Friday, August 29, 2014

John 1:35-51

A shrill wail of the air raid siren pierced the clear, blue, morning sky in Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. Observation planes had been seen overhead for many weeks as the Allied forces had been planning their method of attack against the unrelenting Japanese military. But this morning was different. Several lower flying planes moved across the sky without incident, but Japanese observers could spot two or three planes soaring at high altitudes above. All seemed to be calm.
Flash! In a burst of blinding light, like the flash of the brightest camera, a disabling radiance overwhelmed the sunlight and cascaded across the fertile, mountainside city. In the next ten seconds, as the blast wave followed after the engulfing light, nearly 80,000 citizens of the doomed metropolis were tragically killed. America and her allies had solved “the Japanese problem.” Within two days and after another 100,000 casualties, Japan surrendered to the will of the Allied powers.
This is the snapshot of domination. This is what triumph looks like. This is how you win. Or at least this is how most victories in history have been won. The way of success for most empires has been the same. Offer only two possibilities to your opponent: surrender or destruction. This is the way of most.
Understanding domination, we find something almost laughable when we get to John 1:35-51. Jesus has come to establish His kingdom. His arrival was not even noticed by the majority of the planets inhabitants during his entire time on the planet. He never made a brash entrance into the palace of the reigning monarchs. He never called to himself a massive military. He never referred to his followers as “the Lord’s Army.” None of these things. His first converts were not military generals, or princes, or religious leaders, or even wealthy businessmen.
Jesus chose fishermen. He chose seven of them from Galilee. He wasn’t looking for favorable legislation from political friends. He wasn’t looking for massive donations from wealthy patrons. He wasn’t even looking to amass a Super-Christian think tank to develop dominating advancement strategies. He gathered a group of friends, all who probably even attended the same synagogue with each other. They were just an under-ordinary crew that had grown up together and fished together.
This was His plan for attack. They wouldn’t carry swords of iron or steel. They will be equipped with His truth. Their foes would not be defeated into submission by death, but brought into submission with the hope of eternal life.
And to many, the strategy of Jesus seems ridiculous. That is, until you realize that He wasn’t relying on the innate ability of these fishermen. His reliance was set on one greater. His trust was not in what Paul would call “many wise, or many mighty, or many noble,” but in the power of God working through the faith-filled, weak ones.
Seeing this calling of the disciples, we should be encouraged. They may have been a hodge-podge crew of social misfits, but God would use them to turn the world upside down. It doesn’t matter what background or abilities you have. Jesus extends to all the hope of being an integral part of advancing His gospel. The power isn’t found in a seamless, corporate strategy or in a massive militaristic strategy of domination. The power is found in the Sovereign God who will use all those who come to Christ.

Food For Thought: Why do you think Simon Peter was so willing to join in following Jesus with Andrew? Nathanael with Philip? Who has God providentially placed in your life that perhaps you could call into serving Jesus like Andrew and Philip did?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

