John 19:14-15 — Who is your king?

As we look at the interaction between Pilate and the chief priests, we see one of the great ironies of scripture.  On one hand, we have this pagan governor who has little or no concept of who God really is, telling the Jews, “Here is your King.”  And he was absolutely right.  Jesus was their rightful king.

But here were the religious leaders of the Jews, the ones who should have known God better than anyone else, insisting, “We have no king but Caesar.”

The one that should have been insisting Caesar was king (Pilate) was saying Jesus was their king.  The ones who should have been insisting that Jesus was their king (the chief priests) instead declared Caesar as their king.  Even if the priests didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, they still should have proclaimed God as their king.  But in their fervent hatred for Jesus, they called Caesar their king.

How about you?  Who is your king?  Maybe unlike the priests, your mouth declares Jesus as your king, but how about your actions?  When people look at your actions, would they say your job is your king?  That is, your job considerations trump every other consideration?  Or would they say it’s your family?  Or your hobbies or interests?

Here in Japan, one of the biggest gods is the god of culture.  Here, culture often reigns as king even among the Christians.  The pressure to yield to cultural norms are tremendous whether it’s to maintain family harmony at the expense of compromising your Christian faith, or whether it’s to place job above church or even family.

If someone were to look at your life and based on that said, “Here is your king,” what would they be pointing at?  Would they be pointing to your job?  Your culture?  Yourself?  Or would they be pointing at God?

More importantly, what would your response be?  Could you honestly acknowledge God as your king?  Or would you have to point to something else?

Who is your king?

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Luke 23:7-12 — Those to whom Jesus has nothing to say

We now see in this passage Herod’s response to Jesus.  Perhaps, though, it would be better to call it Jesus’ response to Herod.

This was the same Herod that had beheaded John the Baptist, and had wondered if Jesus was John raised from the dead. (Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 9:7-9)

When Herod had first heard of Jesus, he had tried to see him, and failed.  If the Pharisees weren’t lying, it’s also possible that he had even tried to take Jesus by force, but failed. (Luke 13:31-33)

Now at long last, Herod had Jesus before him.  But though he asked him many questions and tried to get him to perform some miracles, Jesus said nothing.

Why not?  I think Jesus knew that no matter what he said or what he did, Herod would never believe.  Herod had had John before him many times after he had imprisoned him.  But though he had been intrigued by John, and “liked to listen to him,” (Mark 6:20) he refused to repent.

He treated Jesus the same way.  As a curiosity.  As a person of perhaps some interest.  As a person who could perhaps provide some entertainment.  But certainly not as one to obey.  And most certainly not as someone he should take seriously.  And so Jesus said nothing.

The warning for us is this:  If we harden our hearts to him, Jesus will have nothing to say to us.

Jesus is no genie to perform for us.  Nor is he one to be treated as a curiosity that we can take lightly.

He is God himself.  He is the King.  He is the Lord.

How about you?  How do you see Jesus?

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Matthew 27:11-26; Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:1-25; John 18-19 — When we have nothing to stand on

I will start by saying that it’s a bit hard to harmonize these passages.  Here’s how I see it, but I encourage you to look at it yourself, and come to your own conclusions.

  • The priests and council members bring Jesus in front of Pilate with their initial accusations (Luke 23:1-2, John 18:29-31)
  • Pilate then talks to Jesus the first time (John 18:33-38 gives us the most details of this conversation while the other gospels give the briefest of summaries).
  • Pilate proclaims Jesus innocent but after further accusations, decides to send him to Herod. (Mark 15:3-5; Luke 23:4-12)
  • Herod returns Jesus, and Pilate proclaims him innocent again.  (Luke 23:13-17)
  • Pilate proposes releasing Jesus or Barabbas, and the crowd demands Barabbas.  (All the gospels)
  • Pilate releases Barabbas, but then proposes punishing Jesus instead of crucifying him.  Ultimately, he has Jesus flogged. (Mark 15:16-20 Luke 23:21, John 19:1-7)
  • Pilate makes one last appeal, but ends up giving Jesus over to be crucified.  (John 19:7-14)

With that background, over the next few days, I think I’ll go over the main characters in these events.

Today, I want to look at Pilate.  You can read about Pilate in history, but I want to stay with what we see here.  And what I see is someone who had nothing to stand on when it came to how he made decisions and how he lived his life.

When Pilate first called Jesus in for a private interrogation, his main concern was whether Jesus was truly an insurrectionist or not.  So he asked point blank whether Jesus was a king or not.  And when he found out that Jesus did claim to be a king, but that this kingdom was “not of this world,” and was certainly no threat to the Roman empire, that was all that mattered to Pilate.  (John 18:36-37)

But Jesus would not let things rest there.  Instead he challenged Pilate, by saying,

In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.  (John 18:37b)

Basically, Jesus was asking Pilate, “What about you?  Are you on the side of truth?  Are you a lover of truth?  Are you willing to stand on truth?  If you are, then you must listen to me and believe it.”

It’s the challenge that faces all of us.  What do we base our lives on?  Do we base it on truth?  Do we believe that Jesus himself is truth?

Pilate faced that question in that moment.  His response?

What is truth?  (John 18:38)

I really wish that we could know the tone behind his words.  Did he say this with the implication of, “Who do you think you are?  You think you know better than everyone else?”

Or did he say it with a voice dripping with irony?  “Truth?  There is no truth.  Truth is what people in power say it is.”

Or did he say it with despair.  “Is there really any truth out there?  Is it really possible to find?”

Whatever his feeling, his ultimate response was to reject the idea of absolute truth.  Specifically he rejected Jesus as the source of truth.  The result?

He had no foundation by which to make his decisions.  Instead, he was tossed and blown by the winds of the words of others and the pressures they put upon him.  The pressure of facing a riot (Matthew 27:24).  The pressure of being reported to Caesar (John 19:12).  The pressure, ultimately, of his own fears.  And because of this, he made a decision he knew was wrong.

The same will happen to us.  If we refuse to make truth the foundation of our lives, if we refuse to make Jesus himself the foundation of our lives, then we will be blown and tossed by the opinions of others and by our own fears.  And we’ll end up making decisions we know are wrong.

How about you?  What do you rest your decisions on?  What do you rest your life on?  Do you seek God’s counsel?  And do you have the faith to believe that what he has said is true?  James tells us,

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.  (James 1:5-8)

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Matthew 27:1-10 — A sorrow that leads to death

Here we see the end of Judas Iscariot’s life.

Upon seeing that Jesus had been condemned to death, he became remorseful, and went to the priests and elders saying,

I have sinned…for I have betrayed innocent blood.  (4)

He even tried to return the money, but when the priests and elders refused to take it, he threw it into the temple and went and hung himself.

The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 7 talks about two kinds of sorrow.  Paul tells us,

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.  (2 Corinthians 7:10a)

This is the kind of sorrow that we eventually see in Peter.  Devastated as he was by his failure in denying Jesus three times, he nevertheless repented, and was eventually restored.

Judas, on the other hand, never did repent.  Certainly he was sorry for the results of his actions.  But instead of coming before God for forgiveness, he killed himself.  Paul calls this kind of sorrow, “a worldly sorrow that leads to death.”  (2 Corinthians 7:10b).

