Monday, April 30, 2012

John 11:54-12:3

We have come to the final week of Jesus’ earthly life. After raising Lazarus, Jesus retreated with His disciples to Ephraim, a desert village that is about 15 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Because of His “celebrity,” some people were watching and waiting to see Jesus in Jerusalem, while the religious leaders sought to arrest him.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all?” But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him. (John 11:55-57)

Just prior to going to Jerusalem, Jesus pays one last visit to his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:1-3)

Jon Courson points out that we are seeing these siblings exhibit three aspects of the church’s purpose: Martha is working in the kitchen (this time with no complaining), Lazarus is giving witness to his new life, and Mary, true to her character, is at the feet of Jesus , worshiping. Regarding Lazarus, Courson writes that although he doesn’t speak a word that is recorded here, he is nonetheless witnessing about his changed life. And just like Lazarus, that is what we are called to do, for Jesus has raised us from death! We were dead in our sins until He gave us new life. There is no witness more compelling than a changed life! As Courson writes, “It intrigues, interests, stimulates, and draws.” (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 538)

Do people see a new creation in us? Do they see a changed heart and a joy that is not dependent upon circumstances? Or do they see the same dead body, still wrapped up in self, grumbling about our work or our marriages or our children, gossiping along with everyone else, and completely devoid of joy? You needn’t speak a word to be an effective witness. But if people see a change in you, they are sure to be curious! Tomorrow we’ll look at Mary, as she lavishes Jesus with love and worship.  

Saturday, April 28, 2012

John 11:45-53

When Lazarus came forth from the tomb, there were two reactions:

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. (John 11:45-46)

People either believe and follow, or they reject Christ. Some of those there, even having seen with their own eyes the miracle, run to tell the Pharisees. It’s possible that they went to the Pharisees hoping to get the Pharisees to claim Jesus as the Messiah, or they may have just wanted to “rat” Him out. Whatever the motivation, the result was that the Pharisees were beside themselves:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.     

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” 

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (vs.47-53)

It’s interesting that they don’t argue the validity of the resurrection of Lazarus. Instead of pondering what it all means, they are frantic about what the Roman reaction would be if everyone believes, because it will mess up their power and authority over the Jews. The Romans will come and take away the temple. This in fact did occur in 70 A.D., when the Romans sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and scattered the Jews.

So Caiaphas, the high priest, determines that it would be better for one man to die instead of everyone else. This is the justification he uses for plotting murder. However, he is unaware that his actual words prophesy exactly what would and must happen: one Man would die for all.

We have just read about the last miracle that John recorded. The rest of his gospel is about the final week of Jesus as He moves toward the crucifixion, then the glorious resurrection, and its aftermath. Every time I read one of the gospels and it gets to this point, I feel like the disciples wanting to urge Jesus, “Don’t go!” I know what awaits Him. I know the agony He will suffer. It’s like when we watch a scene in a mystery or horror movie, and we want to yell at the actor on the screen, “Don’t open that door,” because we know something awful awaits him. And yet, had Jesus NOT gone to the cross, we would all be hopelessly dead in our sins.

So, while the religious leaders plot a despicable act, they have no idea Who really is in charge! God is sovereign. He has a plan. Nothing and no one can thwart it. He will use even evil people to accomplish His ends. We don’t need to fear.

We can see so much evil in the world around us - especially in the political realm. And it frustrates and worries us. It makes us fearful of the future. Maybe you work in an environment where corruption is rampant, or in a place where it just seems that there is no justice. Do not fear. God sees it all and He is just. He has a plan!  

Friday, April 27, 2012

John 11:38-45

I’m sure you all remember the singing Munchkins in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, who examine the body of the Wicked Witch of the West (on whom Dorothy’s house landed), and confirm, “She’s really most sincerely dead.” In today’s verses, Martha tells Jesus something similar about Lazarus. He’s not just dead - he’s REALLY dead:

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.     

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” (John 11:38-39)

In the King James Version, Martha’s words are, “he stinketh!” There is no doubt here that Lazarus was truly dead - and I think that’s probably why Jesus waited the extra days. He wanted to be sure that everyone clearly understood what was about to happen.

The King James version also describes Jesus’ emotions in stronger terms. Verse 38 says, “Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave.” We really can’t imagine what thoughts were going through Jesus’ head. He knew what He was going to do, so why was he groaning in himself? What deeply moved Him? Was it His love of this family and His understanding of the great emotional toll this had taken on Mary and Martha? Was it the lack of belief of those around Him? Was it just the thought of Lazarus having gone through that enemy, death? Was it mixed with the thoughts of what was waiting for Him in Jerusalem? We don’t know.

