John: A Walk with the Messiah: Chapter 14

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Now we come to John Chapter 14.  Still in the quiet, intimate presence of Jesus in the upper room with His disciples, friends, sharing one last meal before His death.  How blessed are we to share these last moments with the Christ and the disciples.  The words spoken in this room are full of importance and hope.  In Chapter 13 Jesus had ended with some troubling news, “one of you will betray me” and “where I am going you cannot go”.  Yet Chapter 14 begins with some encouraging words: “Let not your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1 ESV).  Jesus knows that the coming events are going to be world-changing and not at all encouraging, at first.  He wants to encourage the apostles.  The word here in the Greek is tarasso. The word means “to be agitated, shaken, to allow one’s calm/peace to be taken away”. This is in contrast to verse 27: “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”  What the world gives to us can be taken away from us.  The peace Jesus gives, cannot be taken away.

The end of verse one gives them the “how” of the “let not your hearts be troubled”: “Believe“.  We can allow other things in the world to crowd in and cloud our peace, but nothing can steal it from us if we believe.  Believe in God and believe in Christ.  So much water will be under the bridge before the disciples meet with Christ again and Jesus wants to encourage them to remain faithful in spite of current appearances.

And what is encouraging to the apostles here has and will encourage so many others throughout the years. When times are troubling, we don’t have to let our hearts be troubled either.  Our solution is the same as it was for the apostles, “believe“. Our faith in God and Jesus can be our strongest weapon when battling the woes of life and our strongest hope in the storm.  God is faithful and will not forsake us. And the peace of Jesus is ours.

Jesus then tells the apostles that He is going to prepare a special place that the apostles may come to dwell with Him.  Jesus dwelled with us for a short time, a few decades, but in the place Jesus prepares, we will dwell with Him for eternity.  Interesting thought, Jesus prepares a place for us and then he prepares us for the place.  How blessed are we to be allowed to walk with our Savior through life toward the place He prepares specially for us?

Verse 6 gives us the statement that kind of wraps up the “how do we get there” question:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:4 ESV).

Let’s break this down.  Jesus is the way to the Father.  There simply is no other way.  No works, no faith, no great holiness or righteousness.  Nothing or no one allows us access to the Father except Jesus.

Jesus is the truth.  Any other gospel preached is a lie.  Any other hope of eternal life is false.  Jesus is the only way and the only truth.

Jesus is the life.  Only God can give life.  In the garden, God breathed life.  Jesus died for life.  Eternal life.  Only the eternal God can offer eternal life.

Then, follows the “what do we need to do” question. The answer to this question is so important that Jesus repeats it at least 4 times, and we have already discussed that if something is repeated in the bible, we better pay attention.  Especially, if it is God Himself repeating it.

  • Verse 12 says “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do”
  • Verse 15 says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
  • Verse 21 says “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.”
  • Verse 23 says “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.”

Notice a theme here?  Belief, faith, in Jesus isn’t just in word.  Lip service will not get us to the place Jesus left to prepare.  Jesus wants us to do what He says.  As a parent and you give a command to your child, you expect it to be followed through.  If you are a boss in an office and you give an employee a task, you expect it to be done.  Jesus is no different.  He expects His disciples, His followers, to follow.

But what is maybe unique to commands Jesus gives as opposed to those you may give to a child or employee, Jesus doesn’t ask anything of us that He did not do Himself.  Christ was the ultimate example.  Everything He commands of us we can look in His life and see the fulfillment and execution of those commands.  He doesn’t ask us to endure anything that He Himself was not willing to endure.  Isn’t that comforting?  Isn’t it much easier to walk a path if we know that someone has already tread that path and know he made it safely to the other side?  And, as a final example, Jesus says “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31 ESV).  How does the world know His love, our love?  By obedience. Not words. Deeds.

