Tuesday, January 31, 2012

John 3:1-9

Today we meet the religious ruler, Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a group of 6,000 Jewish religious leaders devoted to keeping the Law down to the tiniest detail. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he would have been part of the elite group of rulers (70 in all), so he was surely a highly respected member of the community. We know he was wealthy because in John 19 he gave expensive burial spices to help with the burial of Jesus.

I have always loved this man, because I feel I can identify with him. He seems to have been someone whose head got in the way of his heart, someone who was more interested in the debate than the answers. I have to guard myself sometimes, when approaching the Scriptures, that it doesn’t become just a brain exercise. When I originally read this part of John’s gospel over thirty years ago, I saw a picture of someone wanting to come to Jesus for an intellectual discussion, to investigate this man who had been performing miracles and overturning tables. And I felt he was probably uncomfortable with the answers Jesus gave him, and maybe went away a bit more puzzled than when he came. We certainly don’t see the deal sealed. Nicodemus apparently did not fall at Jesus’ feet and become a disciple at this point. But surely seeds were planted.

When I was first truly confronted with the need to make a decision for Christ in college, I was made extremely uncomfortable by the experience, and I found it like hearing nails on a chalkboard to even say the name Jesus. I would have had no problem discussing Buddha or Mohammed or Confucius, because I could keep them at a distance. But something about the name of Jesus made me squirm. It was personal - too close for comfort - to have to think about Him and the demands He would make on my life. He’d actually want to change me! So I can feel the churning of thoughts in Nicodemus head and the conflict in his heart as he meets with this Rabbi:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:1-3)

Note that Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. I had always figured this was kind of a stealthy way to talk to Jesus without Nicodemus’s buddies knowing what he was doing. But Jon Courson speculates that maybe he came at night just because it was Passover and both Nicodemus and Jesus would have ben busier during the day. And he says that the cool of the evening was the time for personal conversation among men. We don’t know for sure why he came at night.

Now, right off the bat, Jesus goes completely beyond the niceties of pleasant conversation to the core of Nicodemus’s problem. Nicodemus does the friendly dance with some flattery, starting with some affirmation of the miracles Jesus had been performing. Obviously God was with this Carpenter-Rabbi, so He was worth checking out. However, Jesus instantly points Nicodemus to the need for a complete makeover: Nicodemus needed to be born again!

Since Jimmy Carter called himself a “born again Christian” over thirty years ago, that term has offended many people. And I wonder if it didn’t maybe offend Nicodemus a little, too. His response to Jesus can possibly be seen as almost dismissive:

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” (vs. 4)

What Jesus was suggesting was preposterous! Not possible! And isn’t it interesting that Nicodemus keeps the discussion at arm’s length: he doesn’t ask, “How can I be born again, “ but “How can a man be born again?” I remember using this tactic when the Campus Crusade for Christ people approached me at UCLA. I did everything to keep the discussion from getting personal.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (vs. 5-8)

Jesus brings it home here. He takes it from no one, in verse 5, immediately to the pronoun you. “I’m talking to YOU, Nicodemus!” “I’m talking to YOU, Sally!” YOU must be born again! Now He’s got Nicodemus’s full attention:

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. (vs. 9)

We’ll find out tomorrow!


Monday, January 30, 2012

John 2:18-25

After Jesus had cleared out the outer court of the temple, the Jewish leaders demanded to know by what authority he had done such a thing. In fact, they asked for a miracle to prove his credentials:

Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22)

Jon Courson points out that they did not ask why He had turned over the tables and taken a whip to the money changers. Apparently they knew the place was corrupt - they just wanted to know who had given Him the authority to do it!! That cracks me up! So often when someone points out our sin, we don’t deny it, but rather we will want to know who gave that person the right to judge us! Forget that there is a problem - what gives them the right to point it out???

It looks like Jesus isn’t answering their question directly when he responds, but truly, when He says, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up again in three days,” He is declaring His authority. He is the One with the resurrection power. Verse 22 tells us that after the resurrection, the disciples remembered that Jesus had made this claim and they believed.

The Jewish leaders completely misunderstood and looked at Him like He was crazy. It had taken Herod 46 years to construct this temple. Who was this man who thought he could build in it three days?

The last verses in this chapter show that Jesus did, indeed, display His authority:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. (vs. 23-25)

Even though many believed in Jesus because of these signs, He did not commit Himself to them. He knew their hearts and knew that they wanted His miracles, but they did not really want Him. Their “faith” was based on seeing these signs. Sometimes we can be like that. We’ll believe as long as He keeps answering our prayers in the way we expect and in our timeline. The minute things get tough we figure He has deserted us. That is why our faith needs to be based on the truth of His Word, and the assurance that He keeps His promises and loves us, even when things are tough and we are facing trials and persecutions.

