My Experience in a Discipleship Group

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I made a startling discovery earlier this year. I did some research on the baptism, membership, and attendance trends in the church I serve as pastor and I realized that as a church, we have lost 500 people in the last 10 years! We have welcomed an entire sanctuary full of people (our sanctuary seats about 500) into our membership through baptism and transfer of letter, but our Morning Worship and Sunday School attendance have stayed about the same. Even though some of those people have passed away, moved out of the area, or stepping into places of ministry, you would think that we would be able to retain at least some of our newest members.

One of the reasons we have not retained our members, new and well-established, is because we have not done a good enough job collectively of discipling them. We have allowed baptism and new membership to become the finish line of faith instead of the starting line. We have welcomed people of all ages into our church and given them a variety of ministry opportunities without a clear plan for spiritual development.

This discovery led me to a new type of ministry that isn’t new at all. When Jesus Christ was on earth, he ministered to thousands of people yet focused the majority of his time on 12 ordinary men. Jesus narrowed his focus even further by investing in Peter, James, and John more than the rest of this disciples. Jesus made disciples in small groups. The Apostle Paul followed Christ’s example by teaching and training a select group of men out of the hundreds, maybe thousands, that he had contact with. Timothy, Titus, and Luke are familiar names to us today because Paul worked so closely with them during his time on earth.

The new type of ministry that I discovered is a Discipleship Group. A Discipleship Group is an intentionally small group (3 to 6 people) that meets for spiritual development and replication. Unlike Sunday School classes, these groups are gender-specific and closed to outsiders to facilitate deep relationships, open communication, and accountability. After twelve months, group members are prayerfully challenged to turn around and start their own group for the next year.

I have been involved in 2 exploratory Discipleship Groups in the last 2 years and experienced great benefits. As a believer, I have been prompted to spend regular time in Bible study and prayer, to invest in meaning relationships with other believers, and to live out the gospel daily. As a pastor, I have seen men in our church hear from God through His Word and look for ways to share it with others. I have only been involved with these particular kinds of Discipleship Groups for a short time, but I can see and anticipate the benefit they would bring to the church that I serve and the greater Kingdom of God – especially those who join in the next 10 years.

What experience do you have with small group discipleship, if any?

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Lord of Life

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There are lots of names in the Bible that are popular today, but not Lazarus. You know a Noah and an Elizabeth, but do you know a Lazarus? Probably not.

Lazarus is a name that is associated with life and death. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life at the peak of his ministry. Like all the other signs that Jesus did, this miracle was designed to reveal something about our Savior.

Jesus brought Lazarus back to life in front of three different groups of people. These groups all had there one question for Jesus. These questions help us understand this pivotal event.

Why would you risk your life? (John 11: 1-16)

Jesus had developed a close relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. When Lazarus got sick, the sisters sent word for Jesus to come. This prominent family lived in the village of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem.

When Jesus announced his plans to go to Bethany, his disciples questioned him (v. 8). The Jewish establishment had tried to kill Jesus twice before he escaped to the other side of the Jordan River. The disciples knew that it would be very dangerous for Jesus (and them, v. 16) to go near Jerusalem.

The disciples were also confused about Lazarus’ condition. The message they received only said that Lazarus was sick.  Jesus said that Lazarus was sleeping, which didn’t warrant a life-threatening mission to Jerusalem.

Why did you wait so long? (John 11:17-27)

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Martha came out to meet Jesus and question him (v. 21). She knew that Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Heavenly Father, but why didn’t he come two days earlier to heal Lazarus.

Jesus revealed that he was more than a healer, he was and still is “the resurrection and the life.” Jesus claimed to have power over life and death and he would soon prove it.

Why didn’t he do something? (John 11: 28-46)

Mary also came out to speak to Jesus followed by a large group of mourners. Mary’s family must have been well known because a large number of people came from Jerusalem to comfort her and her sister after Lazaurus’ death.

Mary took Jesus to the tomb where they laid Lazarus and she wept along with the crowd of comforters. Jesus also wept, overcome with emotion and his disappointment with the brokenness of sin.

As the mourners watched Jesus they questioned him If was a miracle worker, why didn’t he perform a miracle for this man and this family who he clearly loved? If he could help, why didn’t he?

