Thursday, November 6. John 20-21; Acts 1

As John ends his account of Jesus’ life, he emphasizes the truthfulness of the story he has told with vivid but unnecessary details: John tells the names of the disciples involved, he remembers that they had fished all night, that Peter had taken his outer garment off (and then put it on before swimming ashore), that Peter swam ashore leaving the rest behind, that Peter dragged the net of fish ashore by himself. Fairy tales typically lack this kind of detail.

There is also this puzzling conversation between Peter and Jesus. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loves him. Though the Greek text contains two different words for “love” in this story (Jesus uses one, Peter uses the other, until finally, the third time, Jesus uses Peter’s word), there is probably little significance in the word difference (though preachers often make much ado over it). The really important part of this conversation (often overlooked) is what it means to “love” Jesus. Jesus does not call us to tell him we love him. If we love him, we must show it: feed the lambs, shepherd the sheep, feed the sheep, follow Jesus. This is what it means to be a disciple. It’s what it means to believe. It’s what it means to be a person of faith.

Thursday, November 6. John 20 – 21; Acts 1

Much of the account of Jesus’ resurrection in chapter 20 can only be found in John’s gospel: the account of Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene, and his conversation with the doubter, Thomas.

Two things strike me however as I read this chapter: First, Jesus’ words to Mary “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

Mary had once been possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2), but she had been rescued from her predicament by Jesus and her undying gratitude is seen plainly in the very brief descriptions of her relationship with Jesus. She, along with other women, traveled with Jesus (Matthew 27:55-56). She watched from a distance as Jesus hung on the cross, went to the burial, and was among the first at the tomb the following Sunday. Her closeness is seen in the conversation with the man she supposes is the gardener, whom she thinks has removed the body. Wherever he has put the body, she will go and get it. Can you imagine this woman trying to carry a corpse? When she realizes the gardener is Jesus, her joy is so complete that she hangs onto Jesus as if to never let him go.

But go he must.

There are things to do. He must return to the Father. She must spread the news of his resurrection.

Grief and tragedy have a tendency to slow us down in life, but God intends we realize He has work for us to do. After 30 days of grieving, God told Israel: “Moses is dead. Get up and go into the land.” Mary got only three days. Until the Lord comes, no loss will stop time. Those who trust in the Lord must be about the Father’s business.

The second thing involves another sentence from Jesus: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is vastly different from “if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15 –see also parallels in Mark 11:25 and Luke 11:4; 17:3ff). Do Christians have the power to determine forgiveness?

The gospels are plain: Jesus came to provide forgiveness. His followers do the same. Their task is to be mediators of forgiveness, and the very serious thought is that if Christians are not those mediators, the world is lost in sin. These words are not intended to mean that if I don’t forgive you, you can’t be forgiven. Too often Jesus has emphasized that if I don’t forgive you, I will not be forgiven. Rather, the statement is made in the context of the Christian mission, Jesus’ “sending” purpose (vs. 21). The task is so important and serious that it cannot be accomplished without the power of the Spirit. The point is sobering: whatever Jesus accomplished on the cross will be pointless if His followers do not take the message of that work to the world.

Friday, December 20. John 19 – 21

In the closing hours of Jesus’ life, John offers us insights we do not find in the other gospels.

Only John tells us the Jews abandoned the rule of God for the rule of Caesar (19:1-15). Only John tells us the Jews’ objected to the sign on Jesus’ cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (19:20-25). Only John tells us about the spear stuck in Jesus’ side and the extravagant anointing of Jesus’ body by Joseph and Nicodemus (vss. 39-42).

Three points stand out to me about John’s account.

First, the whole scene was scripted by God. You see it in the four times John refers to the events and tells us scripture had already foretold of the events (vss. 24, 28, 36-37). You see it in Pilate’s fear when he hears Jesus has called himself the “son of God” and when Jesus rather rebukingly tells him the only power Pilate has is the power given to him “from above.” You see it also in Pilate’s continued desperate attempts to release Jesus.