And not only do we have the peace of Jesus to guide us, Jesus promises a Helper.  The Advocate. The Counseler.  There are many names He goes by. But whatever His name, His job is clear.  The Holy Spirit is sent to help us.  And oh do we need help!!  This is huge!  Only because Christ came and left do we have God dwelling among us again, not only among us but in us!  The Holy Spirit, God, comes to dwell within us.  We know of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament through the prophets, but never has He come to dwell in the hearts of all His people.  People like you and me.  We may never do great feats like Moses or Elijah, but we will never be insignificant because we have God Himself living inside us and God never does anything slight.

Chapter 14 ends on a dark note just as Chapter 13 does: “the ruler of this world is coming” (John 14:30 ESV).  Jesus knows that the “end” is coming, but we know that the end is just the beginning.  Even so, Jesus gives His apostles hope, something to looks forward to in the future when it seems hope has come to an end.  Jesus acknowledges Satan as the “ruler of this world”.  Never underestimate the power of Satan here on this earth.  But equally so, do not underestimate the overwhelming power of our Savior.  Jesus says “He has no claim on me” (John 14:30 ESV).  Satan never took anything from God that God didn’t allow Him to have, including His Son.  None of the events that we are leading up to would have happened if God had not allowed it to happen.  When it seems that evil has the upper hand in your life, always remember, your Savior is stronger.  Your Savior is alive and well in spite of what Satan tried to do to Him and it is He that fights for you, alongside you.  You are not alone.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

Amen. Amen.

 

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.

 

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.

 

John: A Walk with the Messiah: Chapter 11

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Greater Love Has No Man

The gospel writer John does such a beautiful job painting a picture of the human side of Jesus, the one with whom we can relate, while still maintaining the deity of Christ.  In chapter 11 John gives us a very personal glimpse into Jesus’s life.  On an interesting side note, John is the only one who records this story.

When chapter 11 opens, Jesus receives a message from some close friends of His concerning a man named Lazarus (we know they are close because they are mentioned more than once, Jesus visits them often, and Lazarus is referred to as “he whom you love”).  Lazarus is sick.  We know this isn’t just a simple cold since Mary and Martha found it necessary to seek Jesus out wherever He was in order to tell him of it.

Even though this is a serious illness, Jesus remains where He is for two more days.  We might not understand why Jesus made this decision, but if there is anything we have learned about Him so far it is that Jesus works with purpose.  He is keenly aware of God’s timing and regardless of personal preference, works within that timing and purpose.  This illness of Lazarus, like the blind man’s infirmity in chapter 9, is going to be used for the glory of God.

Now, Jesus had been avoiding Jerusalem and the area surrounding it because of the enmity between Him and the religious rulers in Jerusalem.  However, when He discovers Lazarus is ill, He risks His life to go to be with His friends.  Later on, He makes this statement:

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV).

Jesus constantly puts His life on the line for others.  His love and compassion are so great that there is never a thought for Himself, only for others and the mission of His Father.  What an amazing example for us!

This illness of Lazarus costs him his life when Jesus finally decides to go to Bethany.  Interesting enough, when the disciples are certain that death awaits them all in Jerusalem their attitude is summed up in “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16 ESV).  And yet, in the Garden when Christ is arrested and death is coming, they desert Him.

By the time Jesus makes it to Bethany, Lazarus has been buried for four days.  At this point, people have lost all hope.  The consensus held by most is “If You had been here…” things would have been different, but now…

The thing is, it’s never “too late” for God.  Nothing is too far gone, too lost for God to redeem, for Him to restore.  After all, isn’t that the underlying message of the love story of the Bible?  We were a people too far gone, hopeless on our own, yet God breathed new life into all of us through Christ.  And how glorious is that life!

I Am…

Martha, the sister of Lazarus, meets Jesus as He arrives in Bethany.  Jesus explains to Martha that all hope is not lost and that Lazarus will live again.  Her reaction is similar to what our’s might be if we were told something like that:

“Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day'” (John 11:24 ESV).

But Jesus has something to teach here:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?'” (John 11:15 ESV).

Martha says she believes, but I think she had a similar dilemma we have sometimes, we want to believe, but don’t really know what it is that we are believing.

