Jesus was rejected by many of His peers. Does that weaken or strengthen His claims?
One of the best ways to persuade others with an argument is to answer their strongest objections. If you can provide a reasonable explanation for someone’s biggest challenge, you can “take the wind out of their sails” and maybe win the day. This approach follows the logic of the familar parable: “The best offense is a good defense.”
John seems to take the same approach at times in His Gospel, which is aimed at converting unbelievers into believers (John 20:30-31). In John 12:37-50, He tackles the potentially embarrassing issue of Christ’s rejection. Why believe in Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the World if so many of His own people rejected Him during His earthly ministry? Doesn’t that prove or at least weaken His claim of being sent by God?
Instead of shying away from this objection, John leans into it in the closing verses of John chapter 12. He uses Isaiah 5:31 and 6:10 to point out that God’s messengers haven’t always been well received. Moses, Elijah, Ezekial, and Isaiah all faced signifcant opposition in their day and Jesus experienced the same.
In addition, John reveals the motivation behind much of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. The “rulers” would have been members of the Sanherin, the Jewish “Supreme Court” of its time. Many of these rulers had a private respect and admiration for Jesus, but they refused that share it publically for fear that they would loose the respect of their peers. The problem wasn’t with Jesus and His teaching or miracles, it was with the hard-heartedness of His audience.
John helps us to see that Christ’s rejection was a sign of His failure, but instead, it was a sign of His success. Jesus was faithful to His mission, even if He wasn’t hailed as hero by all of His peers. Popularity can be a poor measure of success and it’s an even worse measure of the truth.
This Easter, I had the privilege of preaching about the resurrection from John 20. Since Sunday, I’ve been reflecting on the ongoing significance of Christ’s resurrection and glorification as I reread the passage. Here are two things that stand out to me.
1. We can trust Jesus because He did what He said He would do. The mysterious Messiah predicted his death and resurrection on more than one occasion. Speaking of laying down His life in John 10:18, he said, “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” In John 12:7, Jesus defended Mary’s extravagant anointing because it was “for the day of My (His) burial.” Jesus also hinted about His upcoming death in John 13:33 and 14:25.
Easter puts an exclamation point on Christ’s authority – He delivered on His promise. In turn, this puts a renewed emphasis on Christ’s other promises. He did what He said He would do and delivered on His promises. He promised eternal life to those who trust Him (John 4:14). He also promised that genuine eternal life would not be lost (John 10:28). One of His most comforting promises was the promise to return for His followers one day (John 14:2-3).
2. We have a mission as the baton of ministry has been passed from Jesus Christ to His followers. The resurrected Jesus couldn’t have been clearer when He visited His surprised followers. He was about to ascend to heaven, so He wouldn’t be on earth very long (v. 17). He was about to send out His followers in the same way the Heavenly Father had sent Him out (v. 21). There would be many others who would believe in Jesus Christ based on their words and witness rather than their own sight (v. 29, v. 30-31).
Easter is source of celebration, but it’s also commissioning service. It’s a reminder that we have a job to do. The torch of gospel ministry has been passed down through every generation since the first generation of believers, and we don’t want to drop it.
The significance of Easter extends well beyond one day a year. It’s a yearly reminder that Jesus can be trusted and we’ve been trusted with a very important task.
John the Baptist was a man on a mission. We would do well to follow His example as we seek to serve well.
John had a special place in God’s plan to redeem the world. In John 1:6, we read, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John” (NASB). From the three other Gospels in the New Testament, we know that this verse refers to John the Baptist. This is a different man than John, the son of Zebedee, who wrote the Gospel that bears his name.
God gave John the Baptist a specific mission (“sent from God”) that supported His overall plan to redeem the world through His Son, Jesus Christ. John’s assignment preceded Christ’s mission on the world stage as he pointed everyone he could to Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah. In the following verse, we learn that John came to witness and testify about Jesus Christ (John 1:7). In other words, His job was to shine a spotlight on “the Light” that had come into the darkness.
John’s mission put him in conflict with the mission of those who would ultimately rejected Jesus. Later on in John chapter 1, John the Baptist was questioned by a group of priests and Levites who were sent by the Jewish establishment (John 1:19-28). They were concerned about John and what he was trying to do. Neither he, nor Jesus, fit into their preconceived notions of a Savior.
The problem with a mission is that it can change overtime. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, mission creep is “the gradual broadening of the original objectives of a mission or organization.” As John pointed people to Jesus his own popularity grew. In a short time, he attracted his own group of followers who were eager to hear a message from God. Even after John death, there was a group of disciples who followed John’s teachings and ignored Jesus. (Acts 19:1-7).