While the people only sought what He could do for them, in the next chapter, we will meet someone who wanted to know more. Stay tuned!


Friday, January 27, 2012

John 2:12-17

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:12-17)

What a contrast in scenes in this chapter! In Cana we saw a very quiet Jesus unobtrusively performing his first miracle at a celebration. Then, in this next scene in Jerusalem, Jesus went on a rampage, overturning tables and using a whip to clear the temple court of money changers who were ripping off the people. The disciples must have been alarmed to see this other side of the Gentle Carpenter! But the reality is that while God is surely a God of love, He is also holy, holy, holy. And His holiness requires righteous judgment.

How offended Jesus must have been to see these men hawking animals for sacrifice in the very place where His Father should have been honored and glorified. The temple had four courts, and the outer court, where these money changers did their business, was the court of the Gentiles. This was the only place Gentiles were allowed. It was a place where they should have been drawn to God. This was where they should have witnessed the glory and power of Jehovah God. Instead, it had become a corrupt marketplace, where money changers would defraud those who had come to offer sacrifices to God. Worshippers would be told that the animals that they had brought were blemished and not good enough to offer for sin. So they were forced to buy the animals from these merchants.

Courson says that up to this point we have only seen Jesus as the Lamb of God, but in this scene He shows Himself as the Lion of Judah! When we turn to Christ, He is going to cleanse our temples as well. Whatever is offensive to His Holiness must go! He will not be satisfied until He has overturned every area in our lives that is held by sin. What would He find in our temples? Would He want to overturn our TV viewing habits? Would He take a whip to our tongues that wag in gossip? Would He scatter our pride, our tempers, our bitterness, the grudges we are keeping? And what kind of witness are we displaying in our outer courts? Do those who don’t know God feel drawn to Him or shocked by what they see in us?

As we cluck our tongues in disgust over the money changers, let’s remember that we are the temple of God. His Holy Spirit lives in us! What about our own temples needs to be cleansed? The good news is that Jesus is just the One to cleanse us!  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us ours sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."  (1 John 1:9)  PHEW!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

John 2:1-11

Today we come to chapter 2 and witness the first miracle of Jesus: changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana. There is so much to just this little passage! And, once again, I’m grateful to Jon Courson for pointing out some things that I have missed! This wedding took place only three days after his baptism by John according to the first verse:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” (John 2:1-4)

As Mary saw that the host had run out of wine, she turned to Jesus. Jon Courson asks us to think about the possibility that Mary was maybe thinking more about just filling a need for wine when she made this request of Jesus, because Jesus actually gives her a mild rebuke. When he says, “Dear woman...” the term for Greek word used for woman here is gune, which is a term of respect but not warmth. The King James Version translation makes the rebuke a little more apparent: Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

Courson speculates that Mary may have wanted Jesus to finally show Himself to the world as the Messiah, because, for more than thirty years, she had been living with the tarnished reputation of being pregnant before she was officially married to Joseph. She wanted people to know what she knew so that she might be vindicated. Jesus told her that His hour had not yet come. In other words, He would not fully glorify the Father until his death, resurrection, and ascension.

Undeterred, even though rebuked, Mary turns to the servants, and, in her last recorded words in scripture, she tells the servants to obey Jesus. She did not act as a mediator between Jesus and the servants, but sent them directly to Him. Jesus did not exalt Mary at any time. He loved her and cared for her (giving her into John’s care at the cross), but she did not receive special treatment. In Luke 8:21, when He was told His mothers and brothers wanted to see Him, His response was, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” 

Later, in Acts 1, when the disciples are all in the Upper Room praying, Mary is not a leader at the meeting, nor is she given any special recognition. She is just one of the disciples mentioned along with the others. Now, that is not to say that Mary is not a most special woman, because of ALL women in history, SHE was the one chosen to be the mother of Jesus. I can’t wait to meet her one day! But I think Mary knew that her job was not to be glorified, but to also glorify her Savior, even as that is also our job.

The behavior of the servants is amazing and has lessons for us.

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (vs. 6-10)

Jesus did not tell the servants, nor did they ask, what the plan was ahead of time. Jesus gave them directions one step at a time, and that’s how they obeyed Him. He told them to fill the jars with water - and they filled them to the brim! He then told them to take some to the master of the banquet, and they did. Only then, when the master reacted, did they understand what Jesus had done. Courson writes, “Too often I want to know what steps two through five are going to be before I follow step one.” Oh my goodness! Isn’t that our way??? But like the servants, we are just to trust and obey at each step, one step at a time. The result of their obedience was that they got to be part of an exciting work of God. They knew something that the master of the banquet did not know about that wine: Jesus had performed a miracle!

Oh, that we would have the patience and faithfulness of these servants to participate in what God is doing by just faithfully obeying one step at a time! Great stuff, eh?