Unfortunately, far too many people have Judas’ kind of sorrow.  They see the damage that they have done through their actions.  But they see no hope for forgiveness.  They think that what they’ve done is just too awful for even God to forgive.

The question is, what are we doing about it?

The people that should have helped Judas find the forgiveness of God, the priests, were of no help.  They basically said, “What’s your sorrow to us?  If you think you’ve done something wrong, that’s your responsibility.  Don’t come crying to us about it.”

The priests, of course, were too hardened by their own sin to be of any help.  To have helped Judas would of course have meant recognizing their own sin.  And they weren’t about to do that.

What’s so ironic is that they felt they couldn’t put the money back in the treasury from where it came because it was “blood money.”  Obviously, somewhere deep inside, they knew they were wrong.

But getting back to the point, as God’s priests, we should be helping people who are sorrowful for the mess they’ve made of their lives.  Are we doing that?  Are we letting people know that God’s grace is there for them if they’ll just repent?

Or are we happy they are suffering?  Are we saying, “That’s your responsibility.  You’re reaping what you sowed.  So don’t ask me to come help bail you out.”

Jesus had every right to do that to Peter.  For that matter, he had every right to do that to each disciple that abandoned him.  Instead, he showed them grace.  He showed them God’s forgiveness.  That led to their repentance and completely changed their lives.

That’s what Jesus calls us to do for others.  Are you?

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Matthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:63-71 — The ultimate question

The trial of Jesus was an atrocity on many levels.  Among them, the priests and Sanhedrin knew Jesus was innocent.  Yet because of their jealousy and hatred of Jesus, they were desperate to find a reason to kill him.

Jewish law required that two witnesses agree before condemning a person, but time after time, the testimony was completely uncollaborated.  Finally, they seemed to find two people that could agree.  Two witnesses came up and said that Jesus had threatened to destroy the temple and that he would build a new one.  This, though Jesus had meant, “Though you destroy this temple, I will raise it up,” and that he was referring to his death and resurrection, not the destroying of the Jewish temple.  (John 2:19-21)

As a result, there were contradictions between what even the two witnesses said and in the end, their testimony became completely invalidated.

The high priest was so frustrated at that point, that he finally questioned Jesus directly, and when Jesus refused to answer, he said,

I charge you under oath by the living God:  Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.  (Matthew 26:63)

And that is the ultimate question.  Who is Jesus?  Is he really the Christ?  Is he really the Son of God?  Because if he is, we owe him our lives.  And more than that, we are accountable to him.  Jesus warned them as such, saying,

But I say to all of you:  In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.  (Matthew 26:64)

The reference is to Daniel 7, where all authority, glory, and power were given to the Messiah, and judgment would be pronounced on all who warred against him.

The reaction of the priests and Sanhedrin?  Rejection.  They refused to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.  That he was their Messiah.  Instead, they accused him of blasphemy and condemned him to death.

Many people do the same today.  They are exposed to the gospel.  They are exposed to the claims of Christ.  And they reject him.  They trample underfoot the one who loved them enough to die for them.  And as a result, the writer of Hebrews tells us they will be judged.  (Hebrews 10:28-30)

But for all who believe in him and receive him, he gives the right to become children of God.  (John 1:12)

The choice is yours.  What will you choose?  What will you do with Christ?

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John 18:12-14, 19-24 – Striking those who tell us the truth

We now go to the first hearing Jesus had, this one before Annas.  Annas had been the high priest before Caiaphas but had been deposed from his position by the Roman government.  Nevertheless, he was still held in high regard by the spiritual leadership, and some think he was the true power behind Caiaphas.

At any rate, he questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.  But Jesus essentially deflected the questions and said, “My ministry has always been public.  Everyone knows what I have taught.  Ask them.”

In saying this, Jesus was pointing them to the law that they claimed to revere, and was basically telling them, “If you are going to charge me for some wrongdoing, call witnesses up and have them testify.  That’s what the law says, isn’t it?”

At which point, one of the officials struck him in the face, saying, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?”

Jesus replied,

If I said something wrong…testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?  (23)

In other words, “I’m merely pointing out that you should be following the law and calling witnesses.  If what I said is wrong, tell me exactly how I’m wrong.  But if I’m telling the truth, what right do you have to strike me?”

There was no answer the high priest could give to this.  Jesus was right, after all.  And so they had him sent to Caiaphas for the formal hearing.

But Jesus’ words make me think, “How do we respond to the truth when people confront us with it, particularly when we know we’re wrong?”

Are we like Annas, proud and refusing to admit our wrong?  Are we like his officer, and abuse those who tell us the truth?

Or do we humbly accept the truth?

Truth can be hard to hear sometimes.  Honestly, there are times when I can be really hard-hearted.  And more than once, God had to step into the situation and say, “Bruce, listen.”

Even then, there was a struggle.  I don’t like to admit I’m wrong.  And often times, I simply want to do things my own way.

But as followers of Christ, we can’t live that way.  We need to be lovers of the truth.  Even when it hurts.

So as James said,

Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  (James 1:21-22)

How do you respond to people who confront you with truth?

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Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27 — Taking a hard look at ourselves

We’ll get to the trial of Jesus in the next few blogs, but first, I’d like to deal with Peter.  It’s a bit tricky trying to harmonize the gospels on this point because there are variations in the testimony.  If I’ve pieced it together properly, there were actually four denials with three coming before witnesses.

The first came as Peter entered the courtyard of the high priest.  Another of the disciples (perhaps John, or perhaps a disciple who was not one of the twelve) was well known to the high priest, so he was able to enter the courtyard, and on his word, Peter was able to enter too.  (John 18:15-16).

Enter a very persistent servant girl.  She was the one watching the gate, and as Peter entered, she asked, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?”  (John 18:17)

At a guess, she recognized him as one that had been with Jesus.  This was probably confirmed in her mind by the fact that his friend who had vouched for him was a disciple too.

Peter denied it, saying, “I am not.”

The first denial before witnesses came shortly thereafter.  As Peter was warming himself by the fire, the same girl came up to him, peered closely, and convinced that she was right, said, “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus.”   (Mark 14:67)

She then announced to everyone in the courtyard in a loud voice, “This man was with him.”  (Luke 22:56).

At that point, one of the people at the fire questioned Peter, “You’re not one of his disciples are you?”  (John 18:25)

Peter answered.  “I am not.  I don’t even know the man.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.”  (Mark 14:68; John 18:25b)

He then moved off to the entryway.  A short while later, the same servant girl came with her friend, another servant girl who had perhaps seen Peter with Jesus before, and pointed him out to her, saying, “This fellow is one of them.”  (Mark 14:69).  Her friend then said for all to hear, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”  (Matthew 26:71)

One of the men in the area looked over, recognized Peter and he too exclaimed, “You also are one of them.”  (Luke 22:58).  Peter then swore that he didn’t saying, “Man, I am not.  I don’t know the man.”  (Matthew 26:72; Luke 22:58b).

