You Are What You Pray

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We are familiar with the phrase, “you are what you eat,” but did you know you are what you pray? Our prayers connect us with God, but they also reveal our priorities. The things we prioritize, we pursue, and the things we purse we become. If you thank God for your food, you become grateful. If you pray for the safety of your friends and family, you become caring. If you pray for unbelievers to come to Christ, you become evangelistic.

Jesus focused on his mission and his followers throughout his earthly ministry. It shouldn’t surprise us that when he prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion, he prayed a selfless, mission-focused prayer. The prayer recorded in John 17:1-26 has been labeled many ways but it was Jesus’ last words before he was taken away and killed. In it, Jesus prayed for three distinct things.

1. JESUS PRAYED FOR HIS MISSION TO BE COMPLETE (v. 1-5).

Jesus came to earth with a mission to live a perfect life and die a perfect death so that he could save the world and share his life with his followers. If Jesus didn’t finish his mission his disciples wouldn’t have a mission of their own or a message to share. Jesus knew how important his mission was.

Notice three principles from this section of Jesus’ prayer that helped Him finish. First, Jesus was God-centered (v. 1). Prayer is more than a task, it is a relationship. Second, Jesus has an eternal focus. Eternity begins at conversion, progresses with Christian growth and discipleship, and continues on into heaven. Third, Jesus was totally surrendered. Jesus gave us his own will so that He could accomplish the will of the Heavenly Father.

2. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE CHARACTER OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-17).

Jesus prayed for three things in regards to the character of his followers. First, he prayed that they would be kept in God’s name (v. 1). Someone’s name usually represents their character in the bible. Jesus prayed that his followers would be kept close and their character would mirror his own.

Second, Jesus also prayed that his followers would be kept from the evil one (v. 15). Jesus acknowledged that Satan’s destructive influence in the world. Jesus prayed that his followers would be protected from that influence. Satan may be a bully, but he should not be feared.

Third, Jesus prayed that his followers be set apart in the truth of God (v. 17). God’s Word should have a prominent place in the lives of Christ’s followers. There are five practices today that allow God’s Word to permeate your life: hearing the bible, reading the bible, studying the bible, memorizing the bible, and meditating on the bible.

3. JESUS PRAYED FOR THE MISSION OF HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 6-26).

Unfortunately, there are many people today who do not finish their God-given mission. The average church loses 3% of its membership each year. Thousands of pastors leave the ministry each year before retirement.

Jesus prayed that his follower would all be one (v. 11). Solidarity is just as important for individual local churches as it is for the Church as a whole. Unity is more than just doing stuff together, its “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).

Jesus also prayed that his follower would be with him where he was (v. 24). He has just announced that he would be leaving his disciples behind while he went to prepare a place for them in heaven (John 14). Even though he would be leaving, he wanted his followers to be with him eventually so they would see his glory.

Jesus prayed for himself and his followers because you are what you pray. His prayer flowed from his priorities and passions. What do your prayers say about your priorities and passions? Are you working to complete your God-given mission? Are you developing a Christ-like character? Are you contributing to the oneness of your church?

Like in many other area of life, you and I have good intentions. But if you genuinely want to make good on of those good intentions, start with prayer.

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The Marks of a Disciple

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Jermaine Wilson experienced tremendous transformation. He grew up in Leavenworth, Kanson and started to sell drugs out of his childhood apartment at an early age. He was eventually incarcerated at the maximum-security wing at Lansing Correctional, a state prison in Kansas where he had a realization. “If I don’t change,” he thought, “I’m either going to spend the rest of my life in prison or dead in a casket.” In a strange turn of events, Jermaine is now the mayor of Leavenworth, according to a story that air on CBS earlier this year. Jermaine credits the transformation to God, education, and volunteer work. After prison, he started serving his community and got his felony record expunged, paving the way for a political run.

Jesus used a parable of the vine and the branches to teach us about spiritual transformation in John 15:1-17. Like Jermaine Wilson, the disciples experienced a transformation while they followed Jesus. In one sense, they become disciples the moment they said, “yes” to Jesus. In another very real sense, they didn’t become disciples until they put their faith in the resurrected Jesus. (John 20:29)

The parable of the vine and the branches invites the question, “When does an unbeliever become a disciple?” This metaphor and the explanation follows gives us three marks of a disciple. Notice that these marks are dynamic, not static, meaning they grow and develop over time.

