Tuesday, September 30, 2014

John 7:20-30

Jesus told the crowd “Why go ye about to kill me?” Several people responded, “Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee?” Apparently there were several different people in the audience. When Jesus leveled the accusation that there were those who desired to kill Him, some were completely surprised and thought that Jesus was crazy, perhaps even demon-possessed.
Jesus then revealed who he was and further exposed the hypocrisy in the religious leaders thinking and lifestyle. A few chapters earlier, Jesus had been in Jerusalem and had healed the lame man by the pool of Bethesda. The religious leaders were appalled that Jesus had “violated” the Sabbath by performing the “work” of healing. There were several there who had not seen Jesus heal on the Sabbath, but had heard of it. Now standing in front of them was the one who had caused such a stir.
Why had he healed on the Sabbath? If He was truly doing God’s work, why would he work on the Sabbath? With clarity of thought and flawless logic, Jesus explained that the Law of Moses prescribed for religious ceremonies to be performed on the Sabbath. It was not a day where nothing was accomplished. It was a day that was supposed to be holy and set apart. There had been nothing more sanctifying than healing the lame man. Being healed by Jesus had accomplished the worship of God.
When Jesus finished his argument, the audience was stunned. Those that were from Jerusalem were the first ones to speak. They recognized the amazing ability to understand and interpret the Law of Moses. They recalled the day that Jesus healed and the unrest that it caused in Jerusalem as the religious leaders in fury and rage sought to execute wrath on Jesus for doing something that they thought violated the Law. Now, before they could stop themselves they admitted what many had challenged Jesus for just a few moments earlier, “Is not this he, whom they seek to kill?”
If I were Jesus, I would have paused and said something like, “I know, right?!!” But instead, Jesus continued to teach. The purpose for healing the man was so that after they saw the miracle, He could declare to them that He was in fact sent from God as the Son of God. Now, having articulated to an audience of hundreds in the heart of Jerusalem that according to the law there were actions that you could perform on the Sabbath and still not violate the command to “Keep it holy,” Jesus moved to the main point of His teaching- “Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true.” Without hesitation, Jesus reaffirmed that He was sent from God. The very thing that caused the religious leaders to want to kill Him earlier, Jesus was reiterating unabashedly.
He was not swayed by popular opinion. He was not stalled by threat of death or persecution. He was on mission to seek and to save that which was lost. He had come to bring life and hope to those who were condemned and hopeless. Endangering himself was a cost He was willing to pay to proclaim the undeniable truth of God the Father who had sent Him. He would continue to be bold, audacious, and fearless in the face of opposition. He was not at this alone, God in heaven had sent Him.

Food For Thought: What miracle did Jesus have to remind the people of in order for them to realize that the Pharisees truly wanted Him dead? What thing from the Law of Moses did Jesus use to teach that what He had done on the Sabbath was not wrong, but rather consistent with the Law of God?

Monday, September 29, 2014

John 7:1-19

The Jews moved through their calendar much like we do. In place of our holidays, they would celebrate with special Feasts. For us, we celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks and patriotic music to commemorate July 4, 1776, the day the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. Every December 25, we celebrate Christmas and commemorate the birth of Jesus and his coming to set us free from our sin. Most cultures have special holidays - Cinco de Mayo in Mexico, Guy Fawkes Night in England, Bastille Day in France, Carnival in Brazil, Russia Day in Russia.
The Jewish culture is not much different. As we come to today’s text, John 7, we find a major Jewish holiday, the Feast of Tabernacles. During the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jewish people, especially in Jerusalem, built small little tents in from poles and cloth in front of their houses to commemorate the 40 years that Israel had wandered in the wilderness. Often they would eat meals and many would even sleep in these small tents/tabernacles. It was an eight day festival for which many would gather in Jerusalem and celebrate with their families the provision that God supplied for His people.
With massive crowds flooding into the city, it was assumed that Jesus would come directly into town at the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles. John tells us that the religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus were searching for Him at the beginning of the celebration, but were unable to find Him because He in His wisdom had avoided the first part of the celebration.
It was mid-week that Jesus showed up, having come secretly. Now that everyone was in Jerusalem, Jesus came into the temple and began teaching. The religious leaders wanted to capture Him when no one was around, perhaps in the middle of the mayhem and chaos of everyone coming into town. But now, everyone was settled in and Jesus had come to teach. If the religious leaders were going to capture Jesus they would have to do it in front of everyone. This was an option that they certainly didn’t prefer, so they would have to figure another way to capture Him to kill Him.
Throughout John, we see a pretty consistent theme. Jesus is teaching, but the majority of people don’t accept Him. Even here in John 7, He teaches and they don’t know what to do about His teaching. Many of them had deserted Him in John 6 because the Spirit had not chosen to open their hearts to understand the truth, so they viewed His teaching as too difficult to understand.
They refused to acknowledge that He was Divine. Understandably, they did not want to acknowledge it. Many of them knew He was from Galilee and more than likely He had a Galilean accent. This would be like us hearing someone speak with a thick country accent and claim divinity. Especially if we knew he was from Mississippi, we would naturally question his claims of divinity. The same difficulty was happening for the Jews in Jerusalem that had gathered for the Feast of Tabernacles.
Even if they didn’t fully understand, Jesus would not leave them without help. He continued to teach and to lovingly instruct them. For most of them, it would be a few years before they fully understood, but He would continue to shower them with the truth so that God would use His Holy Spirit to open their eyes and regenerate their souls.