Perhaps that satisfied everyone for a while, but after about an hour, one of the priest’s servants walked by and saw Peter.  Worse, he was a relative of the man Peter had attacked in the Garden of Gethsemane.  And he said, “Didn’t I see you with him at the olive grove?” (John 18:26)

When Peter denied it, another piped up, “Surely you are one of them for you are a Galilean.  Your accent gives you away.  (Matthew 26:73; Mark 14:70)

At that point, Peter lost it and started to call curses on himself swearing, “I don’t know the man.”

And then, he heard a rooster crow.  He then heard a commotion in the courtyard as Jesus was being led out to be taken to Pilate, and as he turned, he saw Jesus looking right at him.  Realizing what he had done, he ran out, weeping bitterly.

So much for that.  What can we get from this?

It would be so easy to criticize Peter.  To criticize him for his cowardice and hypocrisy.  But I think we would be better served to take a close look at ourselves.

Personally, I don’t know if I would have done any better than Peter.  I remember as a teenager, basically doing the same thing.  When asked if I was a Christian, I didn’t deny it, but I avoided the question entirely, either by silence or by trying to deflect the question.

It’s something I’m ashamed of to this day.

But going beyond that, I have seen people fall into other kinds of sin.  Particularly sexual ones.  And knowing the temptations that I face daily, I know that I could be like them if I’m not careful.  Because I am weak.  And only by the grace of God, can I stand.

And that’s what we need to remember when we see others fall.  That we are all weak.  We are all sinful.  And we can all fall.  So let us not stand in judgment so much as to have compassion for them and seek their restoration.

Let us remember the words of Paul who wrote,

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.  (Galatians 6:1)

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Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:1-12 — Power and authority, mercy and grace

In this passage, there are three things I see in Jesus.

1.  His power and authority.  Though surrounded by his enemies, he was in total command of the situation.  Standing to face his enemies, he asked them, “Who are you looking for?” And when they said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he answered, “I am he.”  (John 18:4-5)

At this, his enemies immediately fell to the ground at his use of the divine name (Exodus 3:13-14; John 8:58).  What fear must have struck their hearts at that moment?  Jesus then asked again, “Who are you looking for?”  (John 18:6-7)

Completely shaken and with a lot less confidence in their voices, they answered, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and probably braced themselves to be knocked down again.  But instead, Jesus simply said,

I told you that I am he…If you are looking for me, then let these men go.  (John 18:8)

And though they went up to arrest him, I don’t think there was any doubt in their minds who was truly in control of the situation.

2.  His mercy.  Jesus’ disciples, however, perhaps thought to take advantage of their enemies’ uncertainty, and one of them cried out,

Lord, should we strike with our swords?  (Luke 22:49)

Not waiting for an answer, Peter dashed up and chopped the ear off of one of the men that had come to arrest Jesus.  (Either he had very good aim going for the ear and hitting it, or he was trying to slice the guy in two, and missed.  I kind of think it was the latter).

But Jesus rebuked his followers, and told them,

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  (Matthew 26:53)

There’s an old song that says Jesus could have called 10,000 angels to destroy the world and set himself free.  Actually, the songwriter miscalculated.  12 legions would be more like 48,000 to 72,000 men.  (Then again, maybe the songwriter just thought ten thousand sounded better.)

Whatever the case, the point is Jesus could have destroyed them all.  But he showed mercy to them.  He spared their lives, and in fact, ultimately gave up his life for theirs.

3.  His grace.  While mercy is not giving a person the punishment he deserves, grace is the giving of something the person does not deserve.  And Malchus, the high priest’s servant, found Jesus’ grace as Jesus took Malchus’ severed ear and restored it.  (Luke 22:51)

It was the last healing that Jesus ever performed here on earth.  Physically, anyway.  For it was through the cross that Jesus brought spiritual healing.  And by his grace, our sins are forgiven, and we can find eternal life.  And he gives it to anyone who will believe.

Power and authority.  Mercy and grace.  Are there any better descriptions of our Lord?

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Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46 — When my will is not God’s will

There are times in our lives when we go through trials and suffering.  It may be an illness.  It may be family troubles because of our Christian faith.  It may be problems in our ministry.  And so we pray for relief.

Sometimes God says yes, and we see him work in a powerful way to transform our situation.

But sometimes, God says no.  And we see that in this passage.

Jesus asks three times that the Father would take away the cross from him.  He says first,

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.  (Matthew 26:39)

This was no calm, serene prayer.  So troubled was he that he fell to the ground praying to the Father  (Mark 14:35).  So stressed was he that he sweated blood (Luke 22:44).

So often we think of Jesus as being perfectly calm and collected at all times.  This was certainly not true at that moment.

God knew his feelings.  God sympathized.  God cared for and loved his Son.  But God said no.

Knowing this, when Jesus started to pray again, he said,

My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.  (Matthew 26:42)

Still, I have to think that he continued to pray that God would provide another way.

But each time, God said no.

What can we get from this?  I think there are several things.

There are people out there, Christian people, who claim that if you just have enough faith, God has to do what you ask.

But if we are going to claim that, then we have to say that Jesus didn’t have enough faith.  We are going to condemn the Son of God for not having enough faith?  I don’t think any rebuttal to that notion is needed.

The truth is that there are times when our will is not God’s will.  God is not a genie that we should make his will bend to ours.  Rather, we need to bend our will to his.  And that’s exactly what Jesus did.  Rather than insisting on his will, he conformed his will to the Father’s.  We need to do the same.

And faced with his no, we need to do as Jesus did at the end of this story.  Rise up, go, and do the Father’s will.

But when we make that decision, know that you are not alone.  You don’t have to face your situation alone.  Jesus didn’t.  For in the midst of his struggle, in the midst of his agony in the garden, God sent an angel to comfort and strengthen him.  And God will do the same for you.

I actually think we can say more than that.  Through his Holy Spirit, God himself will comfort us.  That in fact, is one of the names of the Holy Spirit:  the Comforter (John 14:16 — KJV).

And as I mentioned in an earlier blog, Paul tells us in Romans 8 that when we are weak, he intercedes for us in accordance with God’s will.   Because of that, we can have confidence that God will work out everything for our good (Romans 8:26-28).

So what do we do when God says no?  Trust him.  Trust that his way is better than your way.  Trust that he will see you through whatever you’re going through.  Then rise up, go, and continue to do the things he has asked of you.

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Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; John 18:1 — Weak

Nobody ever said Satan fights fair.  And he doesn’t.  When he sees us in our weakness, whether it be physically or emotionally, he will attack.

You see this in these passages.  When Jesus and his disciples arrived at the Garden of Gethsamane, Jesus warned them,

Pray that you will not fall into temptation.  (Luke 22:40)

The disciples had been through an emotional wringer.  They were still trying to make sense of all that Jesus had said, words about his betrayal, words about their betrayal of him, and the thoughts of him being taken from them.  And because of that, they were weakened, not just physically and emotionally (Luke 22:45), but spiritually.   And so though Jesus asked them to stay with him and keep watch with him, they fell asleep.  Not just once, not just twice, but three times.  This despite all Jesus’ pleas and admonishments to keep watch and pray.

The result?  When it came time to face Judas and all of Jesus’ enemies, they fled.