Jesus commanded that the stone be removed from the entrance to the tomb. Martha objected because at that point Lazarus was definitely dead and the smell would be overpowering. Jesus prayed out loud for the benefit of all three groups that were present – his disciples, Martha & Mary, and their comforters –   and called Lazarus out of the tomb. As he stumbled out into the light, they unwrapped him from his grave clothes.

Jesus answered these three questions by defeating death so that…

  1. So that you would love Him. 

    Jesus risked his life to save the life of a friend he loved very much. Will you love him in return? John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

  2. So that you would glorify Him. 

    Jesus waited to visit Lazarus so he could perform a greater miracle. Will you welcome and worship Jesus as God in the flesh? John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

  3. So that you would believe in Him. 

    Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was about one thing – getting people who need to be saved to believe that he was their Savior. Will you accept him or reject him? John 20:31 says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

A Blessing or a Curse

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Light can either be a blessing or a curse. The lamp beside your bed can help you find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but it will also annoy your spouse who is trying to sleep. A fire in a fireplace is warm and inviting, but a fire in the kitchen is terrifying.

In John 8, Jesus introduces himself as “The Light of the world.” In the next chapter, we see what happens when Jesus shines his light in the world. His light divides the world into two groups. Those who see Jesus as a curse and those who see Jesus as a blessing.

The Apostle John tells the same story about from the viewpoint of these two groups. First,   he shares the story from the view of a hopeless man who was blind from birth. Next, John shares the story from the view of the conceited Pharisees who were blind to their spiritual need.

From the view of helpless beggar blind from birth (John 8:1-41)

“Something amazing happened to me right after the Feast of Tabernacles. I was sitting beside the road begging for money when Jesus walked by with his disciples. My eyes didn’t work, but my ears worked just fine and I overheard Jesus and his disciples talking about me. One of his disciples asked whose fault it was that I was blind: me or my parents. I was relieved to hear that neither one of us were to blame, but that God wanted to show His mighty work in me. At that point, I heard Jesus spit on the ground and then I felt him wipe clay on my eyes. He told me to wash my eyes out in the nearby pool of Siloam, and so I did. As I washed my eyes in the cool water the most amazing thing happened – my eyes worked for the first time and I could see!”

“I was so excited about what had happened, I told everyone around me, but they didn’t believe me. People that had walked past me for years didn’t recognize me. It was if I had become a different person.”

“Then, I was called before the Pharisee for an interview. I explained what had happened to me, but they were upset because Jesus had violated some of their restrictions on the Sabbath. The Pharisees began to argue among themselves about Jesus. Some were saying, He can’t be from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.’ Others were asking, ‘How could he heal people and do all the other miracle he has done if he wasn’t from God?'”

“The Pharisees didn’t believe that I used to be blind so interviewed by parents too. My parents were terrified they would be thrown out of the synagogue. The Pharisee can do that, you know. They can just kick you out of the synagogue and the temple and then you have no way to make things right with God.”

“After that, the Pharisees called me in for another interview which felt more like an interrogation. They kept asking me about Jesus and all I could do was tell them what I knew: ‘I once was blind, but now I see.’ It was obvious to me where Jesus was from. He healed me and gave me hope after a lifetime of hopeless. Miracles like that don’t happen, they come from God. It was clear that they didn’t want to hear what I had to say because they threw me out the synagogue.

“Jesus came and found me after that. He asked me if I believed in the Messiah and that he was him. I was so excited I put my trust in him and bowed low in worship. Some of the Pharisees overheard our conversation and they weren’t pleased, but I knew right then and there I had found the hope I had been looking for.”

From the view of one of the Pharisees who excommunicated a troublemaker. (John 9:13-41)

“I am one of the Pharisees and I’m also a scribe too. We help preserve God’s law and teach it to the people. God continues to bless us because we go above and beyond in obeying His law. God is lucky to have us around. Otherwise, it would be like the ‘wild west.’

For example, there was a blind man recently who claimed he was healed by Jesus, that troublemaker from Nazareth. His story didn’t add up, however, because the people who knew him from the road outside of town didn’t think he was the same guy. We talked to his parents too, but I don’t think we can trust them. Jesus has been a threat to the establishment for a long time. He’s a good preacher, but I think he’s a trickster with all of those so-called ‘miracles’ that he pulls off. He claims to speak for God, but he doesn’t have any formal training and he doesn’t follow the rules.

