Thursday, October 30, 2014

Being Merciful without a Face (Luke 6:27-36)

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27–36, NASB95)

I think from time to time we all have events in our lives that consume our thoughts. Sometimes it might be a major event and other times it might be something rather minor. The unifying thing is that we are so mindful of it that we work through it over and over again wrestling with its various components (known and unknown). Yesterday one of those events happened to me, and today was the day that I worked it over again and again as I walked through my day. This was an easy thing to do as my current work has a lot of free thought time, allowing for ample opportunities to become mentally distracted or even forcibly focus thought. The event that happened was nothing really major, and in many ways and during most seasons of life would have been incredibly minor. But at this time and in this season it seemed bigger to me that it really should have.

So, what happened and what did I do in response? The “what happened” is simple. Someone took my sweatshirt and gloves. It was getting warm and I took my new longer sleeved rain defender sweatshirt off and set it in a relatively safe place. It was far from being totally safe as I left it where anyone really could get to it (my neglect). But it was out of the way up on top of something, and I really never thought that anyone would take it (my mistake). But someone did.

Did you notice the importance that I put on such a simple thing as a sweatshirt by the way I described it? I spent a great deal of time considering my needs and considering my affordable options. It was important that it have long enough sleeves considering that I have longer arms than many, and it was important that it handle the rain reasonably well considering the nature of my current work. This item seemed to fit the bill without forcing me to climb into a raincoat that simply does not breathe. And with it being on a slight sale and getting an employee discount the price was also within my reach. It worked, and I was happy with it. Enough on the description, I found a sweatshirt that I liked and we purchased it. I enjoyed the sweatshirt and it fit the need very well. But now the sweatshirt is gone. Someone took it. It was not theirs. It was mine, and they took it.

Sound trivial? Another worker had been borrowing his brother’s bike to get to work, and two days ago it was also stolen. In one way or another I think we have all experienced this kind of violation at the hands of another. I am no different than anyone else in this respect. So, not finding any solace in being subject to the same thing that every man is subject to, I repeatedly turned my focus back to God and placing it under the perspective of me belonging totally to Him and knowing that He has me fully enclosed in His hands. Resting assured there, I began to think more in terms of how man (including this man) has sinned against God and how we treat others the same way. Just as we have all sinned against God, we have all had others transgress against us and we have transgressed against them. The person who took my sweatshirt and the other person (assuming not to be the same) who took my co-worker’s brother’s bike probably didn’t even know who they were stealing from. What they knew was that they saw something they wanted, had an open opportunity to take it, and they took it. I don’t pretend to know their hearts or their motives. I don’t know them. All I know is that these things were not theirs. They were ours, and they violated a fairly universal standard which says, “Do not steal.” Clearly put, what they did was wrong no matter how you look at it.

Bringing this back to my relationship with God, I am thankful that He did not leave me in a state of unrepentant sin. He reached into my life, showed me Himself, introduced me to His Son, offered me salvation, and changed my heart such that I believed and was saved. I wish at this point that I could say that the comments that followed came in easy 1-2-3 steps. But they reflect a back and forth over several hours of wrestling before God and with my own heart. In the wrestling I was reminded of who I was before I trusted Jesus for my salvation. The simple truth was that I was lost in sin. I had not only done things against others, but I sinned against God even though I didn’t really even know who He was. I clearly knew the things I did were wrong, but I had not made the direct connection between those actions and the standards of a perfect God. I was born dead in my trespasses (going where I should not go) and sins (doing what I should not do), and there was nothing I could do about that.

I thought about how God loved me so much that He sent His Son to pay the price for my sins and to grant me the most incredible forgiveness having laid the full burden of that forgiveness on His Son. And then beyond forgiveness He also gave me something even more incredible. He gave me access to Him through being brought into His eternal family as an adopted child given eternal life. I did not know Him when He did this. I was not even born yet. Jesus went to the cross two thousand years ago, and Scripture says that He knew me and called me from before the foundation of the earth.

But I also thought about the fact that there are large numbers of individuals who will never trust Jesus and who will suffer eternal judgment in hell (called the lake of fire) because of their rejection. Jesus said throughout John, which I have been working through, that He knew man’s heart. He knows the heart of every man, and He knows those who will respond and those who will not. He knows those who when shown an act of great kindness and compassion will be moved and those whose hearts will become even more hardened. He knows me and He knows the thief.

God knows all of these things concerning each and every single person and He knows exactly how to deal with them. He knows how to respond to acts of rebellion and how to offer forgiveness. He even knows the things that we who are saved have not done yet that are offenses to Him, and yet He has declared us righteous with the righteousness of His Son. And he knows the hardness of man’s heart and those whose hearts will not be softened.

Me, on the other hand, I don’t know any of this about the person who stole from me. I don’t know their condition, their motivation, or their desperation. I don’t know if it was one of the many homeless people around work or a regular customer of the store. I simply don’t know. And if I spotted someone wearing my sweatshirt and my gloves (the gloves being more recognizable) I didn’t even know how I would respond. But as I spent the day reflecting on all of these things I did settle some things and was able to frame how I might respond it the opportunity is presented. First of all, God made it possible for me to obtain the sweatshirt in the first place, and He has full and absolute rights to it just as He does to the entirety of my life. If I never see the person again, I can trust Him with that. And if I see the person, then I have an opportunity to model His mercy and grace. 

Now, I can’t imagine demanding it back but rather in some way confronting the person with the act that was done, stating how much it hurt, and then to tell the person that I was willing to even let them keep it and forgive them not because they were deserving of anything, but because my God forgave me of everything I did against Him despite the fact that there was nothing in me that really made me worthy of it. Just as I had paid the price for the sweatshirt and was willing to let the have it at no expense to them, God sent His Son to pay for all that I ever did or will do wrong and then given me full forgiveness and eternal life. I would hopefully have opportunity to tell the individual that I was letting them keep it because I am reminded of how much Jesus did for me when I deserved absolutely nothing. I paid a few dollars for the sweatshirt, but Jesus paid the greatest price ever paid.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5:6–11, NASB95)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Changed People Live Changed Lives (John 7:53-8:11)

(7:53) “They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” (8:1-11) “Early in the morning He came again to the temple. All the people came to Him, and He sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test Him, that they might have some charge to bring against Him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask Him, He stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more He bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”” (John 7:53–8:11, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

One of the things that I really appreciate about the integrity of our Bible translators is their attention to the accuracy of getting the words right in all ways. This includes even taking the extra steps to consider whether or not certain words even belong. One of tools used to assess this last task is to compare early manuscripts and to analyze when others outside of the Bible commented on the content of those manuscripts. If something appeared in the earliest manuscripts and then remained over time then there was greater assurance that the content was accurate. But if something appears later and is not included in the earliest manuscripts then there is reason to stop and question whether or not a particular passage actually belongs there or not.