There is, secondly, the persistent theme that Jesus is king. Pilate, though for him, tongue-in-cheek, ironically confessed the kingship of Christ with his sign above the Lord’s head. And notice the spices Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea used. The amount they brought is an amount befitting a king. In fact, an amount befitting a hundred kings.

Third, there is the denial of Jesus’ kingship – a denial that remains in our own world but never mind the world. The persistent denials in John’s gospel are from those who claim to be God’s people. Which do you think is of less importance: that the Jews verbally denied the kingship of Jesus in their lives by their words, or our own denial of Jesus’ kingship in our unwillingness to submit and be obedient to him?

Thursday, December 19. John 16 – 18

Have you ever heard a prayer that sounded more like a sermon, an effort to get across a message under the guise of talking to God?

Jesus’ prayer in chapter seventeen reminds me of those kind of prayers but in Jesus’ case, it isn’t a guise. Jesus really is talking to God and seeking His blessing, he just also knows his disciples are listening and he wants them to hear what he is saying to the Father (see 17:13). It is for their good he prays, and for their benefit that they hear what he is praying for.

Of course, what usually gets the most attention in chapter seventeen is Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his disciples. But there is much more there. Unfortunately, the “unity” part is seldom attained because the “much more” part isn’t closely studied.

First, is Jesus’ request for glory (vs. 5 – but see also 12:28). He wants back his original glory, but he is dependent on the Father’s blessing to return it to him. Glory, the sign of God’s presence, approval and acceptance, awaits. Jesus sought it at the Father’s side. We must seek it there too.

Second, note that Jesus regards his disciples as a blessing in his own life (vs. 5). They have been a gift from the Father and some of the glory Jesus expects to receive has already come to him through the disciples (vs. 10). It’s easier to be united with our brethren when we regard them as gifts from the Lord, down payments on our eternal inheritance.

Third, Jesus looks at his disciples, and expects the Father to look at the disciples, as distinct and separate from the world (note they are “out of the world” vs. 6, and “not of the world” vss. 14, 16 and the world hates them vs. 14). Jesus has watched his own life and kept it holy to influence them (vs. 19) for holiness, but he requests that God operate in their lives as well, to strengthen the disciples and protect them (vs. 11). Holiness is not only something bestowed by God. It must be sought and a human effort must be made as well.

All of this is dependent on knowing God. Jesus made Him known (vs. 6) not only through his life example, but, more importantly in this chapter, also through his teaching. Without the word of God, holiness can never be a part of our lives (vs. 17).

When we know and obey God, our lives will be different from the world; different because we are seeking to be holy like God, looking for our great reward in his presence and finding blessing until that day in the comfort and company of our brethren who are accompanying us on the journey.

Wednesday, December 18. John 13 – 15

What is the “fruit” Jesus’ disciples must bear?

It must be important. We are branches off the vine that is Christ. A branch that does not bear fruit has only one end: to be pruned from the vine and thrown into the fire.

If we are going to avoid the fire, we must bear fruit.

But what is the fruit?

John does not specifically address this question. Evidently, the Christians he wrote to knew what fruit was expected of them. On the other hand, in his “upper room” speech, Jesus deals with the very obvious signs that one is attached to him: humility, service (a willingness to do the necessary but menial tasks), trust in God (exemplified by prayer), obedience to God, courage, unity in the Church, and especially love for fellow Christians.

We should get away from the notion that “fruit bearing” for the Church is proselytizing. While that may be involved in the list, it’s only one component. Certainly those involved in bringing others to Christ will be most productive if their lives exhibit in themselves the kind of fruit intended by the vine which is, to be specific, Christlikeness.

Tuesday, December 17. John 10 – 12

The anointing of Jesus is one of those few stories that make it into all the gospel accounts. John is recognized as different from the other gospels because so little of what he tells in his gospel can be found anywhere else.