1. Disciples build a friendship with Jesus.

Social media has changed the way we view friendship. It used to be that you had to be physically present with someone to make a friend, but now you can become friends with people all over the world with the click of a button. Social media can increase our ability to communicate, but it can’t increase our capacity to care.

A friendship with Jesus is based on trust and affection. Friends depend on each other because they have a two-way bond. Jesus calls us to “abide in me and I in you” (v. 4). We are branches and branches can do nothing by themselves, they are just sticks (v. 5).

Friends are better than servants because they care for each other. Jesus considers us friends because he gave his life for us (v. 13). He also reveals God’s Word and will to us (v. 15).

It takes time to build a friendship with Jesus. It takes up to three years to grow grapes on a vine. After the vine and branches are established, grapes grow like the life of the vine moves into them. Jesus could have downloaded everything he wanted his disciples to directly into their brain the moment he called them, but he didn’t because he wanted to develop a relationship with them.

2. Disciples bear fruit that lasts.

Spiritual fruit is the Word of God put into practice. In a broad sense, it’s every act done in obedience to Christ. Spiritual fruit is every display of Christ-like character, ever prayer prayed in accordance with God’s will, and every deed done to bring unbelievers to faith in Christ. The beauty of the vineyard is in the sheer magnitude of grapes produced, not just one particular grape. In a narrow sense, its ever act of love done for another believer (more about that in a moment).

God prunes us to make us more fruitful. The vinedresser removes all the old growth to make room for new growth and fruit. God uses His Word to prune and clean us (v. 3). He works to remove things in our lives that get in the way of our fruitfulness. Those things might be sinful habits, misplaced priorities, or even harmful relationships.

People who don’t bear fruit aren’t disciples, they’re imposters (v.6). True spiritual fruit remains to the end. Anyone can do something that looks spiritual on the outside. Only the deeds done in the power of God will make a lasting impact.

3. Disciples demonstrate love for other believers.

Spiritual fruit has a broad and a narrow definition (see the previous point). Demonstrating love for other believers is a prominent mark of a disciple because grows out of the first and second Greatest Commands revealed by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40.  The first command is assumed in this passage while the second command is reinforced (v. 9).

We must follow Jesus’ example in demonstrating love for others. Jesus laid down his life for the ones he loved – his friends. We must show love to everyone we meet as our “neighbor,” but we have a special responsibility to love our fellow disciples.

Our special relationship with Christ must not become a source of pride. He chose us, we did not choose him (v. 16). Back to the parable, he planted us we did not plant ourselves.

In summary, an unbeliever becomes a true disciple when he or she builds a friendship with Jesus, bears fruit that lasts, and demonstrates love for other believers. These activities cannot be accomplished without the transforming power of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Have you tapped into that power?

Photo by Nacho Domínguez Argenta on Unsplash

Left Behind

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Jesus left the world better than he found it. He came into a world darkened by sin and showed his light. He overcame sickness and need with his God-sized power. He told the lost about God’s plan to save them and invited them to follow him.

When the time was right, however, he left his disciples behind and broke their collective hearts. But Jesus didn’t leave his disciples without a plan. He told them about his plan to continue his ministry through his disciples even though he was returning to his Heavenly Father in heaven.

In the Farewell Discourse found in John 14:1-31, we read about three realities that Jesus left behind that changed the world forever. As we align our lives to these three realities we participate in God’s plan to save the world. We also experience his care as he takes care of the little details in our lives.

1. Jesus Left Behind Disciples Who Look Forward to His Return      (14:1-6).

Jesus promised to return after preparing a place for each of his disciples in heaven. The disciples were stressed out about the details, but Jesus assured them that if they knew him they had all they needed. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (v. 6).

The world was and is better off with a growing group of disciples working to make Jesus known while they look forward to his return. Jesus didn’t just leave his disciples behind, he sent them out into the world to make more disciples on his behalf (John 20:19-21) I praise God for the disciples that have been made through the Church.

2. Jesus Left Behind Churches that Do Greater Work than He Did (14:12-14).

Jesus also promised his disciples would do “greater works” than he did. There was no way his disciples could top Jesus’ works in terms of importance or degree for there is no way to do better than walking on water or raising someone from the dead. The disciples could, however, do greater works than Jesus in terms of size and scale.