Food For Thought: Why did Jesus wait and then come to the Feast secretly? What were a couple reasons that those hearing the teachings of Jesus had a hard time believing that He was truly divine?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

John 6:22-71

The miraculous boat ride ended, and the crowd slowly trickled across the Sea of Galilee to follow after Jesus and His disciples. When the first of them arrived, they were astonished to find Jesus with His disciples. The evening before, they had seen Him send away His disciples as He walked off into the mountains. Now the next morning, as they arrived, Jesus was already on the other side with His disciples. How was that possible? John goes on to explain that they were astonished at this miracle.
Having arrived, Jesus addressed them with some pretty straightforward truth. The day before, in compassion, He had fed the thousands. He had provided for their physical needs. He had proven to be able to supply them with food in a miraculous way. Now, they wanted to come and have Him give them more food. In their minds, they could follow Him and never have to worry about paying for a meal ever again. Knowing their hearts, Jesus went from feeding them physical food, to offering them spiritual food.
They came for bread, and He told them of the Bread of Life. This was a completely new concept for them, so Jesus had to do away with some misunderstanding.
At first, they confusingly thought that the “Bread of Life” was a physical piece of bread that they had to eat to receive eternal life. Their minds were drawn to the massive feast the evening before and figured that since they partook, they must be special and be recipients of eternal life. Jesus decimated this misconception when He said “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” He was not speaking in terms of physical bread, and He certainly was not advocating some type of ritualistic, Eucharistic cannibalism. Instead, He was using a word picture to illustrate that just as you eat bread and take it into your body for temporal life, you must trust in Him so that He can give you eternal life.
For a while, they were hung up on the fact that Moses spoke of manna as the bread from heaven, but Jesus made it clear that even though manna had fed the people for a little while, all those who ate of manna eventually died. The Bread of Life would not leave people empty or needing another filling. It would certainly satiate their hunger. Jesus was clearly the Bread of Life, and eternal life could only be found by those who came to Him.

Food for thought: Who did Jesus say would cause those who came to Him to come? From today’s text how do we know that Jesus was not talking about physical food?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

John 6:16-21

Often events with multiple facets get summed up by the most astounding or impressive part. For example: “Hitler conquered Europe”; “Thomas Edison invented the light bulb”; “I like Holland Crème donuts from Nord’s Bakery.” Hitler did more than conquer Europe. Through political cunning, devilish racial arrogance, and military genius, Hitler systematically annexed and annihilated the countries and citizens of Europe. In addition to the light bulb, Thomas Edison also invented the electric chair, the phonograph, and the alkaline battery, as well as improved the movie camera, cement, and the electric generator. I like Nord’s doughnuts, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The pineapple pork taco at Taco Punk, the Greek Pizza at Founaris Bros., the Monte Cristo at Cheddar’s, the Spanish Latte at Please and Thank You Café, the Chick’n and Waffles at Molly Pitcher’s Waffle Shop, the Deep Fried Wings at Darryl’s Pizza and Wings, and the list of delectable cuisine goes on and on.
When we come to John 6, we encounter the over generalized, undersold miracle simply referred to as “Jesus walking on the water.” Up to this point, John has demonstrated the ways in which Jesus as the Son of God has complete power and divine control over all things from healing to feeding. When we arrive at John 6:16, the disciples receive far more than a single sniper shot miracle that most people refer to this event as. Instead, they are eyewitnesses to a machine gun of miracles all taking place in the span of about 2 minutes.
Having fed thousands of people with a little boy’s Lunch-able, Jesus departed and sent His disciples out across the Sea of Galilee. In the middle of the night, a massive storm began tossing the disciples’ boat around. With their every effort they continued on, but the raging of the sea was too much for them. In the distance, they saw Jesus walking across the water to them. This was unlike anything they ever could have imagined. Food being multiplied and healing, they could fathom that, but walking on the water, this was unbelievable. Their reaction demonstrates the astonishment with which they looked on.
Matthew 14 tells us that at this point, Peter said to Jesus, “If it is really you, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus responded simply, “Come.” With that, Peter climbed over the side of the boat and began walking on the water to Jesus. A few paces into it, Peter saw the wind and the waves and was frightened even more and began to sink. Matthew tells us that Jesus reached down and pulled Peter back up and they walked together to the boat. Once they arrived at the boat, Matthew goes on to say, the disciples “worshipped him, saying, ‘Of a truth thou art the Son of God.’” Immediately, the wind stopped and the water sat perfectly still, and John said instantly, “they were on the other side.”
Rapid fire, the miracles had come. It was so much more than “Jesus walked on water.” Jesus did indeed walk on water; Peter walked on water, and sank; Jesus rescued Peter; Jesus calmed the sea and the storm; Jesus caused the boat to miraculously reach the other shore. Now, the disciples could attest without a doubt that Jesus truly was the Christ, the Son of God. There was no doubting it. He exercised incredible power over everything. When we read the story of Jesus walking on water and the other miracles that occurred at that time, we should have the same reaction as the disciples, and reply “Truly, Jesus is Christ, the Son of God!”

Food For Thought: What other amazing things did Jesus do in the story normally referred to as “Jesus walking on water”? What should be our response to all of these incredible things Jesus has the power to do?

