John: A Walk with the Messiah: Chapter 12

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The Anointing of the King

When chapter 11 ended, we were saying goodbye to a freshly risen Lazarus.  At the opening of chapter 12, we are in Bethany yet again six days before Passover.  Jesus is at a dinner once again with His friends: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  Lazarus is reclining at the table with Jesus, Martha is serving (of course), and where is Mary? At the feet of Jesus! While Jesus and the others eat, Mary brings a very expensive bottle of perfume and pours it over Jesus and wipes the excess off with her hair.  Talk about devotion!  This wasn’t an act that she could hide either, aside from being visible to everyone at the table, the sweet smell of her actions filled the whole house.

Not everyone was impressed with Mary’s actions.  We don’t really know much about any of the apostles aside from maybe Peter, but every time we run into Judas, we are left with a bad taste in our mouths.  I often wonder if he really was as bad as we tend to portray him or if there really were some good intentions in there somewhere.  After all, he was following Jesus.  However, here he is not only described as the one who was about to betray Jesus, but also as a thief! Judas complains about Mary’s act, denouncing it as wasteful: “the money could have gone to the poor”.  John unmasks Judas’s true intentions as not caring at all for the poor but rather for his own purse.  This isn’t the only time that we will see that greed seems to get the better of friend Judas.

We want to condemn wicked Judas here, but what about us?  Do we sometimes sneer at other’s offerings to Christ not because the offerings are unworthy or unacceptable but simply because we are greedy or jealous?  Maybe someone does something better than you, but instead of being happy and praising God for their talent, we ridicule because we secretly wish that we could do something similar?  Or maybe someone else is getting the recognition that you think you deserve?  Something to think about…

Jesus rebukes Judas and tells him to leave Mary alone, that she is preparing him for burial.  Yet another hint at things to come, which is also misunderstood at the current time only to be remembered later on.

Just after this, we read a little aside that because the raising of Lazarus was so convincing of Jesus’s cause, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus also and thus try to end his damaging testimony toward who Jesus really was.

Hosanna to the King of Kings

The very next day, John says, Jesus went on to Jerusalem from Bethany and the crowds heard that He was coming.  They got ready to welcome Him as before, but this time, it wasn’t any ordinary welcome.

“So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!'” (John 12:13 ESV).

I don’t think there is a coincidence that John juxtaposes Christ’s “anointing” and His entry into Jerusalem with the people hailing Him as King.  Christ is God’s anointed, the chosen One of Israel, the eternal King.

John says the reason these crowds were there and acting such was because of the testimony of those who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus.  Like the chief priests feared, this testimony was very damaging to them and their desire to defraud and humiliate Jesus.

“So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him'” (John 12:19 ESV).

An interesting thing to note here is that even before the true establishment of the new covenant, Greeks (read “Gentiles”) were seeking Jesus.  When His disciples question Him about this, He makes another reference to His coming ordeal and then says “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26 ESV).  I want to say that when Jesus says “anyone” here, He is including the Greeks that are seeking Him out.  Even before His death, Jesus makes an effort to imply that He came to save all humanity, not just a select minority anymore.

Lifted Up

Jesus attempts once again to give people a glimpse of upcoming events.  This time, He even gets a thundering confirmation from Heaven.

“‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify your name.”‘ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said,’An angel has spoken to him’.” (John 12:27-29 ESV).

It’s encouraging to note Jesus’s determined resolution here.  He knows what is going to happen soon, but He is determined to face whatever lies ahead for the glory of His Father.  May we have the same resolution!  It is also interesting to note that “save me from this hour” is fairly close to what Jesus prays in the garden just before His betrayal.  Just because we are resigned to something doesn’t necessarily mean that we look forward to it.

Even after all this, there were still some who did not believe Christ.

“Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

‘He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them’” (John 12:39-40 ESV).

However, many did believe, and yet even these did not publically claim him because they were afraid of what people might say.  Oh, how like people today!