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

John 1:43-50

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip. (John 1:43-46)

Jon Courson points out something very funny here. Notice that we are first told that Jesus found Philip. But as Philip takes the news to Nathanael, he says “We have found Him!” God is the One who initiates our relationship. He’s the One Who finds us! That has been true since the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve hid from God and He came looking for them! In fact, Romans 3:11 says there is no one who seeks God! Don’t we love to take credit for being “smart” enough to find Christ?? :) When I became a Christian 36 years ago, there was a popular bumper sticker, “I found it!” It really should have said, “He found me!” We are the ones who are lost - not Him!!!

When Philip tells Nathanael that the Messiah comes from Nazareth, Nathanael’s reaction is hysterical! Nazareth???? No way! That hick town? No one important could come from there! Nathanael would have to be convinced, so Philip challenges him to just come and see for himself. “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

Philip had personally tasted the real thing and he had been convinced, and he was sure that Nathanael would come to the same conclusion if he would just come to Jesus. Although Philip, at this point, could not defend the faith theologically or intellectually (he did not yet know that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, for instance), he knew experientially that Jesus was the Christ. Later, in chapter 8 of Acts, Philip was finally equipped in the scriptures enough to fully explain theologically to the Ethiopian eunuch how Jesus fulfilled prophecy and was, indeed, the Messiah.

At this point, however, Philip was just a truly convinced new believer, who wanted disbelieving Nathanael to come and see. And, indeed, Nathanael went from disbelief to belief faster than a speeding bullet. All it took was that personal encounter:

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

 Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (vs.47-50)

Jesus was making a reference to Genesis 28:12 here, which is the vision that Jacob had of the ladder going from Earth to Heaven. Jesus IS that ladder - He is the One who bridges that gap between us and the Father.

According to my Bible footnotes, when Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you shall see...” the Greek for you is plural. So, while Jesus was initially addressing Nathanael’s faith, he wants us all to know that at some point all will understand Who Jesus is.

Do you have friends or family who are skeptics? Of course you do! There are LOTS of Nathanaels out there who disdain the simple message of the gospel - the story of the humble carpenter from Nazareth. Are you too intimidated to share your faith because you don’t have your masters degree in theology? Just point the way - invite them to “taste and see.” Jesus is looking for the lost, which includes your friends and family. Trust Him to find them!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

John 1:35-42

There’s always something! Saturday morning I went to a fellowship with my Bible study group, and as my friend dropped me back home, I waved good-bye to her, then realized I was completely locked out of my house! Don was over at Molly’s house helping her with a project, and the neighbor who has our key wasn’t home. So I sat down on the steps in front of our house and turned on my cell phone, while I waited for Molly to come with a key. I saw I had a voicemail from my niece, Amanda. When I listened to it, I discovered that my sister, Susie, who lives in Florida, had been taken to the hospital that morning - something about memory loss. So I quickly made the call to my brother-in-law to find out the following:

Susie and her husband, Don (too many Don’s in our family) were going to pack him up for a trip he was to take Sunday morning. Susie went in to first do her makeup and hair, while Don got on his computer. Susie came in a few minutes later mumbling incoherently, having difficulty walking, then started vomiting! Don, who is a retired sheriff, knew what to do - he called 911 and the ambulance took her to the hospital. They did a CT scan and an MRI and various other tests, all showing no signs of a stroke and no blockage of the carotid artery. They don’t believe it was a TIA (mini-stroke)either. They are doing more tests today to rule out epilepsy, but we may never know what it was. She was back to normal before they admitted her, but has no memory of the event. She is exhausted, but we are all so grateful that there doesn’t seem to be anything life-threatening. However, it is frustrating to not know for sure. Please pray that the doctors will be able to give her some kind of answer that makes sense, and that there will be no more episodes! Ye gads!

Back to John:

In the last verses of John’s first chapter, he relates the calling of the disciples. In verses 35-42 we learn that one of the first disciples was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist, but John directed him to Jesus. In turn, Andrew was one of the disciples of Christ who brought others to Jesus, the first one being his own brother:

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. (John 1:40-42)

Andrew couldn’t wait to tell his brother, Simon Peter! Jon Courson points out that, later, Andrew also brought to Jesus the young boy with the lunch that fed five thousand (John 6:8-9); and, with Philip, he brought a group of Greeks to meet Jesus in Jerusalem (John 12:20-22). We never know when we bring someone to Jesus what the impact will be. We just need to be willing to make the introduction, then we can leave the results to Jesus.