John 1:6-8,15-37

The courtroom is set. You are the judge, seated in a high-backed, oaken, leather chair. Your long black robe is accented by the fluffy white ruffles on your chest. It is your job to listen to the evidence and determine the verdict. As you lean forward on your elevated, mahogany desk, in the courtroom in front of you stands a hovelled-over, old, Jewish man. His name is John. When he was much younger, he followed Jesus around and spent about three years living with Him. Now, he has come to the courtroom of your mind to argue to you the truth that he already knows.
John begins his case with his opening remarks. "Jesus truly is God. We can trust Him and rely on Him alone for our salvation." When we arrive at verse 15, the apostle John calls his first witness to the stand for direct examination: John the baptizer.
John the baptizer gets his title from two details, 1) his birth name was John and 2) he liked to baptize people. Baptism wasn’t a common Jewish practice, so when he had started doing this, it caused a little bit of a stir for the religious crowd of the day. Furthermore, anyone who knew the prophecy of Ezekiel 36-37 knew that before the Messiah would come, there would be "a sprinkling of water," a cleansing. Now, John was cleansing with water, baptizing, those who came and repented of their sins. This really confused the Jewish leaders as you can see their questioning in verses 19-21 and 25. But this was not just a peculiar practice that he was committing, this was a vital part of the testimony he was giving. In essence he was saying, “the Messiah is coming soon.”
As John the Apostle continues his direct examination of his first witness, we see not just the reality bound up in his title, but we also see his spoken testimony. When we get to verse 23, John the baptizer quotes Isaiah the prophet to make his point abundantly clear, “I am nothing important. I am just a voice. I am come to announce the coming of the one who is important. I am here to make ready the way for the Lord.” Again in verse 27, he expresses, “He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me.”
This first witness on the stand has made it abundantly clear through his actions and his words that One would come soon that would be incredibly important. He would be highly praiseworthy. But the testimony doesn’t stop there. The witness continues on.
Verse 29, “John sees Jesus coming and says, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.” John the baptizer goes on in his testimony to offer more specific details. Now his witness is explicit. "Jesus takes away sin."
Now, lean back in that big judge chair. Having heard the opening remarks from John the apostle, and the testimony of the first witness, John the baptizer, what do you think? Is Jesus important? Is Jesus a big deal? Is Jesus God?
As we continue through the Gospel according to John, we will see more witnesses and even will hear from Jesus himself. I'll leave it to you to decide. You can be the judge.

Food for thought: What are some things that John the Baptist says about Jesus being God or being from God?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

John 1:1-14

“In the beginning was the Word.” This is no arbitrary statement. Understanding the Genesis phrase “In the beginning” to mean “before everything was, at the time that Creation was about to roll out,” we must pause to understand what the Apostle John is getting at when he begins this Gospel account of the life and work of Jesus. Here John makes the three-fold claim that the one called “the Word” was 1) in the beginning, 2) with God, 3) was God.
What you must see is that when we examine this series of claims a very distinct theology emerges. First, to fully define “the Word,” we must go further along in the text to verse 14, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” This statement indicates to us the same thing that we learn from Paul in Philippians 2:7, that Jesus humbled himself and “took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Similarly Hebrews 2:14 teaches that Jesus took on “flesh and blood.” Seeing plainly that this one John is referring to as “the Word” is Jesus, we can go on further to understand what John is saying about Jesus.
1) Jesus was “in the beginning.” Before Creation had begun, Jesus was already in existence. This means foremost that Jesus is not a creation of God. He did not come as an afterthought from God. He was pre-existent to Creation and contained in himself the power to create as indicated in verse 3, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Not only was he pre-existent to the creation of everything, He was an integral part of the creative act.
2) Jesus was “with God.” Jesus did not exist in eternity past by himself. Neither did God. Together, they existed in communion before the world existed. In John 17:24, Jesus praying to God says, “thou loved me before the foundation of the world.” Here we have a glimpse in Christ’s prayer of the relationship of love that God and Jesus have for one another. A love that is more ancient than the cosmos. Before they made everything, they were altogether satisfied in communion with each other. God with Christ, and Christ “with God.”
3) Jesus is “God.” There is no article “a” that precedes the word “God,” for Jesus is not “a God.” He is definitively and fully God. Any who would seek to remove this divine title from Him only do so with misleading words, because He is truly the Sovereign of the universe. It is Jesus to whom “every knee should bow and every tongue should confess.” (Philippians 2:10) It is Jesus in whom “dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9) It is Jesus that affirms the truth of John 1:1 when He says “Verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was I am.” (John 8:58)
Jesus is the pre-existent, all-powerfully creative God of the universe.
Afterthought: The religious group who call themselves “Jehovah’s Witnesses” use a mistranslation of the Scriptures known as the New World Translation. In John 1:1, this version mistranslates the words “the word was God” as “the word was a god.” This allows for the heretical teaching that Jesus is not God, but is simply a “divine one” among many lesser gods. Consistent with this heresy they furthermore deny the existence of the Trinity.
Food For Thought: In your own words, what three things does John 1:1 tell us about Jesus?