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me. 

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. 

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” 

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. (vs. 40-45)

Jesus allowed Lazarus to die, just so the people standing there would BELIEVE. This was His biggest miracle. Lazarus had been so dead that he “stinketh,” but there he was raised back to life - walking out of his own grave! We know that Lazarus would eventually die again, so this wasn’t just about answering the prayers of Mary and Martha. It was all for the glory of God. This is why God delights in answering our prayers - that we might give Him glory and so that many would believe because of our testimony.

What in your life is so “sincerely dead” that you cannot imagine a resurrection? Is it your marriage? Is it your attitude toward your job? Is it your finances? Is it a relationship with a family member that has died? Is it your hope that your wayward children will ever come back to the LORD? Even if it “stinketh,” Jesus can raise it from the dead. And He will, because He wants us all to believe! Mary and Martha knew He was able, which is why they sent for Him in the first place. What they were not convinced of, because of His delay, was His willingness. Aren’t you so very glad that we serve a God who is not only ABLE, but is also WILLING? Hallelujah!  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

John 11:27-37

Yesterday we finished with the question Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” Martha’s response, at first glance, seems to be a firm declaration of faith, but I believe behind it was a similar attitude that we often share:

“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:27)

Martha had no doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, and she obviously believed he had the power to heal Lazarus. But she must have figured that even though He was able, He must not have been willing. For, after making this declaration, she turns and heads back to the house. So often Christians will affirm that Jesus can certainly do miracles, but He just doesn’t see fit to do any for me. I’m just not important enough for God to notice me!

If you are like me, you have no trouble believing God can and does do miracles for those for whom we are praying. We’ve witnessed them! But when it comes to our own needs, we are torn between active belief and resignation, and like Martha, after declaring our faith, we turn and head back to the house rather than wait in expectation. Don’t we yearn for the simple faith of the child who knows without a doubt that her daddy will always come through and watches on tiptoe to see him do it?

Jesus was certainly willing to answer the prayers of these dear friends. It is apparent in the tenderness He shows Mary when she finally comes to meet Him.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.  

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.  

Jesus wept.  

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (vs. 32-37)

Jesus response to their grief was compassion mixed with a troubled spirit. How He wanted them to just trust and believe! Mary’s weeping moved Him deeply. Her friends could see that. But some asked that same question that had been nagging both Martha and Mary: why didn’t He come immediately and heal Lazarus? Their faith goes far enough to believe in His healing power, but they aren’t yet ready to believe He can raise from the dead, so they are left with the fact that He did not intervene. Why?

All of us have experienced those times when God is silent or does not intervene. Oh, if we could just trust that something better is coming! It may not be as dramatic as what we will see next, and it may not be at all what we specifically asked for (they were asking for healing not resurrection), but we CAN trust that God has a plan that is much better than we can envision - “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Eph 3:20) I can’t wait to see Him blow their minds! And speaking of blowing their minds, I need to let you know that baby Royce is now at home with his mommy and daddy. Glory to God! Now there’s a miracle we all believed in! Thank you, LORD!  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

John 11:17-26

The encounter that Jesus has with Martha in the next verses of John 11 is so poignant and really speaks to me about the challenge of faith:

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. (John 11:17-20)

Don’t you wonder why Mary stayed at home? We know that Martha was more of a doer, who was most comfortable in being active. And Mary was the contemplative one, who enjoyed sitting at Jesus’ feet. This is not a judgment of which personality is better, it just seems to fit with what we already know about these sisters. So, I’m thinking Martha, in her grief, needed to run and meet Jesus to get some answers, while possibly Mary was so overcome with grief she was cocooning... Everyone handles their grief differently. But we sense a bit of accusation as Martha confronts Jesus. I know “confront” has a harsh connotation, but I’m thinking there was more of a boldness and forthrightness with Martha. She was unafraid to ask the tough question that was probably on the minds of all who loved Lazarus.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (vs. 22)

Doesn’t there seem to be an accusatory tone in her first statement? Don’t we often feel that way when we go to the LORD in desperation? “LORD, why did you let me lose my job? You know my family needs my income!” “LORD, you know how very much I want a baby! Why am I still infertile?” “Father, how can you allow my baby to suffer?” And for some of us, it’s Martha’s exact words that pour out to God in anguish. Prayers like these are honest! We do not need to fear bringing them to God! They are part of the nitty-gritty of life!