Jesus, on the other hand, faced even harsher realities.  He was going to the cross, with all the sins of the earth upon him, and his Father’s face turned from him.  We see only a glimpse of his prayers here, but consider that they went on for at least an hour for the first prayer, and he returned twice more to pray.  He prayed so hard, that drops of blood started to fall from his brow (a condition called hematidrosis — Luke 22:44).  Not only that, with his disciples sleeping, he had no emotional or spiritual support.

But in his weakness, God strengthened him, even sending an angel as support and comfort.  (Luke 22:43)

Thus, when the time came for his arrest, he was calm, and fully prepared to face his final trials here on earth.

When I think about why Jesus could do this and his disciples could not, here’s the guess I would hazard.  Jesus throughout his life watched and prayed.  Every morning he did so (Mark 1:35), and we can guess that he often did this at night too (Matthew 14:23).  So when the time came when he was weakest, he naturally responded the way he had trained himself.

His disciples, however, had not disciplined themselves that way, so in their weakness, they fell.

I remember reading about a famous football coach named Chuck Noll.  As he was watching film of a game with his team, he pointed out an opposing player who repeatedly made errors late in the game.  And he told his team (this is my paraphrase), “When he was practicing, he was probably lazy about working on his technique.  He probably thought to himself, ‘Well, I don’t need to work so hard on this.  I know what I need to do, and in the game, I’ll do it.’

“But when you’re tired and beat up late in the game, you don’t think, you react.  And you react in the way that you trained yourself.”

The same is true in the spiritual world.  If you tell yourself, “Well, when I’m in trouble, I know what to do.  I’ll pray,” but never make a daily practice of that, when you’re tired and beat up spiritually, you’ll find yourself unable to do even that.  And like the disciples, you’ll fall prey to your own weakness when your greatest hour of trial comes.

But if like Jesus you make a practice of seeking God, of watching and talking with him, when your hour of trial comes, you’ll find yourself able to do what you know you should.  And you will stand.

How about you?  Are you making a daily practice of watching and talking with God?

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.  (Mark 14:38)

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John 17:20-23 — Jesus’ desire for us

I wonder just how much people in the church really know the deepest desires of Jesus?  We saw one of those desires a few days ago, that he really desired an intimate relationship with us.  That eternal life is all about drawing close to him, knowing him, and being known by him.

But that’s not his only desire for us.  He desires us to be in complete unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  He prayed,

My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:  I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  (20-23)

Jesus desires that we have the same kind of relationship with each other as he does with the Father.  A relationship where we are one.  What does that mean?

Part of that means unity in purpose.  That we are all working together toward the same goal:  the preaching of the gospel.  But I think it also means a relationship where we are honoring each other above ourselves.  Where we’re looking out for each other’s interests above our own.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

But too often, we don’t live that way.  And when people walk into the church, they see the same bickering, resentful spirit that they see outside the church.  The result?  They walk away.

Meanwhile, the people in the church are so self-involved, they don’t even notice what just happened.  And because of that Jesus grieves.

How much do you grieve Jesus by how you treat others in the church?  By the jealousy, the backbiting, and the resentment you hold in your heart?  Not only are we hurting him, but we hurt ourselves.  Worse, we cause the world around us to continue stumbling in the dark because they’re convinced they won’t find any light in the church.

How about you?  Are you one with those in your church?

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John 17:16-19 — Sanctified, being sanctified

Sanctification.

It’s one of those words that could best be described as “Christianese.”  A word that has meaning in the church, and very little outside of it.  It’s a word you often see in scripture, and one that you might hear thrown around in Sunday messages.

But what does it mean?  Essentially, it has two meanings.  It means “to be made separate for God’s purposes.”  And it means “to be made pure.”

We see both of these ideas here.  Jesus prayed for his disciples,

They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (16-19)

Let’s take a look at verse 19 first.  Jesus said that he sanctified himself that his disciples (and us, for that matter) would be sanctified too.  In other words, he set himself apart for the Father’s purposes by coming to this earth and going to the cross.  By doing so, he has sanctified us, both in the sense of purifying us of our sins, and also of making it possible for us to become truly his.

Now we are no longer truly of this world, though we are in it.  Our way of thinking, the way that we live is completely different from the way the world thinks and lives.  That’s why they can no longer understand us, and some even hate us.

But each day, we are being sanctified.  Through God’s word, he shows us what is sinful in his sight, and he causes us to hate such things.  And when we sin, his Word causes us to mourn over our sins and repent.  In that way, he is constantly purifying us.  But through his Word, he also shows us day by day what he wants of us.  He shows us how we are to live our lives and fulfill the purposes of his kingdom.  And as we read and live these things, we become set apart for his purposes each day.

So in one sense we have been sanctified, having our sins cleansed because of the blood Jesus shed on the cross.  And in another, we are constantly being sanctified day by day.

And since Jesus prays for this in our lives, let it be our prayer too.

Lord Jesus, please sanctify me through and through each day.  Make me more like you, hating sin, and seeking to join the Father in his work every day.  Lord, where I fall, please forgive me and pick me up.  Purify me, and make me yours each day.  In Jesus name, amen.

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John 17:11-15 — Prayed for in the midst of a hostile world

If there’s one thing I see in this passage, it’s the tender care that Jesus has for us as he prays for us.

And he does pray for us.

So often we pray for others.  But Jesus, as our high priest, prays for us.  And one thing he prays for is our protection.

Yes, I know Jesus in this passage was specifically praying for his disciples, but I do believe that he prays the same for us even now.  Because just as Jesus sent his disciples out into a hostile world, he sends us out.  And just as his disciples faced spiritual opposition, so do we.

So Jesus prayed (and prays),

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me…I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  (11, 14-15)

There may be times you face spiritual attack.  There may be times when people hate you because of the gospel.  There may be times you will be persecuted.  But because Jesus is praying for us, the Father puts definite limits on what Satan can do to us, and we will never be given more than we can bear.

So whatever you are going through, no matter how hard it is, stand firm.  Stand in hope that God is still with you.  And stand in the knowledge that you will come through whatever you’re going through in victory.  Because Jesus is praying for you.

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John 17 — What eternal life truly is

A lot of times, we think of eternal life as simply living forever in heavenly bliss.  Certainly we will experience that, but to many people, strangely enough, it’s a life devoid of God.

Oh, they have some concept that God will be there and that we’ll know his love, but the idea of really knowing him and being known by him is the last thing on their minds.  And that’s the way they live their lives.

And I’m not just talking about non-Christians.  Even Christians have a tendency to live that way.  They go to church, they sing songs, they hear the message.  Maybe during the week, they even crack open their Bible and pray from time to time.  But the rest of the time, their relationship with God takes a back seat to everything else that goes on their lives.

Work, family, recreation.  All these things are good in themselves, but too often, they leave too little time for us to truly develop our relationship with God.  And ultimately, that’s what life is all about.  That’s what eternal life is about.   Our relationship with him.