Monday, September 22, 2014

John 6:1-15

In John 2, Jesus turned the water to wine, with only the servants watching. In John 4, He foretold with omniscience the hidden details of the Samaritan woman’s life, and many believed her testimony of His miraculous power. Later in John 4, the nobleman alone is the one who knew that Jesus had exercised divine, distanced, healing power over the his sick son. In John 5, the lame man beside the pool of Bethesda was healed, but Jesus departed before the crowd could recognize Him.
Until John 6, all the recorded miracles of Jesus had been localized single or minimal eyewitness events. The small band of disciples were the most privy to the plethora of miracles that Jesus had performed. Interestingly, those who saw Jesus as threat to the religious system of the day never attacked the validity of the miracles. While it is a common practice to try to rationalize away the miracles of Jesus, the evidence never supports such dubious hypotheses. On the contrary, the evidence seems to indicate one thing, Jesus was Divine and He exercised unbridled power over all aspects of nature. His own detractors never even claimed that His acts were make-believe or sleight of hand, the evidence before their scrutinizing, critical eyes was too convincing. He indeed performed the miraculous.
John 6 changes this forever. John 6 tells us that the Passover was approaching, which means that at least 6 months to a year have transpired since the events in chapter 5 took place in Jerusalem. Having returned to Galilee, Jesus had amassed a large following because He had healed many diseased people. Mark 6 tells us that when Jesus saw the multitude, “he was moved with compassion toward them…and he began to teach them many things.” They were seeking miracles, but He knew that there was something greater that they should seek after. He had the truth of God and He had to teach it.
Eventually, the audience grew in size to around 5,000 men plus women and children. Undeterred by the growing mob, Jesus continued to teach. As the day waxed on, it became apparent that the people were hungry, and that they would need to leave soon to make it home so they could eat something. In the vacuum of necessity, Jesus seized the opportunity to teach His disciples that He was truly God.
With little more than a little boy’s Lunch-able, Jesus worked one of the most widely witnessed miracles of His entire ministry. No longer were miracles isolated to the few people within eyeshot. The miraculous had been witnessed by thousands at a time. No longer were the disciples alone attesting of His miraculous power, instead thousands ate of the fruits of His provision and carried the message of His divinity throughout the entire country.
Jesus was not a one-trick pony. He was not a magician who performed sleight of hand. He was not a charlatan performing deniable conveniences and calling them miracles. He was confirmed by thousands. His miraculous power was attested and affirmed even by those who sought to destroy Him. The evidence is in. The unbiased observer would have to admit that the evidence points towards one fact: Jesus is the Messiah. Anyone who would seek to argue against the evidence would have to do so from a logically inadequate position.

Food For Thought: What was the big difference between the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’ other miracles? What could you respond to someone who doubts the validity of Jesus’ miracles?

Friday, September 19, 2014

John 5:19-47

He did not stutter. He did not flinch. He did not blink. When Jesus was confronted by the religious elites about His healing of the lame man, Jesus stood firm in the truth and gave an answer that confirmed His identity. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” The Jewish listeners inferred that Jesus was claiming that God was His Father. Not only was God His Father, but in Trinity, this meant that as the Son of God, Jesus was Himself God. This was not a truth lost on the audience.
For any who would come along and level again the charge that Jesus never claimed to be God, they have not read nor understood John 5:17-18. The reaction of the Jewish leaders indicates fully that they knew Jesus was claiming that He was equal with God. Instead of skirting the issue and backing down from His original statement, Jesus began to teach more clearly what His role was and what God the Father’s role was.
The Jews had come to him wanting to kill him, but that changed. Now, the fact that they wanted to murder Him didn’t change, the only thing that changed was why they wanted to murder Him. At first, they wanted to kill Him because He had instructed someone to walk and carry their bed roll on the Sabbath. That was despicable in their eyes, even worthy of death. But having confronted Him, they heard something even more appalling to them, He claimed to be equal with God.
The stoning that they were going to give Him for breaking the Sabbath was negligible compared to the stoning that He was going to get for what amounted to blasphemy in their eyes. Jesus later refers to Himself as “The Truth,” and there is no better time when that reveals itself than right here. Instead of softening His answer and walking away, Jesus squared His shoulders and began teaching with such obvious confidence that the religious leaders must have been dumbfounded.
By the time we get to verse 36-38, Jesus explains that God the Father sent Jesus because the Jews had been living a lie. Instead of living in faith trusting and believing God, they have departed into a wicked religion built on good works and striving for the unearnable merit of God. Jesus, having been validated by God as the embodiment of Truth has shown up, and the Jews still don’t want to believe. Now, Jesus, the deliverer, reveals the stark contrast between Himself and the broken, defunct, religious captivity that the religious leaders have shackled themselves and God’s people to.

Food For Thought: What were the two reasons that the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus for? How does Jesus say that He is equal to God in today’s text?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

John 5:10-18

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work.” – Exodus 20:8-10
The Sabbath day was supposed to be a special day. God had commanded that it remain as a “holy” day amongst days. Does this mean that the other six days of the week were supposed to be unholy and filthy? No, there are things that are understood in the statement “keep it holy.” It was supposed to be a day set apart and special. It was a day that the Israelites could take a break from work and rest, but this break was not to be a pointless and purposeless break. It was supposed to be a rest used to focus on God and remind the people of His holiness, drawing them into the same.
As they moved through the daily routine of life the holiness of God could be forgotten because of busyness or distraction. So God told them to set apart a day, and “remember…to keep it holy.” He wanted them to stop thinking about their work, and start thinking about God’s goodness to them; to stop chasing after the paycheck, and start pursuing the treasures that are eternal. God wanted His people to recalibrate on the Sabbath and meditate on the fact that He was truly spectacular and praiseworthy.
For 38 years, his identity was “lame man” now that Jesus had come as the Great Physician, we find a new identity, “cured man.” This was truly a dramatic day, it was a day to remember. But the religious elites passed by the cured man carrying his bed. It was their custom to police all things sacred, so immediately they reproved him for carrying his bed. With the narrow-mindedness of fools, they looked past the event that had forever changed this man’s life to overplay a nuance that they themselves had created in regards to God’s law. In their eyes, carrying his bed was work. God was to be reverenced and worshipped, and people carrying their beds could not worship God because they were working.
They had completely missed the purpose of the Sabbath. It was a day to remind the people of God’s goodness and holiness. If there was one individual who had been brought to the point of worshipping God in all of Jerusalem it was the man who had his matted, old bed roll tucked under his arm. This was the most holy Sabbath that this man had ever been a part of. It was the first time in 38 years that he had been able to walk. The power of God had healed him. To him, this was the most holy Sabbath, but to the Jewish leaders who only thought about control and abuse of power, he was out of line and needed to be instructed in how to really worship God.
Like the Jewish leaders, modern American Christians can fall into the trap of holding other people to extra-biblical standards. Where God is explicit, we should expect precise obedience, but where God has left off, we should not presume to pick up and fill in the blanks. Christianity itself had spread to three different continents within a couple years of the ascension of Jesus. There was without a doubt quite a bit of cultural difference between the First Century churches of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Lest we become like the sinful, self-appointed, religious police, we should constantly check our expectations of other believers against the revealed words of God and make certain that we don’t presume where He has not commanded.