“And Jesus cried out and said, ‘Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.  And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.  I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.  If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.  The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.  For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.  And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me’” (John 12:44-50 ESV).

There is only one way to eternal life, that’s through Christ, Himself.

 

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John: A Walk with the Messiah: Chapter 3

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Born Again

As we have learned in the story of the past two chapters, Jesus is rapidly gaining fame.  As Chapter 3 opens, we meet another character.  This man’s name was Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee (the sect of the Jews known for being strict adherents to the old Law, also known for being adversaries of Jesus) and a “ruler” of the Jews, this indicates that he was part of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.  The Sanhedrin was a group of men chosen to be the supreme religious leaders.  He comes to Jesus at night, possibly to avoid ridicule from fellow religious rulers while he sought answers from Jesus.  Unlike many of his fellow Pharisees, Nicodemus treats Jesus with respect calling Him “Rabbi”.  In addition to this, Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus’s signs come God and because of this believes that Jesus must have been sent by God (he uses the words “we believe” meaning that there are others with this same view).  Nicodemus comes to Jesus to learn what he can from this God-sent teacher.

Jesus begins his teaching with “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  What can this mean?  Nicodemus first believes that Jesus is speaking literally and after all “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)  Jesus isn’t talking about a physical birth, but a spiritual one.  Flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit.  They are two different things.

Jesus speaks about being born of water.  Baptism is a symbol of this very thing.  One “dies” to the water when he is immersed and is “reborn” when he comes up again.  He is a new creation in Christ, a new spiritual babe.  Jesus also mentions being born of the Spirit which points to the Spirit’s role in this new birth.  Rebirth is impossible without the direct influence of the Holy Spirit.

Nicodemus, a supreme religious ruler, does not yet understand.  This man is expected to help lead Israel, and yet he misses what Jesus is saying like so many other “leaders”.  Before we are too harsh on him, however, remember, a lot of what we take for granted as common knowledge as Christians today was hidden from the Jews until after Christ’s resurrection.  Christ was indeed sent to teach, to teach the true meanings of the Law, meanings that had been missed for a long time.  Nicodemus wasn’t the only one in the dark.  Thankfully for him, he knew where to seek the Light that was sent to enlighten mankind, the only one to ever descend from heaven to explain heavenly things.

Lifted Up in the Wilderness

Jesus also takes this time with Nicodemus to also give the first hint to His coming death.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  If you are unfamiliar with that Old Testament story, it can be found in Numbers 21:4-9.  Essentially, the Israelites were continuing to wander in the desert because of their disobedience and began to grumble and complain once again.  God became so angry with them that He sent deadly serpents among the camp who bit and killed many Israelites.  Those who had not died cried out to God to save them.  God commanded Moses to craft a snake out of bronze and to raise it up on a staff for all to see.  Those who were sick and dying from the snake bites could look upon the bronze snake and be healed.  However, they had to believe and to look.  Jesus says that, just like that bronze snake, He too would be lifted up above the people.  All who believe and look to Him will not only be healed from all their souls diseases, but will also be given eternal life with God.

God’s Love

Jesus also gives us a glimpse of the vastness of the Father’s love for His children.  He allowed His only Son to taste death so that we could have forever life.  The Father’s love is not condemning but forgiving (Rom. 8:1).  Christ didn’t come to pronounce our doom, but to offer us an alternative, to offer us life.  We condemn ourselves by our sinful actions, by rejecting the Light that came to rescue us from our darkness.

John the Immerser

Jesus’s disciples were baptizing people with the guidance of Christ.  When John’s disciples heard of this, they were jealous for their own rabbi.  John says something interesting “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27).  John recognizes that all good things come from God and that if God chooses to bless Jesus’s ministry there is nothing he can or should do to hinder it.  John realizes that now that Jesus is here, he must yield to His ministry.  I wonder if John expected to be “done” so early.  All his life he had been preparing for the job that he had been born for and now, at the age of 31 or so, his life calling is coming to an end.  Talk about a reason for a mid-life crisis! And yet, John gracefully yields to Christ because he recognizes the greatness in Christ.  John is one of the few people at this point who truly understands (through the revelation of the Spirit in him) that Jesus is in fact the Son of God and what that truly means.  How wonderful it must have been for him to know that he helped to open the way for God’s one true Son.

