Everything Changes

chuttersnap-139486-unsplashSome people believe that Jesus was mild-mannered, politically correct, and tame, like a supernatural Mr. Rogers. Jesus is God and God is love so they envision Jesus as eternally passive. This misconception keeps people from getting to know the real Jesus.

The Apostle John includes a story that emphasizes the passionate side of Christ’s nature – the story of Jesus clearing out the temple in John 2:13-25. This incident highlights the depth of the struggle between Jesus and the religious establishment. Jesus didn’t come into the world so he could politely fit in with was going on at the time. In these verses, we learn that Jesus came to change the religious establishment and our religious experiences because Jesus came to change everything. In this passage, he challenges us in three ways

1. JESUS CHALLENGES OUR SELF-SERVING FORMS OF WORSHIP (2:13-17)

Passover was about to happen, and Jews from all over the Roman empire were flocking to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. At that time, the temple was more like a marketplace than a place of worship. There were people selling oxen, sheep, & doves to be sacrificed. There were people changing money so that Jews could pay their annual temple tax with Jewish coins that didn’t have pagan symbols on them.

When Jesus arrived at the temple he made a whip from the food or bedding offered to the animals and drove the merchants & the moneychangers from the temple along with their animals. He dumped out their coins and overturned their tables. He told them to stop taking advantage of “His Father’s house.”

If we’re not careful, our expressions of worship and even religious institutions can become all about us: our stability, our benefits, and our preferences. When we do, we minimize Christ and miss the point of the Gospel.

2. JESUS CHALLENGES OUR ASSUMPTIONS OF WHAT IS POSSIBLE (2:18-22)

The Jewish leaders asked Jesus for a sign of his authority to have done something so outrageous. Instead of showing them a new sign (he had already performed many), he told them about the destruction and rebuilding of the temple. The Jews thought he was talking about the temple they were standing in, but he was talking about the temple of his body. He was predicting His death, burial, and resurrection.

Christ’s resurrection from the dead redefines what is possible. Miracles like turning water into wine, healing people, multiplying food, walking on water, or raising someone else from the dead are amazing, but bringing yourself back from the dead is barrier-shattering.

You may be facing an “impossible” situation. Maybe it’s an overwhelming loss or an unforgivable sin? Maye it’s a marriage that seems beyond repair or a sickness that seems incurable? There’s hope in the most difficult situations in life because situations can change, people can change because Jesus changes everything.

3. JESUS CHALLENGES OUR EASY BELIEVEISM (2:23-25)

The Apostle John is writing from a post-resurrection perspective – after Jesus has come back from the dead. He tells us that the disciples were urged to faith by recalling what Jesus had said before he was crucified. There were other Jews that seemed to believe in Jesus, but their faith was based on the signs that Jesus performed, not who He was.

Jesus was not fooled by the shallow circumstantial faith of the Jews. Jesus knows the fickle and sinful nature of the human heart, that’s why he came in the first place.

“Easy believeism” is a term that was coined to describe those who claim faith in Christ, but who never have a change of heart about Jesus. They want Jesus to be their Savior, but not their Lord. They only “believe” when they are need something from God.

Everything changes because Jesus changes everything.

Jesus is not content to stand on the sidelines and watch people misuse His Father’s House or squander their lives. While he would never leave a true believer, He distances Himself from people that worship their own religious experiences or the institution of the church instead of Him. Make Jesus the center of your life and be open to change, because Jesus changes everything.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

 

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Save the Best for Last

daniel-christie-1137189-unsplash.jpgIn the first half of his Gospel, the Apostle John describes a series of signs that Jesus performed in order to show his true identity. These were more than just miracles, they were powerful acts done for a specific purpose: to show that the God of the Old Testament had come in all his glory. John is careful to only include signs that Jesus performed at or near Jewish festivals or institutions like the temple, a well, the Sabbath, and the Passover.

The first sign appears in John 2:1-12, where Jesus attended a Jewish wedding. Jesus showed the unsuspecting wedding guests and his disciples that God had saved the best for last. The first-century Jews believed in God and honored the Scriptures. They took time out for God at least once a week and observed the Sabbath. But God had something better for them.

Jesus attended a wedding on “the third day,” which is a clue that something special was about to happen. At some point in the celebration, the wine ran out. Jesus’ mother, Mary, had some sort of responsibility for the refreshments at the wedding feast so she asked Jesus for help. At first, Jesus seemed hesitant to help, stating that his “hour has not come yet.” Then Mary instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus asked them to do.

There were six stone water pots at the wedding, each with the capacity to hold 20 to 30 gallons of water. Clay pots were more common and affordable, but they could become “unclean,” so the Jews used stone pots for ceremonial washings. The Jews had a complex set of rituals and traditions when it came eating and preparing food (Mark 7:1-4).  They would not eat without washing their hands in a special way. This wasn’t about hygiene, but about proving their standing before God.