As often as churches use the Word of God to exalt the Son of God, they do “greater works” than Christ himself. Instead of 11 disciples gathered around to hear from God, there are hundreds of thousands of churches around the world with millions of disciples gathered to hear from God. Those with the gifts of service are just as important as those with the gifts of speaking if they are glorifying God (1 Peter 4:11).

3. Jesus Left Behind the Holy Spirit that Ministers on His Behalf (14:16-17, 25-29).

Jesus rounded out his discourse with a promise to send the Holy Spirit to help his disciples. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit teaches His disciples through the written Word of God and reminds them of the Word they have studied. The goal is to get in Word of God so that the Word of God gets into you.

Jesus left the world better than he found it by leaving behind three important realities: disciples, churches, and the Holy Spirit. That brings up three closing questions:

Are you a disciple of Christ?

Are you engaged in the work of the church?

Are you hearing from the Holy Spirit?

If you align yourself with the big stuff in God’s plan, the details that we so often worry about will fall into place. Jesus left the world better because he left us behind to multiply his ministry. If you align yourself with these three realities, God will take care of the rest. He may be gone but he’s not gone forever. Are you ready for his return?

Serving the Undeserving​

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Eating a meal together is a relationship-building event. When we gather around a table we gather in a specific place and build memories, if only for a little while. Whether it’s causal of fancy, we experience meals together.

Jesus’ most famous meal with his disciples was his last meal with them. The Sedar meal was an important part of Passover in the first century. Jewish family groups would eat a meal of roasted lamb and bitter herbs and remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.

We read about the Last Supper in John 13:1-30. In this passage, John describes the meal from a different angle than the other Gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place the emphasis on the ceremonial elements of the meal itself. John places the emphasis on a surprising event at the start of the meal.

As the meal was about to start, Jesus got up, took off his out garment, wrapped a towel around himself, and began washing the disciples’ feet. With this one act, Jesus made this a meal that could never be forgotten. With this one act, Jesus signaled that things were about to change. With this one act, Jesus served the undeserving in three distinct ways.

1. Jesus Served in Ways No One Else Wanted to Serve (13:1-11).

Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew his earthly ministry was about to end. He knew Judas was about to betray him. He knew why the Heavenly Father had sent him.

People in the first century walked almost everywhere they went and while wearing open-toed sandals. Foot washing was reserved for the lowest of the servants, usually a Gentile or a woman. Jesus intentionally took on this role to serve his disciples.

The disciples were shocked by Jesus’ undignified actions. Peter went so far as to refuse Jesus. It’s significant, however, that none of the disciples volunteer to wash feet Christ’s place.

It’s probably not service if everyone is eager to do it. Service requires a certain amount of humility and sacrifice. Service means putting someone else’s comfort and desires above your own.

2. Jesus Served Out of Love for Others (13:12-20).

Jesus explained that those who wished to call him their Teacher or Master must also follow his example. To avoid service is to place oneself  “above” Jesus. If he can humble himself to serve others, so must his followers.

Jesus clarified his motivation for service in his closing summary (John 13:34-35). Service and sacrifice are born out of genuine love for other people. This “command” is built on the first and second Greatest Commandments in the Old Testament: to love God and love others.

There are lots of reasons to serve, but only love is inspired by the gospel. Compassion is important, but it withers without the gospel. Some people serve because it’s their job or because they need community service hours. You can serve out of pride to show how “humble” you are.

3. Jesus Even Served Those Who Didn’t Like Him (13:21-30).

Jesus finally came out and said what he knew all along – one of them was about to betray him. The disciples all questioned each other as Jesus took a morsel of food and gave it to Judas along with his “permission.” For some reason, the disciples all missed this sign.

The most amazing part of this story is that Jesus washed Judas’ feet right along with the rest of the disciples. He didn’t leave him out or single him out. True service views everyone the same, regardless of how they treat us.

Jesus gave us a picture of the gospel by serving the underserving. He served others who weren’t willing or able to return the favor. He sacrificed himself out of love for those who were more interested in status than sacrifice (see Luke’s account in Luke 22:24-27). He humbled himself in front of someone who was working against him and waiting for an opportune moment to stab him in the back.

Like the Bread and fruit of the vine of the Lord’s Supper, the basin and the towel teach us that we are undeserving of God’s grace. They also invite us in at least three ways. The first is to lead through service, not a title. Positions and titles are important, but not as important as servant leadership. Second, is to look for ways to express genuine love for others. It may be through washing someone’s feet or washing their car, but the goal is the same – to show God’s love through tangible acts of service. Third, is to lean on God for the grace to serve the undeserving. Serving is complicated when you are working with someone who doesn’t appreciate your gesture. That takes an extra dose of God’s supernatural power.