John: A Walk with the Messiah: Introduction and Chapter 1

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You may or may not have noticed a silence as of late, but if you want an explanation, let’s just say I was “regrouping”.  Today, I’m going somewhere new…ish.  I’ve always wanted to do a step by step study of John, so now I’m going to.  We’re going to take a walk through John.  We’re going to savor scenes and enjoy the intimacy with Jesus that John offers.  Join me?

An Introduction

Before we dive into the text, let’s get to know our author and our book in general.  The book of John was written, as the title suggests, by John.  John was an apostle, one of the 12 (John 21:24).  He was the son of Zebedee (Matt. 4:21).  He refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).  This is the same John who wrote 1, 2, & 3 John, and the book of Revelation.

This book is considered to have been written somewhere between AD 70 and AD 100.  The theme of the book is easy enough to pick up upon: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.  God describes Himself as the great “I Am”, and John records eight different times where Jesus says “I am…”  John’s purpose for writing this gospel is actually spelled out by the author in John 20:31.  His purpose is twofold.  He says “these things are written so that you“: 1) “may believe” and 2) “may have life“.  What does he want us to believe?  That Jesus is Messiah (John 1:41) and that Jesus is the Son of God (John 1:14, 18).  The setting of this book is Palestine, during the rule of the Roman Empire.  Although the Jews were in their land, once again, they had been conquered and were no longer the owners of the land.  It is into this captivity that the true King was born.  Now we shall dive into our text and we shall begin… in the beginning.

In the Beginning… (John 1:1-18)

We aren’t going to just begin at the beginning of John, John opens up at the beginning of time.  Way back in Genesis when the Spirit of God hovered over the silent, dark waters, poised before the start of life.  John begins:

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

John goes on to say that all things created were made through the Word.  Who is this Word that John speaks of?  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…” (John 1:14 ESV)  The Word is the Son of God, the Word is Jesus.  John is telling us that God created the world through Jesus.  Everything.  Lovingly handcrafted through His Son. “All things were made through Him…” (John 1:3 ESV)

In Genesis 1, God speaks life, His word creates. And as if that wonder were not enough, John tells us that Jesus was the life God spoken into creation.  “In Him was life…” (John 1:4 ESV).  And yet, even though creation was created through Jesus and He is in all we see, when He became flesh, “the world did not know Him” (John 1:10 ESV).  We did not know Him…  Imagine not recognizing the Creator… the very image we hold within each of us.  We did not know Him.

When first God spoke in Genesis, His word became Light, “which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9 ESV).  Jesus is the Light, a Light that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV).  The New American Standard uses the word “enlighten”.  To be enlightened means to gain greater knowledge or to be filled with light.  Isn’t that what Christ does for us? Fills us with the light and knowledge of God?

The Word Became Flesh

The Word, through which all the known world was created, became the created and dwelt among His creation.  He was the only Son of the Father born into flesh.  Through Him came grace and truth.  Through Moses came the Law, but through the birth of Christ came the birth of grace, grace upon grace.  No longer are we condemned for our failure to keep the perfect, holy Law.  Through Him, the only Son, we are given the right to become children of God, born not of blood…but of God (John 1:13 ESV).  Children of God… with an inheritance in His Kingdom… no other gift would ever be so significant.

“No one has ever seen God” (and came back to tell us about Him) (John 1:18 ESV). But Jesus, being God, has seen God and was the only One Who was qualified to tell us about Him, to make God known in a way no man has ever done or will ever do.

John the Immerser

In this first chapter, we are introduced to another character, another man named John.  He is not the author of the book, he is called “the witness”.  A witness is someone who gives his testimony about a person or event.  That was John’s purpose, he was born to give testimony to the coming of Christ.  John (the author) makes it clear that John (the Immerser) was not the “light”, he was not the Messiah.  And John (the Immerser), himself, tries to make it clear that he is only a voice of testimony.  Someone greater was coming.