He supposedly healed the blind man by making clay out of his spit and anointing his eyes – on a Sabbath. Everybody knows that you can’t do that on a Sabbath! The beggar was so sure that Jesus was a messenger from God, we had to excommunicate him from the synagogue. He even suggested that the Pharisee wanted to be followers of Jesus – how ignorant! We had to get rid of him; we couldn’t afford to have a Jesus-supporter like that spreading lies in God’s house.

“I’m glad we excommunicate him because later on one of the other Pharisee’s overheard that beggar talking to Jesus near the temple. The beggar was worshiping Jesus like He was a ‘god’ or something. Then, Jesus said he came into the world so that those who do not see may not see and those who see may become blind. I have never heard of something so preposterous and blasphemous. Jesus had the nerve to tell my friend, another Pharisee, that he was a sinner when everyone knows we always obey God.”

From the perspectives of these two men, we learn that Jesus helps the hopeless and condemns the conceited. The helpless are drawn to Jesus. You may not think of yourself as helpless or hopeless, but spiritually, we all are. God. Isaiah 53:6 says we are all like sheep who have gone astray. Thankfully, the Lord has caused our iniquity to fall on Jesus. 1 Peter 1:3 says that God has caused us to be “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Like a moth to a flame, the helpless are drawn to Jesus.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the conceited are driven from Jesus. We prefer labels ourselves “well-prepared” or “confident.” the Prophet Jeremiah warns us, however, not to trust in the wisdom, or physical strength but to trust in the Lord “who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23, 24a) Like a racoon running from the headlights, the conceited are driven from Jesus.

Are you more like the hopeless blind man or the Pharisee who was blind to his spiritual need? How you see yourself is an indication of how you see Jesus, “the Light of the world.” The choice is yours.

Five Kinds of People Who Don’t Believe

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The 7-day Feast of Tabernacles was one of the most popular Jewish festivals in Jesus’ day, and for good reason. The Feast was full of meaningful rituals and traditions. The people ate and slept in temporary shelters. Every morning they celebrated the water ceremony. Every evening they gathered near the temple for a time of music and dancing. Men with religious influence carried burning torches in their hands and danced with enthusiasm while the temple orchestra filled the night with music.

That’s what was going on in John 8 when Jesus announced: “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the Light of life” (v. 12). Based on John’s thesis statement in John 20:30-31, we might expect to read how many people in the crowd believed in Jesus. Instead, we find the opposite; we see how many in the crowd rejected Jesus. As the chapter unfolds, we learn about five kinds of people who don’t believe in Jesus.

1. People who reject Jesus’ testimony about Himself (8:13).

The Pharisees dismissed Jesus’ announcement because they thought He was speaking on his own authority. Jesus reminded them that the Law only required two people to establish a testimony as true. Jesus spoke in concert with the Heavenly Father. The Pharisee didn’t recognize Jesus as God’s messenger because they didn’t know God (v. 19).

From 1985 to 1991, about two hundred mainline NT scholars gathered throughout the U.S. twice a year as the Jesus Seminar.[1] The goal of this group was to reconstruct the “real historical Jesus” apart from the “mythical Jesus” presented in the Bible. This group concluded, erroneously, that Jesus never said 82 percent of words attributed to Him in the Gospels. People still commit the same kind of error today when they pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe and obey.

2. People who are confused about Jesus’ death (8:22)

The crowd was confused when Jesus told them He would be going away. Jesus explained that they would know who He was when He was “lifted up.” This was a clear allusion to His death on a cross. When Jesus was lifted up on a cross, he became a sacrifice for the sin of the world. Those who refused this gift would die in their unbelief (v. 24).

Confusion over Jesus’ death still exists today. Those who think that Jesus was just a religious leader, or a moral example can’t help but see His death as a waste. Jesus was cut down in the prime of his life and his full potential was never filled. Those who believe that Jesus was both the Son of God and the Son of Man have a different perspective. They know that His death was a great gift as God bridged the gap between heaven and earth.

3. People who make a profession of faith without follow through (8:31)

Verse 30 says, “Many people came to believe in Him.” At first glance, this seems like a positive statement, it may not be so positive in this context. Jesus explained that genuine faith goes deeper than an outward statement. It takes obedience and consistency to show that you are really a follower of Jesus.

Genuine faith results in genuine freedom in the way a flashlight allows you to move through unfamiliar terrain without hurting yourself. Our community is full of people with a superficial understanding of faith. There are about 30k people who live within a 3-mile radius of our church.