When Simon came to Jesus, he received his name change:

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (vs. 42b)

I looked up the meaning of Simon - it means “he has heard.” Simon heard about Jesus from Andrew, but more importantly, Jesus heard the cry of Simon’s heart. He saw in Peter what no one else saw, and he changed his name on the spot to Cephas or Peter, which means “rock.” I like what Courson says about this:

“In changing Peter’s name, it’s as if Jesus said, ‘Simon, you’re about as stable as the sand on the seashore. But I see your potential; I see what you will become. That’s why I’m changing your name to Cephas, or Rock. Stick with Me, Peter, and you will see incredible changes take place in your person.” (Courson’s Apllication Commentary:New Testament, P. 442).

No one stays the same after meeting Jesus! Have you thanked Him recently for the changes He has made in you? The exciting part is that God is the one Who does the work in us. And God finishes what He starts. Unlike us, He does not leave projects half done. Paul assured the Philippians that God would complete what He had begun in their lives (Phil 1:6), and He will do that for us!

Tomorrow we will see Jesus pick up two more disciples as we complete chapter 1.


Friday, January 20, 2012

John 1:29-34

First off, I want to thank you for your prayers for Judi! She had her kidney removed yesterday. There was a 2-inch cancerous tumor, and they are very hopeful that it was contained and that there is no further cancer. They will be doing additional tests to be sure, but the outlook seems extremely positive, thank you, LORD!

I’m on my last day of antibiotics (doing cartwheels over that), and it seems like the infection has been controlled. Still have the facial numbness on the right side (although you would never know by looking at me), which is nothing more than a minor irritation. Monday I will have the root canal completed, then we’ll let everything settle before the dentist puts on the final crown. Onward to John...

Today’s verses describe the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, when He first appears as the Lamb of God, as declared by John the Baptist:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)

Somehow God had indicated to John the Baptist that he would know the Messiah when John saw the Holy Spirit come upon the Christ. John declared that his whole reason for being in the river baptizing was just so he could reveal the Christ to Israel (vs. 31). So, when he saw the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, come upon Jesus, he knew that this was the Lamb of God. I am glad to turn to Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament study on this passage for some very interesting observations!

In pronouncing Jesus the Lamb of God, John the Baptist hearkens back to Genesis 22:7-8, according to Courson. This is where Abraham has taken Isaac to Mt. Moriah and is preparing to offer him as a sacrifice to God. Isaac sees the fire and the wood, but asks, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham, by faith, assures Isaac, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” (KJV) Here in John 1:29, that Lamb at last appears! Courson says that the cry of the Old Testament is, “Where is the Lamb?” The hope of the New Testament is, “Behold the Lamb!” And the summation of eternity will be, “Worthy is the Lamb!” (Rev 5).

Throughout the Bible the lamb is used to remove sin. Jon Courson points out how the “message of the Lamb of God becomes more encompassing as you trace it through Scripture.” (Courson, P. 440)  He refers first to Genesis 4:4-5, where Abel brings a lamb as a sacrifice for an individual. Then in Exodus, during the Passover, there is the lamb offering for an entire family. In Leviticus, the Jews were instructed on the sacrifice of a lamb for the sins of the nation. Finally, here in the New Testament, Jesus is the Lamb whose sacrifice is made for the sins of the world.

Okay, aren’t those exciting observations?? I just love the wholeness of God’s Word! It truly is His Story! Next week we’ll see the calling of the disciples. So much to apply to our own lives!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

John 1:19-28

Before John the Apostle begins his narrative of the ministry of Jesus we get our first glimpse of John the Baptist, who was out in the desert baptizing people as he prepared the way for the Messiah. The gospel of Luke gives us a fuller picture of John’s personality and his message:

He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’”

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:3-9)

This cracks me up! John was not a diplomat! He called a spade a spade and did not sugar coat his message to make it more palatable to the crowds! He created quite a stir, as the people wondered if he was the promised Messiah. In fact the Sanhedrin, the group of Jewish leaders, sent a group to check him out and to ask John who exactly he was. And this is where John’s gospel picks up today:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” (John 1:19-20)

John the Baptist knew exactly who he was and who he wasn’t. When asked his identity, he could have quickly listed his important credentials, as Jon Courson points out: “Who am I?” John could have answered, “I’ll tell you who I am. I am a priest [he was a Levite], I am a prophet. I am the miraculously born son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. I am called of God and chosen by God. I am the one prophesied in Isaiah and Malachi. I am the forerunner of the Messiah - that’s who I am.” (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament,  P. 439).

John knew with absolute certainty what his role was. And even though Jesus Himself referred to John as one of the greatest ever born (Luke 7:28), John did not feel a need to impress anyone. In complete humility he understood that he was to merely point the way to the One who IS the Way. John’s job was to encourage people to prepare their hearts for Jesus. It was his life’s purpose - even as it is ours. We are to be pointing others to Christ, whether we are in a desert of severe trials, in the midst of co-workers, or standing in line at the market. And John did not care what the world thought of him - he cared what they thought of His Savior.