“…when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’  And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’  So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said’.” (John 1:19-23 ESV)

A side note here, when John (the author) mentions “the Jews” he doesn’t mean ALL the Jews. Usually, he is referring to the group of Jews who were hostile to Jesus and His mission.  Verse 24 says “they had been sent by the Pharisees”.  The Pharisees were are sect of Jewish people who were known for their strict adherence to the Law and their position of power revolved around this.  The phrase “holier than thou” definitely comes to mind when you think of this group.  However, just as all Jews were not against Jesus, it is also important to note that not all Pharisees were either.  But just as today, it is the ones with the loudest voice and the strongest opinions that seem to get all the attention.

We find John (the immerser) baptizing in Bethany near the Jordan river.  He isn’t in the middle of Jerusalem crying from the temple gates or in the center of town, but he is out in the wilderness.  And like Jesus, people come to him.

Baptism was not really a new practice and was connected to the Jewish practice of ceremonial washing.  John was baptizing for the repentance of sin, but it is important to note here that John was not baptizing for salvation because Jesus had not died to make that salvation valid.  Jesus, John says, doesn’t baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33 ESV).  John is the one who baptizes Jesus and the Holy Spirit makes Himself known when He descends on Jesus in the form of a dove after Jesus emerges from the water.  Jesus’ baptism is almost like the passing of the baton.  John’s ministry is coming to an end and Jesus’ ministry is just beginning.  John saw all this and like the witness he is, he proclaims his testimony to all who will listen.  “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34 ESV)

“Come”

When we leave John the Immerser, we also see two of his disciples leaving him (the lesser) to follow Jesus (the greater).  When Jesus noticed that John’s disciples were following Him and they ask Him where He is staying, He answers them with one word, “Come”.  Just a simple word, and yet so full of meaning.  He offers that same beckoning call to us today and as we will see with the disciples, once you answer that call, your life will never be the same.

Christ’s first followers were Andrew and one other.  From the start, perhaps because of John’s testimony, these two believe that Jesus is Messiah because not long after they find out where Jesus is staying than Andrew runs to tell his brother, “We have found the Messiah!” (John 1:41 ESV).  Andrew brought his brother to Christ and through his testimony, Simon followed and gets his knew name from Jesus: Cephas, which means Peter.  It is interesting to see how one testimony leads to another which leads to another, and all roads lead to Christ.

Jesus calls others to “Come”: Philip, and Philip shares his testimony with Nathanael (who might be the “Bartholomew” of the other gospel accounts).  A note about Jewish Rabbinic tradition here, usually the Rabbi waited until his disciples sought him out and then let them know if they were worthy enough to be followers and be taught by him.  Jesus sought His own disciples and as to their worthiness to follow, they do not measure up to man’s idea of worthiness.  They were not great men seeking to an ordinary following.  They were ordinary men called to an extraordinary following.

Greater Things than These

Chapter One closes with the calling of Nathanael:

“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’  Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him,’Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’  Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these’.” (John 1:47-50 ESV)

And greater things were indeed to come…

Scarred Victory

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Scars are ugly.  Bound up flesh.  Yesterday’s wounds.  And it’s never the little wounds that leave their mark on us.  It’s the big ones, deep, searing, painful.  Scars are reminders of pain, they leave their stigma on us forever, a constant whisper of what wounded us in the first place. Sometimes we listen to that whisper to the point where we allow it to paralyze us to ever experiencing what caused us to be wounded, good or bad.  We don’t want to go back, we don’t want to be wounded again, and so in trying to avoid going backwards, we cease to move forwards.

And yet… a scar is a symbol of victory.  It isn’t a wound anymore.  It has healed, and yes you will always remember, but the wound, the pain, is gone.  If we allow ourselves to move forward, scars can be our teachers.  They remind us of what hurt us but they also remind us of a battle won.  We did not allow our pain to linger, we healed and moved forward in spite of the pain.  We are no longer the wounded, we are the healed.