4. People who are blind to their own sin (8:33).

The Jews claimed they had “never been enslaved to anyone.” This claim was historically inaccurate. At one time or another, the Jews have been enslaved or controlled by Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media-Persia, Macedonia, Syria, and Rome. The Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder of their liberation from Egypt.[2] The Jews were as blind about their political situation they were about their spiritual situation.

Blindness can be dangerous when you are in denial. A 67-year-old woman went in for cataract surgery and received quite a shock. The woman had worn disposable contacts for 35 years. From time to time, she couldn’t find her lens in her right eye to remove it, so she figured she’d dropped it somewhere. When she went in for cataract surgery, the doctor found a “blue mass” made up of 27 contact lenses that had been left in her eye.

5. People who worship their religious traditions (8:53).

The Jews were offended at the idea that Jesus was greater than Abraham. They were proud of their ethnic and religious heritage. They were so fiercely protective of the rituals and traditions associated they couldn’t imagine anything different.

Jesus claimed to be the God who blessed Abraham. In Genesis. 12:1-3, God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham. Jesus claimed that promise had finally come true through Him.

Resistance to change is one indication of misplaced worship. Some people put their fain in faith and the outward observances of that faith. They worship Christianity instead of the Christ that makes Christianity possible.

John 8 serves as a warning. The people in this passage aren’t heathens, pagans, or atheists, they’re religious people gathered for a 7-day religious feast! They have faith, but it’s not saving faith because it’s not focused on the only One who can save.

[1]Wellum, Stephen J. (2016). God the Son Incarnate (p. 42) Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

[2]Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11(Vol. 25A, p. 303). Nashville: B & H Publishers.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

False Expectations and Faith

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William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache,” and he’s right.  When we go into a situation with unrealistic or unhealthy expectations, we set ourselves up for pain, disappointment, and failure. Expectations in themselves are not bad, but faulty expectations is a recipe for disaster.

The Feast of Tabernacles, or Booths, was a time of high expectation and hope in Jesus’s day. Jews from all over the Roman empire gathered in Jerusalem to lived in huts for seven days to recall how their ancestors lived in huts during their exodus from Egypt. One of the most special parts of this feast was the ceremony of water. Every morning, the High Priest would dip a golden pitcher into the pool of Siloam and carry it to the altar in the temple followed by a parade of people. Trumpets would blast their horns, the temple choir would sing, and the people would cry out their thanks to God before the water was poured out at the base of the altar. The water ceremony expressed the Jewish hope that God would pour out His Spirit in them and send them a Messiah.

In John 7 and 8, we learn about Jesus’ experience at the Feast of Tabernacles. We also learn about the false expectations that the people had the Messiah, These false expectations blinded them to Savior that was right in front of them. Unfortunate, these three false expectations are still preventing people from putting their faith in Christ today.

1. Jesus must make a dramatic announcement to be the Savior (7:1-13).

Jesus’ half brothers thought they knew all about his aspirations. They knew all about his public teaching and the miracles he had performed. It was clear to them that Jesus wanted to be a big-time rabbi or prophet, but He couldn’t do that out in the countryside. So they challenged Him to declare his intentions in front of the crowds in Jerusalem during the feast.

Jesus turned down their invitation because “His time had not yet come.” Jesus refused the expectations that over people had of him. He lived instead, according to the Heavenly Father’s expectations for his life. We would all do well to follow Jesus’ example here.

Unfortunately, some people expect God to make some dramatic announcement as if He has to earn their faith. They refuse to put their trust in God unless He helps them out of this crisis, answers all their questions, or performs some obscure miracle. Imagine someone being rescued from an area that has been ravaged by a hurricane. A Coast Guard helicopter hovers overhead as a rescue worker is lowered down. Now imagine how absurd it would be if the victim, surrounded by water, peppered the rescue worker with questions and demanding to see he credentials and a detailed plan of how he would be saved before he allowed himself to be rescued.

2. Jesus must tell us what we want to hear to be the Savior (7:14-36).

Jesus eventually went up to Feast by himself in the middle of the week. When He got there, He was met with stiff resistance.  The Jews doubted Him because He taught with authority without going through the proper education process. The residents of Jerusalem questioned Him because He taught openly and questioned their relationship with God. The Pharisees tied to arrest Him because He challenged the status quo.

People make the same mistake today when they expect God to tell them what they want to hear. They want to hear, “You are ok and everything is fine.” They want their religious leaders to affirm them and all the choices that they’ve made. They want to hear about God’s love and acceptance but reject the idea that the same God might judge them for their sin.

The Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912. In the event of an emergency, musicians on passenger ships at that time were expected to play light and airy songs to keep calm the passengers. As the Titanic took on water that fateful night, the band played on as if everything was ok. Some people might have been thankful for the distraction, but most of us would probably prefer the truth.

3. Jesus must come from a prominent place to be the Savior (7:37-53).

The religious leaders rejected Jesus because He was from Galilee. They ignored the fact that He has been born in Bethlehem and emphasized the fact the He grew up in the “back-woods, fishing country” around the Sea of Galilee. Like Jesus’ brothers, they couldn’t reconcile what they knew about Jesus with what they expected in Messiah.

Like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, some people expect God to come to them from a place of prominence. They want God in their life, but only if it enhances their image. They only want a church that is “big” and a preacher that is “popular.”

Jesus shared a meal with his disciples the night before he was betrayed. Even though He was most the important person in the room, he wrapped himself in a towel and poured water in a bowl to wash the disciples’ feet. He served His followers from a posture of humility rather than power or prominence.

Jesus made a startling declaration on the last day of the Feast to clear up the false expectations that were swirling around Him (7:37-39). He told the whole world that He is the Savior because He is the only one who can quench their spiritual thirst. He was and still is the source of spiritual life. He was and still the One who has come to save us.

In our day and age, people have gotten used to writing reviews for the good and services they use, especially when shopping online. They usually leave a rating from 1 to 5 stars as well as any comments you think might be helpful to future customers. In Psalm 34:8, King David wrote an amazing “review” of the Savior. He wrote, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8, NASB). If you can’t agree with this “review” God and His grace, you need to make sure your false expectations aren’t getting in the way.

Image by rony michaud from Pixabay

The Foolishness of God

cross-671379_640Some people can’t make sense of a suffering Savior. They don’t understand why Jesus allowed himself to be humiliated and disgraced the way He did. They think they know what salvation looks like and Jesus doesn’t measure up.

Have you ever struggled with the events leading up to Easter? Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to suffer and die? Wasn’t there another way?

The Apostle Paul encountered those kinds of questions at the church at Corinth. The people in the church believed in Jesus but struggled with the crucifixion and the resurrection. To them, the crucifixion was foolishness.

As we read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, we find out that the “foolishness” of God is far better than the “wisdom” of man. We also discover two reasons why the gospel requires a crucifixion.

1. The Gospel is the story of a suffering Savior. (v. 18-19, 23)

In verse 18, the gospel is described as “the word of the cross.” Before the cross became a symbol of forgiveness and life, it was a symbol of death and shame. People weren’t just killed on a cross, they were humiliated. Imagine if we traded out the symbol of the cross for an electric chair or a hangman’s noose on our churches? The Gospel is so closely tied to the crucifixion that Paul says there is no preaching outside of preaching a crucified Christ. (1:23)

2. There are two basic responses to the Gospel. (v. 22-24)

Unfortunately, some people reject the gospel as foolishness. Many of the Jews in the first century thought Christ’s death was scandalous and absurd. They expected Jesus to perform a sign after miraculous sign to prove his power. In their minds, there was no way the Messiah would be crucified. Many of the Greeks through Christ’s death was foolish, but for different reasons. They were always looking for something sophisticated and complex. In their minds, Jesus was too basic and humble.

Thankfully, there are also those who accept the gospel as the wisdom of God. Those who believe the Good News about Jesus know that the gospel has to power to change lives. Romans 1:6 reads, “For I am notashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

When you come upon to an exit ramp on the highway you only have two choices: take the exit or stay on the highway. When someone calls you on the phone you also only have two choices: answer the phone, or let it ring. Those that hear the Gospel only have two ways to respond: accept it or reject.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, we learn not only that Christ’s crucifixion is necessary, but that God’s “foolishness” is far better than anything we can come up with to save ourselves. As you respond to the Gospel for yourself, let me encourage you to embrace the paradox of the gospel. Through Jesus, we know that salvation comes through suffering, freedom comes through submission, and life comes through death.

The Necessities of Life

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Disney released The Jungle Book movie in 1967. One of the most memorable moments in the film is when Baloo the bear teaches Mowgli about the “bare necessities of life” while they search for food together. Bagheera the black panther looks on in disapproval as the bear and boy bebop through the jungle.