We know that Jesus loved this family and He was deeply touched by their grief. Not only because He was human and understood sorrow, but because, as God, He also wanted them to believe and see beyond their earthly grief. While He is about to bring them great joy, there will come at a later time a day when they will once again grieve Lazarus. So He points Martha to the eternal truth that she needs and that we all need to grasp and fully believe:

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (vs.24-26)

DO YOU BELIEVE THIS??? This is the question we all need to answer. If we truly believe, we will find comfort, and hope, and even joy in the midst of the most painful situations. Jesus IS THE resurrection and THE life. It is our belief in Him that determines our eternal destiny. So this question to Martha is ours as well. Do we get it?? Tomorrow we’ll see Mary’s encounter with Jesus. Such a tender moment...

Monday, April 23, 2012

John 11:7-16

Jesus waited until the perfect time to head back to Bethany.

Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” 

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” 

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.” (John 11:7-10)

John Courson points out in his commentary that the same thing is true for us. We have an appointed time for our death, as well, and nothing can take us earlier. Neither can we delay that hour. Jesus’ disciples knew that it would be dangerous to go back toward Jerusalem, where the Jewish leaders were on the watch to kill Him. But He was resolute. He knew that His hour was near - and no one could lay a hand on Him before that appointed hour.

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (vs.11-15)

The disciples were confused by Jesus’ figurative language, when he said that Lazarus had “fallen asleep.” So He had to speak plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” Oh my goodness, how many times I have needed Him to just speak plainly to me because I wasn’t getting something He was trying to show me? Sometimes we need to be hit over the head with the obvious!

While the rest of the disciples wanted to keep Jesus from danger, Thomas spoke out boldly:

Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (vs. 16)

Now, Thomas is the one known as “Doubting Thomas” because he required proof of Jesus’ resurrection before he would believe. But here we see his brave character. He was willing to die with Jesus at this point (even though he scattered at the end like most of the disciples). You have to give him some credit here, though, for being devoted to Jesus! I’m so grateful for the examples of Peter and Thomas who knew both grand moments of dedication to Jesus, then would have times when they blew it! Aren’t we all like that? We, too, have our “Thomas” moments, when we step up and are bold for Christ. But, then, we have our weaker moments when we refuse to believe without visual proof!

These same disciples eventually turned the world upside down for Christ, spreading the gospel through the known world. What changed? On the day of Pentecost, they received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and His power is what transformed twelve weak disciples into the bold Apostles who gladly faced persecution and death for their LORD. We, too, have that same power within us when we receive Christ. That same power that raised Jesus from the dead is ours! Why aren’t we bolder? We need to pray for such boldness and believe that the Holy Spirit is at work within us! We need to step out in faith and watch Him use us!

Meanwhile, back in Bethany . . . two sisters are mourning their beloved brother. They are grief-stricken and confused. Jesus is about to knock their socks off!  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

John 11:1-6

Chapter 11 of John’s gospel focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus’s dear friend, Lazarus. Today we are going to look at just the first six verses that are all about God’s timing:

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:1-6)

Jesus was up north in the area of the Jordan River, when Mary and Martha sent word that their brother Lazarus, “the one you love,” was sick. “Jesus dropped everything and rushed to his side!” That’s what you would expect to read, but that’s not what happened! Instead Jesus waited two days before heading to Bethany. Did He not care? Did He not know how sick Lazarus was? He knew! But He also knew that there was a greater plan at work. Lazarus’ sickness was “for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Just like the healing of the man born blind in chapter 9, there was a specific purpose for Lazarus’ death: that Christ would be glorified in the resurrection! But Lazarus had to die first! He would, in fact, have to lay in the tomb for four days first! There was a greater plan at work, so Jesus purposely delayed the answer to Martha and Mary’s prayers!

Sometimes God will keep us in a holding pattern even when things look hopeless. We are in a desperate situation that only He can help, and we wonder why He hasn’t shown up yet! Maybe your marriage is falling. Maybe your teenager is in deep trouble. Maybe you have lost your job, and you are about to lose your house, as well. Maybe you have just learned that you have terminal cancer. These are things that NEED God’s immediate response! Where is He? Why hasn’t He come? Does He not get how much you need Him NOW?

Jesus knew all about Lazarus! He knew he was terminally ill. Yet, in confidence he claimed that the END would NOT be death. Jesus had a plan that required some waiting. The situation needed to get much worse, so that the planned miracle would have the maximum effect. Lazarus needed to die.