How are we presenting Jesus to others? Are we straight shooters like John? Or are we afraid to be considered religious fanatics and kooks by the world? We aren’t all called to be as bold and out there like John, but we ARE all called to tell others about our Jesus. One thing is certain to me from this passage: we are to remember who we are and who we are not.

Next time we’ll finally see the One for whom John was waiting!


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

John 1:15-18

How glorious to be back in John’s Gospel! I’ve had two nights of five uninterrupted hours of sleep, and I’m feeling human again! I’ll be finished with the antibiotics on Friday, and expect to lose the numbness on the right side of my face sometime down the road! :) At least two more dentist visits and I should be set! Thank you for your prayers and your sweet emails of encouragement!

In today’s verses from John’s gospel, John continues to describe the Word who became flesh. First, in verse 15, he speaks of the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus:

John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”

You may remember that John the Baptist was the son of the Jewish priest, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who was the cousin of Mary (see Luke 1). Therefore John was Jesus’ cousin, who was born six months before Jesus. So when John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was “before” him, he speaks to the eternal nature and the superiority of Jesus.

Then, the Apostle John returns to his own testimony of what Christ has done for us:

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1:16-18)
The King James Version states it this way:

And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

The idea is that through Christ we have received grace upon grace, unending grace, or, as Jon Courson describes it, “continual grace, inexhaustible grace.” Romans 5:20 assures us that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” We cannot “out sin” His ability to forgive and restore.  Unless we completely reject His Gift.  You can choose to be under the law or under grace. I’m taking grace! Thank you, LORD, for You are not only the source of grace and truth, you ARE Grace and Truth!

Jesus, is the Word. He is the One and Only Son of God, and is the only One who makes God known. When John wrote this to Gentiles who were steeped in Greek philosophy, they did not believe that God could be personally known. But John wants us to know that the Word, the Creator of the universe, WANTS to be known - and Jesus is the One who reveals the Father. If you want to know the Father, you must know the Son. There is no one else who can reveal Him to men.

I’m excited to get into the heart of this gospel, because the introduction has assured me that I need to know the Word. Tomorrow we’ll get to look at John the Baptist as he prepares the way for the Savior.

Please continue to pray for Judi, who is scheduled to have her kidney removed tomorrow!!  Thank you!!!


Friday, January 13, 2012

I've been missing in action!

I’ve been laying low this week, and will be back up next, hopefully! I had a temporary crown put in January 2, which I then pulled up by chewing gum (what was I thinking??). So, I went back in on that Friday, the 6th, and the dentist recemented the temp. By the afternoon of Saturday, I was in extreme pain. It seemed to dissipate by Monday, but by Tuesday afternoon of this week, the pain returned with a vengeance, so I called the dentist and he put me on antibiotics with plans to see me the next day. About an hour after talking with him, I started getting chills, then a fever of 101. I was taking extra strength Tylenol with the antibiotic and the fever finally broke in the morning. I stayed home from school Wednesday, and anxiously awaited my afternoon appointment. They called at 2:00 and told me they could take me earlier, which was great, because right after they called I started getting uncontrollable shaking and chills.

When I got there, he decided to do a root canal. He cleaned out the infection, did the root canal, packed in some antibiotics, then did a temporary sealing to allow the infection to heal completely. I go in on Monday for the finishing of the root canal, then will have the permanent crown put on at the end of the month. I was so exhausted after the chills and root canal (and more fever), so I stayed home again yesterday. I felt much better, although the entire right side of my jaw, chin and lips is now numb ( he hit the nerve when injecting the novocaine, which is not uncommon). I should never have googled that condition (paresthesia) last night, because it freaked me out. The estimates for the numbness to go away were from a few days to two years, or never! Since he didn’t actually nick the nerve, I’m hoping and praying for the few days!!!

Anyway, it’s been a miserable few days, and I did not sleep more than an hour and a half last night, but I’m heading to school this morning. I hear my class is terrorizing the sub!! :) Besides nausea (from the antibiotics) and pain and a headache, I’m pooped! And I’m quickly turning into a complainer, which is so humbling.

The only blessing from this was that, while I was sitting in the dentist’s chair for nearly two hours during the root canal, I spent the entire time praying for everyone I know (including some of you) who have been going through so much worse! I started by praying for Judi, my daughter Molly’s mother-in-law. She is having a kidney removed next week, and she has had all kinds of complications and discomfort. Thinking about what she is going through started me crying as I prayed, and throughout the two hours tears ran down my cheeks as I prayed for her, my sister and her daughter-in-law who lost my nephew this past year, the many friends who are currently undergoing chemotherapy, dear Erin, who is still holding onto that blessed baby (contractions have subsided), and everyone I could think of. The dentist never asked about the tears - I wonder if he just thinks I’m a baby or a kook! :)

So, my tooth thing is very minor, but I am asking for your prayers, that the numbness would go away quickly and that all pain and nausea would stop. Also, pray as I go in on Monday, because now I’m terrified of having more novocaine injections!! I need to be “strong and courageous” like Joshua, and my sweet dentist needs to hit the right spots! I’m sure he’ll be nervous, as well! And pray, specifically, today that I can get through the day without being grumpy to my students!! So glad it’s a three-day weekend!