Jesus told the servants to fill the pots with water and take it to the head waiter. Somewhere between the water pot and the headwaiters’ lips, the water became wine. The head waiter was so impressed that he spoke to the bridegroom saying, “Most people serve the good wine first when people are most thirsty and can appreciate the high quality. But you’ve surprised us, you’ve saved the best for last.”

Contrary to popular opinion, this story is not about alcohol. The use of the stone washing pots and the words of the head waiter in verse 10 tell us the reason for Jesus’ first sign and the point of this story: Jesus as better than the religious rituals or traditions of the Jews. The coming of the Messiah was more important for God’s people than following a set of restrictive practices.

Like the ancient Jews, we have our own set of religious rituals and traditions that have a limited basis in Scripture and little bearing on our relationship with God. Unfortunately, like the Jews, we sometimes enjoy looking down on others because they do not follow our rituals or traditions. When we do we need to personalize this story – Jesus is better than our religious rituals or traditions. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is more important than what we wear to church, how many times we go to church, or how many times we “walk the aisle.” That doesn’t mean our rituals or traditions are worthless, it means they are a means to a greater end – faith in Jesus Christ.

Maybe you need to reevaluate your spiritual life in light of Gospel? Maybe you need to trust in Jesus, instead of some experience or practice? Maybe you need to follow Jesus and his leadership in your life. When you do, will know that God saved the best for last.

Photo by Daniel Christie on Unsplash

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Is Your Religion Good Enough?

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Weddings were an important part of Jewish life in the first century. In John 2:1-12, we read a story about Jesus attending a wedding with his disciples. Jesus didn’t preach a sermon, but he did show the surprised guests and his disciples that their religious rituals and traditions were not good enough to gain God’s attention.

Have you ever wondered if your religion is good enough?

Have you ever wondered if you are doing enough or doing the right things to gain God’s attention or get into heaven?

If so, how did you find an answer?

Feel free to leave your comments below.

If you are in the Tri-State area, join us at Unity Baptist in Ashland this Sunday as we consider this question and others every Sunday morning.

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Portraits of Discipleship

lili-popper-29472-unsplashThe term “discipleship” means different things to different people. Some people think of discipleship as a specific kind of bible study curriculum or an optional class at their church that is focused on discipleship. Other people imagine a person – one of the original twelve disciples that Jesus Christ called to follow him. Another group of people may get stuck on the root of the word which is “discipline.” These understandings aren’t wrong, they are just incomplete.

Discipleship is more than an idea, or a person, or class. Discipleship is a process in which people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ and learn to serve him more effectively. In John 1:29-51, John the Apostle (one of the original twelve disciples) shared three short stories about Jesus and his interactions with his first followers. You could call these short stories portraits of discipleship.

Each one of the three stories in this passage answers two questions: Who is Jesus? And what does it mean to follow Jesus?

  • THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD (v. 29-34)

John the Baptist told his followers that Jesus Christ was “the Lamb of God” while John was baptizing and preaching by the Jordan river. Lambs were very important in Jewish thinking. A lamb was killed at Passover and its blood was spread on the doorposts of the home to symbolizes God’s pardon. This teaches us that sin can only be wiped away by the blood of a sacrificial lamb.

  • THE RABBI WHO TEACHES US ABOUT OURSELVES (v. 35-42)

John the Baptist passed on two his disciples to Jesus: Andrew and either Philip or John. Andrew went and found his brother, Simon, and introduced him to Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus took the opportunity to teach Simon something about himself. Even though Simon was impulsive and outspoken, he would become as solid as rock through his time with Jesus. Jesus gave him a new nickname, Peter, as a promise of the transformation that would happen in his life.

  • THE TRUE KING WHO RULES OVER GOD’S PEOPLE (v. 43-51)

Jesus went into Galilee and found another disciple named Philip. Like Andrew, Philip found his brother, Nathaniel, and introduced him to Jesus. Jesus explained to his growing band of followers he already knew Nathaniel. Jesus knew Nathaniel while studied the Scriptures under a fig tree. Jesus also knew that Nathaniel was truthful and authentic

Nathaniel immediately recognized Jesus as the True King of Israel. The Jewish Messiah was God’s chosen reprehensive to lead his people according to God’s promise to King David (2 Sam. 7). As such, Jesus Christ bridged the gap between heaven and earth, reintroducing God’s activity among his people.

These three portraits of discipleship present one compelling truth: The things we learn about Jesus should lead us to follow him.

This passage is more than a list of titles and descriptions. It contains a series of experiences and interactions with Jesus. It teaches us to balance our knowledge about  God with our knowledge of God. It invites us to have a similar experience with Jesus as his first followers: Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathaniel.

Each one of these portraits of discipleship highlights a different “first step” of discipleship. Some disciples come to Jesus for forgiveness, others for transformation, and others are encouraged to surrender their lives. As you assess your connection to Christ, make sure that the things you are learning are leading you to follow Him.

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What Does Discipleship Look Like to You?