The Jewish Passover is a festival built around gratitude to God for two of the necessities of life: food and water.  When the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt, they took their unleaved bread with them because they left in such a hurry (Exodus 12:33-34). Before God provided bread and water for them in the desert, He led them through a body of water – the Red Sea – and used that same body of water to destroy the Egyptian army (Exodus 14).

In John 6:1-25, we read about two of Jesus’ more famous miracles: the feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water. These two stories are recorded back to back in three out of the four Gospels because of their deep connection to the Jewish Passover. We have to adopt a Jewish mindset to appreciate what Jesus said and did in these passages because the control of water and the concept of eating are forever linked to the Passover in the mind of the Jews. 

JESUS FED THE HUNGRY (John 6:1-14)

Jesus traveled to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to a place called Tiberias. A large crowd of people followed Him because He was healing people. Like other rabbis in the first century, Jesus went up on a mountain to teach His disciples and all the other people who had followed Him.

When Jesus was finished teaching, He asked His disciples to organize a meal for the massive crowd of people. Philip said they didn’t have enough money to buy bread for the people. Andrew found a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish but wondered how that could ever be enough. Jesus asked his disciples for help, but already knew what He was going to do. He took the bread and the fish from the boy, blessed it, and began distributing it among the people.

John gives us two numbers to help us appreciate the magnitude of this miracle meal. John tells us that 5,000 men ate that day, plus their wives and children. When everyone was finished eating, the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers. This truly was a miracle meal!

JESUS RESCUED THE HELPLESS (6:15-25)

Some of the people in the crowd wanted to make Jesus king and who could blame them – he made food appear out of thin air! Jesus had other plans so He hid in the hills while His disciples traveled back to Capernaum through the Sea of Galilee.  When they were in the middle of the sea, his disciples encountered a fierce storm and became afraid for their lives. Suddenly, they saw Jesus towards them walking on water and they were even more frightened. Then Jesus got into the boat they were instantly at their destination on the other side of the water.

Jesus isn’t surprised by anything in these two Passover stories. In fact, he deliberately put his disciples in a situation where they were forced to find their sustenance and security in Him. These two miracles reverberate through history as God continues to put people in situations where they must find their spiritual sustenance and security in Him.

Sustenance is what it takes to sustaining life – it’s necessary nourishment. Bread sustains our physical life in the same way that obedience to Christ sustains our spiritual life. True spiritual sustenance only comes through a connection to Christ.

Security is freedom from danger, care, or anxiety. In the Exodus story and John 6, water isn’t a necessity of life, but a danger to life – the disciples were helpless and afraid. You and I can plan for the future, but true peace and security only come from God.

Jesus is more than a Rabbi, Prophet, or King, He is the Passover Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29).  When you find yourself spiritually hungry and helpless you can turn to Jesus. When you find yourself overcome and overwhelmed by the circumstances of life you can turn to Jesus. When you find yourself without a plan and without path you can turn to Jesus for your sustenance and security.

When you do, you will be able to pray two parallel prayers:

“You are enough for me Jesus.”

“I rest easy in you Jesus.”

If you can honestly pray these two prayers to God than you are well on your way to finding your sustenance and security in Jesus. If you cannot, then you need to reevaluate the true necessities of life.

Photo by Bruno Thethe on Unsplash

A Trial for the Ages

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Every once in while a court case attracts so much interest and attention it is described as “the trial of the century.” Not only do these high profile cases render a verdict they also shaped our culture. The Scopes Trial in 1925 changed the way many people view the authority of the Bible. The trial of Charles Manson in 1970 made people rethink their basic assumptions about human nature. Even though he was acquitted on all charges, the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999 redefined the American presidency.

As important as these trials are, there is one trial in human history that stands head and shoulder above the rest. The trial of Jesus Christ is a “trial for the ages.” While we usually go to the end of the Gospels to read about Christ’s trumped-up trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Apostle John helps us see that Jesus was on trial throughout his public ministry.

John 5:1-47 reads like the notes of a court reporter.  In verses 1-15, we find a description of the “crime” that Jesus committed. In verse 16-18, we see a list of the charges that were filed against Jesus by the Jewish leaders. In rest of the chapter (verses 19-47), we hear testimonies from the key witnesses that Jesus called to his defense.

Jesus is on trial in John 5 and you must decide for yourself if you think he is innocent or guilty. You cannot stay neutral or impartial about Jesus. Just like the various characters that interact with Jesus in John’s Gospel, you have to make a choice about Jesus. If He is guilty then He should be rejected as a fake and a fraud. But if Jesus is innocent then He should be received as your Savior and Lord.