There are some differences between the anointing stories in the gospels, causing some people to wonder how many anointings there really were. This will not be our focus today.

Jesus is on his way to his death. There is a steady progression of thought in John about this. You will see it in Jesus’ comments about being “lifted up” (signifying the kind of death he would suffer (3:14; 8:28; 12:32), and in John’s observations on the treachery of the Jewish leaders (5:16, 18; 7:1, 19-25; 8:37-40; 10:31). In fact, when Jesus gets word about Lazarus’ death, he makes plans to go to Judea – which the disciples think is a bad idea because of the plots against Jesus’ life. They believe, and rightly so, his journey to Judea will result in his death.

John notes that the irrational hatred of the Jewish leadership for Jesus extends even to Lazarus, whose resurrection stands as a lasting rebuke to their rejection of Jesus.

Mary anoints Jesus for burial. She pours the very expensive perfume on his feet and wipes them with her hair. In the ancient world, this would be an act of utmost humility. Guests routinely wiped their hands of excess water or oil on the heads of servants. Mary is offering herself to Jesus in an even more humiliating way. Note the contrast: the leadership wants to kill Jesus for no reason other than they are jealous of him. Mary, on the other hand, offers him service. It’s the kind of service Jesus himself will exhibit in the next chapter.

Jesus went to Bethany to give Lazarus new life. This new life may now cost him his life by those who oppose Jesus. The point is clear: those who wish to follow Jesus must be willing to face opposition and death by the world. Not even a benevolent mindset toward the plight of others (seen in Judas’ remarks about the poor) can disguise the life that is unwilling to honor Jesus.

Monday, December 16. John 7 – 9

“Blindness” is referred to specifically seventeen times the gospel of John, all of those occasions in the “book of signs” (chapters 1 – 12) part of the book. Thirteen of the seventeen times it occurs in chapter nine. When you read the chapter, you will understand why.

Up to here, Jesus has performed some magnificent miracles, but this one tops them all: he gives sight to a man born blind. Normal people, seeing the previous signs of Jesus might have no problem believing he was the Christ. But the Jewish leaders (in John, the “Jews” are the Jewish leaders) refuse to believe. They call Jesus a “sinner,” meaning not “someone who sins” but rather a person separated and alienated from God. It does not make sense to the crowds. When quizzed more closely, the formerly blind man takes the leadership to task. “I don’t know who he is, all I know is that he made me see . . . you people claim he is a sinner, but God only listens to the godly. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God he could do nothing.”

Because the blind man believed in what he saw, the Jewish leadership kicked him out of the synagogue. The implication palpable. Here is a man no longer in fellowship with formal Judaism, but he is in fellowship with God. There must, then, be a disconnect between God and Judaism – at least as promoted by the Jewish leadership.

Remember John’s purpose: to get his readers to keep on trusting in Jesus. As John presents him, Jesus has power over substance, distance, time, resources, natural law, and now, with the healing of the man born blind, misfortune. Who else has such power? What other person with such great power would be willing to help you? If you turn from Jesus, to whom will you turn? Only Jesus has the message of eternal life (6:68). Only Jesus has its power. The only people who cannot see that are those, like the Jewish leadership, who have willingly blinded themselves to the truth.

Sunday, December 15. John 4 – 6

Reading chapter six I am reminded of the minister who decided to take over a children’s Bible class. He asked “Who made the walls of Jerico fall?” Tommy said: “I don’t know but it wasn’t me.”

The preacher asked the teacher: Do you believe that? The teacher replied: “Tommy’s a good boy and if he says he didn’t do it, I believe him.”

Taking this deplorable situation to the Elders, the Elders replied: “We don’t see any point in making a big deal over this. It will be best to patch the walls and charge it off to vandalism.”

There are two very large sections in John’s gospel. The first is commonly called the “book of signs” (1:19 – 12:50). The second is the “book of glory” 13:1 – 21:25.