Food For Thought: In verse 14, where did Jesus find the cured man, indicating that this truly was a “holy” experience for Him? What are some ways that we might impose our rules on others like the Jews did?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

John 5:1-9

“He might have gotten better on His own. It was just a coincidence that Jesus said that the boy would be healed and that the boy was healed in the same hour. There is no reason to believe that Jesus had anything to do with the boy’s healing.” The skeptics may lay on thick the excuses that in their minds would undermine the evidence. Instead of objectively viewing evidence as evidence, they seek to rationalize a different explanation for the miraculous, not realizing that their own, creative hypothesis only lacks one important thing, evidence.
In answer to the skeptics, John continues on with the telling of the story of Jesus. Following the healing of the nobleman’s son, Jesus headed into Jerusalem. Along the way, he came across a part of town where dozens of lame, maimed, and injured were scattered around the edges of a pool of water. Everyone knew the tradition of this area; it was the pool of Bethesda, a place where the mighty healing power of God was revealed annually.
Unlike modern day “faith healers,” after beginning His ministry, Jesus went directly to where there was suffering. He didn’t need to fill a 50,000 person stadium to perform His miraculous healing. He didn’t need people to come in with indiscernible “tumors” or fake walkers. He went to the hospital and nursing home to heal the one who everyone had seen lay on the ground with an infirmity for longer than Jesus had been alive. This was not an injury that suddenly appeared once Jesus began His ministry, this was a malady that haunted this man for decades.
With the humility that only Christ could exhibit, Jesus walked up to the man and asked him a basic question, “Wilt thou be made whole?” In essence He said, “Do you want to be healed?” In a statement that was so revealing of the condition that all humanity is bound in, the man acknowledged that he couldn’t save himself and that for 40 years there had been no one else that could save him. This truly was a testament to what Jesus was about to discreetly accomplish.
Where no one else could help him, Jesus could. He had come as the great Physician to relieve the suffering brought on the human race by sin. Now in compassion, He said to the man, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” There was no roar of the crowd in applause. There was no theatrics and swinging of His cloak in the air. It was the simple, humble, miraculous power of God in Jesus.
“They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Later in his ministry Jesus would make this same point, but He would say it in regards to sin not just physical disease. He went on to say, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Here in a picture, He demonstrated what His real purpose was. All men everywhere are helpless in and of themselves. They have a seriously debilitating sin problem. There is no power, or formula, or religion, or church that can heal this sin problem. Only Jesus can fix it.
Like the man, if we come in faith to Jesus, we can find healing from our problem of sin. It would not be enough to be released from physical ailments, because having no cancer and having working legs does not prevent a sinner from going to Hell. 1 John 1:9, tells us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Food For Thought: Explain how that the details that John includes lets us know that Jesus and this lame man didn’t fake this healing scenario? (hint: the age of the man)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

John 4:40-54

After turning the water to wine, Jesus had travelled to the temple where He upset the temple robbery that the religious elites had been committing against the people. One of those elites had come to Jesus that night to discuss His teaching, and Jesus had lain out plainly that men must come in faith to Him. With John the baptizer echoing this message, Jesus travelled through Samaria to meet the Samaritan woman and be used by God to draw the Samaritans into faith.
What He had accomplished in one week was more than many men accomplish in their lifetime. The intentionality with which He lived was revealed in His statement to His disciples that He only wanted to do “the will of Him that sent me.” Without out a doubt, John has already proven by chapter 4 of his gospel that Jesus truly is the Messiah, the promised one from God who has come to deliver from bondage.
Having heard the testimony of the woman at the well, we find that the Samaritans believed, and after they heard Him teach, they testify to the fact that He is the Messiah. Here in this town with its inadequate populace of social rejects, Jesus had been seen and heard and believed on as the Savior that He truly was. The faith of these people had been accomplished by the will of God through the obedience of Jesus.
After two days, He departed for Galilee to pass through Cana, the town where He had turned the water into wine. His fame had spread, He could do the miraculous; He claimed the authority to cleanse the temple; He had seen hundreds converted in Samaria. Now as He came back through Cana, a nobleman came to him asking for His help. The nobleman’s son was sick and as it seemed, he would probably die unless Jesus miraculously intervened.
Without even having to see the boy, Jesus used His divine power to heal him. Upon returning home, the nobleman found that his son truly had been healed by Christ. In only about one week, Jesus had worked two remarkable miracles in this town. There was no doubting for the people of Galilee, especially in the city of Cana that Jesus was truly God. He had made it incredibly clear through His remarkable power that He had come with power that only God could have.
Sadly, within a few months, the people from Galilee would seem to forget who Jesus was. Instead of continuing to worship Him as Messiah, they would be misled by the religious elites of the day. At times, I think that we can act and live in ways that are similar to the Galileans. After seeing who Jesus clearly is, we live in ways that deny Him lordship in our lives. Instead of obeying His word as the very words of God, we live indifferent or even distracted. Perhaps, we can see Him as He is revealed in the text today and live in ways that show our faith in Who He is.

Food For Thought: What two miracles did Jesus do in Cana of Galilee? What incredible work has Jesus done for you?