The closing verse in this short section guards against confusion and mission creep. In John 1:8 is says that John the Baptist was NOT the Light of the World (John 8:12). Even though he had a significant job to do, he was not the center of God’s plan to redeem the world.
Today’s Christian leaders would do well to pay attention to this verse. Like John the Baptist, believers today have been sent on a mission (John 20:21-22). That mission is to point others to Jesus Christ, not to replace Him as the Savior – of the Church, the denomiaiton, or the world. Christian leaders who gain popularity can drift from their original mission and forget that we are all just humble witnesses to the Light.
There are several ways to build a strategic plan for your church. Here is a fresh way that may help you achieve clarity and buy-in.
A strategic plan is a document that establishes the mission, vision, values, and strategy for a church, organization, or business. Instead of being framed and hung on a wall, a strategic plan is meant to shape what happens down the hall and in every corner of the organization. A biblical strategic plan for a church is theology in action.
There are two approaches that churches use most often in establishing their strategic plans. The first is what I call “the leader on the mountain” approach. This is where the senior leader (typically the senior pastor) gathers his thoughts and ideas and shares them with a select group of leaders in a meeting or the whole congregation in a sermon series. The “the secret committee” approach is where the church elects a select group of members to research the options, formulate their recommendations, and then to share them with the congregation.
Each of these two pathways has their own strengths, but they also have weaknesses. This blog post about a fresh way to craft a strategic plan that features both clarity and buy-in from the congregation. This way could be called “the open invitation” approach. Here’s how we used it recently to establish a strategic plan in the church that I serve as senior pastor.
First, I gathered information about the basic components of a strategic plan for a church: mission, vision, values, and strategy. I found a biblical background for each component and reacquainted myself with today’s “best practices.” Care was taken to search out the best goals and ministries for our particular context.
Second, I announced that our church would gather for a series of meetings to “rediscover” our purpose and plan as a church. These meetings were held over a period of five weeks and open to anyone who wanted to attend. I used the idea of “rediscovery” to tie our future plans back into our history and legacy as a a congregation.
Each meeting included some form of collaboration and feedback in the form of question and answer, round-table discussion, story-boarding, or written comments. I engaged with several participants one-on-one after the meetings and in-between meetings during the week. Ongoing feedback was incorporated as we moved closer to our completed plan.
Third, I shared a summary of our shared results in a public message to the church body the Sunday following our last weekly meeting. The message was framed as plan for a “new season of ministry” at the church, rather than the end of series of meetings. Since that presentation, I have been working with the church staff and other leaders to implement our new strategic plan.
Strategic planning is a must for any organization, especially a church. The “open invitation” concept certainly has its weaknesses, but its strengths seem to loom larger in a church and season of ministry that requires a great deal of trust and thoughtful interaction. Church leaders who are looking for a fresh way to craft a strategic plan should consider this approach.
This past Sunday I preached a sermon from Proverbs 1:8-19 on avoiding bad company, especially those who are fascinated by violence and greed. I focused the message around the corrosive character of trouble-makers as well as their ultimate destiny. I warned the young and the old in the congregation I serve to avoid violent people or you will become the victim of their own crime. I encouraged them to set their sights on living a God-honoring life and to distance themselves from anyone who might distract them from that goal.
But what about living as a missionary? Aren’t Christians called to live as “salt and light” among those who lost and spiritually separated from God (Mathew 5:13-16)? Didn’t Jesus spend at least some of his time with sinners and other “unsavory” people (Mark 2:14-17)? Didn’t Jesus commission his followers to live like missionaries in neighborhoods and nations around the world (Acts 1:8)?
At times, there is a tension between avoiding bad company and living like a missionary. Here are three questions to balance out that tension.
1. Is this a voluntary or involuntary association?
You can’t choose your family members, but you can choose your friends. This means you may have to make the most of an unpleasant relationship with a relative. You can’t (or shouldn’t) disown a family member just because he or she is not receptive to the gospel. You may want to rethink friendship, however, that is consistently pulling you away from the things of God.
2. Is this a short-term or long-term connection?
There is more at stake with a long-term partnership than a short-term acquaintance. You will have a much great opportunity to influence someone while you work on a work or school project together than by sitting beside them at a one-time social function. The longer timeframe will also give you an opportunity to assess the health of the situation.