John 7:53 through 8:11 are among the very small list of verses which were not included in the earliest known manuscripts. We don’t know with any certainty the reason for this, and because of that these verses are generally indicated with some form of citation to indicate their questionable inclusion. The New American Standard (NAS) and the English Standard Version (ESV) use a consistent usage of […] to mark such content. In the ESV we even have included a note prior to the passage indicating the reason for the brackets. In the New International Version there is generally a bold line between the verses indication a separation. Some older translations such as the King James and the New King James provide no indication other than added column- or foot-notes. Realizing this I am personally reassured as a student of the Bible by the integrity with which most of our modern translations were handled.

Having said this, it is possible that these are intended passages that may have been included from a fragment or such, which was not necessarily a fluid part of a greater manuscript. This is indicated by the fact that different manuscripts have placed this text in various locations. As such the text has not been discarded in total but considered in the greater context of Scripture for its consistency of teaching while being careful to not place any great importance on what might be a singular passage of questionable origin.

So, in the greater light of Scripture we will consider the words of these verses and seek to gain understanding on how we are to walk with them. It is important that we do this in particular with a passage such as this as it is one of those passages that some have twisted to support or overlook aberrant activities. It seems that it has become a license to say that everything is okay because Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery. But it is interesting even in the words of Christ recorded here that He does not say go and do as you please, but rather to “go, and from now on sin no more.” There is a clear recognition in His words of the sinful nature of the woman’s actions and an instruction that she move forward and not continue in those actions. He called her to live differently.

In the context of what had just happened Jesus was ordered arrested but the guards did not do what they were sent to do. Things must have been pretty intense at the meeting when they came back and reported such. Verse 53 records that everyone went home after this, and chapter eight begins with the people gathering again in the morning at the temple where Jesus again began to teach. In the midst of His teaching, the scribes and Pharisees came into the temple dragging along a woman who was caught in adultery. They had devised another plan to trap Jesus in saying something that stood in opposition to the law. They presented the Mosaic judgment for women caught in adultery which was stoning, looking to see if Jesus would affirm the words of Moses. They figured they had Him either way He might respond thinking probably of only two options.

But Jesus turned the table.  Our passage indicates that He bent over and wrote something in the ground with His finger. Whether this passage really is to be included or not, we don’t know, but I am impressed with the consistency with which it represents Jesus. Rarely did He directly answer an accusation, but moved the conversation to another place. Whatever He wrote caught the Jewish leadership off guard. In the midst of His writing we read that He stood up and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7, ESV) This was not what they were expecting. Rather than catching Jesus in a trap and proving Him as a violator of the law of Moses, He turned the table back on them. If this truly is the law and if they were truly adherents to the law (regardless of any outside Roman rule or restraint) then do what the law demands. Oh, but do this only if you can honestly say that you have never violated any portion of the law yourself. In response to this they left one at a time beginning from older to younger until Jesus was left alone with the woman.

In the same way that the guards were amazed by the words of Jesus, perceiving Him as having spoken as no man has ever spoken, so were they Jewish leadership. They had no response and could follow through with no action. As a result, Jesus was left alone with the woman and asked her where her accusers were. Did any of them throw a stone in condemnation? And the woman responded that no one had. Her response was more than just a simple “No.” We read that she called Him “Lord.” She recognized His authority and responded to Him in regard to that authority. In response Jesus told her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV) Telling the woman to leave her life of sin, Jesus sent her on her way.

In the greater context of history and even the book of John we consistently see our Lord standing against those who put themselves in the place of God as harsh judges of His people. Ultimately Scripture declares that judgment belongs to God, and clearly Jesus had already told men like these that they did not have the word or love of God in them even though they scoured the Scriptures (John 5:38-40). “…and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:38–40, ESV)

We also see in the words of Christ that every man is guilty of sin. The scribes and Pharisees knew this, and in response they did not lift a hand themselves against the woman. Sure there might have been some other intimidation that we don’t know of, but seeing that the older and seemingly more knowledgeable and prudent ones were the ones who left first over those who might be younger and more impulsive gives us cause to wonder. Not knowing what might have been written in the dirt whether it just be some doodling or maybe even a listing of sins these men had committed from the hand of our Lord who knows all men’s hearts, these men were moved such that they could not lift a hand against the woman and as such could not lift a hand against Jesus either.

The list of things could continue, but let’s end with one more. Recognizing how lost all of us are in sin, Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost. He came to offer forgiveness of sin to all who believe, and quite possibly this woman was saved because of her encounter with the gracious mercy of our Lord. In response she was instructed to leave and return to her life changed with the instruction to live changed. Scripture declares how we are to live, but living that way will never save anyone because none of us has or can do it perfectly. Our ability to live victoriously over sin is a result of Christ having made us spiritually alive and the Spirit doing a daily work in our lives to grow us more and more into His image. For all of us who are saved, Scripture declares that we have passed (done deal) from judgment into life.

The bottom line, whether this passage belongs or not, we know that our God stands against those who are proud and who boast in their own works and that He favors those who humbly submit themselves to Him in recognition of how lost they are and how much they need His forgiveness.

