John: A Walk with the Messiah: Chapter 13

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Here we are again.  It’s been almost a year since my last post.  I cannot say the pause was entirely intentional, but maybe it was needed.  Now I feel a revival is needed. So here I am.  Instead of trying a new study, I wanted to pick up where I left off and finish what I started in John. All other posts in this particular series can be found in the study index.

A Servant’s Heart

We are continuing in John chapter 13.  Chapter 12 set the stage for us, we are in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover Feast.  In the last chapter, Jesus was being hailed as a king, and yet look where we find him at the beginning of Chapter 13.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 3:3-5 ESV).

This scene is a very intimate glimpse into our Savior’s heart.  We’re going to pause within this moment. Take in the scene, picture ourselves in this room with the Christ at our feet. What would you feel, what would you say?  I have a feeling that I would be quite tongue-tied and embarrassed. This is the Lord! What is He doing?

Jesus knew he was about be crucified.  He knew that the things he did before his death would be important to his followers after his death.  They would be the things they would remember afterward.  Jesus had just been hailed as a king, but instead of teaching the apostles how to take advantage of power and prestige, he teaches them how to humble themselves and serve.  To be proper leaders, to be true disciples of the Master, they must learn to serve.

This wasn’t the first time that Jesus tried to teach the apostles the importance of an attitude of humble servitude.  Earlier Jesus made the statement:

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45 ESV).

This attitude seems so counterintuitive in our society.  How could anyone get anywhere by simply being humble and serving people?  If you have power, you should take advantage of it, right?  I wonder if the apostles were thinking the same thing.

Peter was definitely thinking something different than what Christ intended.  Peter was appalled.

“Peter said to him, ‘You shall never wash my feet’.” (John 13:8 ESV).

Well! Peter often seems to speak before he fully thinks things through.  He means to show Jesus honor by refusing to allow his Master to do a servant’s work, but to refuse to obey is an insult to Jesus’s authority.  Jesus explains to him that to refuse to be washed is to refuse Christ, Himself.  Of course, Peter then swings way around the other way and requests to be washed all over.  At least he does everything wholeheartedly, he’s either all in or all out.  But he doesn’t quite understand.  Jesus realizes this:

“Jesus answered him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand’.” (John 13:7 ESV).

Can you relate?  How often when we are in the midst of the storm do we want to cry out to God, “What are you doing, Lord”?  I wonder how many times God echoes the very words of Christ, “You do not understand now, but afterward you will”.

Even though serving others may not come as naturally to some as it does others, even if we don’t understand, this instruction comes with a promise (as do many of God’s commands).

 “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17 ESV).

When you are preparing to serve another you might be tempted to think that they are receiving all the benefits.  That simply isn’t true.  The one serving is often just as blessed by the token as the one being served.  It is so soul-satisfying to serve another and you never know when that deed may be returned to you when you most need it.  A servant is blessed indeed.

A Betrayer’s Heart

Immediately after this lesson, “Jesus was troubled in spirit” (John 13:21 ESV).  He knows that there is one among them that must betray Him.  What would you do in Jesus’s place?  Would you allow Judas to remain in your midst if you knew what he was?  Jesus knew the Scriptures had to be fulfilled. He knew He had to die.  But it must have been pretty hard to look Judas in the eye when He knelt to wash His feet.  What does it say about the all-encompassing love Jesus had for His followers that He never treated Judas any differently than the rest? He still washed his feet.  He still served.  Would we do the same?  Imagine kneeling to serve one in who’s eyes you could just see the deceit.

But Jesus points Judas out with a piece of bread, breaking bread with His betrayer.  Then something terrifying happens:

“Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him” (John 13:28 ESV).

Satan entered Judas.  That gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.  Imagine being so far removed from God that we allow Satan, himself, into our hearts to actually dwell there.  We are meant to be GOD’S dwelling place, not Satan’s.  Judas, either knowingly or unknowingly, had not given himself fully to God and in doing so gave himself over to Satan.  Whatever good might have been in Judas before, it has now been taken over.