Monday, September 15, 2014

John 4:27-39

“That’s what I live for!” “__________ is my life.”
Have you ever heard someone use one of these phrases? In regards to guns, fast cars, sports, fashion design shoes, clothes, or electronics - people often speak in superlative terms to describe the reality that they find elation and joy in being a part of some particular thing. “Shooting guns is my life.” “Shopping is what I live for!” We could call this their “assumed identity.” They are so consumed with these things that in their minds, it clearly defines who they are and all of the choices that they make.
“I am just a football junkie.” Or, “I only buy Nike.” We see assumed identities like these in many Americans, who see the activities they are a part of or the things they own as their distinctive self. They desire that others view them in certain ways. At times they are even willing to hide who they are behind these faux identities. They want their “bling” to sparkle so brightly that it blinds the viewer from the person wearing it. They want a sport, or a clothing tag to describe who they are. When people see them, they want people to see items and brands as their defining characteristic.
It is a sinful human tendency to seek identity in these things. Sadly, this is an endeavor that results in frustration and further dissatisfaction. Instead of being happy with the shoes I bought a month ago, my eyes turn to see the latest pair on the shelf or in the magazine. Instead of being satisfied with the iPhone in my pocket, I realize that the newer one is slimmer and faster. While my favorite football team is doing well this year, in a couple of years they may trade their best players and find themselves at the bottom of the athletic food chain. In setting my hope and identity in things that Jesus would refer to as that which “moths and rust corrupt, and thieves break through and steal,” I am setting myself up for broken heartedness and further dissatisfaction.
Christ did not find himself in this dilemma. Rather, He revealed where His identity was settled in John 8:29, “I do always those things that please [the Father].” It was His life goal to only live in obedience to God. This was what He invested His money in. This is what influenced His every decision. This is what informed every relationship. He lived differently than those around Him.
In John 4, He explained it to the disciples in these terms, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.” He then went on to explain, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me.” He was basically saying, “This is what I live for – to do whatever God wants.” This was His life goal. When His disciples questioned why He was talking to the Samaritan woman and why He was staying at Jacob’s Well waiting for the herds of Samaritans to come to him, His response would have simply been – This is what I was made for, teaching the truth of God to people. His identity was secured in that which could never leave Him wanting something greater, because there was nothing greater than obeying God.
Verse 39 tells us that God’s will was accomplished in the humble, lunch-skipping obedience of Jesus. “Many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him.” He had come to that place obeying God, and He had stayed in that place obeying God. Bringing people in faith to give glory to God was what Jesus lived for.

Food For Thought: What did Jesus live for? How does that compare to the way you live your life?

Friday, September 12, 2014

John 4:10-26

Psalm 19:1-3 tells us “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” In every square inch of the ever-expanding universe the truth of God is carried along by the creation of God. Nothing is apart from teaching His truth. All that exists bears witness to God’s divine wisdom and truth.
It was this ability to see the Truth of God borne out in every object that made Jesus the best communicator and teacher that has ever walked on Earth. Whether it was a stack of cooked fish, or vibrant flowers blowing and bending in a field, or a fresh bag of kernels, or cool water from a well on a hot and dry day, everything around Jesus became a tool from which he could teach the truth of God. Furthermore, His flawless understanding led Him into some of the most masterful conversations.
Through Providence on this hot day, He had arrived at Jacob’s well. Upon arriving, a woman of Samaria came to the well to draw water from it. Instead of responding with the typical animus and sinful bigotry that most Jewish Rabbis would have extended, Jesus shattered the barriers of racial division by holding an engaging conversation with the Samaritan woman.
For centuries, people had come to this well to retrieve the life-giving water that was found there. Although they filled their pails to the brim and carried them home, consistently they would be forced to return to retrieve more water when the pail was empty. Week after week, month after month, year after year, they returned and refilled their pail and hauled it off. Sadly, while water from the well sustained life in this scorching, wilderness town, it could not bring eternal life.
With the power of God resting in Jesus, the story of this well changed forever. Teaching with clarity and hope, Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman that she must do what everyone else needed to do, turn in faith to Him. One of the greatest statements that He had revealed to anyone up to this point, he revealed to this Samaritan woman in the middle of nowhere. When she told Him that she was waiting for the Messiah to come, He responded, “I that speak unto thee am he.” In essence He told her that the Savior of world had come and had chosen to come meet her. First a private meeting with a leader of the Jews and then a private meeting with an outcast of the outcasts, Jesus had come to bring the message of salvation to all people.
Jacob’s well had become a place where racial reconciliation had produced one of the most glorious conversations in the history of the world. The Messiah had come, and He had declared Himself to this woman. The news would spread, and the well that for so long only gave water, would now be known as the place where the Messiah gave life eternal.

Food for thought: Give two indications that the woman could have had that Jesus was divine based upon their conversation.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

John 4:1-9

For as long as anyone could remember, the racial tension existed. Where there were no lines chiseled in the dirt by the Creator, man brushed undrawn boundaries of disdain. Sure, there were those who pushed back against it, but their attempts at reform always ended when their life ended. Often the strongholds of hate and deep-rooted, sinful racism would try to accelerate the death of these peacemakers so that the effects of their reconciliation would not be lasting.
Hair-type and skin color became identity. No longer were people measured on the details of their moral character or on the fact that the red blood of all mankind flowed in their veins. Now, the level of melanin in their skin, and the tongue with which they spoke became the measure of their value. A demoralizing social structure where people with a similar skin color and language easily were understood to be in the highest caste soon became the common method of interaction.
The reigns of bigoted disunity had gripped the land of Palestine since the Great Dispersion. Eventually, one people group dominated the region, Israel; but in time even they fractured into factions of perceived supremacy. No longer would they even view people as image-bearers of God to whom the blessings of God should flow from themselves. Rather, with eyes of prideful hatred they scowled and grunted and hurried by. Anyone of the same “blood” was viewed as acceptable, but those of a different “blood” were referred to as “dogs,” “beasts,” or “outcasts” and were treated as such.
This was the way that sinful men acted. This is the way that sinful men still act. Thinking and interacting in terms of racial, social, or national supremacy, men have consistently worked, deliberately and inadvertently, to bar the joy and hope of other, “different” men.
Jesus was remarkably different. He had not come to play favorites. There was not a special race of people that He had come to save. In John 3:16, He had expressed the desires of God very clearly, “For God so loved the world.” He did not say, “The Jews,” or even, “The Americans.” He had come to save from “every kindred, tribe and tongue.” There was no racial, social, or national barrier to the work He was seeking to accomplish. Others would consistently play favorites, but He was sinless, so He never would.
In John 4, we see Him lovingly extending the offer of hope and joy to a Samaritan woman. Her perplexed response when He approached her indicates the years of injustice and mistrust that had festered in that territory for centuries. Now, He had come, breaking down the walls of sin that other arrogant men had built. He would seek to restore the relationships that had been ruined by sinful ignorance. His primary mission was not racial reconciliation; it was sin cancellation. Ultimately, He demonstrated His love for this Samaritan and the entire world when He died for her/our sins. Now, He looks to us and calls us into the same life of sin decimation.