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Spoke Up (John 7:45-52)

“The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring Him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”” (John 7:45–52, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

Was it a check on their hearts or intimidation of their minds? The guards who were sent to arrest Jesus stood there as He spoke, and they never raised a hand to arrest Him. In fact, we read in verse 44 that no one laid a hand on Him. As the guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees empty handed they were immediately pressed with why they had not arrested Him. On one hand there were the powerful and forceful ones who had sent them and on the other hand was Jesus who they were supposed to arrest. There they stood between the two having to answer to the former as to why they took no action against the later. They were pressed to answer why they had not done what they were sent to do, and in so doing answer what it was about Jesus that moved them to disobey a direct order.

Their answer was, “No one ever spoke like this man!” There answer was emphatic as is expressed by the exclamation mark used in making the translation resulting from the Greek tense. They had heard no one like Him before, and they were awed at what He had to say and with the way He said it. Maybe they just didn’t know what to do in the face of His convincing words, and it may have been possible that some of them even believed and knew that they could no raise a hand against the Lord’s Anointed. Remember (from the previous post), this is what “Messiah” and “Christ” means—anointed. Was Jesus the Christ who was sent by God and who spoke in a way that no man has ever spoken before? We really don’t know what they were thinking other than knowing that they were so moved by Him that they dared not touch Him.

In verse 47 the Pharisees went on the attack, accusing the guards of being misled by Jesus as well. Following that they even broadened their questioning by turning to the entire group of authorities and Pharisees and asked if any of them had believed as well. From the lack of any recorded response we might assume that no one spoke up at that moment as having believed in Jesus. After having accusing inward their own group they then focused their attention outside again by condemning the crowd, saying that they did not know the law and as a result were accursed, lying under God’s curse. Doing this they put themselves in the very position as judges for God which Jesus had clearly declared they had no right to do.

As they pointed fingers all around in the face of not having Jesus brought to them, one person finally spoke up. It was Nicodemus, the one who had visited Jesus under the cover of darkness to speak to Him, and to whom Jesus spoke at length about His need to believe and be born again (John chapter 3). In his earlier encounter we have no indication as to whether Nicodemus believed or not, but from his response here we know that he was definitely favorably impressed with Jesus. Nicodemus reminded them of the proper procedure for a man being judged according to the law, and that is by actually questioning him. Nicodemus spoke up against their hasty reaction in the face of them not having taken this step. But his words as well fell on hard hearts. Rather than acknowledging the error in their process, they turned on him as well. Earlier they had disqualified Jesus from being the Christ because of His roots in Galilee, not recognizing or being aware of His actual birth in Bethlehem. Lumping Nicodemus in with Jesus, they asked him if he was from Galilee as well, adding that “no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Clearly they were not going to listen to anyone who went against their agenda or who might try to get in the way of them accomplishing it. Further, they were so set on themselves being correct that they sought to bring down anyone who might disagree or come to another conclusion.

Despite their pressure, throughout these last verses in chapter 7 we find individuals who were given cause to not raise a hand against Jesus. There was something about Him that stopped them in their tracks such that they would stand and listen. At the same time there were those who were so set in their ways that they were ready and very, very willing to attack anyone who disagreed. Jesus stood in opposition to the legalism of the chief priests and Pharisees, and as such they wanted Him eliminated.

Things really have not changed. Today there are people who hear the words and the testimony concerning Jesus and who believe and are saved. There are also those who are so set on their own paths and their own ways, strongly opposing anyone who declares them to be lost as a result. One of the tags given Christians today who take a public stand for Christ is to be called “narrow-minded.” There is an element of truth to this, but not in the derogatory way in which they mean their words. The reality is that our view of things is shaped by the truths of God and in them we are singularly focused. The world might not want to accept this, but we can see it no other way.

As I thought about this kind of accusation I thought about driving home from a snow camping trip several years ago. The snow had really picked up much more than was anticipated, and we were told to leave before it got worse. Driving out I carefully made my way down the mountain staying between the very high berms of snow piled pushed by plows to either side of the road. It was as if they made a relatively safe channel in which we could make out way to our appointed destination. We also knew that if we chose to drive outside those berms that we were at great risk for our safety. The road was narrow for a reason, and that reason was that it was the safest way down the mountain. God has declared a narrow path, and that path is only through His Son. There is salvation in no one else. It doesn’t matter what path someone might prefer or what path they might choose in their rejection of Jesus, every other path ends the same way—judgment.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13–14, ESV)

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, ESV)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hearing, Some Believed (John 7:40-44)

“When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over Him. Some of them wanted to arrest Him, but no one laid hands on Him.” (John 7:40–44, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

Jesus had loudly proclaimed as His last words before the crowd that if any was thirsty they were to come to Him and drink and He would cause rivers of living water to flow from their hearts. Hearing these words we read that some were convinced that He indeed was someone special. We find recorded in these verses three general responses—two of them positive and one critical. In verse 31 we read that many believed, being convinced that there was no one else who could more perfectly fulfill what they had been expecting of the Christ. The first group of believers identified Him as the Prophet. While some understood the Old Testament prophecy of the coming Prophet to refer to a predecessor of the Messiah, others understood Him to be the Messiah Himself. We don’t know precisely what this group thought. What we do know is that they knew Jesus had been sent by God and that He was there to speak the words that were given to Him.

In Deuteronomy chapter 18 we find that Moses, who they highly esteemed as a great prophet, had written of the coming Prophet. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15–19, ESV)

In Acts we clearly see that Scripture identifies Jesus as the Prophet and also the Christ. We read, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.” (Acts 3:19–24, ESV)

The second positive response was by the ones who proclaimed Him to be the Christ. This term Christ, if you were to check your concordances (a listing of words and the verses in the Bible in which they appear) appears only in the New Testament. It is a Greek word meaning “anointed,” and when it is used referring to Jesus it is used as the identifying title “the Christ” though not necessarily included in each instance in all of our English translations. However, this is not the only word that is commonly preceded with the prefix “the” or “ho” in the Greek. It was a common practice to include “ho” before proper nouns indicating more a focus on the title, name, or position than any action. Jesus is identified in the New Testament as “the Christ” meaning “the Anointed.” In the Old Testament there is a Hebrew word used meaning the same thing. That word is “mashiyachfrom which we get our word “Messiah,” which for the most part is also translated “anointed.” In chapter 9 of Daniel, however, we do find it translated as “Messiah” in a few of our English translations. But for the most part, whether it is in Greek or in Hebrew when the people proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ they clearly indicated their belief that He was the Lord’s Anointed sent to save them and rule over them as King.