And Jesus doesn’t even try to stop Judas, He simply tells him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”  It is so heartwrenching to lose one of your own loved ones to Satan.  Imagine the grief Jesus had to feel in this moment when He knew that He know longer had influence over His friend.  In this moment, Judas was lost, no turning back, he had become Satan’s instrument to bring an end to Christ. There are just no words for the emotions encompassed in this scene…

And I am completely amazed that this moment was only shared between Christ and Judas, the rest of the apostles were still completely clueless.  Even though Jesus specifically said “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread” and then hands the bread to Judas, the apostles somehow miss that Judas is walking out to turn Jesus in.

“Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor” (John 13:29 ESV).

In moments like these, we in our blessed hindsight want to shout “HOW COULD YOU MISS THAT!?” And yet we are told that some things were hidden from the apostles understanding until God’s specific timing (i.e. Luke 18:34).  If they completely understood, they may have tried to prevent Jesus from fulfilling His purpose and where would we be today if they had succeeded?

“And it was night”… (John 13:30 ESV).  Fitting words to end a scene that seems to end in darkness.

A “New” Commandment

After Judas leaves, Jesus chooses this moment to give them a “new” commandment.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV).

Is this really a “new” commandment?  Not really, but Jesus redefined the meaning of love.  The Mosaic law taught the Jews to “love your neighbor as yourself”, but it was Jesus who defined what that neighbor looked like and even encouraged His disciples to love their enemies.  Love is what defines a disciple of Christ.  Love is what defines the church.  And it is so radically different than anything that will ever be found in the world.  This love is selfless, serving, patient, humble, kind, generous, never seeking its own.

Ever give any thought to why Jesus might have brought this particular point up at this time?  The disciples might have been oblivious to the fact that Judas was about to betray his Lord, but Jesus wasn’t.  Maybe He knew that bitter feelings and feelings of revenge were about to run rampant through the hearts of the apostles because of the events that were about to happen.  Not only would the apostles be asked to forgive Judas for his actions, but also all the other things that others were about to do to their Lord.  It would be really easy to harbor hate and revenge during these events.  Jesus was reminding them to remember who they are and what their focus is.  There are many

There are many things that happen in our lives that can challenge our passion and focus as followers of Christ, but Jesus says that there is only one thing that separates us from the world regardless of our circumstances and that is our unconditional love.

When the Cock Crows

Chapter 13 ends with Jesus predicting Peter’s denial.  Know what I think is often more heartbreaking than deliberate rebellion against God?  It’s actually setting out to do what’s right and then failing.  I HATE failing God.  Poor Peter.  He’s so intent on following Christ, even to death.  Yet Christ says even he will deny knowing Him.  None of us are perfect.  But thankfully for us, God’s grace is.  And thanks to the events coming up in the following chapters, that grace covers all of us.

 

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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.

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


Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples

What is a Disciple?

I am just beginning a new study myself called Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples by Francis Chan and Mark Beuving. It is study material to teach yourself how to be a true disciple of Christ and then take that information and use it to teach others to become disciples so they can teach others, and so on, hence the name “Multiply”. I thought it would be helpful and interesting to have others along for this journey, so I am sharing it online. I pray that we will all learn together and be encouraged by each other.

We are getting started this week into our study: Multiply.  We are going to start with Part 1: Living as a Disciple Maker: Session 1: What is a Disciple? Remember, all material for this study can be found at https://www.multiplymovement.com/, whether you want to read along or be read to. Since I am more or less leading the study, I will be mostly summarizing the chapters as we go along and providing the follow-up questions for discussion. If you are interested in more information, please, by all means, read the study with me. From what I’ve read so far, it is promising to be a good one.

The first chapter of Multiply starts at the beginning: “What IS a Disciple?” As you can guess, knowing what a disciple is is an important step in becoming one and leading others to become one. Imagine being one of the first disciples of Jesus when He said “Follow me”. Do you think they had any idea about what they were getting themselves into? Do any of us REALLY know what we are getting ourselves into when we make the commitment to be a disciple?