Throughout this silly ordeal, I have been thanking God for His faithfulness, and that I have had so very few trials in my life! He has been good beyond measure! Back to John’s gospel, LORD willing, on Monday! Would you also keep Judi in your prayers as she has the kidney removed next Thursday? She was diagnosed with diabetes a couple of years ago, so we are all so very concerned about her! Love to you all!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

John 1:14

Merry Christmas! I know we’ve just passed the season, but today we are going to enjoy the celebration again.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

This verse in John’s gospel very basically tells the Christmas story: God became a man and dwelled among us! So often our focus is on the death and resurrection of Christ, because that is WHY He came here - to save us from our sins by dying in our place on the cross. And even though Christmas is ALL about His birth as a flesh and blood baby, how often do we truly marvel at the Incarnation, God becoming a man?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  (Isaiah 7:14)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6) [Can you read that without singing it?  Neither can I!]

What difference does it make whether or not we believe that Jesus was both the Son of God and God the Son? Isn’t it enough to believe He lived and died in our place? Why do Christians make such a big deal out of this doctrine?

To deny God came in the flesh is an insult and minimizes the sacrificial work Jesus did on our behalf. It’s not just that He allowed Himself to suffer a tortuous death on the cross (although that alone is amazing - would you do that for ANYONE???), but He also, as God the Son, left His home in Heaven, He left His rightful place sharing the throne with the Father, and He willingly limited Himself by becoming a flesh and blood man, so that He might identify with us and rightfully justify us by living a sinless life. Wrap your brains around that!

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, exhorts us to have the same attitude as Christ:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

It’s critical in our understanding of Who Jesus is, that we acknowledge that He is both deity and Man. His DNA is fully God on his Father’s side, and fully man on his mother’s. To deny either is an affront to God and the work He did on our behalf: the sacrifice of God becoming man that we might know Him, and the just, required payment for our sins as the only sinless Man.

The Apostle John testified that he had SEEN Jesus’ glory. He personally witnessed it! And I love that he describes Jesus as “full of grace and truth.” Jon Courson points out that people don’t generally demonstrate both qualities together. Those who are very truthful and tell it like it is are usually harsh and hard to be around. They can be extremely judgmental. On the other hand, those who are full of grace seldom are fully forthright and truthful - they will overlook, rather than affirm weaknesses. Jesus was able to be fully truthful while somehow extending grace to the most sinful (think of his encounter with the woman caught in adultery or the Samaritan woman at the well). Don’t you love Him for that?? May we demonstrate those qualities to those around us!

LORD Jesus, how we thank you that you came to Earth as a man and lived among us that you might be our High Priest who “is able to empathize with our weaknesses . . who has been tempted in every way, just as we are,” yet without sinning! (Hebrews 4:15) We are in awe that you left your throne to take on the body of a vulnerable baby, to be completely submitted to the will of the Father, that we might be saved!

Monday, January 9, 2012

John 1:9-13

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John1:9)

This was the message of the forerunner, John the Baptist. The true Light, who gives light to EVERYONE was coming! The book of Romans tells us no one will ever be able to say that they never had an opportunity to know about God:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:20-21)

God has made Himself plainly known through creation. He has given each man an intuitive understanding that He exists. Men CHOOSE not to believe. They choose to ignore the Light:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (John 1:10-11)

It’s not that the Jews COULD NOT believe - they WOULD NOT! We’ll see this throughout John’s gospel as we read about the reactions Jesus evokes. The very people Jesus sought to save, with just a few exceptions, rejected Him, even after hearing Him speak and seeing His miracles, and even after being raised in the Law and the Prophets. So it is very possible to know the Scriptures without knowing the Word.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (vs. 12-13)

The word “Yet,” that begins verse 12 is “But” in the King James Version. I had a friend who once studied the “buts” of the Bible, because she found that word is a turning point in so many passages. And in this one, after telling us the bad news that Jesus’ own people rejected Him, we are told the good news: anyone who chooses to receive Christ, anyone who believes He is who He claims to be and puts his trust in Christ can BECOME a child of God.

Many people believe that we are ALL God’s children - and surely we are ALL His creation. Each one of us was specifically created for His pleasure. However, we do not become His children except through adoption when we fully trust Him through faith in Christ, in who Christ is and in what He has done (completed) for us. You don’t become a child of God because your grandfather was a pastor - there is no genetic passing of faith. You don’t become a child of God just because you are trying hard to do His will. God by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. God has done the saving part, we need to RECEIVE the gift He’s given by doing the believing part.