In Psalm 2 we read, “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!” He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” (Psalm 2:1–7, NASB95)

Those who believed Him to be the Prophet and those who believed Him to be the Christ represented those who believed Jesus. But there were also those who did not believe Him to be the Prophet or the Christ. These are the ones who picked at His fulfilling Scriptural requisites as an excuse for their unbelief. They responded, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” On the one hand they were correct. They knew the prophecies that the Christ was to be of the offspring of David coming from Bethlehem as we read in Micah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be ruler in Israel, Whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (ESV) These people assumed that since Jesus was from Galilee that His origin was there as well. But we know from Scripture that in order to comply with the demands of Caesar Augustus for a census that Joseph took Mary from Nazareth in Galilee to the home of his fathers in Bethlehem in order to register.

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1–7, ESV)

In missing the birthplace of Jesus the scoffers missed the boat in understanding who He really was. As a result the crowd began to disagree over Him. I imagine in the process that those sent to arrest Him felt powerless likely for fear of how those who believed Jesus might respond. Our passage goes on to read, “Some of them wanted to arrest Him, but no one laid hands on Him.”

I love how God used even the dissension of man to accomplish His purposes. Though the temple guard had been sent to arrest Jesus they ultimately found themselves powerless to do so. As I thought on this my mind was drawn to Psalm 121 which speaks of our Lord as our keeper and protector. Just as Jesus had full confidence in the Father to speak boldly in the presence of His enemies, so we ourselves can trust Him to do the same for us in the most appropriate way in order that God might accomplish His perfect will. I say this remembering that though Jesus was not touched that day, there was a day that He was touched and in that day what God intended was perfectly accomplished.

A Song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121, ESV)

Jesus knew why He came and He knew what He must endure to accomplish it. The apostle Paul expressed a similar attitude in Ephesians chapter 3. “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God Who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” (Ephesians 3:8–13, ESV)

In response to this I am reminded of a popular verse of assurance and a reminder of God’s faithfulness to that which He started. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NASB95)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Drink the Right Drink (John 7:37-39)

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37–39, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

The week of the Feast of Booths had drawn to an end, and the crowd was beginning to wonder if Jesus really was the Christ. The Pharisees and the chief priests had even sent the temple guard to apprehend Him. But He didn’t leave and He didn’t stop speaking. Our passage tells us that it was the last day. In fact it was the biggest day of the week, and Jesus again stood up to speak, but this time we read that He cried out or possibly shouted with great emotion.

We don’t know what the conditions in the temple were on that day. There might have been a lot of commotion because of the nature of the events, and He needed to be loud in order to garner attention and be heard. He might even have cried out in order to strongly make this final point. From the verses that follow we know that it wasn’t because He had been arrested and was being dragged off, crying out as He was removed from their presence. We know this because verse 44 tells us that no one laid hands on Him. He freely stood before them and spoke out loud and bold, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Jesus had told them that He was sent by the Father and that He was soon to leave them in order to go to a place which they could not go. In response to His words some had begun to wonder if He really was the Christ, and they murmured among themselves.

Jesus, speaking specifically to those who were responding favorably to His words, told them that if they believed in Him that they would receive life just as the Scriptures had promised. In saying that He used the image of water and stressed the necessity of water for life, telling them that He was going to give all who believe living water, or water that would give them life without end. In order to receive this water they had to come through Him. They had to come to Him and drink of what He had to give. While He did not explain further how they would receive this water, earlier He had spoken to another group of Jews in the synagogue at Capernaum and told them that they needed to feed on His body and drink of His blood (John 6:54). But these words were too much for many of them and they left. Here He told those who believed that they had to come to Him and drink. There must have been many in this crowd that did not understand His words either.

Having the benefit of time and perspective, John in writing this record tells us that Jesus was speaking of the Spirit. Our passage continues, “Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Those who believed in Him would receive the Spirit. They would not receive it immediately we are told, but very soon they would. Jesus knew that His time to return to the Father was not far off, and when He returned He knew that the Father was going to send the third person of the Trinity—the Spirit to indwell all who believe. John wrote that Jesus was not yet glorified. This is a reference to His condition when His human body receives His resurrection body and is fully glorified by the Father in His presence. It is before Him with this resurrection body that we will one day appear.

Looking forward to the coming of the Spirit who both gives life to the believer and seals and indwells every believer, Jesus was confident that every one that trusted in Him would be spiritually satisfied forever. Scripture has much to say about the coming and the role of the Spirit. Jesus spoke at several keys times about the coming of the Spirit and the disciples need to depend on the Spirit’s enabling. Consider these passages from the upper room on the night on which He was betrayed (John 14-16) and then from the last moments before He was taken back up to be with the Father (Acts 1).

“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16–17, ESV)

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25–26, ESV)

“But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:25–27, ESV)

“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7–11, ESV)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:8–11, ESV)

Jesus had told them that after He left that the Spirit would come, and Acts chapter 2 records for us that His promise was true. “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1–4, ESV)

This was the initial fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, but this fulfillment is also progressive in that it continues to be extended as true for everyone who has since believed. We read in Romans 8:9-11, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9–11, ESV)

Later in Galatians 5:25 we read, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, ESV) Jesus said to come to Him and drink. There are many things that man can try that prove empty and fruitless. Even as believers we can invest our lives in things that don’t distract from who we are in Christ. Throughout the New Testament we are told that the Spirit is the One who keeps us fresh with God and that we are to live by the Spirit and not according to our own desires. In Ephesians the apostle Paul boils it down between investing ourselves totally in an obviously recognized waste and what should be an equally recognized as the only way for a child of God to live. We read, “Do not be drunk with wine, which will ruin you, but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18, NCV) In “The Message” paraphrase we read, “Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of Him.” (Ephesians 5:18, The Message)

We are told to drink, and what we are told to take in is the fullness of the Spirit of God who indwells every single believer. We are saved as a work of the Spirit. We understand God’s word by the aid of the Spirit. We are comforted by the Spirit, and even have the Spirit as our prayer intercessor between the Father and the Son. The Spirit brings the Word of God that we have hidden in our hearts back to our remembrance, and the Spirit supernaturally enables every single believer with gifts which can be used for the benefit of the body. And of course the Spirit grows us in incredible ways, conforming us more and more to the image of Christ. But we have to give ourselves fully to God and entrust ourselves to the Spirit to do those things that we are told the Spirit will do.