I have a saying I use in my classroom: “If nobody dies, we can fix it!” I don’t want students to think that they can make a mistake that can’t be forgiven or overcome. But the truth is that Jesus can fix even that! If He is delaying in answering your fervent prayers, take heart! Trust Him! He has a greater plan. I can’t wait to see how He amazes Mary and Martha!  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

John 10:34-42

Each morning, if I have time, after I finish writing this study in the morning and send it out there into Internet space, I actually read it for the first time. And sometimes I’m amazed that God has written it just for me that day. Yesterday, when I was reading back to myself I was struck by the idea of the Shepherd going before me and mercy and goodness following after me all the days of my life. That was exactly what I needed yesterday as I headed to work. I was scheduled to meet with a parent who has been trying to get me to change her daughter’s report card. She’s written several LONG emails to me and to the district and has met with someone at the district office in an attempt to change the report cards of all three of her children. Anyway, although I was not at all worried about meeting with her, I was also not looking forward to explaining to her yet again (after more than 2 hours of meeting already), why I would not be changing the report card.

So reading this reminded me that God has me covered! And, in fact, I had been praying that somehow God would use me to show her love through this. Well, when I got to school I received an email from the district that the meeting had been cancelled. The woman has just decided to put letters of complaint in her children’s cum folders! Not the way I expected it to end, but so grateful that God took care of it! :) By the way, let me make a correction to yesterday’s lesson. I mentioned the name of the pastor who spoke on Psalm 23 as John Farrar. His name is Steve! I had it written correctly twice in the margin of my Bible so I’m not sure why I got it wrong (must have been thinking on my father...).

Today’s passage, at the end of chapter 10, is Jesus’ response to the Jews’ charge against Him of blasphemy, for claiming to be God. Jesus’ answer is confusing if you don’t understand the context of His reference:

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. (John 10:34-39)

The reference to “gods” comes from Psalm 82. Read in context you understand that God is referring to judges and earthly rulers as “gods” in the sense that they are responsible for making judgments on earth. God is charging them with partiality toward the wicked and warning them that they need to defend the cause of the weak and needy, for even they, the judges, are “mere men” who will die and “fall like every other ruler.” Worldly rulers often act as if they have the power of God, but Jesus actually DID have that power and had displayed it over and over.

Jesus’ argument is that the Jews had no problem ascribing lordship to other rulers, but when the Son of God came, performing miracles that affirmed His identity, they called His claim blasphemy. They again tried to seize Him but He slipped away. This scene happened a little over three months before Jesus was actually crucified. He was coming to the end of His earthly ministry and He knew what lay ahead. So after this final rejection by His own people, Jesus retreated to the place where His ministry began, the Jordan River, where John had baptized Him. Do you think there’s a message for us in that???

Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus. (vs. 40-42)

There will be one more huge miracle recorded by John, but for the most part, we’ll see that Jesus spent the rest of this time preparing His disciples (and Himself through prayer) for the crucifixion. I love that verse 41 points out that John the Baptist never performed a miracle (unlike Elijah, for instance), and yet Jesus calls him the greatest prophet who ever lived, because he spoke the truth about Jesus; he pointed everyone to the Messiah. Isn’t that our job, too? We don’t need to accomplish the performance of miracles, although certainly God does continue to use some of His servants to perform miracles even today. Our job is to proclaim Christ to a needy world!


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Psalm 23 - Our Great Shepherd!

If you grew up in a church, at some point you may have memorized the 23rd Psalm. It is probably the best known passage of the Bible. As we have been studying Jesus’ claim to be the Good and Great Shepherd in John 10, I just feel compelled to look at this wonderful psalm of David. And I choose the King James version, because it’s probably the one we all memorized:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

We had a great Christian speaker, Steve Farrar, at our church about a year ago, and he spoke on this psalm, which he called the “Cliff Notes” of Christianity.   :)  Since God calls us “sheep” in His Word more than 200 times, Farrar reminded us of the characteristics of sheep. Besides being stupid (they’ve been known to follow each other over a cliff), they are timid, skittish, and defenseless. You never here of a sports team called “The Sheep!” “Go Sheep, beat the Sharks!” :) Sheep have no natural defense device. They don’t have claws, they aren’t large, they have no stinger, they can’t growl or roar. In fact, don’t you think their bleating sounds more like whining? Furthermore, Farrar pointed out that sheep are dirty and cannot make themselves clean. No wonder God refers to us as His sheep!

The 23rd Psalm reminds us that our Shepherd takes care of our every need. We lack nothing! If there is something you want that you do not have, it’s likely because the LORD knows it would not be good for you at this time. Not having it is for your own good!