In his “Great Priestly Prayer,” Jesus prayed,

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (3)

Note that Jesus doesn’t say eternal life is living forever (though it is).  Note also that Jesus doesn’t say eternal life means being forever happy (though that’s true too).  Rather, he says eternal life is knowing God.  It’s knowing Jesus.  Not just knowing about them.  But truly knowing them in a deep intimate way.

Jesus prayed,

May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…I in them and you in me…Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world…I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (21, 23, 24, 26)

Life is all about knowing God.  To draw near to him.  To know him intimately.  And to be known by him.  That’s why eternal life is not just future, it’s right here, right now.  Jesus is saying here that even now, he has revealed the Father to us and is continuing to do so.

And when we go to where Jesus is after our time is done, it’s not the start of something new, it’s a continuation of what we started here on earth.  Wouldn’t it be sad though, to go to heaven with only a passing acquaintance with God?  To have a relationship where you “passed a few emails between you,” but no real relationship?

How much more joyful would it be if all along, you’d been in close relationship with him?  Talking to him, and hearing from him daily?  Seeing him work in you and through you everyday?  And having had that relationship all along, then seeing him face to face?

I don’t know about you, but I prefer the latter.  Having said that, am I really living that way?  Probably not.  But I want to.  How about you?

Lord, I want to know you.  I don’t want to go to heaven with us being virtual strangers.  So Lord, make yourself known to me.  And Lord, let me open up my life to you.  Be in me.  And I in you.  Every moment of every day.  In Jesus name, amen.

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John 16:16-33 — Finding peace and joy

It’s very clear from this passage that all that Jesus was saying was weighing heavily on the disciples, mostly because they were so focused on the idea that Jesus was leaving.  As a result, it overshadowed everything else he was saying.  Instead of hearing all that he said about the Spirit and the good things he had in store for them, the only thing they could think about was, “Jesus is leaving.  What are we going to do?”

And so Jesus both warned them and encouraged them, saying,

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you:  Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.  (20-22)

All this was realized in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  When Jesus was crucified, his enemies rejoiced while his disciples fell into utter despair.  But when they saw him alive again, triumphant over the grave, their grief turned into joy.  And despite all the persecution and hardship they endured, no one was able to take away their joy, and because of that, they changed the world.

But I think the same is true of us in may ways.  Until Jesus returns, we will face many troubles in this world.  Now is our time of grief.

Paul puts it this way,

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8:22-23)

But when Jesus comes again and we see him face to face, we will rejoice and no one will be able to take away our joy.

Until he comes, however, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, we now have direct access to God.  And because of that, we can ask anything we wish of him in Jesus’ name and he will give it to us, and we can find joy here and now.  (John 15:23-24, 26-27)

I think we spend too much time making disclaimers about Jesus’ words here.  Yes, our prayers need to be according to God’s will.  Yes, God reserves the right to say no if we’re asking for a scorpion, thinking it’s a fish.  But we spend so much time making disclaimers, that we become afraid of asking at all.  And our Father wants us to ask freely.  How much blessing do we miss out on because we don’t ask?  How much is our joy incomplete because we fail to ask for the things we desire in our hearts?  So let us ask.  And again, remember the words of Paul who said,

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.  (Romans 8:26-27)

Sometimes in our human weakness, we do not know what to pray for and sometimes even pray for what is bad for us.  But during those times, the Spirit intercedes for us and prays for what’s good.  That’s why Paul can say,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

So let us rest in these things:

  • That no matter how bad things are now, Jesus is coming back and will make all things right.
  • That because God loves us, we can ask of the Father anything, knowing the Spirit intercedes for us and will only give us what is good.
  • That God is working all things out for our good and for his purposes.  And no power on earth can stop him from doing so.

With these things in mind, I think Jesus’ words ring even more powerfully.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.  (33)

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John 16:5-15 — The work of the Spirit

Who is the Holy Spirit?  Even today, many Christians are confused as to who he is.

And that’s one thing to remember.  The Holy Spirit is a “he”, not that he’s literally of the male gender although God chooses to reveal him that way, but that he is a person.  Not a thing.  Not a force.  A person.

We see this clearly in the title that Jesus gives him.  He calls him, “The Counselor.”  The word counselor here is very much like the title we give lawyers today.  They are advocates for the ones that they represent.  They give advice, they help, and they defend against those that would condemn them.  This is hardly something you could attribute to an impersonal force.

So let us make it clear in our minds, the Holy Spirit is a person.  When Satan tries to condemn us, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us along with Christ.  When we don’t know even how to pray, he prays for us  (Romans 8:26-27, 34).  When we start to question God’s love for us, he reminds us we are God’s children  (Romans 8:15-16, I John 3:24).

But Jesus tells us more.  The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts people in regards to sin, righteousness, and judgment.  So often, we think that we are the ones that have to change people’s hearts.  But while we are responsible for scattering the seeds of the gospel and watering it, only the Spirit can make it grow.  Only he can change the human heart.

He is the one that convicts people for rejecting Christ.  (Notice here, by the way, that sin, more than simply being doing “bad things”, is associated first and foremost with a rejection of Christ).

With Christ’s visible example of righteousness gone from this earth, the Holy Spirit is the one that shows people what is right, and points to Christ as the only way to salvation.

And it is the Holy Spirit who warns people of the coming judgment, not only for the prince of this world (Satan), but for all those who reject Christ.

One last thing that Jesus tells us about the Spirit is that he leads us into all truth.  He takes the things that Jesus has said and shows us what they mean.  Words that we can’t understand when we first read them in the Bible, he will bring to mind and shine the light of understanding on when we need them.

The thing that you can’t help but notice in the last part of this passage is the interaction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  All that the Father knows, Jesus knows.  And all that Jesus knows, the Holy Spirit will reveal to us at the appropriate time.  For all three are the one God, and they all work together in perfect concert.

What does this mean for us?  When Jesus says that it was for our benefit that he departed, he meant it.  For through the Holy Spirit, God dwells in each one of us who believes in Jesus.  He works in us to bring others to him.  He intercedes for us and defends us.  He teaches and guides us.  And he comforts us.

Thank you Jesus for the gift of your Spirit.  That through Him, you are truly Immanuel, “God with us.”  Holy Spirit, lead us, guide us, teach us, and help us each day.  In Jesus name, amen.

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John 15:18-16:4 — An occupational hazard

I remember one time working for a church here in Japan, and the pastor’s daughter was working at a Christian pre-school.  But one day, she complained that one of her students stabbed her hand with a pair of scissors (fortunately, it was a blunt one, but still).  Later on, she told me, “We need an English teacher at our school.  Don’t you want to come?”

Needless to say, I declined.  Getting stabbed in the hand is one occupational hazard I could do without.  :)

As Christians, however, we do face an “occupational hazard” that we cannot avoid.  If we are going to testify for Christ, there will be people that will get angry with us.  There will even be people that will hate us for it.  Jesus said,

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember the words I spoke to you:  ‘No servant is greater than his master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.  (18-21)

Jesus was perfect love.  He lived a perfect life.  And still people hated him.  Can we expect to escape the same fate as Jesus?  This is not to say that all will hate us.  Some will love us for telling them the truth about Jesus.  But to expect no conflict at all is unrealistic unless you compromise the message.