“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (1 John 4:13, ESV)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Without Faith there is No Finding (John 7:32-36)

“The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest Him. Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and you will not find Me. Where I am you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does He mean by saying, ‘You will seek Me and you will not find Me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”” (John 7:32–36, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

Here the group referred to before as “the Jews” as opposed to “the people” or “the crowd” who were also Jews is identified as the chief priests and Pharisees. These two groups might represent the religious odd couple who without a common enemy might be found arguing among themselves. The Pharisees might be said to have represented the orthodox core of Judaism, who while not serving in the temple as priests were zealous for ritual and purity in accordance with the Mosaic law and their own traditions which they added over time. The other group was the chief priests who served in the temple and were largely represented as Sadducees. Between them they represented the hierarchy of the Jewish religious and legal system (Information can be found on these groups in many study Bibles, Bible dictionaries, and commentaries. I commonly use the ESV Study Bible and MacArthur Study Bible as quick references).

But they also had their strong differences. In Acts Paul was brought before several Roman leaders to be considered for charges against Rome and against the faith of the Jews. Paul, himself having been a Pharisee and very familiar with both groups used some of their differences to create dissension between them, which resulted in charges unable to be verified. We read of one of these encounters in Acts chapter 23, “But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.” (Acts 23:6–10, NASB95)

But here in our passage the Pharisees, who had no real legal standing in the temple, heard the murmuring among the people and went to the chief priests to let them know that Jesus had been found. They then sent the officers of the temple or the temple guard to arrest Jesus and bring Him back to them. It is with the temple guard standing there, prepared to arrest Him and probably looking for a somewhat discrete moment so as not to create a stir that Jesus again began to speak. He said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and you will not find Me. Where I am you cannot come.” The next verse gives us some idea about how this statement was understood by the people. The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him?...” Jesus was telling them that the time for Him to go to the cross to lay down His life and later take it up again before He returns to the Father was drawing close. It would not be long before He was back in heaven from where He came. And when He left none of them will be able to find Him. Once He returns to the Father no one will be able to see Him in bodily form. No matter how hard they might even look for His body after the resurrection they will not find it. It will not be there for He will have been risen just as He said (Matthew 28:6). When He returns to the Father He will return alone just as He came, and then only those who believe will be with Him forever though one day every man will bow before Him and recognize Him for who He truly is (Philippians 2:9-11).

But the people were still thinking along the lines of His physical being, and wondering how He might slip away from them and the temple guard who was standing there with them. The guard might also have been thinking the same thing. How will this man escape? Where will He go? Where can He hide? One of the possibilities as to where they thought He might go is listed next.  “Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?”

The Dispersion was a result of many Jews over the years coming to live outside of their home land. Historically they had been taken captive by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and more recently some had even been taken as Roman slaves. Others had fled in the face of these persecutions winding up in other areas. Some of these Jews wound up among the Greeks, and as a result a number of Greeks were becoming Jewish proselytes. As time would go on, with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ many Christ followers would be dispersed, fleeing persecution from the Jews. But this was not yet that time or that dispersion (James 1:1). They asked if He was going to join those who were dispersed in Greece. Was He going to leave His Jewish home in order to escape to go to a foreign land where other Jews had wound up living and wind up teaching this foreign group? Was He going to leave the Jews behind and seek after the Greeks?

What an ironic question. While the gospel would eventually be sent out to the Gentiles (non-Jews) this was not in vision at that time. It was a mystery yet to be unfolded or fully understood. But again, in writing this gospel John wrote from the vantage point of being down the road in time. He had the benefit of having seen exactly what happened with the salvation of Paul and His call to ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 9, particularly verses 15-16). And he knew how Peter had been confronted with the salvation of the Gentiles through His vision and the meeting of Cornelius who was a Roman believer (Acts 10). He had seen the gospel go out beyond the Jews, so reflecting back on the people in the temple asking this question must been an incredible memory.

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed 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.” (Romans 1:16, NASB95) But Him escaping to join the Greeks did not make total sense. They went on to ask another question, “What does He mean by saying, ‘You will seek Me and you will not find Me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?” His statement was not satisfied by the mere answer of Him going to another physical place away from their presence. They likely sensed that there was more to it, and they thought about the statements of Jesus, wondering what He really meant by them. But from the passage we don’t get any answer as to what happened immediately next. The verse that follows this brings us to the last day of the feast, or about three days later than when He originally began to speak in the temple in front of the crowd. What we do know is that He was not arrested.

And what we know with the retrospect of John who wrote the gospel is that Jesus was not arrested that day, but continued to speak and perform miraculous signs until that right time on the night in which He was betrayed by Judas. It was then that He was arrested and brought before Roman leaders with charges by the Jewish leaders and was then selected by the people instead of the criminal Barabbas for crucifixion. “Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.” (John 18:38–40, NASB95)

Again, as we look at this passage we see that our Lord had full confidence in the Father completing His intended plan in His perfect time, and that He would not allow anyone or anything to force a change. As I sit here writing these things I have been reflecting on the past twenty-four hours. In August we were anticipating a vote from a congregation to call me as their next Senior Pastor, but this did not happen. We did not get the percentage from the congregation that was necessary despite the confidence that many involved had that it would happen. It was a real shock that I reeled from for quite a while. I found myself frequently asking God why, but I got no answer. So, as a family we kept moving forward and I began anew the search process. In the searching and the waiting I had been given the opportunity to speak at a local church which also is without a Senior Pastor at the present time. I have really enjoyed this and was looking forward to another opportunity this coming Sunday when I got a phone call yesterday asking me if I could also bring a message the next week and if I would consider doing so more regularly. I consider this a great privilege to minster to these believers, and bring asked to do even more is a huge blessing and affirmation. I am definitely looking forward to an upcoming meeting in order to consider it further.