THE CRIME (5:1-15).

Jesus went to Jerusalem for an unnamed feast. While there, Jesus met a man near the pool of Bethesda who had been unable to walk for 38 years. Sick people used to lay near the pool waiting for an angel to stir the waters. Whoever got into the water first after it was stirred was healed from their infirmity.

Jesus asked the man if the man wanted to be healed and then commanded him to get up, take his mat, and go. The mat wasn’t heavy, but it was proof positive that the man was really healed. While the man was carrying his mat he was questioned by the Jewish leaders about violating the Sabbath laws.

The man blamed the man who had healed him, but he said he didn’t know that man’s name. Later, Jesus met up with the man who was healed in the temple and revealed himself to the man. Jesus also urged the man to repent of his sins so that he would not suffer worse situation in the future.

THE CHARGES (5:16-18)

Up to that point, the Jewish leaders tolerated Jesus. When they learned that it was Jesus who healed the man, they began to persecute him outright. They persecuted Jesus for two reasons. One reason the Jewish persecuted Jesus was because He violated the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the basis for all the Jewish festivals. The laws that accompanied the Sabbath “rest” were so ingrained in Jewish society that the Jewish could not tolerate Jesus and rebellion.

Another reason why the Jewish leaders persecuted Jesus was that He made Himself out to be equal with God. The Jews had a very high view of God. They couldn’t see how a carpenter for Nazareth, or anyone for that matter, could be on equal footing with God. They viewed His claims and actions as blasphemy.

THE HEARING (5:19-47)

Jesus began His own defense with a confession, but not the kind of confession his opponents were looking for. Jesus confessed His complete dependence on the Heavenly Father (vv. 19-24). The Son only does what He sees His Heavenly Father doing. The Son loves the Heavenly Father because the Heavenly Father loves Him. The Heavenly Father gives the Son the authority to give life and judge all people as He also gives life and judges all people.

Jesus continued by calling four witnesses to his defense (vv. 33-47). Jesus told the Jewish leaders that John the Baptist, who they respected, told the truth about Him when John called Jesus “the Lamb of God.” Jesus also pointed to his teaching and miracles as proof that He came from God. Jesus challenged the unbelief around Him as a byproduct of not listening to the Word of God. Jesus also claimed that Scriptures all pointed towards Him as the Messiah.

John 5 is more than a story, it’s a description of the trial that happens every time someone comes in contact with Jesus Christ – its a trial for the ages. So what will you do with Jesus? Is He innocent or guilty as charged?

In John 1:11-12 we read, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB).

“Beyond Salvation”

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The twelve disciples must have been excited. In John 4: 1, we read that the word about Jesus was spreading throughout Judea and Jesus was baptizing (with their help) more people than John the Baptist. The disciples had chosen to follow Jesus and now they were on the fast track to success.

Instead of working the crowds and chasing popularity in Judea, the epic-center of Judaism, Jesus surprised his disciples by traveling back to Galilee  – through Samaria. The Jews avoided the Samaritans because they saw them as racial and religious “half-breeds.” In 722 B.C. the Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel (the region that became Samaria) as a consequence for their repeated rebellion against God. The Assyrians deported most of the Israelites and then repopulated the area with conquered peoples from other parts of their empire as a way to solidify control. In time, these people intermarried and embraced an unholy mixture of pagan and Jewish practices.

Jesus stopped to rest near a well outside of the city of Sychar. While his disciples went into the city to find food, Jesus engaged a Samaritan women in conversation. Jesus’s trip through Samaria teaches us a lesson that His disciples did not understand. Jesus is not just the Savior of the world, He is the Savior of the whole world.

In John 4:1-30, we learn that the whole world includes…

PEOPLE WHO ARE “BEYOND SAVING” (4:6-9)

Jesus surprised the Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink from the well. Not only was she a Samaritan, but she was also a woman. Jewish men never talked to women in public, even their wives. She was a woman of “questionable character” which is probably why she was drawing water from the well during the heat of the day when few people were around.

We must push back on the idea that some people are “beyond saving.” No one is too far gone, too sinful, or unimportant in God’s eyes. We can’t let age, annual income, language, skin color, marital status, or even sexual orientation limit our view of salvation. In John 3:16, we read that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.