Food for Thought: What word best describes how God views racism? Why do you think many people live and act in racist ways?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

John 3:22-36

Prior to the coming of Jesus, John the baptizer had accrued quite the following in the land of Judea. His message of repentance may not have been a gentle one, but it certainly did garner the attention of the Jews in the region. Eventually, John had a herd of disciples that followed him around and listened to his teaching.
However, when Jesus arrived, John made a proclamation that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away sins.” With this proclamation, the masses turned from John and began to follow Jesus. When we get to the end of John 3, there were relatively few disciples still following John the baptizer. Perhaps this departure of his followers is what prompted the questions from the Jews to John and his disciples regarding Jesus.
Scripture doesn’t give us explicit detail as to what their argument was trying to prove, just that they seemed to see that John was losing disciples to Jesus. In the mindset of the day, this was a horrible thing. If you were a Rabbi, or teacher, your value as a teacher was in the number of followers you had and the influence you exercised over them. As a teacher, you also wanted to retain as many disciples as possible, because you had discovered the truth and the students could only get that truth if they stayed with you. It must have seemed counter-intuitive for John to have ushered his disciples away to Jesus.
But this was not a dilemma for John. He was incredibly comfortable with this plan. He had never been teaching so that he could accrue a large crowd. He did not view his ministry as permanent and long-lasting. He saw himself as one who was simply “sent before” Christ. He did not have the full message, he was simply a herald announcing the coming of the King who carried the true message. When his followers left him to follow Jesus, they were not departing from his teaching, they were following it to the letter. It was John that had encouraged them to follow Jesus.
John believed what he taught. Jesus was truly greater than he was. Jesus deserved to be worshipped and revered. The people should follow Jesus instead of him. The most succinct way that John could express it was “He must increase, but I must decrease.” While this was antithetical to the way most Rabbis taught, it was the most consistent thing John could do. The Jews seeking recognition and the approval of others could not see the value in John’s message and methods.
But John understood the greatest truth, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John’s life wasn’t about being approved by men. His life goal was to be approved by God. He wasn’t aiming for the praise of an audience in this short life; he was seeking the joy that comes with eternal life. He knew that “a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” So he spent his life seeking to please the God who had blessed him with the immense privilege of delivering the message of the coming Messiah.

Food for Thought: What did John the Baptist teach about Jesus? How was his attitude inconsistent with the attitudes of many Rabbis of his day?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

John 3:10-21

“Nicodemus, you can’t earn your way to heaven. As a matter of fact, your receiving eternal life isn’t even something that you do.” Jesus had begun by explaining that the new birth was something that God accomplished. Like our physical birth wasn’t predicated by our own efforts, our spiritual birth was also not contingent on our own labors. Jesus went on to explain that the Spirit is the one who does the work, but that He works where He pleases and in whom He wills.
Hearing this must have been a mind blowing experience for Nicodemus. His whole life he had been striving to earn the favor of God. Perhaps, even as a teacher, he had taught his students that a man could be justified by his own righteous, pious works. Now, Jesus was telling Him that the righteousness had to come from the outside, not the inside. It wasn’t in Nicodemus that salvation could be found. God would be the only one who could save Nicodemus.
Startled and perplexed, Nicodemus asked the most humble question he had uttered to this point- “How can these things be?” Now looking to Jesus for the answer to His true dilemma, Nicodemus sought the Truth that Jesus possessed. No longer trusting in his own wisdom, or remaining in his infatuation with the miracles of Jesus, or even offering subtle attacks against the teaching of Jesus, Nicodemus now asked the simple question, “How?”
In one, straight-forward paragraph, Jesus articulated what had stumped the Jewish theologians for centuries. With remarkable concision, He unraveled the path of eternal life in front of Nicodemus. These timeless words contained so much power, that to this day they are echoed and etched in settings religious and non-religious alike. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Faith is the conduit through which God has chosen to flow the current of His grace because of the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus, “the Son of Man,” gave himself as a sacrifice for sins. Those who come to God resting in the accomplishment of Jesus alone receive the grace of God. Nicodemus would have to empty his hands of all the physical, spiritual, and religious things he thought could bring peace with God. In place of his own righteousness he would have to trust in the sinless life of Jesus, the substitutionary death of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus as his only hope for eternal life.
This prescription given by Jesus was not for Nicodemus alone. We all must come in faith, believing that we can do nothing to accomplish eternal life. We can only receive salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. And like the wind, the Spirit moves where He pleases, and in the new birth, those born do not work for their own birth. Here we find that the work of God is accomplished in us, and can only turn in worship to glorify the God alone who saves.

Food for Thought: In your own words, explain how the Old Testament illustration that Jesus used to describe the faith that Nicodemus needed for salvation relates to how we need to come for salvation?