When Jesus heads to Lazarus’s tomb, there are many people around Him all mourning the death of Lazarus.  Even though Jesus knows what is going to happen, He is overcome with emotion and He weeps.  “Jesus wept” may be the shortest verse in the whole Bible, yet it is so full of meaning, it could fill volumes.  Jesus was not just a detached observer with eyes only for His agenda.  He was (and still is!) a part of the lives around Him and He cared for them just as deeply or more so than the rest of us.  How encouraging to see this side of Jesus, the Savior who not only knows of our hurts but also hurts with us.

All of this culminates in Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb.  Death has no hold over those who are in Christ.  He is the resurrection and the life.  Without Him there is only death.

The Plot Thickens

Raising Lazarus from the grave after he had been dead for four days was an extremely powerful sign in establishing Jesus’s identity and Who sent Him, which you can probably guess was pretty worrying for religious rulers among the Jews.  This act was one of the final straws that “broke the camel’s back”.  They now fully intend to get rid of this Jesus once and for all.  Because of this, Jesus has to return to out of the way places for a while until the right time for Him to fulfill His mission.  Remember, it’s all about timing…

John: A Walk with the Messiah: Chapter 8

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Light

As chapter 8 opens, we find Jesus once again locking horns with the Pharisees.  If this current debate sounds familiar, it is the same one we discussed in chapter 5 (vss. 31-47).  The Pharisees want witnesses to testify that Jesus says He is.  In this chapter, Jesus says:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

The Pharisees rejected the light that Jesus is trying to give them, not only about His identity but also about their salvation and so, they remain in darkness.  Even though Jesus makes the point that not one of them could find fault in Him and He was guilty of no sin (“Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” [John 8:46 ESV]), they still did not believe His testimony about Himself, as if He was guilty of lying.  Once again, these people thought they knew all there was to know about Him just as they assumed they knew all they needed to know about God.  Jesus lets them know otherwise.

“Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also'” (John 8:19 ESV).

To know the Son is to know the Father.  To know the Father is to know the Son.  You cannot know one without the other.  And in verse 24 we find a crucial point of the whole gospel message:

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24 ESV).

Unless we choose to see the light, to believe in it, we will die in our sins.  We will die in darkness.

Truth vs. Lie

After Jesus says these things, many begin to believe in Him, but to believe is only the beginning:

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31 ESV).

To know Jesus, to know the Light, is to know the truth.  The Jews respond, “But ‘we are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone’“(John 8:32 ESV).  How many times had Israel, these children of Abraham, been conquered by another nation?  And for what reason?

Jesus responds, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin“.

Ah, yes.  For that reason.

Everyone who practices sin is a slave to it.

These Jews were blind to their slavery.  Blind to what held them captive.  How about us? Are we ever held captive by sin?  Maybe when we don’t even see it?  Sometimes, we aren’t even aware of our bondage until we try to break free.

But there is hope.

“…the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:35-36 ESV).

When Jesus frees us from sin, there is no going back.  We are free.  Completely and totally. We are not slaves anymore.  We are not children of a man like Abraham with an earthly inheritance.  We are heirs with Christ, children of God, with an eternal inheritance.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”(Rom. 8:14-15 ESV).

Amen.  We are free.

The Father of Lies

For the Jews, their whole identity was wrapped up in their claim in the inheritance of Abraham.  It was their right, their promise.  It was who they were.  And it was also what kept tripping them up over and over…

“They answered him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did…'” (John 8:39 ESV).

The works Abraham did.  What works were those?

“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’  Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:2-5 ESV).

The works of Abraham? He believed.  In order to claim Abraham as their father (the one they follow), the Jews would have to believe.  Because they do not believe truth, they can only claim another “father”.

“You are of your father the devil, and… there is no truth in him…. for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 ESV).

There is no other option.  You are either of God or the devil.

“They said to him, ‘We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.’

Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here’” (John 8:41 ESV).

Because these Jews did not love the things that come from God, namely Jesus, they cannot claim to be of God and thus they can only be of the devil.

“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47 ESV).