PEOPLE WHO DON’T THINK THEY NEED TO BE SAVED (4:10-14)

Jesus probed deeper by suggesting that women should be asking him for a drink.  The woman was quick to point out her religious connection to Jacob the Patriarch. As far as she was concerned, she was “ok” because she was a Samaritan. But Jesus exposed her spiritual need by explaining her need for living water and eternal life.

PEOPLE WHO ARE BROKEN BY SIN (4:15-18)

This is the turning point in the conversation as Jesus revealed the Samaritan woman’s brokenness. She had been involved in five broken marriages and was living with a sixth man who is not her husband. She had searched for love and significance and come up short.

The Samaritan woman’s experience reminds us that “religion” can’t be compartmentalized – it touches every area of our lives. We are broken without a personal relationship and that brokenness shows up in all kinds of ways. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (NASB).

PEOPLE WHO ARE SPIRITUALLY BLIND (4:19-26)

The Samaritan woman was blind to the truth about Jesus. She diverted attention away from herself to an age-old argument between the Samaritans & the Jews about the proper place to worship God. The Jews worship God in Jerusalem while the Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerizim. Jesus explained that worship was about to change because the Savior had come – and he was it!

Jesus is the Savior of the whole world because the whole world needs to be saved. Romans tells us “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Jesus came into the world to save the whole world, not just for the people we know, we like, or that look like us. We shouldn’t limit the scope of God’s salvation by assuming anyone, is beyond salvation.”

 

Sent to Save

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 “A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years of studying books.” – Henry Longfellow

A wise man approached Jesus at night for a conversation. The man was Nicodemus, a well-respected and influential religious leader in Jerusalem. The longer that Nicodemus and Jesus talked, the more obvious it was that he didn’t understand who Jesus was or what he was saying to him. Jesus proved to be the real wise man in the conversation.

During the course of their conversation, Jesus shared God’s plan to save the world. He told Nicodemus that God sent His Son into the world to save the world. Jesus led Nicodemus through the course of the discussion Jesus explained who needs to be saved, how to get saved, why getting saved is so important. We read about their interaction in John 3:1-21

1. EVERYONE WHO WALKS IN DARKNESS NEEDS TO BE SAVED (John 3:1-3)

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night which is an indication of his spiritual state, not just the time of day. Darkness is the domain of misunderstanding and unbelief. The only other person that did something at night in John’s Gospel was Judas, who betrayed Jesus at night (John 13:30). Even though Nicodemus was respectful and smart, he was in the dark about God’s plan to save the world.

Nicodemus came to Jesus from an elevated place in society, that was not enough to escape his spiritual darkness. Nicodemus had a privileged birth as a Jewish man in Jerusalem. Nicodemus also had great influence. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court.

In comparison to Christ, the Light of the world, everyone walks in darkness and needs to be saved.  John 8:12 says, “Jesus is the Light of the world and those who follow Him will not walk in darkness.” Like Nicodemus, we are unable to save ourselves through our own good works and self-made righteousness.

2. YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN TO BE SAVED (John 3:4-8)

Jesus informed Nicodemus that he could not participate in God’s kingdom without being “born again.” Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus, who was talking about spiritual birth, not physical birth. Being “born again” means to be born from above by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus explained that the process of spiritual birth may seem mysterious, like the blowing of the wind, but the outcome and effects of spiritual birth are obvious.

3. YOU ARE UNDER GOD’S JUDGMENT, SO YOU NEED TO BE SAVED (John 3:9-21)

Jesus described the Heavenly Father like as a loving Judge, a subject that Nicodemus was familiar with as a judge in Israel. God balanced his hatred toward sin with his love for humanity by make a way for everyone to be saved at great cost to himself. Jesus is God’s one and only son. God sent him into the world to save the world.

Jesus balanced this good news with a warning that God’s judgment is looming for who refuse to believe. He told Nicodemus that who don’t believe in him are already judged by God. Those who continue in their unbelief will experience death and separation from God, instead of the eternal life that God offers. Hebrews 9:27 punctuates this truth with these words: “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

Nicodemus and Jesus’ conversation reveals God’s plan to save the world. Each and every person who reads this account must decide what to do with Jesus. The decision is to put your faith in Jesus as God’s Savior and experience eternal life, or reject Jesus and experience the consequences. Those who come to Jesus as the Light of the world must take the light they’ve been given and share it with those around them who are still walking in darkness.

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