Now, many people get hung up on the idea that not EVERYONE has heard the gospel. “What about the native in some remote area who has never had the chance??” Well, as we saw in Romans, everyone HAS seen the reality of God - even if they have never heard the name of Jesus, they can choose to seek God, who promises to reveal Himself to all who seek (Jeremiah 29:13).

I love what Jon Courson says about this: “If you’re concerned about lost people and God’s ability to reach them, don’t stay here and discuss the ramifications of predestination. Go tell them Jesus died for them! You may be the very messenger the Lord uses to reach one who is waiting to hear the gospel.” Hard to squirm out of that argument! :)

Have you received Him? Have you said “Yes!” to God’s gift - to the Light He has given you? If so, you can be assured that you belong to Him! This is one of the Apostle John’s reasons for writing - that we may KNOW!

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the Christmas story! I know you have already put away your decorations, but we will be celebrating all over again!


Friday, January 6, 2012

John 1:4-8

In today’s verses, John turns to the imagery of light and darkness. Jesus is THE Light who has overcome the darkness:

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

Darkness is scary, whether you are a little kid or an adult. Remember when you were little and how unsettling it was to be in a dark room? We were certain there was some kind of boogeyman lurking in our bedrooms! As adults, we know the boogeyman isn’t real, yet the darkness can still have a powerful influence over us. I’m sure you’ve all had nights when you have been wrestling with some problem through the night - and the darkness greatly increased the importance of whatever the problem was. But when the morning light came, somehow you saw things as they really were, and those adult “boogeymen” were reduced to their proper scale. You could see there was never really any danger. That’s the power of light - it shows things as they really are. It illuminates truth. Everything becomes clear when we flip on the light switch!

If you are currently struggling with something dark (bad news about health, a spouse who has told you he’s leaving you, the threat of job loss, a financial mess that seems to have no solution, etc.), bring it to the light of God’s Word - in fact, bring it to The Light. If you remember how big our God is, you can see your problem in a new light - its scale will be greatly reduced! The Creator of the universe, who sustains everything, can surely handle your problem!

Now, John turns to what seems to be an almost random reference to John the Baptist:

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (vs.6-8)

I wondered about this being plopped into the middle of John’s discourse on the identity of Christ, so I am grateful that Jon Courson covers it. He writes, “At the time John wrote his Gospel in A.D. 75 or so, people were already beginning to worship John the Baptist. The apostle John wanted to nip this idea in the bud. Thus, at the very outset of his Gospel, he makes it crystal clear that John the Baptist was not Jesus’ equal.” (Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 437).

We see this issue even today, when saints or other religious leaders are venerated to a place of near equality with Jesus. So the apostle John is making it clear that John the Baptist had a specific role, to witness to the Light. What is really interesting is that John the Baptist was not called to be the defending attorney for Christ, just a witness. I find great relief knowing that, as Courson points out, “We are not called to debate, argue, convince. We are called to be witnesses - to share the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth concerning what the Lord is doing in our lives.” ( Courson, P.436)

We don’t need a theology degree or even in-depth Bible knowledge in order to simply tell people what Jesus has done for us. There is no pressure for us to convince anyone of the Truth. That is the job of the Holy Spirit. We are merely called to share as God gives opportunity. As a new Christian, I felt the need to quickly learn all I could about the Bible and apologetics in order to properly “witness.” And while I LOVE apologetics, and the many things I’ve learned through Bible study, the reality is that “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This morning, as I read these verse, that is what popped out at me! If I want others to know my Jesus, I just need to SHOW Him by my actions. Then, if anyone asks the reason for my hope, I can just simply tell my story... PHEW! Does that speak to you, too?


Thursday, January 5, 2012

John 1:1-3 PART 2

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

We return to this verse today, because it is the opening, the “hook” John uses to begin his gospel. Right off the bat, he has my attention! Because he wrote this book that we might believe in Jesus, John wants us to be certain who Jesus really is. He was not just some profound teacher who said some radical things about love and peace. He was not just a messenger of God - He IS God! I heard Dr. James Dobson once say, “If Jesus had just been a ‘positive thinker,’ they wouldn’t have put him on the cross.” And we will see in this book that it was indeed His claims for Himself that put him there.

Jon Courson writes about this first verse of John:

“Whenever the beginning was, wherever it was, whatever it might have been, Jesus - the Word - was already there. He had no beginning and He has no end. He is eternally God.” (Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 444)

If you want to know God, you must know Jesus. And this is the goal of John - that we may KNOW Jesus. John will emphasize the “I Am’s” of Jesus - those claims he made. Romans 10:9 declares, "If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

What does that mean to claim “Jesus is Lord?” When I was a new Christian I had a huge “Jesus is Lord” sticker plastered to the side of my diaper bag. I must have thought it was a great way to share my faith! :) Ye gads! Anyway, it was several months into my walk with the Lord that it finally struck me why that is such an important statement. It did not merely signify that Jesus had become the Lord of ALL aspects of my life. That certainly wasn’t and still isn’t true, as much as I’d like it to be. I’m still struggling with relinquishing control over everything in my life (my tongue, my thoughts, etc.) We know that it is not possible this side of heaven to make Him completely Lord of our lives. Instead, confessing Him as Lord is an acknowledgement of Who He IS.