Some scars are more important to us than we can ever know.  Christ was wounded for us.  His scars are our victory.  He went through the pain, the agony no innocent man should have been through, so we didn’t have to.  Just like Thomas we can reach out our hands and know His scars and we can believe.  And His scars are our reminder of victory: victory over death, victory over sin, victory into life.  All our wounds, all our pain, are bound up in this one man, God-made-flesh, and we are no longer the wounded.

We are the healed.

Salty

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“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matt. 5:13 ESV)

The “Sermon on the Mount” is familiar to many of us.  Jesus is speaking to His disciples in regard to how they should act as His disciples.  Here, He speaks of salt.  Salt is a unique seasoning.  It has a flavor of it’s own, but it is best when it is used to enhance or bring out the good flavor in other foods.  If it doesn’t have it’s unique salty flavor, it cannot influence anything.

As Christians, our influence on the world, Jesus says, should be like salt, bringing out the goodness in all people.  If we lose that influence, we are worthless, good for nothing but to be walked on.

Sometimes it can be hard to spot the Christian among the crowd.  Often, our lives do not look much different from the lives of those around us.  This is not how Jesus meant His disciples to live.  We are supposed to live so radically different that we can’t help but influence others.  When others see the salt or goodness in us, they should want that same salt or goodness in themselves.  This is our mission.

Lord, Please help me to keep my life pure so that all can see the difference and know You.  Let my influence always lead people to want more of You.

Multiply: Life in the Church

I hope you have been blessed this week.  Seasonal blahs has made it hard for me to stay positive, but I am encouraged in the Word and so we press on.  Today we are picking up in Part II: Living as the Church: Session 1: Life in the Church.  I hope you will follow along: https://www.multiplymovement.com/material

So far we have looked at what a disciple is, why we should make disciples, and our heart motives for doing so. Today, we look at the support we will need to receive and give to make disciples.  In today’s time, particularly in the Western world, we value individuality. For someone to “go it alone” is looked upon as strength.  This is not God’s design.  “While every individual needs to obey Jesus’s call to follow, we cannot follow as individuals” (51).  Disciples belong in a community, a church.  “…The New Testament is full of commands to do this or that for ‘one another’. Love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, etc.”(51).  We cannot follow Christ and ignore these teachings.  We are meant to be “intertwin[ed]… with the Christians around us” (52).  This unity is important for both living as a disciple and making more disciples.  We can find this in the church.

Committing Your Life to the Church

First let’s define the church.  It is not a building, a club, or an option.  It is God’s plan for reaching the world.  “The church is a group of redeemed people that live and serve together in such a way that their lives and communities are transformed” (52-53).  God wants us to be a part of this kind of group for fellowship, for community, for fulfilling His mission.  There are many verses in the Bible which addresses the church:

“But the Bible says the local church is important. God has entrusted local churches with godly leaders who teach us His Word and care for our souls (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1–8; 1 Tim. 3:1–13; 5:17; Titus 1:5–9). God has united us together in local churches to keep one another from sinning and straying from Christ (Gal. 6:1–5; Matt. 18:15–20). God has commanded us to gather together in local assemblies where we preach God’s Word, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, baptize new believers, and pray for and encourage one another (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:24–25). Then we scatter to care for believers and to share the gospel with unbelievers (Acts 2:43–47). Clearly, being a disciple and making disciples involves committing your life to a local church where you are joined together with other believers under biblical leadership to grow in the likeness of Christ and to express the love of Christ to the world around you” (53-54).

Discussion Question #1: Why do you think the New Testament places such a high priority on Christians being committed members (or parts) of local churches? How can this priority best be reflected in your life?

Discussion Question #2: Read Ephesians 4:1-16.  How should this passage affect the way you view your responsibility to other Christians in the church?