One of the reasons I love this psalm is that it takes me to a peaceful place. When I read it, it feels like I’m taking a deep cleansing breath that relaxes me. The imagery is so restful: green pastures, still waters, restoring my weary soul. It’s interesting that our Shepherd has to MAKE us lie down in green pastures, because otherwise we’d keep wandering. We love to fill our lives with busyness, don’t we? We give lip service to hating our fast pace, and yet we keep running on that treadmill! Sometimes the Shepherd has to force us to rest. In fact, He may bring something into our lives that gives us no choice but to rest.

Our Shepherd LEADS us all the way into the places HE wants us to go - into paths of righteousness. These paths aren’t always lined with flowers - sometimes they seem downright scary - even into the shadow of death. But He NEVER leaves us! He doesn’t push us from behind, but goes on before us. We need not fear EVER!!! He promised that He would NEVER , EVER leave us. Do you believe that? His tools of discipline (rod) and rescue (staff) should comfort us. The Father disciplines those He loves! If He sees us going in the wrong direction, He will pull us back.

If we are being persecuted, we can relax knowing that our Shepherd will defend us before our enemies. We need not fight our battles - He will do it! In fact, He will honor us before our enemies. With so many wonderful reminders, no wonder David said, “My cup runneth over!”

As our Shepherd leads us through this life, we are guaranteed that mercy and goodness are bringing up the rear. No matter what trials we face, we can always look ahead in confidence, knowing that Jesus’ sheep WILL dwell in the house of the LORD -  FOREVER! Amen!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

John 10:22-33

The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. (John 10:24-27)

This encounter with the Jews happen at a different time than those at the beginning of this chapter, during the Feast of Dedication, while Jesus is in the temple area. The Jews are charging Jesus to tell them “plainly” whether or not He is the Christ. Jesus makes it clear that He has already communicated who He is. Not only did He clearly make remarkable claims, but they were validated by the miracles He did. The problem was that this audience does not have spiritual ears. They will not hear Him, because they are NOT Jesus’ sheep!

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (vs. 27-30)

These verses describe what I call the “heavenly handclasp.” Jesus says that once we are His, he holds us in His mighty hand and NO ONE can snatch us away. And NO ONE can snatch us out of the Father’s hand. I envision myself upheld by the hand of Jesus and covered by the hand of the Father. It forms a single fist holding onto me tightly. I don’t hold onto them, they hold onto me! That’s about as secure as it gets! Remember that the purpose of John’s gospel is that we would believe and KNOW that we have eternal life. We can KNOW it only because it is GOD who holds onto US.

Jon Courson, in his Application Commentary: New Testament (P. 525-528), writes about Jesus’ hands. He describes them as “strong” hands. The hands of a carpenter would be calloused. They were hands that lifted a dripping wet Peter out of the water, hands which overturned the money tables in the temple court. He describes them as “tender hands;” hands that blessed the little children brought to Him. They were “wonder-working hands.” They fed five thousand and touched and healed the lepers. They opened the eyes of the blind. Courson also says they were “inclusive hands” that choose us to be His family.

They are the hands that “span the cosmos.” Isaiah 40:12 tells us that He measures the waters and the cosmos with the span of His hand. Courson writes, “With the naked eye, man can see 1,029 stars on a clear night. With his first telescope, Galileo counted 3,336 stars. Now e know there are more than 100 billion stars in our galaxy, more than 100 billion galaxies in our universe, each having at least 100 billion stars. That’s a lot of stars - and the Lord knows each of them by name (Isaiah 40:26). Can you imagine knowing the names of 100 billion stars times 100 billion more? . . . Nothing can compare to the big Hand of the Father. The entire universe and whatever is beyond is spanned in His hand."  (P.527)

These are the hands that hold onto us! Amazing!

When Jesus made the claim that He and the Father were one (vs. 30), the Jews had a strong reaction.

Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

“We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God. (vs. 31-33)

They would not have been upset had Jesus merely claimed to be “a son” of God. They understood He was claiming something much more. He was claiming to be the exclusive Son of God, to have the DNA of Deity. He was claiming oneness with His Father. He was claiming to BE God! He is the Great Shepherd, the One who knows us by name, the One who holds us in His heavenly handclasp. Praise His name!

Tomorrow we’ll look at the related Old Testament passage about our Shepherd, the 23rd Psalm.  Remember to pray for Royce this morning as he has his surgery.

Monday, April 16, 2012

John 10:11-21

In case anyone was wondering where I’ve been, last week was my spring break. It was not relaxing in the least, but it was filled with family gatherings! On Good Friday we had the burial service for my mother-in-law. It was a beautiful time of paying honor to the woman who raised my wonderful husband. Then we enjoyed a great Easter day with our girls and their families. All of us went out to Palm Desert for three days of cleaning out Evelyn’s home and getting it ready to put it on the market. We are so grateful for our sons-in-law who gladly spent their own vacation time helping us with our daughters and grandchildren (everyone pitched in). The rest of the week Don and I took care of paperwork and phone calling and bill-paying as we tried to figure out all of his mom’s financial stuff! Mixed in with that, though, were great times with the grandchildren. I’m amazed at how God stretched that week and our energy to get so much done!  Thank you, LORD!