Jesus served the undeserving so that we could have a clearing picture of the gospel. He also gave us an example to follow as we share the gospel with others and expand his kingdom on earth.

 

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

Judgment​ and Mercy

shutterstock_613750124The story of Karla Faye Tucker is heartbreaking. Karla Faye dropped out of school at an early age and followed her mom into a life of prostitution and drugs. When she was in her 20’s she started dating an older man named Daniel Garrett. While searching for items to steal and sell for drug money, Karla Faye and Daniel broke into a nearby apartment and killed two victims with a hammer and pickax. Karla Faye and Daniel were eventually arrested and sentenced to death. Daniel died from liver disease on death row, but Karla Faye became a Christian. She “stole” a free Bible from a visiting ministry group and gave her life to Jesus after reading it in her cell. She became a model prisoner and showed great remorse for her actions. When a date finally set for her execution, a crowd of supporters urged the state to commute her. Their efforts fell short, and Karla Faye was executed by lethal injection in 1998 with a few close friends and family members by her side.

The story of Karla Faye Tucker’s life and death serves as a heartbreaking backdrop for an equally tragic story found in John 8:1-11. In this passage, a group of scribes and Pharisee urge Jesus to pronounce a death sentence on a woman caught in adultery. In the end, the religious leaders learn something that the woman caught in adultery already knew – Jesus is the Righteous Judge. 

As the Righteous Judge, Jesus declares judgment on the self-righteous (8:1-9).

Even though these religious leaders seemed interested in justice, they were really trying to trap Jesus. Stoning wasn’t very popular in Jesus’ day for obvious reasons, but it was called for in the Mosaic Law. If Jesus rejected the punishment outright, He would lose credibility as a teacher of the Law. If Jesus enforced the punishment, He would lose popularity with the people and might even get in trouble with the Roman authorities.

Instead of answering them, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dirt with his finger. We don’t know what He wrote, but we know what He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). This was a direct reference to Deuteronomy 13:9 and 17:7. Jesus was not saying they had to be perfect or free from sin to condemn the woman, but they did have to be sinless in this particular case.

The scribes and Pharisee were secure in their own self- righteousness. They were so secure they were willing to sacrifice this woman’s whole life to cover up their own sin and condemn Jesus. They held this woman to a higher standard of righteousness than they held themselves too.

As Jesus bent back to down to write in the dirt again, the religious leaders filed out one by one until they were all gone. Those who came to embarrass Jesus were themselves embarrassed. They snuck out of the temple one by one until they were all gone.

As the Righteous Judge, Jesus demonstrates mercy on the unrighteous (8:10-12).

Straightening up, Jesus asked the woman where her accusers had gone. She replied that they were all gone. Jesus did not imply that the woman was innocent, simply that she was not condemned. She experienced God’s mercy because she knew something the religious leaders did not know – we are all guilty and unrighteous before God.

A genuine encounter with Christ always results in a transformed life. Her past had been forgiven and her future was now wide open. Jesus sent the woman out to live a transformed life.

As the Righteous Judge, Jesus looks past outer appearances and judges the heart.

The problem is that too often, we storm the courtroom of life and take the responsibility of judging ourselves and judging others on ourselves. But as humans, we are not in a position to judge. Like it says in James 2:4, we judge with a double standard and become “judges with evil motives.”

You can respond to this story in two ways. One way is to show compassion on another “sinner” so that you can distance yourself from self-righteousness. Sin is still sin, but we should not rush to condemn someone who God has forgiven. We often judge other people harsher than we judge ourselves and “blowing out some else’s candle so our burns brighter.” The degree to which you can show compassion on someone who has wronged you is the degree to which you have cast off your own self-righteousness.

Another way to respond to this story is to give up one of your besetting sins as you glory in God’s great mercy towards you. We all struggle with a number of sins (1 John 1:8). Sexual sins are no worse than any other sin, but they can be harder to overcome because they are self-destructive (1 Corinthians 6:18). You cannot change the past, but with God’s help, you can change the future.

God wants to help you escape from the prison of your own self-righteousness. You can fool your family & friends, but you can’t fool God, because He is the Righteous Judge.

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 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