Monday, September 8, 2014

John 3:4-9

“From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” –Ezekiel 36:25-27
Nicodemus may have been a ruler of the Jews, highly revered by all of the people in Israel, but when he stood before Jesus, that was all stripped away. In front of Jesus, Nicodemus was just another person in need of the work of God. Jesus did not over think His audience and treat him in unusual ways because of the office Nicodemus held, rather, Jesus saw him as a wandering soul in search of the Truth.
When presented with the truth that all men need the new birth, Nicodemus responded with “So do I enter my mother’s womb again and get reborn?” Jesus responded with a correction that was multi-layered. Instead of a simple “No,” Jesus explained how that the ridiculous proposition of Nicodemus wasn’t just comical, but had the wrong actors in it.
In Nicodemus’s estimation, the new birth was something that he must do. Jesus was swift to point out that it was not Nicodemus who re-birthed Himself. The illustration that Jesus gives of being born again is the perfect example of what being saved truly is. In our first birth, our natural birth, we don’t decide when or where we are going to be born. Similarly, in the new birth, it is not something that you put on the calendar and plan for, rather, it is something that is brought about in you by the grace of God.
To demonstrate this truth, Jesus refers to the process as being “born of the Spirit.” He also uses the illustration “the wind bloweth where it listeth(pleases).” His analogy is that when the wind is blowing outside, you can see the effects of it, but there is none that orders the wind around. It blows where it pleases. Similarly, no one orders the Spirit of God around, telling it to move in this place or that. Rather, of God’s free grace, He extends His Spirit’s regenerating power to each individual as He pleases.
This regeneration is what God said in the Old Testament in places like Ezekiel 36. God, of His own will, comes and renews mankind. He does a transforming work in the heart of man, giving man the desire to obey and the power to follow after Him in obedience. Perhaps Nicodemus did not fully understand it yet, but the glorious truth was that God was already working the truth in the mind and heart of Nicodemus, like a mighty rushing wind. His confusion, and consternation, and even his resistance were evidencing that something Greater was already at work in him.

Food For Thought: What two illustrations did Jesus use to explain the work that the Holy Spirit of God accomplishes in us in regeneration?

Friday, September 5, 2014

John 3:1-3

The Pharisees were the most religious people in all of Palestine. They certainly were more pious than the pagans around them from the Roman Empire. With disdain they would look at the vile brutes that trolled the streets acting out all types of thuggery. The Pharisees were certainly better than that mess of wickedness. And the Pharisees were more moral than any of the other Jews. Josephus tells us that at the time of Jesus, there were probably about 6,000 of them, all following a very strict code of conduct to make sure that they didn’t inadvertently disobey the laws of God. Centuries of theological imagination had worked out the Pharisee holiness manual, and now any good Pharisee would follow the extra laws without faltering.
All of the extra dutiful and virtuous laws of the Pharisees were designed to help them obey God’s Law more fully. The only problem was that they viewed the keeping of their own laws as on par with being obedient to God. For example, God gave the Law, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” It was understood that the Jewish people shouldn’t work on the Sabbath, so that it could be a day of rest and reverence. The Pharisees took it a step further and made several hundred “Sabbath Laws” to make sure you didn’t accidentally work on the Sabbath. My favorite of the Sabbath Laws was that on the Sabbath if you had to spit you could only spit on a rock. The reasoning behind this rule was that if you spit in the dirt, it might turn the dirt to mud, and the mud was basically mortar, and mixing mortar would be considered work, so spitting on the dirt was “working” but spitting on a rock wasn’t.
When we come to John 3, we meet Nicodemus, a ruler of the Pharisees. In verse 10 we see him called a “teacher.” He was a pretty important Pharisee. He would have been one of the ones who followed this extra pious lifestyle with its sanctimonious rules. However, after John 1 and 2 something began to happen in Nicodemus’ heart. He realized that his religion wasn’t cutting it. There had to be something more. When He shows up to talk to Jesus it was evident that he had been talking to other people about Jesus. “We know that…” Perhaps it was the water being turned to wine, and the cleansing of the temple, or the teaching of Jesus, that interested Nicodemus. Whatever it was, it drove him to come to Jesus to get more information.
Most importantly what you need to see is that Nicodemus had to get to a point that he admitted that just having religion wasn’t cutting it. He didn’t need to add the teaching of Jesus to his works. He needed set down his reliance on his works as fully satisfactory before God and come to Jesus to learn the Truth. As soon as Nicodemus spoke, Jesus came back with the Truth He knew Nicodemus needed. “You must be born again.” In effect, Jesus was saying that Nicodemus needed to have a massive transformation, not just on the outside, but most importantly, on the inside. It would take a work beyond Nicodemus’ control. It would take a work of God to transform his heart, but Jesus would be there to help.

Food For Thought: Why did the Pharisees create so many extra standards and rules? Was it bad that they did? Do you think it could be helpful for you to set extra standards and rules for yourself? Why or why not?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

John 2:18-25

Have you ever seen a viral video? You know the video of “What does the Fox say?” Or, perhaps you have seen the (fake) video where Chuck Norris is doing the splits on the wings of two jets while supporting the weight of a dozen Special Forces soldiers in the shape of a Christmas Tree. We live in the age of “viral” videos. While perhaps videos are a more recent phenomenon, the concept of rapidly spreading ideas or occurrences has been around for a long time.
As a matter of fact, the majority of things that happen in history could be considered “viral.” When you look at events like the defeat of the Spanish Armada, or the sinking of the Titanic, or even the killing of Osama Bin Laden, while the video footage of these events is lacking, they are still spoken of by millions and carried along “virally” to more and more every day.
Christianity could be viewed with this “viral” perspective. It started with Christ himself and the twelve disciples who followed Him. Within a few weeks of the start of His earthly ministry, word had spread to thousands. Within 20 years of His ministry, the news had spread to millions across three continents…and that was before the internet. “What does the fox say?” doesn’t even compare.
As we see Christ teach and respond to his accusers throughout his ministry, there are several statements that he makes that seem to be so shocking to the listeners that they seemingly go "viral." “Love your enemies,” “Sell all and follow me,” and even in the text today we find one that apparently surged across the country because three years later, people were still talking about it.
What was this statement? Jesus had just finished chasing the capitalistic, hyper-religious frauds from the Temple grounds when He was confronted by the Jewish mob. When they asked Him for a sign that would vindicate His claims and His right to cleanse the Temple like this, He said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They missed what he was saying, because He was omniscient and they weren’t. "Omniscient" simply means that He knows everything, even the future. This means the He knew that they would kill Him and that after three days He would raise again. They didn’t even know that they would eventually kill Him, much less that He would resurrect after He had died.
This misunderstood statement of Jesus apparently went “viral.” Three years later, when they are seeking to accuse Him of anything so they can execute Him, Mark 14:58 tells us that they said, “We heard Him say, I will destroy this temple.” Obviously, the grapevine wasn’t impervious to a little bit of change, when the word spread, it had gone from “You kill me,” to “I’m going to destroy the temple.” Quite a change.
What was Jesus truly teaching here? What we need to see today is this. Jesus could foresee the future. He was Omniscient. He knew things that only God could know. John has already made that point in John 1 that Jesus is God, now he has written that Jesus has power to change water to wine, and has a Holy indignation, and even here that He has an ability to be able to predict the future. Even before the angry mob decided to kill Jesus, He knew it. Jesus is God. There is no doubting it. The evidence is there.