I’ve got an update on baby Royce for you. His grandmother, Pam sent out the following prayer request yesterday:

Please pray for Royce.
This Tuesday he is having surgery to have a feeding tube put in his little stomach.
Jesus is taking such good care of our little miracle baby.
And we are so blessed by his presence daily. I love you dear Friends and pray many blessings for each of you.

Thank you for your faithfulness in prayer!

Today we look at such a treasured, encouraging passage from John 10! Jesus continues to teach his audience about just who He is and what He had come to do for his flock:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:11-18)

Do you find as much comfort in these verses as I do? Our Good Shepherd knows who we are! He can pick us out of the flocks in the pen! He is the watchman guarding us from the false shepherds (and there are many) who seek to destroy us. Although He was speaking to a Jewish audience, he refers to the “other sheep” who He would be gathering. That’s us Gentiles! :)

In addition to knowing His sheep, Jesus also said that His sheep know Him! How well do you know the Great Shepherd? Do you hunger for His Word so that you may know Him better? Note that no one killed Jesus against His will. It was the Father’s plan and Jesus makes another remarkable claim here: He has the authority to lay down His life and to raise it again! Only God can do that! This claim outraged many of the Jews, but there were some who considered his claims logically:

At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (vs.19-21)

The signs and wonders that Jesus did were to validate His message. He was proving His authority to them when He healed. He obviously did not appear demon-possessed or crazy.

Jesus has much more to tell us about being our Shepherd! He is not finished with this analogy yet! Tomorrow we’ll see my favorite part of John 10!


Friday, April 6, 2012

John 10:7-10

The joy of a teacher is seeing the “light go on” in a student’s eyes when he finally “gets” what you’ve been trying to teach! It is the reason we hang in there. But, when you get blank stares back from students who DON’T understand the concept you are teaching, you can become so discouraged. So you try coming at the topic in a different way to engage such students.

But what really is upsetting is seeing blank stares from students who have been doing everything BUT pay attention. They haven’t even been trying! They have been fiddling with things in their desks, taking apart pens, drawing on their hands, writing notes, distracting others around them, or staring into space. These are the same kids who consistently don’t complete homework. For some of these, it is because they have home issues - parents recently divorced, dad’s in jail, mom’s homeless. Others struggle with attention deficit disorder. It’s hard to be angry with them (although you may want to shoot their parents). Whatever the reason, it sucks all of the joy out of teaching when students aren’t actively engaged in the learning and they just don’t try to learn. It makes you want to give up!

We see here in John 10 a similar situation. Verse 6 tells us that after giving them the analogy of the shepherd, “they did not understand what he was telling them.” Some COULD NOT understand, but most WOULD NOT understand. Did He want to give up? Was He frustrated? We don’t know how He felt at this point, but we do know that He didn’t give up! He didn’t say, as Jon Courson suggests, “You dumb sheep. How can you miss this obvious picture? I’m going to write you off.” Instead, we read that He tried AGAIN:

Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:7-10).

Here Jesus uses the metaphor of that gate at the entry to the sheepfold. He is saying the HE is the shepherd who is the watchman - guarding the flock so that no thief enters and no sheep leaves. Once those sheep entered His sheepfold, they were safe!

“Whoever enters through me will be saved.” Saved from what? Well, primarily from an eternity in Hell, forever separated from the presence of God! That would be enough! “But wait! There’s more!” It’s not just the “hereafter” that is included in the package. It’s salvation from a wasted life, a life spent following the thief. It’s salvation from a life spent for self. It’s salvation from all of those sins that weigh us down and destroy what we were created to become. And it is salvation INTO an abundant life NOW.

While Satan comes to “steal, kill, and destroy,” Jesus came that we “may have life and have it to the full.” Who wouldn’t want that? And yet, many choose to ignore or outright reject Jesus’ claims and go right on following the thief. It’s heart-breaking! It’s such a waste of a life! These people miss out not only on an abundant, joy-filled life here and now, but they give up eternal life with God. Jesus claims here that HE is the gate or door to the protected sheepfold. We must enter through Him alone. We’ll see next week that those who enter, enter into complete rest and safety!