Not long after that phone call I also received a phone call from the chairman of the search committee of the church at which I did not receive the vote to bring me to them in service. We had a wonderful conversation. I was greatly encouraged and I hope that this chairman was as well. During our conversation he mentioned that after the vote the committee found out that there were some in the congregation who had a specific experience requirement which they wanted met in order to vote “yes,” and I did not meet that requirement. As such I did not get their vote. It was actually a good thing to know that it was due to something that I could do nothing about. Questions that had been hanging unanswered had been dealt with, and I truly hope that they will soon have that man who meets their requirements and will serve them for many years.

Then today I got a phone call from a church search committee who has my application packet asking to meet with me and my wife in order to discuss it further. This meeting will happen next week as well. Between yesterday and today we have no real answer as to where God is leading us, but we have had the privilege of being encouraged in the waiting and we’ve been practically reminded that He has not given up on us and that He will indeed complete in us what He has called us to do.

Just as we can be encouraged in the boldness of Christ entrusting Himself to His Father, we also can entrust ourselves to the Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who brought us into an eternal relationship with God the Father who adopted us into His eternal family and who will complete the work that He starts in each and every person who believes His words and trusts in His Son.

Earlier in John we read that Jesus would not entrust Himself to man because He knew man’s heart (John 2:24). In the passages we have been considering we find Him continually entrusting Himself, however, to His Father who sent Him and who is faithful. Peter wrote of this, “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:23–25, NASB95)

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7–8, NASB95)

Monday, October 13, 2014

This is the Christ (John 7:25-31)

“Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here He is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to Him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where He comes from.” So Jesus proclaimed, as He taught in the temple, “You know Me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent Me is true, and Him you do not know. I know Him, for I come from Him, and He sent me.” So they were seeking to arrest Him, but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come. Yet many of the people believed in Him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will He do more signs than this man has done?”” (John 7:25–31, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

Imagine the crowd realizing that the man standing before them speaking in the open was the very man that the Jewish leaders were seeking to kill. Rather than running to hide, He boldly taught in the temple right under their noses. And beyond that the ones who were seeking after Him stood there motionless in regard to taking any action. They said nothing to Him. When He wasn’t there they were aggressively pursuing Him, but when He stood right in their midst they said and did nothing. Thinking on this some of them began to wonder if maybe those who had been seeking after Jesus really knew that He was the Christ, and as such were afraid to take any action.

This was likely quite perplexing to them. On the one hand His knowledge of Scripture and His ability to speak about the things of God evidenced learning far beyond what they could imagine Him having. His works were undeniably works that exceeded the abilities of a mere man. There truly was something special about this man. But on the other hand, they knew where He was from and they knew His common upbringing. These opposing things did not add up to them. Add to that, some rabbis were teaching that no one would know who the Messiah was or where He would come from until He appeared on the scene to establish His salvation (ESV Study Bible). This view may have grown from a misunderstanding of Scriptures (Isaiah 53:9 and Malachi 3:1, MacArthur Study Bible).

I wondered about this statement, “when the Christ appears, no one will know where He comes from.” Having been to many Christmas programs, read through our daily advent calendar year after year, and teaching children the Christmas story, I had no doubt where Jesus would come from. After all, I read Micah 5:2 which says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2, ESV) Jesus was going to be born in Bethlehem, and of course we read in Scripture that He was. This is one of those amazing fulfilled prophecies of Scripture.

While there were those in the crowd who did not know these words of Micah, we do know from the Bible that there were others who did, and they were awaiting His coming with great anticipation. But at this moment with these people, this humble man didn’t fit the mold they had formed, and in their understanding it didn’t seem likely that they could squeeze Him into it.

In response to their concerns we read, So Jesus proclaimed, as He taught in the temple, “You know Me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent Me is true, and Him you do not know. I know Him, for I come from Him, and He sent me.” The question had been asked if He might truly be the Christ, and Jesus responded by telling them that while they know Him in human terms, He was truly sent by One who they did not know—who is God the Father. Jesus went on to tell them that while they had not met Him (God) in the way that they meet others, Jesus did know Him, and that He indeed had come from God the Father who had sent Him. He affirmed what He had said earlier that His origin was from heaven and that His purpose was to do the will of the Father. In doing this, He answered the question that they had raised as to whether or not He was the Christ. The answer was a resounding “Yes!”

We read that those who were seeking to arrest Him did not lay a hand on Him. Their inability or refusal to take hold of Him gave cause to the people to truly wonder if the Jews knew who He really was and were afraid to touch Him because they feared Him. But as we read in these later verses we know the reason they did not touch Him was that it was not the right time. “His hour had not yet come.” He was protected by God and they were unable to take Him captive until the time was right. Jesus knew why He was there and He knew that in the right time He would be handed over to them. But He also knew until that time there was nothing they could do that would violate the perfect plan of the Father. This is a pretty amazing statement. Our God is all powerful and totally sovereign. He knows the beginning from the end, and He will do what He intends perfectly. There is nothing that man can do to thwart God’s plan or to force His hand.

Some of the crowd grasped that Jesus was something special. As they considered what He had said and what He had done they answered for themselves the question, “When the Christ appears, will He do more signs than this man has done?” Their answer was that He must be the One. There is none other that could surpass what they have already seen and heard. There was no reason to look any further, and they believed.

That question, “When the Christ appears, will He do more signs than this man has done?” is an interesting question. It might even be one that we could use as we challenge people today with believing in Jesus for their own salvation. Is there really anything else that you would expect or hope from in one who came to redeem you and to give you new life? He did not demand that you become perfect. He did not demand that you do a long list of works in order to prove yourself worthy. He came with verified power and worked incredible works in the presence of many. All of these authenticate and prove His claim of heavenly origin as the Son sent by the Father. Having come, He willingly laid down His life to pay the penalty for the things which we have done wrong, and then He took His life back up again and returned to the Father until such time that He comes again. What He expects of us in return is to believe and trust.

