this passage in a modern context begs the question, what is the condition of the temple of God in my own heart? Would Jesus be upset with who or what has taken up residence there? What sorts of merchants and moneychangers are robbing me of the ability to worship God more fully? Has worship become no more than getting to church and getting it done and over with?

For me, the relevance of the passage has become clear as crystal. God wants a heart free of clutter.  One that offers complete devotion and attention to Him.  God is my deliverer.

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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Introducing the Gospel of John

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 he is – the Son of God.

And why should that be important to people like you and me living today? If Jesus really is the Son of God, then he would have the power and authority to forgive sins.

You might ask, why is the forgiveness of sins important or even necessary? The Bible links sin and death together as cause and effect. Sin causes death (Romans 6:23). No one needs reminding that death is a certainty for everyone.   Yet, many of us live our lives as if death is something we can do nothing about, so the general consensus is, why not ignore it.

But what if we could do something about changing the certainty of death, to the certainty of life? Could I believe in something or someone who could deal with my sin so that even though I died, I could live again – forever?   This is the message of the Gospel, to believe that I am a sinner, to believe that Jesus Christ is who he says he is, and that he died in my place so that my sins (past, present, future) could be forgiven.  This same Jesus did not just die for me, he rose from the grave and lives again, just as I will.

I find it very interesting that the word “believe” is mentioned so many times in the Gospel of John. John, a fisherman turned disciple, writes to those who already believe in Jesus and are facing an uncertain future and persecution. To those don’t believe, John submits seven signs (miracles) and seven affirmations (I am statements made by Jesus) as proof that Jesus is who he claims to be.

When I reach the end of my days, and death comes for me, there’s only one thing that really matters. Do I believe the gospel message or do I choose to reject it?

 

Gospel of John

Chapter 1:1-5

John gives us quite an introduction to his gospel account. “In the beginning was the Word,” immediately brings to mind the Genesis creation account, which offers a biblical explanation of our origin. The “Word was God” is a monumental statement. From this we can conclude that the “Word” is a deity whom we should esteem as we do God. The word “was” used here implies the “Word” has continuously existed rather than being someone which was created. “Through him all things were made,” communicates that the story of Jesus extends back prior to creation, where his hands formed the heavens and the earth.

Before the opening paragraph concludes, we are also given an additional attribute of the Word, “in him was life,” which is the light of men. This statement communicates to me that abundant or true life comes when a moral or spiritual truth is illuminated in my life (just as a lightbulb is turned on) and I choose to incorporate it into my life. Later in his gospel, John tells us that God’s word is truth (John 17:17).

IMG_0837The paragraph closes with the statement that light (illuminated truth) shines in the darkness and has not been overcome by it. Darkness, then, can be explained spiritually as an absence of light, and is associated with an ignorance of spiritual things or wickedness.

I continue to be amazed at the positive effect light has on our world. It gives life to plants, animals and people. Light offers hope, which quickly dissipates when we are denied it’s life-giving properties.  True light stands in opposition to gloominess, hopelessness and darkness.  Choose light!