The book of signs contains the “signs” (or miracles) of Jesus focused on by John. Interestingly, the only miracle John mentions, referred to by any of the other gospel writers, is found in chapter six – the longest chapter in the book. It is the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 and it opens this chapter devoted to stories of people too dense to understand Jesus.
Those Jesus fed ignored Jesus’ protestations against being an earthly king; they wanted to force him to be a king. Can you imagine?

The crowds sought Jesus out for more food. Jesus told them they should instead quest for food that provides eternal life. They didn’t get it. When Jesus told them he could provide such bread, they insisted he give it to them – still thinking he meant real bread. Jesus speaks three times of the resurrection, and no one gets his point. He speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and no one seems to understand that he means to take him inside themselves and make him a part of their lives.

Chief among those who misunderstand Jesus is, of course, Judas. The Lord has exhibited power over matter. He has shown his mastery over distance (chapter 4), time (5), resources and natural law (gravity – chapter 6), but Judas still thinks he can do Jesus harm.

The reason everyone misunderstood Jesus was that they weren’t seeking Jesus’ meaning; they were trying to fit Jesus’ teachings into what they thought they already knew. Only when we come to Jesus with an open mind to hear what he really has to say can we access the eternal life he really has to offer.

Saturday, December 14. John 1 – 3

What does it mean to be “born again?”

Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be “born again” of “water and the Spirit,” but again, how does one do that? Nicodemus doesn’t understand – though Jesus thought he should understand it – and we have trouble with it too.

In Ezekiel 36, God promised a time of new birth. He would give his people a new heart and a new spirit – His Spirit! The result of this would be that Israel would be faithful to God’s decrees and laws. It would involve the cleansing of water and bestowal of Spirit. It is interesting that hot on the heels of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, John mentions baptism.

But do not make the mistake of thinking that the “new birth” is “getting baptized.”

There are elements here often missed.

The first is that “flesh gives birth to flesh” and spirit gives birth to spirit.” The new birth changes us and gives us God’s DNA (so to speak). The reborn person does not hate the light (which exposes the darkness) but enters it willingly so that what he does is seen to be by the power of God (verse 21).

Basically, being born again gives a life a new nature and a new direction. This may begin at baptism, but if baptism is all it is, there has really been no new birth. Life must be different and that difference is seen in holiness. This, really, is the eternal life; not just one that goes on forever, but shares in the very nature and action of God.

Saturday, December 22. John 16 – 19

It’s a personal preference of course, but most meaningful to me in the Gospel of John are chapters thirteen through seventeen.

Why?

It’s the last night of Jesus’ life.  He knows he is going to die.  In his gospel account, John reserves Jesus’ teaching to these chapters, Christ’s final seminar with his disciples so to speak.  In view of the cross, here is a focused presentation of Jesus’ concerns for his disciples.

There’s lots here: Take care of one another.  Love one another.  Don’t be afraid.  Trust.  Remain in me.  Obey me.
And in chapter sixteen, Jesus says: “Pray.”

Please note that these words are not addressed to the world, but to Jesus’ disciples.  As such, John directs them to Christians.  We have a unique relationship with God.  He loves us because we have put our trust in His son.  Our relationship with Jesus gives us direct access to the Father, and it is an access only we possess.

Two issues arise:

First, Jesus promises that the Father will give us whatever we ask.  But our experience is that God does not.  Surely you’ve had prayers go unfulfilled.

No one should expect that God is here indebting  Himself to do our bidding.  In that case, He’d be abdicating His role as God.  But like a parent, God promises us access to His wealth and power, and as our Father, we can trust He will do what is best for us.

The second issue is timing.  Did you notice that little line: “in a little while”?  It appears four times in the chapter and John even tells us the disciples didn’t understand it.

It’s an assurance.

God does not promise that no bad things will befall us.  Bad things were certainly about to befall Jesus – and his disciples!  But what He promises is that they will not last.  In time, God’s time, they will be over.  Joy will return.

Both promises give us hope.  And that’s what Jesus intended.