And unfortunately, far too many Christians do.  Why?  Because they don’t want to be hated.  They don’t want the conflict.

I’m not saying that we should go out of our way to generate conflict and hatred.  We going to generate enough as it is just by representing Jesus.

But neither should we be afraid of conflict by telling people the truth.  Not just part of the truth, but the “whole counsel of God.”  (Acts 20:27)

Jesus never shrank back from it.  Why should we?

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John 15:12-17 — The command of love

I wonder if we really understand the implications of Jesus’ command that we love one another.

One of the clear implications is that love is not merely a feeling but a choice.

No one can command a feeling, not even God himself.  If I were to tell you, for example, “Get angry at me,” you’d have a tough time doing so unless I hit you a few times, because anger is a feeling.  It comes out based on the circumstances around us.

Neither could you tell a person who is depressed, “Be happy!”  and have them respond in a truly happy manner within seconds.  Happiness too is a feeling that is based on our circumstances.

Yet Jesus commands us to love.  If love were merely a soupy feeling, Jesus could not command us to love.  Our love would be based instead on the kind of relationship we had with the people around us.  If our relationship were good, we’d love them.  If it were bad, we wouldn’t.

So what is love?  It is to place high value on people, and to treat them that way.   Jesus tells us the ultimate expression of that kind of love when he said,

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (13)

In other words, ultimate love is when we value the lives of others even more than our own lives.

It is, in fact, the kind of love Jesus showed us.  He valued us so highly, that he left his rightful place in heaven to come to this earth and die in our place.  He loved us so much that he took the punishment for our sins that we deserved.

And so Jesus tells us that just as he valued us, we are to value others.  We are to value others so highly, that we are willing to sacrifice our lives for theirs.

“But that’s impossible,” you say.  “You don’t know the kinds of people I have to deal with every day!  I’m supposed to sacrifice myself for their sake?  To value them more highly than myself?”

Yes.  And that takes a total change of heart.  The kind of change that only comes when you’re connected to the Vine.  As you receive love from God, and as you understand just how highly God values you despite your weaknesses and despite your failures, it then gives you the ability to value those around you despite their weaknesses and failures.  Until you truly understand this, however, it’ll be tough to show the kind of love that God does.

Are there people that you struggle to love?  I know some people I struggle to love.  But love is not a mere feeling.  It is a choice.  A choice that we can only make when we truly understand God’s love for us.  So let us draw near to God and root ourselves in his love.  And as his love flows in us, we will bear the fruit of love that God desires of us, and that this world is desperately searching for.

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John 15:7-17 — Asking that we might bear fruit

In this passage, Jesus makes a very powerful promise.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  (7)

A lot of people take these kinds of words to mean that if we ask God to make us rich, he will.

But look carefully at what he says.  “If you remain in me.  And if my words remain in you.”

We talked yesterday about what it meant to remain in Jesus.  It meant to live a life of trust in him.  Trusting that he knows what is best and is looking our for our best.  And because of that, we do the things he asks.  But if a person is truly putting his total trust in God, how in love with money will that person be?

Instead of seeking temporary things like money or things, what will such a person pursue?  A relationship with God.  And a life that makes an impact on the world around them for the kingdom of God.  A life, in short, that bears fruit for God.

And that’s why Jesus says in the very next verse,

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  (8)

The whole context of asking what we wish is of bearing fruit.  Jesus again says later,

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last.  (16a)

And immediately after that, he says again,

Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  (16b)

What is the one way that God wants us to bear fruit more than any other?  He tells us in verse 17.

This is my command: Love each other.

If we do this, if we love one another, and show the people around us who God really is, we will make an impact in this world.  We will bear fruit.  Fruit, as Jesus said, that will last.

And with a heart that is transformed, with a heart that looks not to temporary things but eternal, God will be more than happy to give us whatever we ask in his name that we might bear even more fruit for him.

So the question is, “Are you remaining in him?”    Is your heart focused on him and pleasing him?  Is your heart focused on serving him and touching the world around you with his love?  Or is it still focused on temporary things?

Where is your heart today?

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John 15:1-11 — The need to abide

Yesterday I talked about the Father’s work in our lives.  That our righteousness, our fruit, does not come from our own efforts but through his work in us.  He cleans us through his Word (verse 3), he lifts us up out of our sin and failures, and he prunes us so that we can bear fruit.

If bearing fruit does not come from our own efforts then, does that mean we don’t need to do anything?

Not at all.  There’s one thing that’s utterly essential for us to do.  We need to abide (the NIV says “remain”) in him.

What does that mean?  It means to walk in close relationship with him.  To keep him at the center of your life.  To spend time with him.  To listen to him.  And then to do what he says.

Jesus said,

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  (9-10)

We said in an earlier blog that more than merely saying, “Do what I say!” Jesus is saying, “Trust me.  I love you.  I want what’s best for you.”

It’s hard to have a relationship with someone that you won’t trust.  And when we say to God, “I can’t trust you,” it puts a distance between us and God.  But as we trust him, and obey him, it becomes a cycle that draws us ever closer to him.  We trust him, so we do what he says.  We see the blessing that comes from obedience and we see that he really wants what’s best for us.  This causes us to love and trust him more, and so we obey more, we get blessed more, and we end up loving and trusting him even more.

And it’s that kind of relationship with God that leads to fruitfulness in our lives.  But what happens if we live in continual distrust of God?  Then we will never bear fruit for God.

Jesus said this,

Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  (John 15:4-6)

How about you?  Are you walking in a relationship with God where you love and trust him completely?  Only by doing so can you bear fruit.  Apart from that kind of relationship, we can do nothing that will please God.  And if you walk in continual distrust of God, you will end up like Judas, withered, thrown into the fire and burned.

But if you walk in relationship with God, you will bear fruit, and you will find joy.  As Jesus said,

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  (11)

A relationship with God starts by trusting Jesus in the most important thing of all.  Your salvation.  John tells us in one of his letters,

And this is [God's] command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ… (I John 3:23)

If you haven’t already, won’t you make that decision today?

Lord Jesus, while I’ve known you, I haven’t fully trusted you, and because of that I’ve been living my own way.  Forgive me.  I believe that you died on the cross for my sins and rose again.  Now be my Lord and Savior.  Help me everyday to trust you, obey you, and draw ever nearer to you.  I want to bear fruit for you.  In Jesus name, amen.

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John 15:1-2 — Lifted up and pruned

One of the biggest differences between Christianity and every other religion is that our righteousness does not depend on our own efforts.  Rather, it comes from God’s work in us, changing us from the inside out.

God first introduces that concept in the Old Testament, where he said through Jeremiah,

“The time is coming…when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  (Jeremiah 31:31,33)

And again, in Ezekiel, where God said,

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Now in this passage in John, Jesus shows us further the work of God, as he says,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.   He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (1-2)

Here we see the work of the Father, first cutting off branches that bear no fruit while pruning others so that they will be more fruitful.

What does it mean that God cuts off branches that bear no fruit?  I don’t believe from other scriptures that it means that we can lose our salvation.  There are two other possibilities.  One is that he’s talking about people like Judas who came to learn of Jesus.  But after years of learning from him, he bore no fruit.  He never came to true faith.  And so he was cut off.  Many people today go to church, they learn many things from the Bible, but never come to true faith.  And so eventually, they’re cut off.