I Am…

Just as many conversations Jesus has with the Pharisees and the Jews this one escalates to a climax.  Those who are listening are beginning to get offended and often when that is the case people stop listening or wanting to listen.  Some even turn to insults.

“Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon!?” (John 8:48 ESV).

But Jesus doesn’t stop.  His interest doesn’t lie in bandaging bruised feelings or cushioning hurt egos.  His only interest is in the truth.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51 ESV).

Oh, what a wonderful promise! And yet often what is most encouraging to us post-resurrection proved the worst stumbling blocks to the poor Jews.  They cannot believe anyone can live forever.  Once again they are thinking in earthly terms.  Earthly inheritance.  Earthly life.

Everything comes to a head when Jesus says one of the most profound things in the book of John.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV).

I Am.

The words echo across all time and reverberate in the creation of the world.

Do you have goosebumps? I do!

There are several “I am’s…” in the gospel of John, but none of them have as much significance as this one.  And you can be sure, there would have been NO confusion among the Jews as to the meaning here.  They knew exactly what Christ meant.

“Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’  God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “I am has sent me to you.”‘” (Exodus 3:13-14 ESV).

Jesus was claiming deity itself.   He was claiming to be God!  Nothing is as important to us as this one fact.  Christ is God.  Fully and completely.  Only God would have the power to save us from the slavery of sin.  Only God could offer eternal life.

Only God.

And the response to this amazing revelation?

“So they picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:59 ESV).

 

Heartbreaking.  And yet, is it any different today?

John: A Walk with the Messiah: Chapter 7

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Feasting in Tents

When chapter 7 of John opens, we find that it is time for another Jewish festival: the Feast of Booths.  This particular feast was a fun time for the Jews.  They lived in tents remembering the time when the Israelites lived in the wilderness and dwelt in tents.  The Feast of Booths is a time for celebration and thanksgiving for God’s provision.  Little did they know that they had something even better to celebrate and be grateful for living among them.

As everyone gets ready for the Feast, we see that Jesus’s household is also getting ready to go to the Feast in Jerusalem.  And then Jesus’s brothers make a statement in verse 3  and 4 that breaks my heart because of what it reveals about His own kin.

“So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world'” (John 7:3-4 ESV).

The next verse is the heart-breaker:

 “For not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:5 ESV).

Not even His own brothers.  His family.  Those He had grown up with.  Not even them.

To see that not even His own brothers believed Him implies that He really did have an unremarkable childhood.  Nothing about Him pre-ministry (aside from His birth) even hinted that He was anything special, nevermind the Savior of mankind.

“For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2 ESV).

Jesus’s brothers, like many others, wanted Him to “prove” who He was with great signs.  The problem with “proving it” is that it negates faith.  It’s easy to believe in something when you have the proof in front of you.  In many of the stories of healing and such in John you can see that when Jesus chooses to do a sign, the faith has to come first, not the other way around.

Matthew Henry, a bible commentator, had this to say about Jesus’s family:

“It was an honor to be the kindred of Christ, by no saving honor; they that hear His word and keep it are the kindred He values.”

You would think that of all people, His own family should have believed in Him (especially considering all the events surrounding His birth…did they forget?).  Just being related to Christ did not mean much in the Kingdom of God.  It was faith that mattered and obedience driven by that faith.

I think what is interesting about Christ’s brothers is that where their fault lay is not in what they thought they knew about Christ, but in what they didn’t know about Him.  Growing up with Him, they thought they knew all there was to know about Jesus, but they allowed their familiarity with Him to trip them up, namely to mask His divinity with His humanity.  Do we often do that with God’s Word?  Have we too become too familiar with God or His Word that we think we know all there is to know?  What vast wealth of knowledge do we miss with this attitude?  Are we also missing our Savior altogether?

Do we often do that with God’s Word?  Have we too become too familiar with God or His Word that we think we know all there is to know?  What vast wealth of knowledge do we miss with this attitude?  Are we also missing our Savior altogether?  Something to think about.  We should never allow our familiarity with God blind us to what He reveals to us day by day.