There will continue to be those who will not believe and who are not saved as a result. For them the only outcome is eternal judgment. We have no control over this. The amazing thing is that this is not our responsibility or even under our control. We are to be living testimonies who speak truth, who reason and plead with people, and who proclaim salvation in Christ alone. The Holy Spirit does the incredible work of opening hearts and minds to give understanding, and somehow God works this in accord with the will of man such that people respond and believe. I do not pretend to understand exactly how God does this. What I do know is that He knows everyone who is His from before time, that He calls them unto Himself, and that everyone who He calls will respond. God is so loving and gracious. There is not a single one of us that deserves anything from Him but judgment. Yet because of His great love He sent His Son to redeem us from our sins and to give us eternal life. There is no greater gift.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4–9, ESV) 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sound Judgment Over Appearance (John 7:14-24)

“About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when He has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on My own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the One who seeks the glory of Him who sent Him is true, and in Him there is no falsehood. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill Me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”” (John 7:14–24, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

In the last post we focused on the contrast between the intimidation of the crowd for fear of the Jews and the boldness of Christ and His disciples to speak the right words at the right time. The previous verses started with Jesus going to the feast by Himself without being noticed by the crowd such that He could freely observe what was going on without garnering attention. Today’s verses tell us at about the middle of the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) which lasted seven days, Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. In doing this He went from not being seen to putting Himself up front for all to see. The words that He spoke in teaching we do not have recorded here, but we do have the response of the people. As they heard Him they “marveled” or were astonished by His knowledge (likely of the Scriptures). They recognized Him as being a man who had no formal instruction, but who for some reason had incredible learning.

It is here in His response that John records for us the words of Jesus. Having said similar words previously to different crowds, Jesus said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” Here He restates that it was the Father’s instruction that He was giving just as He was sent to do. In this sense He, as the Son of Man, was the ambassador of God the Father sent to say exactly what the Father wanted said, and this is just what He was doing. He spoke the words that He was compelled to speak, and He did so boldly. I could imagine a silent (or maybe not so) retort from His hearers, saying, “And how do we know this is true? It’s just your words!”

But we really have no indication of any response here, likely because they didn’t yet realize who He was. What we do have is Jesus continuing by telling them how His words could be verified. First He pointed to the consistency of His words with the words given before, saying, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on My own authority.” Here He spoke to their hearts. If any of them truly were about seeking after God and doing His will then God would give them the assurance that the words that Jesus was speaking are true. Later in this gospel John wrote, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13, ESV) Just as Jesus was speaking the words of the Father, so would the Spirit at the proper time give the disciples direction in truth as well. This is part of the work of the Spirit, to teach and affirm the truths of God, and Jesus told the crowd that if they were truly seeking to do the will of the Father that the Spirit would give them the same assurance. He told them that God Himself was the endorser of the words that He was speaking, and if they went before Him with sincerity of heart that He would assure them such.

Next Jesus spoke to them about motivation and how that motivation would evidence itself in individuals. He said, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the One who seeks the glory of Him who sent Him is true, and in Him there is no falsehood.” Nothing Jesus had said was intended to bring glory to Himself, but such that the Father would be glorified in His works and His words. Sure, people marveled at His words, but they also knew Him to be unlearned in man’s terms. As such it was easy for Him to point to the source of that learning being from God the Father Himself. People also were amazed at the works He had been doing, but even in them He demonstrated over and over that this also was being done to the glory of the Father, as the Father had sent the Son. Jesus did not pad his pockets with money from the miracles He worked. He did not pat Himself on His back because of His ability to capture individuals’ minds with His words. In all things He humbly submitted Himself to the Father, thus evidencing His sincerity in seeking to glorify the One who sent Him and the truthfulness of His words. This was in stark contrast to many who put their thumbs up tightly under their armpits while they loudly proclaimed how good they were and how much people should listen to them as a result. These people were the ones who claimed that they had arrived and they invited the adulation of others. For Jesus, His clear objective was that the Father might be glorified.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)

The last point in His response was concerning their own hypocrisy, saying, “Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill Me?” All Jews were given the law by Moses, and all Jews broke the law. There was not a single one of them who kept the law in perfection, and like us today every single one of them violated the law willingly in order to satisfy their own desires. Yet, the claim of “the Jews” against Jesus was that He performed a miracle on the Sabbath by healing a man, and broke their added Sabbath rules by instructing that the healed man to take up his bed and carry it away. If they were so intent on His perfect adherence to their understanding of things, then every single one of them stood guilty as well and deserved the same consequence. This issue of healing on the Sabbath was confronted several times by Jesus. Each time He stated in one way or another how much better it is to make one whole on the Sabbath than to focus on the particular prohibition over which they were struggling. As Jesus said earlier in John, their real issue was much deeper than the breaking of their rules. It was that He claimed to be from the Father, making Himself God with the Father. So, it wasn’t as much the breaking of the rules, which they all did in various ways, as it was Him who was doing it.

At this point at least some in the crowd did not recognize Him as the Jesus who the Jews were seeking after. Their response indicates their lack of making this connection. They responded basically by asking Him if he was crazy or possessed or off His rocker. They followed this by asking Him who it was that was seeking to kill Him. In response Jesus pointed back to the one miracle recorded thus far in Jerusalem, which was the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda which He did on the Sabbath (John 5).

“I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”  

There were some things that the Jews permitted to be done on the Sabbath and others which they did not permit. One of those permitted actions was circumcision. Under Jewish law male children were to be circumcised on the eighth day. If a child was born on the Sabbath then the eighth day would also be on the Sabbath. As such the instructions to circumcise were permitted to supersede the prohibition against work. Circumcision was a ceremony whereby the young child was set apart to God according to the instruction given by God to Moses and again spoken through Moses. The reason for the eighth day was that the mother was ceremonially unclean for seven days following the birth, so on the eighth day she would be ceremonially clean and the observance of circumcision of the son could happen.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Leviticus 12:1–3, ESV)

If it was okay to recognize her being cleansed and the son being circumcised on the eighth day then how much more would it be okay to see one made fully whole on that day as well? This is the question Jesus put before them. Having said this He then told them to step back and really think about what they were saying and believing. There was an inconsistency there that He challenged them to consider.