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

It has been stated that every Christian disciple is a minister, so who should we be ministering to and how?  Paul gives us a hint:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2 NASB).

Ministry is simply helping those around you: bearing one another’s burdens, helping those struggling with sin.  We are often tempted to bear our burdens alone, we think our problems are our own.  When we are disciples of Christ, part of His church, our problems belong to the church.  Your fellow Christians are called to encourage and to help you, just as you are called to help them.  The benefit? “…our own sanctification happens as we minister to others” (56).

Discussion Question #3: Think about your unique setting and identify a few opportunities that God has given you to minister to the people around you.Have you taken advantage of these opportunities?

Discussion Question #4: Take a few minutes to meditate on Galatians 6:1-2.  What would it look like to help bear someone else’s burden?  Is there anyone in your life right now whom you should be helping in this way?

Getting Beneath the Surface

What does bearing burdens look like?  Sometimes helping others means not just changing external situations, sometimes, it means helping them to change their hearts.  We need to get to the heart of the matter, literally.  Jesus says out of the heart come all the things which defile a man:

“And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.  For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.  All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:18-23 NASB).

“Whatever help we can offer people who are struggling with sin has to be aimed at transforming hearts, not behavior” (58).

Discussion Question #5: Why do you think we tend to focus on the external circumstances and behavior when we try to help people change?

Discussion Question #6: Using your own words, try to explain why it is essential to get to the heart of the problem rather than merely addressing the circumstances and behavior.

Transformed by the Gospel

So we know we have to change the heart to change the behavior, how do we do that? Well… we can’t.  Only God can:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek. 26:26-27 NASB).

We can help encourage change, but the change itself comes from God.  “‘Getting saved’ is not about praying a prayer and then continuing to live our lives as though nothing happened. No, when God enters our lives, we are changed from the inside out” (59-60, emphasis added).  We must remember where our power for change comes from.  “The power to transform hearts and change lives comes from the Holy Spirit (John 6:63), through the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16–17), and through prayer (James 5:16–20)” (60).

Discussion Question #7: How should the truth of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit affect the way we approach helping people change?

Bearing one another’s burdens is SO important.  A church who does not bear each other’s burdens is a defeated church, a joyless church.  This was never God’s intention.  “If the church is going to fulfill its God-given mission in our modern world, we are going to have to take our responsibility to one another seriously. We will have to accept His call to bear one another’s burdens—even when it’s messy, even when we find ourselves in over our heads” (61).

Discussion Question #8: Would you say that your church body is characterized more by defeat and isolation or by the power and transformation of the Holy Spirit? Why do you say that?

Discussion Question #9: What steps can you take right away to help your church function more like God intended?

Every Member Doing Its Part

Did you know that you, personally, have the power to help your church or harm your church?  If you are sitting on the sidelines, your church is not functioning as God intended it to.  You have work to do.  You have people to minister to.  “God placed you in your unique situation because He wants you to minister to and with the other Christians He has placed around you” (62).  

“…We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16 NASB).

“The goal of the church is to grow up in every way into the likeness of Christ. But the church will never reach this goal unless ‘each part is working properly'” (63).  We all have a responsibility, and if you are not doing your part, you may actually be hurting your brothers and sisters.  “Helping people change is what discipleship is all about” (63).

Discussion Question #10: Would you say that you have been playing your part in the body of Christ? If so, how might you still need to grow in this? If not, are you ready to get involved? What steps might you need to take?

Discussion Question #11: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to give you confidence in the Spirit’s power to use you in ministering to other people. Ask Him for the wisdom to know what to do and the discernment to recognize people who need help. Pray that God would use you and your church to continue His plan of redemption in your unique setting.

I hope this lesson has given you plenty to think about as it has me. God bless you in the week to come.

The Celebration of Love

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On this “special” day that everyone turns to in celebration of love, I thought it only fair (and even better) to celebrate the love God has for us for “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35 NASB). This is one of my favorite songs:

The Love of God – Fred­er­ick M. Leh­man

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Refrain

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Refrain

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Refrain