Food For Thought: What was the point of the “viral” statement that Jesus said? What did the crowd misunderstand Him to be saying?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

John 2:12-17

“Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come…and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness.”  - Malachi 3:1-3
John the baptizer had already come as the messenger to “prepare the way before him,” and then Jesus showed up on the scene. Prophecy was unfolding seamlessly in Israel. With Passover on the horizon, Jesus headed to Jerusalem and found His way into the temple.
For centuries, the temple grounds were a sacred place, where followers of God could come and worship God apart from the pagan world around them. Even with the Roman domination, they could retreat into the temple and find solace from the hubbub of secularism. But this was not the case anymore. The current leadership in the temple desired to increase revenue. People were travelling into Jerusalem from all over the country. Not everyone would have a sacrifice, but with the new system in place, that would not be a problem. You could just travel to the temple, and simply purchase a sacrifice on your way into the temple grounds.
The entire system was broken. No longer would the sacrifice be anything more than a cold, calculated business deal. There was no spirit of sacrifice. Now it was simply a financial obligation when they travelled into Jerusalem. They would spend some money on food, on lodging, and on a Passover sacrifice. The worship of God was relegated to a line in their budget. Their whole budget no longer was his, only a portion.
John 2 tells us that when Jesus walked into the temple and saw this system, a holy indignation rose up in Him. This was not a sinful rage that was uncontrollable; this was a zealous love for God that enacted itself in a cleansing, purifying, purging way. As the prophecy of Malachi had foretold, Jesus had arrived at the temple and He had come to clean house. The Latin writer Jerome put it this way, “There must have been a certain fiery and starry light shining from His eyes and the majesty of the Godhead must have been gleaming in His face.” This was not the passive, weak Jesus sometimes portrayed in the local Christian bookstore. This was a serious temple cleanser, coming to restore purity to that which had become impure.
Perhaps, our hearts could use a temple-cleansing. If you understand Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:19, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost. Just as wicked as the materialistic Passover racket, we too fall into idolatry of heart. We begin to see ourselves relating to God in terms of business deals, instead of lovingly surrendering to Him everything. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit can do His cleansing work in us today.

Food For Thought: What was wrong with the system of selling animals in the temple? Why was the anger of Jesus not sinful?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

John 2:1-12

Having heard the testimony of the apostle John, John the baptizer, and of the other disciples that Jesus was indeed “the Son of God,” we now turn to His own works to gather more clues to his full identity.
Starting in John 2, we find Jesus and His disciples invited to attend a marriage celebration in a town called Cana of Galilee, just a few miles from His home town of Nazareth. Cana and Nazareth both were modest little towns and the hosts of the wedding and many of the guests probably would have known Jesus for much of his life. We find also in John 21:2 that Nathaniel, the disciple of Jesus that we just met at the end of John 1 was also from Cana, so these were more than likely people whom Nathaniel would also have been well acquainted.
Marriage was a sacred thing in Jewish culture. The preparations would take nearly an entire year before the celebration day. John’s work in telling this story however is not to highlight the marriage as much as to tell what Jesus accomplished at the wedding.
In Ancient cultures, Jewish included, it was understood that the water that flowed in streams and rivers was contaminated and could make a person sick. A common practice was to dilute the water with fermented wine because the alcohol in the wine would kill the bacteria and other harmful things in the water. At a wedding, this was a problem, because if the host ran out of wine, there would be nothing to drink, and the guests couldn’t drink water because it was contaminated. Starting our story today, this is the dilemma that faced the wedding party here at Cana. They had no wine.
Immediately, Mary directed the servants to follow the leading of her all-wise son, Jesus, to resolve this issue. Jesus instructed the servants to fill the six water pots that were for “the purifying of the Jews.” These pots served a very specific purpose. They were to be used in the ceremonial cleansing of the guests, and of the dishes, and of everything that owner of the house would have. Filling them up with water would not have been unusual, but filling them up for drink would have been incredibly strange. The Jews would not have drunk any water by itself, and furthermore, you certainly wouldn’t have drunk water out of these pots.
Jesus then told the servants to scoop from the pot and take it to the head servant of the wedding. As the head servant tasted, he was so astounded that he remarked to the bridegroom about it. Many arguments have fallen about the alcohol content of the wine. The point of this story is not about alcohol or no alcohol. The point of the story is this: when the pots were filled, impure water was put in them; when the drink was scooped out, the purest wine that ever flowed came forth. Jesus had done the miraculous. A theology of drunkenness built off of this miracle of Jesus is nonsense. The point John was trying to get across was that Jesus is God. He has power to change water to wine.
He can do that which no one else can. He has supernatural power. It is sad that men would seek to dogmatically preach anything less from this text. Jesus came as God and did things that only God could do. The servants and the disciples saw this. They could truly know that He was God, even as John and the other disciples had testified. Now, we can look at the testimony and instead of being distracted by the details, we can rejoice that as He promised, God had come in the flesh.

Food for thought: Was the wine alcoholic or not? What is the real point of Jesus turning the water into wine?