Emotionalism and legalism both call for responses that tend to alienate themselves from sound judgment. On the emotional side, we can ignore what we know or presume to be right for the sake of what might make us or others feel better. On the side of legalism we can lose the heart of the instruction for the letters we used to write it. Oftentimes legalism results in a hard line being drawn far to one side of where truth might dictate. The Jewish Sabbath rules, of which there are thirty-nine such prohibited activities with numerous considerations of each, were a response to the biblical dictate that the Jews were to observe the Sabbath and do not arduous work on it and an outgrowth of some specific instructions such as not gathering manna on the Sabbath but twice as much on the day before. Regardless of the intention, they were so concerned about not breaking this law that they drew lines not drawn by God Himself. And over time, these lines became the measure of the law itself such that Jesus was charged with breaking the Sabbath. On the emotionalism side lines might be altogether thrown away for the sake of a particular compassion or desire. Jesus told the crowd not to think based upon appearance, but to do so with sound judgment.

“For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil….” (Proverbs 2:6–12a, ESV)

“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7–11, NASB95)

“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 1:13, ESV) 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Silenced by Intimidation? (John 7:10-13)

“But after His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for Him at the feast, and saying, “Where is He?” And there was much muttering about Him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, He is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of Him.” (John 7:10–13, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)

In these brief verses we read that the enemies of Jesus, referred to as “the Jews” were aggressively searching for Him, fully expecting that He would be present at this appointed feast. What they did not know is that He was there, but He was there without fanfare and without an accompanying crowd. He was incognito. He was like what we might call “a fly on the wall,” hearing and seeing everything without being noticed.

These Jews were likely going from person to person and small gathering to small gathering, asking everyone where He was. Yet no one had seen Him. In the aftermath of their questioning “the people” who were also Jews, but not a part of the group that was seeking after Him, entered into quiet discussions concerning just who He was and why He might be so sought after. Our passage tells us that there was much muttering about Him. “While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, He is leading the people astray.” They were unsettled over who He was and what His intent might be. Some didn’t see any harm in Him and saw the good things that He was doing and possibly even knew the “good things” He had said. They possibly even knew Him to be kind and compassionate. These are the ones that saw Him as a good man. But there were also those who set aside whatever good they might have seen or heard of, and believed that His motives were no so pure. These people believed that He was possibly doing these things in order to lead them astray, to capture their attentions, and drag them away from their Jewish traditions, possibly to His own benefit. But all of them in their questioning were also intimated by the powerful “Jews,” and so they kept their discussions closed, not speaking openly about Him.

They were intimidated, and they responded by allowing their intimidation to affect their actions. Today things aren’t much different. There are seemingly powerful voices of intimidation even today who have garnered the backing and strategically placed voices of employers, educators, political leaders, legislators, judges, and even the pulpits of some “churches.” It works its way out through numerous government agencies and educational institutions who seek to remove any religious influence from the face of our nation. And I imagine that there are many among these numbers who may not agree with the agenda, but for sake of how they might be seen or may be treated suppress their closely held ideals.

Intimidation is a powerful force. It was then, and it remains so today. Voices are silenced because of it. Voices are silenced because of the large scale nature of it. But they are also silenced because of the smaller scale of rejection, alienation, and worrying about what people might think. We, as a people, have become more and more reluctant to speak out for Christ and even to speak against evil. It was “the Jews” reaction to Jesus calling their works evil that He gave for not going with His brothers to the feast. His brothers had said nothing to challenge them, but Jesus had, saying, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7, ESV)

Jesus went in silence to the feast, not because He was intimidated, but because He knew the hearts of man and He knew that there would be a right time to speak and right words to say, even as we will see in the next verses. Jesus was not careless with His words, but wisely spoke the right words at the right time so that the will of the Father might be accomplished. We saw Him step back into the crowd after healing the man at the well in John 5, and we see Him even in these verses going to the feast as commanded through Moses, but doing so in such a way that He was not noticed, able to observe reactions, and then speak at the proper time.

Jesus knew how the people would respond to Him, and He knew that at the proper time His words would even lead to Him willingly laying down His life for us so that we might be forgiven of our sins and brought back into an eternal relationship with Himself and the Father. He also knew that throughout time that people would also hate those who followed after Him and spoke of Him to others. In John 15 Jesus spoke to His disciples and told them that they did not choose Him, but He chose them and appointed them to go and bear fruit. He then charged them in verse 17 with the command to love one another, after which He then said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of My name, because they do not know Him who sent me.” (John 15:18–21, ESV)

In Acts chapter 4 we read of Peter and John being brought before a council of Jewish leaders where they were asked by what power or authority they spoke. Their response to them was bold leaving their questioners baffled knowing them to be uneducated men. Then when they healed a man standing next to them they were left speechless (Acts 4:13-14). They knew they could not take any action against them because of the numbers of people who had evidenced their words and actions, so they came up with a plan. ““But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:17–18, ESV) In response, we read, “But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”” (Acts 4:19–20, ESV) Seeing that their words seemed to fall on deaf ears we read that they resorted again to intimidation. “And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.” (Acts 4:21, ESV)

In Ephesians 6 Paul wrote about the spiritual battle in which we are engaged, and how Christ is our armor for that battle. At the end of this discussion he speaks about the importance of prayer and includes a personal request, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20, ESV)

In the introduction to Philippians Paul wrote about how his own imprisonment and how he continued to serve and speak through it served as an encouragement to many others believers to do likewise. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12–14, ESV)

We have recorded for us in Scripture both the unshakable foundation for our faith found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who came to boldly speak against evil and to give life to all who listen and believe. And we have the example of others who suffered ill treatment and even death for being faithful followers. We have the record of our God who knows from eternity past all that will ever happen to each and every single one of us, and who is powerful to accomplish His perfect work in us—even perfecting us through these trials. We have the incredible promise of an eternal future that infinitely surpasses in glory any indignity we might suffer in the waiting. And we have the promise that when we step out of these bodies that we will step into the loving presence of our Lord, knowing that these things here, as the apostle Paul said, are momentary light affliction.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, ESV)

“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14–16, NASB95)