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Jesus Christ left his disciples behind so they could make disciples for Jesus who could also make disciples. That means that discipleship is an integral part of our relationship with God and our experience in His church. In John 1:29-51, the Beloved Apostle shares three short stories about Jesus and his first disciples. You could call these short stories portraits of discipleship.

What does discipleship look like to you?

How does your experience compare with these three portraits of discipleship?

Feel free to leave your comments below.

If you are in the Tri-State area, join us at Unity Baptist in Ashland this Sunday as we consider this question and others every Sunday morning.

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Lost in Translation

sharon-mccutcheon-532782-unsplashHave you ever played the game called “telephone”? One person whispers a message to the person next to them and it travels down the line until the last person announces what they heard. I’ve played “telephone” dozens of times in my life, maybe more, and the message original message always gets lost somewhere in the translation.

When God speaks, he speaks clearly. God created the universe through the power of his spoken word. God revealed his plan to redeem mankind through his inspired and authoritative written word, the Bible. But God went even further to communicate and connect with mankind so his magnificent character and intentions were not “lost in translation.” God sent His Son, Jesus Christ – the Living Word – into the world to reveal Himself to us.

As we read John 1:1-18, we find four truths about Jesus Christ. The Apostle John gives us these four truths so that we might know God, not just know about Him. Notice what these verses tell us about Jesus.

First, He is a divine person (1:1-2). John introduces “the Word” as a person, not an idea or an impersonal force. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. He is distinct but equal with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. This is absolutely foundational to the rest of the things we read about Jesus Christ in John’s Gospel.

Second, He was present at creation (1:3-5). John connects his Gospel to the creation story in Genesis by starting it out the same way: “in the beginning.” In Genesis 1:26, we read about God’s conversation with himself about creating mankind in his image (“Let us create man in our image.”) The Apostel Paul declares that Jesus has always existed and “all things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16).

Third, He is the power of redemption (1:6-13). Although Jesus Christ created humans and became a human, he was dismissed and rejected. But by God’s grace, some have responded faith and believe. Those who do are redeemed and adopted as children of God. This spiritual “rebirth” is brought about by the power of God.

Fourth, He is a picture of God (1:14-18). The Second Commandment prohibited God’s people from making an “idol” or likeness” of God as a part of their worship (Exodus 20:4-6). This commandment was to keep the Hebrews from settling for a disappointing substitute for God. Jesus was is so much more than a disappointing substitute – he is God is the flesh.

John’s testimony is designed to introduce others to Jesus Christ, not just tell them about him.  Theologian J. I. Packer once said, There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have the energy to serve Him, boldness to share, and contentment in Him.” Knowing about someone is not the same as having a personal relationship with that person.

Every relationship starts with a decision. You can start a personal relationship with Jesus Christ by deciding two things. First, that you personally believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that he died for you and your sins. Second, that you personally accept his offer of a new life. The new life that God offers comes forgiveness and a home in heaven.

Some things get lost in translation, but Jesus Christ did not. He reveals such a clear and compelling picture of God and his love for us that we must respond. Have you responded to his message for you?

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Share Your Joy

person-110305_1280What brings you joy? Do you find joy in your achievements and accomplishments? Does your joy come from those around you?  Do your circumstances control your level of joy?

The Prophet Isaiah ministered during a stormy time in his nation’s history. The Assyrian Empire was growing in strength and taking over the many of the nations in Fertile Crescent. The Jewish nation and Isaiah’s personal situation was about to get worse.

Even though Isaiah’s circumstances looked bleak, he pointed his people to a time of intense joy and celebration. In Isaiah chapter 11, the prophet predicts the eventual the eventual redemption and restoration of his people, the Jews, through Jesus Christ the Messiah. In chapter 12, he describes the emotions and activities associated with the day of salvation. As the Jews rejoiced over their salvation, they were moved to share their joy with other people.

Even though our cultural and political situation in the church today is much different than in Isaiah’s day, we can learn from him. In Isaiah chapter 12, we learn that when a church is full of joy over the gospel something spills out and that something is evangelism. Evangelism is sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with those who don’t know him yet. If a church is full of joy over the good news about Jesus Christ, they will share it with others outside the church. If there is limited joy in a church, or it comes from the wrong things, then evangelism will disappear.

A brief reading of Isaiah 12 reveals three ways that all believers can find in Jesus Christ and express it to others. First, you can share your joy with others because is present everywhere you go (verse 6). God is always with his people. Second, you can share your joy through praise and worship (verse 5). Music and singing reveal what hidden in the human heart. Third, you can share your joy with all people (verse 4). True joy is contagious, spreading from person to person.

Let’s all take a lesson from the Prophet Isaiah. Enduring joy only comes from God, who sent Jesus to save us from ourselves. If believers and the churches they attend are full of joy it will not only change the atmosphere in the church, it will change their activity. If you’ve found your joy in God, then find someone to share that joy with this week.

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