The other possibility, however, is that the words “cut off” are a mistranslation.  Another possible translation is “lifted up.”  And it’s possible that Jesus is saying that the Father lifts those branches that are not bearing fruit up into the sunlight to better nourish the plants so that they can start to bear fruit.

In the same way, God lifts us from out of our sin and failures, and works in our hearts to bring about change so that we can start to bear fruit.  And as we start to bear fruit, he prunes us, cutting out the things from our lives that would hinder our fruitfulness.  I think God’s work in Peter’s life illustrates all this.

At a time when Peter was depressed and discouraged for having failed Jesus so badly, Jesus lifted him up and encouraged him.  He didn’t wait for Peter to change himself.  He went to Peter, and started to work in his heart, pulling him out of his depression, and then challenging him to move on.  (John 21)

And though Peter started to bear fruit, Jesus didn’t stop there.  Rather, he pruned away Peter’s prejudices, and caused him to become more fruitful as he started to reach out to the Gentiles he had once despised.  (Acts 10-11)

But it was a continual process, and when Peter fell again, Jesus lifted him up and pruned him further. (Galatians 2:11-14)

How about you?  Are you discouraged about where you are as a Christian?  Remember that God doesn’t condemn you.  Nor does he give up on you.  Rather, he will continue working in you until you become all he desires you to be.  So don’t shy away from him.  Draw near.  Remain in him.  And you will bear fruit.

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John 15:1-17 — Chosen to be fruitful

This is one of the most famous passages in the Gospels in which Jesus shows us a beautiful illustration of our relationship with God.

Here he calls himself the vine.  In the Old Testament, Israel was referred to as a vine.  They were to bear fruit for God so that the nations would see them, and be drawn to God.  But through their disobedience they bore only bad fruit, and as a result, God brought judgment upon them.  (Isaiah 5:1-7, Jeremiah 2:21)

So now Jesus doesn’t just call himself the vine, but the “true” vine.  A vine whose fruit would not only draw people to God, but save them.

And Jesus tells us we are the branches to the vine.  He tells us in verse 16,

I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last.  (16)

What does it mean to bear fruit?  I think the first thing it means is the fruit of a changed life.  Paul, after talking about the kind of sinful life life we once lived, tells us,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

In other words, if we are Christians, it should be evidenced in our lives.  Our lives should be different from what they once were.

And as our lives change, we’ll see fruit in that we’ll start to make an impact on the people around us.  People will see God himself in us, be drawn to him, and be saved.

That’s what God originally intended for Israel, and that’s what God intends for us now.  Peter puts it this way,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  (I Peter 2:9)

You were chosen to be fruitful.  Are you?

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Luke 22:35-38 — Preparing to face a hostile world

As Jesus led his disciples out of the upper room, he asked them,

When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?  (35)

This is referring to the two times he sent out the disciples to preach the gospel throughout Israel (Luke 9 and 10).  At those times, he told the disciples to bring no provisions with them, but to rely on the hospitality of those they were reaching out to.

And at that time, at the height of his popularity, that was perfectly fine.  Despite, hostility they might face, there would always be people to welcome them.  (Luke 22:35b)

But now, the situation would be changing.  Jesus would be “numbered among the transgressors,” (37-38) and they would face more hostility than ever.  People who once might have welcomed them would do so no longer.  So Jesus warned them, saying,

Now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.  (36)

In short, “It’ll be even more dangerous for you out there than ever before because you follow me.  Be prudent.  Be careful.”

But Jesus’ disciples responded,

See, Lord, here are two swords.  (38)

as if to say, “Lord, don’t worry.  We’ll take anyone down that comes after us.”  Peter would later show that exact attitude in the garden of Gethsemane.

So Jesus curtly and perhaps exasperatedly told them,

That is enough.  (38)

Jesus’ point wasn’t that they should turn to violence against those who attacked them, but simply that they should be prepared to face a hostile world.

But Jesus’ words were not just for the disciples, they were for us.

As we’ll see later in John, Jesus specifically warns us that people will hate us on account of him.  There will be persecution.  And he basically tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised by this when it happens.

So while we are to love and reach out to those who are lost, we are also to be on our guard.  People will hate us.  People will betray us.  People will hurt us.  Even those we love.

Because of this, let us always remember the words of Jesus when he told his disciples,

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard against men…  (Matthew 10:16-17)

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John 14:15-31 — Never alone

One thing my five year old daughter used to do quite often, and even does now from time to time is to crawl into my wife’s and my bed and snuggle in between us.  And when we ask why, she’ll say, “I was lonely.”

I think all of us can relate to that feeling sometimes.  And the disciples themselves were feeling lonely when Jesus said he was going away.

But Jesus told them,

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him…If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (16-21, 23)

Here we see the Trinity in all its fullness.  And it tells us a very important truth.  God is with us.

Jesus said he would send a counselor to us, God the Holy Spirit.  And that the Holy Spirit would teach us and remind us of the things that Jesus said.

Then Jesus said that he himself would come to us and that he would be in us.  That he would not abandon us as orphans.

Finally, he said that the Father himself would make his home in us.

The key?  We walk in obedience to him.  And that all comes down to what we talked about yesterday:  trust.  Do we trust God enough that we obey him?  That’s why Jesus said at the beginning of this chapter,

Trust in God; trust also in me.  (1)

It is impossible to have a relationship with God if we refuse to trust him.

Closely related to that is love.  Do we love God enough that we want to please him?  Do we love him enough that we avoid the things that hurt him, and do the things that bring a smile to his face?

If we love, trust, and obey him, then we’ll find that God is right there with us, through the good times and bad.  And because of that, we can find peace.

Jesus told his disciples,

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  (27)

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John 14:15-31 — If we truly love Jesus

This is one of those passages that would probably make many people turn their heads if they really thought about it.

Jesus says to start off,

If you love me, you will obey what I command.  (15)

Think about that a minute.  If your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend said to you, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” what would your response be?

Most probably, “I’m outta here.  Forget this relationship.”

I think there are certain things to keep in mind, however.  First, Jesus is not only our Savior, but our Lord.  Yet he’s not some tyrant looking to make our lives miserable just for his own pleasure.  Rather, he genuinely loves us and is looking out for our good.  More than that, he’s our creator, and he knows exactly how our lives were designed to work.

And so this idea of obedience is not so much a matter of, “Do what I say!”  Rather, Jesus is telling us, “Trust me.  If you really love me, trust me.  I truly know what is best for you, and I truly want was is best for you.”

Our problem is that we’ve seen so many people trying to order us around not because they’re looking out for our best, but because they’re looking out for their own interests.  And so when God tells us, “Trust me, I want what’s best for you,” we tend to look at him with a jaded eye.

This is not a new problem.  It goes all the way to the garden of Eden.  God told Adam and Eve, “Trust me, I want what’s best for you.  So stay away from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Believe me, you don’t want to know what evil is.”

But Satan caused Eve to become jaded to God’s intention.  To start thinking, “God doesn’t really want what’s best for me.  He’s holding something back from me.”