Jesus does eventually go up to Judea for the Festival (however, He goes in secret, the opposite of what His brothers urged Him to do).  Even though Jesus refused to make a spectacle of Himself, He could not cease to be noticeably extraordinary, in spite of His ordinary childhood.

“The Jews therefore marveled…” (John 7:15 ESV)

Christ doesn’t seek to glorify Himself, but in His act of glorifying His Father, the Father glorifies Him.

Can This be the Christ?

Just like Jesus’s brother’s these Jews at the festival allow what they think they “know” get in the way of really knowing the Messiah.

But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from” (John 7:27 ESV).

On the last day of the Feast, Jesus makes a promise:

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”.’  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given,because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39 ESV)

Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit who fills our hearts with “living water” that continues to quench our thirst.  Thank God for that precious gift!

How does this contrast with Matthew 15:18-19?

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Obviously, we want a heart filled with the Holy Spirit!

After all this at the feast, the people are once again divided.  Some believed in Him.  Some want to arrest Him.  And the Pharisees make an interesting statement:

“Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee” (John 7:52 ESV)

Not only are they allowing what the “know” trip them up, but interestingly enough, this statement is not exactly true.  Both Jonah (2 Kings 14:25) and Nahum (Nahum 1:1) and possibly Elijah (one of Israel’s most celebrated prophets) were all from Galilee.  It’s possible they meant no “current” prophet comes from Galilee or maybe they were not expecting one from come from Galilee or maybe they simply allowed their current prejudices towards Galilee to cloud their memories.  Either way, they were very proud in their “knowledge” forgetting that there is always more to learn.  The day we stop learning at the feet of the Messiah is the day we lose ourselves.

Multiply: Good News for All Nations

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One more week to go after this and we will be starting on our new study.  This week, we will be discussing what it means for Christ to be the Savior of the church.  We are in Part V: Session 5: Good News for All Nations.  Hope you’ll follow along either in the book or on the website: Multiply.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Jesus is my personal Savior”.  But think about that phrase, is He really your own personal Savior? He should be your personal Savior as He does save individuals in a personal way, but He is much more than the Savior of an individual.  He is the Savior of the church.  He died to create a group of people to love Him and fulfill God’s will on the earth.

That means that the gospel message isn’t just for me, it’s for every one.  The whole world needs a Savior, not just one or two people.  Through one man, Adam, all the world fell into sin and through one man, all the whole world could be redeemed.  And this good news is for all nations (Luke 2:10).

God’s Plan for the Nations

God had intended to redeem the whole from the very beginning.  The Old Testament made many references to a time when Jew and Gentile would come together to worship the one true God.  Remember, God promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham (Gen. 18:18).  God tells Isaiah: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6 ESV).

When Jesus came into the world, He put confirmed God’s mission to the world.  Even though He initially focused on the Jews, He had an important (and probably life changing for her) conversation with a Samaritan woman (hated by the Jews) in John 4.  He also healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter because He was impressed with her faith, even though He said that would be “throwing the children’s food to the dogs” (Matt. 15:28).

Then in the Great Commission, Jesus specifically instructs the apostles to include “all nations” when preaching the good news (Matt. 28:18-20).  He wanted all people to know Him.

Discussion Question #1: How should God’s heart as revealed in the Old Testament and in Jesus’s ministry affect the way we think about and relate to those people who seem “unreachable”?

A Jewish Messiah for All People

After Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the apostles for spreading the good news to the “end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), the rest of the book of Acts tells out that mission began to grow the church.

Acts 10 chronicles a very important turning point in church history.  Up to this point, Jews avoided Gentiles completely.  However, God specifically sends Peter (a Jew) to speak to Cornelius (a Gentile).  God proved to Peter that He intended for them to include Gentiles and He solidified this point when He empowered the Gentiles in Cornelius’s household with the Holy Spirit after they received Peter’s message.