Today is Good Friday. It’s the day we reflect on what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. It’s the day we think about the tortuous death He died in our place - to SAVE us from OUR sin. It’s called “Good” Friday, because He finished the job on the cross! The debt was paid once and for all. Easter Sunday celebrates the proof that God accepted His sacrifice: the EMPTY tomb! Hallelujah, What a Savior! May we truly understand and receive the gift!

Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

John 10:1-6

Much like the 23rd Psalm, this chapter of 10 is one of the most encouraging, comforting passages that reveals the heart of God toward His sheep. In this passage Jesus contrasts the character of the true shepherd, who cares for the sheep, with the counterfeit - the man who is a thief and a robber, only out to destroy the sheep.

“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. (John 10:1-6)

In Jesus’ day, the shepherds of a village would bring their sheep into a common sheepfold at night. It was a pen with stone walls about six feet high. The shepherds would take turns being the watchman, who would sleep in the entry of the sheepfold to protect the sheep from thieves. In the morning, the shepherds would come and they would gather their own flock from the herd. They were able to identify their own because each shepherd had a distinctive call and his sheep would respond to that.

In the same way, Jesus, our Shepherd brings us out from the crowd with His distinctive call. Those who belong to Him know His voice. They have learned, through the study of His Word, to distinguish His voice from the others calling to them. The more you know Him, the more you will recognize the voice of a thief, and you will learn to run away from any other voice.

In verse 3 we are told that The Shepherd knows His own sheep by name (verse 3)! Now I find that so remarkable and encouraging. Being the youngest of four girls, I was NEVER called by my right name on the first try! Mom would call me “Jodi-Susie-Jackie-Sally” like it was one long name! As a teacher I need to learn about 130 names every school year: those of my own class and the names of all the other fifth graders who come to me for math and science throughout the year. I know how important it is for students to feel like they matter, and knowing their names is an important part of that. So, if I get a name wrong (which happens at least three times a day), I pay that student a Great Job Ticket for that mistake. That way, they don’t feel offended - in fact, they love it!

I cannot even imagine all of the names that Jesus knows and loves to call! He can pick me out of a crowd easily - and He gets my name right every time! I matter to Him!

Verse 4 tells us, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” The shepherds of that day did not drive their sheep ahead of them. Jon Courson points out that driving themselves and others is an American thing to do. No kidding! Instead, the shepherds of the Middle East went out ahead of their sheep. Even in Psalm 23 we are told that He leads us beside still waters and through the valley of the shadow of death. Every trial we go through, every place where we are tempted, Jesus has already gone on ahead of us. He is preparing the way. He never DRIVES us into anything, but He LEADS us, because He has a plan. He knows where He is taking us. We do not need to be afraid of where He is leading us!

It is so easy to become overwhelmed with fear when we are in a bad place: when the bills are piling on top of us and we see no way out of debt; when the doctor’s report shocks us because the cancer has spread; when you get the call from the police station to come pick up your kid; when your husband walks out the door into the arms of another woman. These are terrifying places to be! But there is a reason the Bible says “Fear not,” so many times. Jesus knows where you are! Listen for His voice. Seek Him out in His Word. Let Him lead you through this scary place. He is the Good Shepherd and He will protect you.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

John 10 Introduction

As we come to one of my favorite chapters, I thought we might need an introduction first. When I was a substitute teaching leader in Bible Study Fellowship, I had the privilege to teach on this chapter. There is so much here!

This life of a shepherd was something with which Jesus’ audience was very familiar. There are so many references to sheep and shepherds in the Bible! Jon Courson writes of the fact that not only were David and Moses both shepherds, but “Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Zechariah all drew analogies from sheep and shepherds.” (Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 520)

Courson describes the garments and tools of a shepherd of Jesus’ day. He would wear a cotton tunic with a leather cord belt. He hung a sling from the belt, along with a pouch that carried dried fruit or small stones. The sling was used as a weapon against small predators as well as a method for drawing the sheep back into the fold. Remember that David used his sling to take down Goliath.

The shepherd also carried a club or rod that was a weapon against predators. The rod also worked to correct behaviors of straying sheep. If a lamb was continually wandering off, the shepherd used it to break the one of the legs of the lamb. Then he would carry the lamb across his shoulders while the leg healed. The bonding between shepherd and lamb during this time would guarantee that the lamb would not stray again. And finally, the shepherd carried a staff with a hook at one end to help him hook sheep headed in the wrong direction. You can see already why God calls us His sheep! We are prone to wander! This analogy is one with which we can very easily identify - even if we aren’t familiar with the life of a shepherd!

The wonderful old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” has a verse that I just love:

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

Seal it for Thy courts above.