3. Are you in a position to influence or be influenced?
Peer-to-peer relationships involve people who have the same level of influence, while superior-to-subordinate relationships involve two different levels of influence. Knowing where you stand in relation to those around you will help you assess your ability to persuade others. You may have a lot more control over a positive relationship with a co-worker than a negative relationship with your boss.
There are many other factors to consider in the tension between these two goals. Is there any kind of abuse or criminal activity involved in the relationship? Are you actively praying for the spiritual wellbeing of the person or persons you are trying to reach? Are there any cultural or communication barriers that are obscuring relational goals?
What other questions would you ask in balancing out the tension between living like a missionary and avoiding bad company?
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.
The Apostle John told his story about Jesus Christ. From everything we know, John was the only one of Christ’s original disciples that who lived into old age. John used his time to minister in the church and write Scripture. John wrote three Epistles, the book of Revelation, and the Gospel that bears his name.
Recently, we started a new sermon series at the church where I serve as pastor on the Gospel of John. Instead of starting at the beginning of the book, we started near the end where John reveals the purpose of his writing. In John 20:30-31, John identifies the keys unlocking his story about Jesus Christ. He writes first about his himself, and then about his mission.
1. The Man: John wrote from his own personal experience (v. 30).
John was transformed by his time with Jesus. He learned to balance and spiritual maturity. In his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, Pastor John MacArthur outlines three ways that John changed. First, John learned the balance of love and truth. Second, he learned to balance ambition with humility. Third, he learned the balance of suffering and glory. The old adage is “a leopard can’t change its spots,” but that wasn’t true for John. He grew from one of the “Sons of Thunder” into the Apostel of love (Mark 3:17).
John also witnessed Jesus perform many signs and wonders. John describes seven of those miracles in the first half of his Gospel. He focuses last half of his Gospel on Christ’s most incredible miracle, his resurrection from the dead. John tells us that Jesus did many more signs and wonders than were recorded in the pages of Scripture.
The only other place in the Bible where signs and wonders are so widespread is in the story of the Exodus. In Exodus 10:1-2, we read that God performed many signs through Moses so that the people would recognize God as God and come to know Him. John was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was God in the flesh because he saw him perform so many signs and wonders.
2. The Mission: John wrote for a special purpose (v. 31).
He wrote his story about Jesus so that his readers would exercise faith in Jesus. John uses some form of the verb “believe” 10 times more often than any of the other Gospel writers. In John’s story about Jesus, almost everyone that comes in contact with Jesus is faced with a choice to either believe in or not believe in Jesus.
He also wrote so that his readers would experience eternal life. Eternal life is a gift we receive from God by faith. is the gift we receive in return. Eternal life is a quality of life as well as a quantity of life. It describes life walking with Jesus day by day, either on this earth or in heaven.
In summary, John wrote his Gospel so that you would believe in Jesus Christ and eternal life.
John was the only disciple that we know that was present at Christ’s crucifixion. In John 19, we read about him standing by the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother Mary and some other women. As Jesus was about to die, he asked John to take his mom into his home and take care of her. This tender moment paints a beautiful picture of belief and discipleship. John identified with Jesus at great risk to himself. John dedicated his life to caring for the people that Jesus cared about – His mom as well other disciples in the church. John also told his story of transformation with Jesus.
Just like the characters in John’s story about Jesus, you have a decision to make – what will you do with Jesus?
Will you identify with Jesus through repentance and faith?
Will you dedicate your life to caring for the people Jesus cares about?
Will you tell your story of transformation in Christ with others?
(Special thanks goes to Thearon Landrum for making a graphic for this post!)
Acts 13 is the transition point between the Apostle Peter’s ministry “in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria” in the first half of the book and the soon to be Apostle Paul’s ministry “to the ends of the earth” in the second half. The church at Antioch was the first major church planted in those “ends” and things were going well. The church was growing fast and being discipled. Their leadership team, which included Barnabas and Saul, grew too, from 2 to 5 in just a few years.
But one day everything changed. While the church was “ministering to the Lord and fasting” the Holy Spirit sent orders for Barnabas and Saul to leave and set out for a new work. The leadership dream team was broken up and the church at Antioch had to adjust.
As the rest of the Barnabas and Paul’s ministry played out in the book of Acts, it’s important to realize God removed them from a good situation and placed them in a better one. God led both men, especially Paul, into an unprecedented mission ministry throughout the known world. Not only did Paul plant church all over the known world, he wrote half the New Testament. But none of that would have happened if they hadn’t left Antioch.
Changing your ministry responsiblity or location can be hard, but it helps to remember that when God removes us from a good situation, He places us in an even better one. And sometimes that situation is even better than we can imagine.