After the church began to grow, there arose a question about what was to be done with the Gentile believers.  Where they to adhere to Jewish Law in order to be saved?  After all, God’s redemption plan began with the Jews and Jesus Himself was a Jewish Messiah.  There were some that believed that in order for the Gentiles to identify with a Jewish Messiah, they had to take on a Jewish identity themselves.

In chapter 15 of Acts, a meeting is had in Jerusalem of all the leaders of the church to determine what should be done in this matter.  Eventually, James spoke their decision:

“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20 ESV)

Christianity does have Jewish roots, but it was decided here that being a Christian was not the same as being a Jew.  Christianity is not bound by ethnicity , it is for all nations.

Discussion Question #2: Read Acts 15. How is the global aspect of God’s plan of redemption demonstrated in this passage?

An Apostle to the Gentiles

God chose Paul for a specific reason, He was to go to the Gentiles.  Paul’s missionary journeys can be found in the second half of Acts.  Romans 1:5 tells us that Paul believed his apostleship was given to him “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations“.  He believed in his mission to bring Jesus into the places that had not heard about Him yet.

Paul was one of the biggest advocates to sharing Christ with the Gentiles, not just Jews.  He argued that salvation wasn’t about being a specific ethnicity or adhering to law, all it took to be a part of God’s people was to have faith in Jesus Christ.  Any gospel aside from this was a perversion (Gal. 1:8).  Paul was very firm:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29 ESV).

Discussion Question #3: Take a minute to meditate on Galatians 3:28–29. Why do you think Paul made such a big deal about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles?

The Missionary Church

Sharing the gospel to a fallen world needs to be our central mission, our identity.  This is what being a follower of Christ means (after all He brought His message everywhere He went and He traveled a lot).  After all, this is what the entire New Testament is about, bringing light into darkness.

Jesus promised to make His followers “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19, Mark 1:17).  Jesus was going to train them to seek people out and bring them to Christ.  Jesus did teach about how to live our lives, but this was intended to ready His disciples for interaction with the world.  If you want to teach people to follow Christ, you have to be able to know how to treat them in a godly manner.

In today’s world more and more people are pushing Christians to keep their beliefs to themselves, but our faith is not a private faith, it is meant to be shared.  Our mission does not depend on the world’s approval of it.

Sin and death permeates all of creation.  God intends to redeem it all.  People may not realize how lost and broken they are, but whether they realize it or not, the world is in desperate need of redeeming.  God will bring this redemption about.  It is the church’s job to spread the word.

Discussion Question #4: What does it mean to be a “fisher of men”?

Discussion Question #5: Is there anything about your life that would identify you as a “fisher of men”? If so, what? If not, what can you do to grow in this area?

Each of us are called to be involved in this mission, however our roles may look different.  Some will be called to the Middle East or to Africa.  Some will be called to support those who go on these mission while training other disciples at home. Regardless of how we are called to carry out this mission, we all have to be a part of it.

Discussion Question #6: How would you describe your church’s attitude toward and participation in spreading the gospel to all nations? How might you encourage your church to work toward this end?

Discussion Question #7: What is your own involvement with missions? Are you at all involved in going, sending, training, supplying, praying, etc.? What changes might you need to make to this area of your life?

The Multicultural Community of the Redeemed

If you want confirmation that God intends to reach all the nations, check out Revelation.  Some parts of Revelation can be cryptic at best, but it does make it clear that God will redeem people all over the earth through Jesus Christ:

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Rev. 7:9-10 ESV)

We already know that God fulfills all His promises and that all His plan succeed in one way or another, so this passage should not only give us confidence in our God but also in our mission to the world as it is bound to succeed.  After all, if God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31)

Discussion Question #8: How does this picture of a multiethnic multitude worshipping God at the end of history affect the way you think about our task of reaching out to the nations?

Discussion Question #9: Spend some time in prayer. Ask God to give you a burning desire to see the good news of Jesus Christ embraced in every corner of the world. Ask Him to show you what part He wants you to play in seeing His name spread around the world.

May each of you have a blessed week and may you share the good news for all people.