So what is a disciple anyway? In Multiply, it is defined as a student or apprentice. “Basically, a disciple is a follower, but only if we take the term ‘follower’ literally. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is as simple as obeying His call to follow” (16). We are called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, to follow His example exactly, to become like the Rabbi. “It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person. Jesus said, ‘A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher’ (Luke 6:40). That’s the whole point of being a disciple of Jesus: we imitate Him, carry on His ministry, and become like Him in the process” (16).

Discussion question #1:

“Up to this point in your life, would you call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ? Why do you say that? Do you see evidence of your faith as described in Luke 6:40?

How Do I Become a Disciple?

Now that we know what a disciple is, how do we become one? The first message that Jesus proclaimed was found in Matthew 4:17, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. What does that mean? In Multiply, the authors offer this analogy: If someone told you that a king was coming to establish a kingdom in your neighborhood, wouldn’t you do all you can to make sure you were in good standing with the king so that you did not have to fight this king? Jesus tells us that the way we prepare for the coming of our King is that we repent.

How do we repent? “The word ‘repent’ means ‘to turn’. It has the idea of changing directions and heading the opposite way. It involves action” (18). We need to completely change our way of thinking. Romans 3:23 tells us why we all need to repent: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all have sinned. We all deserve death (Rom. 6:23). And now for one of my favorite phrases in the Bible, “But God…”. “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The way we avoid the death penalty is belief in Christ, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Even if we repent and believe we are not “earning” our salvation. “Part of our repentance is to turn from believing that there’s anything we can do to save ourselves—for everything was accomplished by Jesus Christ” (19).

Discussion Question #2:

Read Ephesians 2 carefully and take some time to consider the truths it presents. Do you trust in the death of Christ for your salvation? Do you ever struggle with believing you need to do something to save yourself?

The Lord of Grace

We need need to understand that our salvation has nothing to do with how “good” we are.“Salvation is all about the grace of God. There is absolutely nothing that you can do to save yourself or earn God’s favor… it is the gift of God” (20). All salvation requires of us is that we have faith in Christ, we have to believe that He is Who He says He is. Part of this means believing that He is Lord. Do you really believe that He is your Lord, that He owns you and you actually belong to Him? If Jesus Christ is your Lord, than your life belongs to Him. He is the One that gets to plan what you do for the rest of your life.

Discussion Question #3:

Evaluate your approach to following Jesus. Would you say that you view Jesus as your Lord, Master, and Owner? Why or why not?

It All Comes Down to Love

Obeying and following Christ is essentially about loving and enjoying God. How do we love God? Jesus says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). 1 John 3:16 tells us, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers”. We have to understand that love for God and obedience for Christ cannot be separated. You cannot have one without the other.

Discussion Question #4:

As you look at your life, how would you say that your love for God is shown in your actions? (If you’re having trouble coming up with an answer, take some time to think through some changes you may need to make in your lifestyle.)

Count the Cost

Before you make the commitment to become a disciple of Christ, you need to know how much it costs. Please read Luke 14:25-33, slowly and carefully. Imagine that Jesus is speaking directly to you. After you have read, you can answer the remaining discussion questions.

Discussion Question #5:

If you choose to obey Jesus’s call to follow, what might it cost you? (Avoid being vague. If following Jesus would cost you specific possessions, comforts, or relationships, list them.)

Discussion Question #6:

What might hold you back from following Jesus at this point? Are you willing to let go of these things if necessary?

Discussion Question #7:

Before you end this session, spend some time in prayer. Ask God to work in your heart and prepare you for what is ahead. You don’t need to have all the answers or know specifically how God will use you. He simply calls you to follow wherever He might lead. As you pray, be honest about your doubts, hesitations, and fears. Ask Him to give you the strength to proceed and follow Him no matter what the cost. In other words, place your faith in Him.

This is a great start to our study. I hope you will continue to follow along in this study and are as excited as I am to press on. Feel free to post your answers to the discussion questions or any other thoughts you may have. We are here for each other.