We’re moving on in this first chapter tomorrow, because this issue of Christ’s identity will be hit over and over throughout our journey through John’s gospel. But know that it is a predominant theme of John’s book, because it matters!

I’m going to ask today for a couple of prayers from those of you who are prayer warriors. My daughter Molly’s mother-in-law, Judi, entered the hospital yesterday in great pain. It was determined that she has kidney stones, however, they also found a mass on one of the kidneys. They are doing a biopsy today, so please pray for a benign result. And while I’m speaking of kidneys, would you also pray for my friend, Karen, who is now getting in line for a kidney transplant, as both of her kidneys are functioning at only 10%. Lots of needs out there! Please share yours with me!


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

John 1:1-3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)

John hearkens back to Genesis with the opening of his gospel - and with good reason. Not only does he want to make a connection to the book of beginnings - the book in which God makes the promise to provide a redeemer, but John wants to make very clear exactly who Jesus is. He is the Word. He is fully Creator God, coeternal with the Father (had no beginning, but is self-existent). As the Creator, he is not the created. The created can never be the Creator.

In using the name “Word,” John reminds his readers that God spoke everything into existence from nothing. When we started in Genesis, I used a phrase I’ve heard: “If you can’t believe the first four words of the Bible, you are not going to believe the rest.” It all stands on the truth that GOD created EVERYTHING, with a purpose, logic, and order (the Greek word for Word is logos, which means speech, thought, reason). In Genesis we are told eight times that “God said... and it was so.” John’s point here is that Jesus is the Word. He was with God from the very beginning, and, in fact, IS God. When the Word spoke, the world was created. The word for God here is the Hebrew word, elohim. It’s a plural word that the Jews used for the one true God. It speaks to us of the triune nature of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jon Courson, in his Application Commentary: New Testament, speaks about how both the Greeks and the Jews would understand this word, logos:

“John’s use of the Greek word logos is important. The Greeks had developed a philosophy articulated by Plato and others that was built upon the assumption that the logos, the word, was the foundation of everything on earth. The earth, Plato said, was simply a shadow of the reality of the logos that existed somewhere in the heavens. The Jews took the Greek concept of the logos one step further. Whereas Pluto said behind everything there’s a perfect thought (logos), the Jews said that behind the thought there must be a thinker.

“ ‘We don’t see perfection (logos) here on earth, but it must exist somewhere,’ said the Greek.
“ ‘Yes. And if there is a true, perfect thought (logos), there must be a true, perfect thinker,’ added the Hebrew.” (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 435)

When I began my search for the truth 36 years ago, this is what I had concluded: all religions cannot be true, because they are contradictory, and God would not be the author of confusion. Therefore, there must be ONE Truth - and that’s what I wanted to know. I needed to know it, because I had a new baby girl, and I knew I would be accountable to God for raising her in the Truth. Had I started by reading the book of John, I probably would have gotten there much quicker than I did!

We will be sticking around these verses, because they are so important, so more about the Word tomorrow! Have a great morning!


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Introduction to John's Gospel

Happy New Year! I’m so excited to start this new study in the Gospel of John! I love the fact that John tells us exactly why he felt compelled to write a fourth gospel, and specifically why he chose to include the particular details that he did:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

The Apostle John wrote this gospel so that its readers might BELIEVE! And he is not just talking about giving mental assent to some facts about the historicity of Christ. James tells us in his letter that just agreeing that Jesus is God is not enough: You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19). Both James and John are speaking of a belief or faith that completely changes your life and your actions.

In this gospel, John is unapologetic in his desire to encourage his readers to commit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ. Commentators believe it was written primarily to Gentile followers of Jesus, especially (as my intro to John is my Bible states) “those who were struggling with the predominant Greek philosophies of the day. . .” Some gnostics of the day spiritualized Jesus to the point of denying his humanity. John wants to make it clear that Jesus is not only fully God, but fully man. This seems evident from the very first verse, especially as it ties to verse 14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (vs.14)

Tomorrow we will examine these first verses more closely, but John is making it very clear from the beginning of this gospel that Jesus is the unique Son of God and Son of Man. And he wants all who read this book to BELIEVE and be changed! How appropriate that we begin a new year with that resolution in mind - may WE be changed completely as we go through this book in 2012.

Can’t wait to jump in!