We are in such need of a Shepherd who will keep us from wandering! It is in our nature to go our own way. How amazing that Jesus used this analogy to remind us that God deals with us always in grace and love, doing all He needs to do to keep us by His side.

Tomorrow we’ll get into this passage. But for now, for a special treat, here’s a link so you can listen to this lovely version of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” You'll need to copy and paste it, because I have no idea how to make it a live link in a blog!  :)



Tuesday, April 3, 2012

John 9:26-41

Have you ever noticed that when someone tells a lie, they often retell it differently. I have a poster in my classroom that reads, “Always tell the truth. Then you won’t have to remember what you said.” As a teacher I catch kids in lies all of the time. And sure enough, with each retelling something in the story changes! Although the Pharisees had already heard the man’s testimony, they pressed him to repeat the story, possibly hoping to find a way to discredit him.

Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” (John 9:26-29)

The Pharisees resorted to name-calling here when they could not answer the man. The King James Version says, “They reviled him.” Because the truth was on his side, he did not need to become defensive, so he responded calmly with some logic:

The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (vs.30-34)

The religious leaders rejected the man and his testimony. He had experienced a physical, life-changing miracle. But because it threatened their authority, the Pharisees kicked him out of the temple. He was about to experience another miracle, one which would have eternal consequences. When the leaders rejected him, Jesus went looking for him! Jesus seeks and saves the lost! Those who know their need are the ones He came to help.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.  (vs.35-38)

Jon Courson points out that this man progressed from calling Jesus “the man” in verse 11, to “a prophet” in verse 17, and finally to “Lord” here in verse 38. He did not instantly worship Christ as soon as he had his physical sight. He had to struggle through some persecution before he truly “saw.” It wasn’t until Jesus found him that he understood just who Jesus was. We are familiar with the saying, “Seeing is believing,” but in Christianity the reality is that “Believing is seeing.”

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (vs.39-41)

The Pharisees claimed to “see,” yet they were blind. The blind man knew his need, so he was given vision. Spiritual pride is blinding! It actually keeps us from seeing God. If you want to know Him, you must come to Him in humility asking Him to give you the vision to see the truth. If any of us lacks spiritual wisdom we just need to ask God for it. James tells us in his letter that God loves to generously give wisdom to those who believe! (James 1:5) How’s your eyesight today?

Monday, April 2, 2012

John 9:13-25

In today’s passage it is clear that, even though the Pharisees were “investigating” the healing, they were not really interested in finding the truth.

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided. (John 9:13-16)

Keeping the Sabbath was a big deal to the Pharisees! It was more important that it be strictly kept according to the myriad of laws and rituals than that a blind man be given sight. But they were divided at first here: some thought that a godly man would never break the Sabbath to heal; others were perplexed, for surely a sinner could not perform such a miracle.

Early in Jesus’ ministry Jesus faced criticism for breaking the Sabbath. His answer is instructive for us when we tend to become legalistic in our worship:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

The Sabbath is a gift from God to us for our benefit - to give us rest from our labor. Should we be setting aside one day to honor and worship God? Surely we need to fellowship with other believers and come together in worship, and this can only be done if we dedicate a day to do it. We know that the early church met together on the first day of the week, so Christians have traditionally kept this day. However, if we become legalistic and judgmental about keeping the Sabbath or about which day to keep it, or if it becomes a ritualistic chore, we are missing the point and the benefit! By healing this man miraculously on the Sabbath, Jesus surely brought glory and honor to His Father.

While the Pharisees were divided about who Jesus was, the man born blind was not. When asked for his opinion about the man who healed him, he answered them confidently, “He is a prophet.” (vs.17) This gets the Pharisees looking for a way to discredit the man and the miracle, so they call in his parents for an interrogation:

“Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” (vs.19-23)

I find it interesting that his parents were hesitant to give glory to God out of fear of man. That’s how much power the religious leaders had over the common folk! They were afraid to acknowledge what was clearly true for fear of being put out of the synagogue. I wonder in how many ways we do this without even realizing we are denying Christ? When we attribute our blessings to “karma” or “luck” or even to our own “hard work?” When we hesitate to mention the name of Christ so no one is offended?
Because they found no satisfaction in interviewing the parents, the Pharisees called the man in once more and made one final demand of him:

“Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (vs. 24-25)

I love this testimony! This guy was not sure of the theology, but he did know one thing for sure: he had been drastically changed by his encounter with Jesus! I’m sure there are many of us who could say “Amen!” to this testimony, for it is our own! Tomorrow we’ll see the reaction of the Pharisees to his declaration.