And to this day, people hold that same way thinking.

The other thing to remember is that our sin really hurts God.  He is so pure, and righteous, he can’t even stand the sight of sin.  Do we really want to do something that hurts him?  Rather, wouldn’t we want to do things that please him?

If you love your wife or husband, for example, will you purposely do things that hurt them?  “Yes, I know it will hurt them, but I’ll do it anyway.”  Of course not.

Rather, we do things that we know will bring a smile to their faces.

And that’s what our relationship with God should look like.  We love him so much that we do the things that please him, and we stay away from the things that we know will hurt him.

Jesus modeled this with his own life while he was on earth.  He loved and trusted his Father so much, he always did what his Father said, even though it meant going to the cross.  Why?  Because he believed his Father knew what was best.

How about you?  What does your relationship with God look like?  Do you trust him enough to do what he says?

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John 14:12-14 — Powerful promises

Jesus made some pretty amazing promises here.  The type that make you say, “Really?  Are you serious?”

Jesus said,

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.   (12)

Jesus did some amazing things.  He healed the sick.  Raised the dead.  Taught thousands, bringing the good news to those without hope.

And anyone who has faith in him will do these things too?  And even greater?

I suppose you could look at the church in the book of Acts, and say that Jesus was specifically talking about them.  And certainly, they did all that Jesus did and more.  Not only that, they did it on a larger scale, not only taking the gospel to Israel, but beyond Israel to the world.

But Jesus said, “anyone who has faith in me.”  Anyone.  Not just the disciples.  Not just the people in the New Testament.  Anyone who has faith in Jesus will do what he did and even greater things.

How could Jesus say that?  Because he was going to the Father, and he would send his Holy Spirit to live in each one of us.  And through his power working in us, we can change the world around us.

Does that mean we’ll heal the sick and raise the dead like Jesus did?  I wonder sometimes how much we limit God by our lack of faith.  I have heard of cases in third world countries where such things actually happened because people were too “ignorant” of the realities of life, and simply took Jesus at his word, and God worked miracles as a result.

My former pastor in Kobe was dying of cancer, and to the shock of his doctor, refused to give up at his diagnosis of 6 months to live.  Now he is healthier than ever, and his doctor can only say, “Keep doing whatever you’re doing.”

Another woman in our church had a grandmother who received Christ recently, and though she had once been almost deaf, now she can hear clearly.

A part of me is skeptical.  How long will these things last?  Can it last?  I don’t know.  All I know is that God is working.  And he is working today.

Maybe we should take him more at his word when he says,

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.  (13-14)

This is not to say that Jesus will give us a sports car if we ask him for it in his name.  But if we ask things, seeking not our own glory but God’s, seeking that his will be done, and not ours, then we will see answers to prayer.  Answers beyond what we can even ask or imagine.  (Ephesians 3:20)

God wants to shape the world around us.  And he wants to use us to do it.  The only question is, do we believe that he can use us?  And will we surrender our prejudices, our skepticism, and our lack of faith to him, and simply say, “Your will be done.  Use me as you will.”

Lord, I have a hard time believing these words.  They seem…unbelievable.  Lord, increase my faith.  Fill me with your Spirit.  Fill your church with your Spirit.  This world is dying and you want to give it life.  So help us to give up our prejudices.  Give up our skepticism.  And truly surrender all to you so that you can use us for your glory.  In Jesus name, amen.

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John 14:7-11 — To see and know God

How can we possibly know God?  How can we know what he is like?

Obviously, when we’re talking about an invisible God, there can only be one answer:  if he chooses to reveal himself.

God first revealed himself through direct contact, through visions, through dreams, through angels, and through prophets.

Then Jesus came.  And when he did, he was no mere man.  Rather, he was God himself, coming down and living among us.  That’s why he could say,

If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.  (John 14:7)

And when Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus responded,

Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.  (9-11)

This is not to say that the Father is Jesus, or Jesus is the Father.  But as Paul wrote,

The Son is the image of the invisible God.  (Colossians 1:15)

All that God is, we see in Christ.  When we hear Jesus speak, we hear the Father’s words.  When we see him react to situations, we see how the Father reacts.  So if we want to truly know the Father, all we need to do is look at Christ.

Let’s put it this way.  When people see my daughter, they say, “She looks just like you.”  And as she grows up, a lot of the way she thinks and acts will mirror the way I think and act.  You can learn a lot about me by looking at her.  It’s the way of fathers and their children.Yumi and I

But while she is an imperfect mirror of what I am like, Jesus is a perfect reflection of what the Father is like.

So what’s my point?  Do you want to know God?  Look at Jesus.  Do you want to know how God thinks?  Look at Jesus’ words.  Do you want to know how God responds to different situations?  Look at how Jesus responded.

We don’t have to guess any longer what God is like.  We can know because he came down to this earth and he became one of us.

So let us pursue a relationship with him.  And if we do, we will find him.

As James wrote,

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  (James 4:8)

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John 14:4-6 — The Way

This is the one passage that provides such a stumbling block to so many people in the world today.  Many people simply refuse to believe it because the implications of what Jesus said are so deep, and they are simply not willing to accept them.

What did Jesus say?

He had just told the disciples that he was going away to prepare a place for them and that they knew the way to where he was going.

Thomas, who had no idea what he was talking about, then asked the obvious question.

Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?  (John 14:5)

Jesus replied,

I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus didn’t say, “I will show you the way to the Father.”  He didn’t say, “I’ll show you the things you need to do to get to the Father.”  He said, “I AM the way to the Father.”  If you want to go to heaven and see the Father, you need to go through me.

That’s an amazing statement.  But let’s put it this way.  If you want to see the President of the United States, you can’t just walk into the White House and into the Oval Office.  Assuming you have an invitation, someone will meet you at the door and escort you in.  Without that escort, there’s no way you’re getting in to see the President.  That escort is your path to the President.

Well, Jesus is much more than an escort.  He is God’s Son.  And it is only because he paid the price for our sin by dying on the cross that we now can have access to the Father.  He takes us in before the Father and he intercedes for us as our high priest.  (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 10:19-22).  But without his sacrifice on the cross, and without him by our side, there is no way we’re ever going to heaven, no less see the Father.

Jesus also told Thomas, “I am the truth.”

Many people are looking for truth.  Others are convinced that truth really does not exist, particularly when it comes to spiritual matters.  But Jesus says, “I am truth.  My words are truth.  Truth is not relative.  All that I say is absolute truth.  And you will never find truth apart from me.”

More, Jesus said, “I am the life.”

So many people seek for the meaning of life.  They’re seeking a life that matters.  They’re seeking a life that’s worthwhile.  And ultimately, they seek life beyond the grave.

To that, Jesus says, “I am life.   Do you want the meaning of life?  It’s found in me.

“Do you want a life that matters?  A life worth living?  You can try finding life in money, possessions, power, marriage, children, sex, or a thousand different things.  But you will not find life in any of these things.  Ultimately, these things will leave you empty.  I’m the only one that makes life worth living.

“And if you want life beyond the grave, you won’t find it in Buddha, or Muhammad, or any other religious leader.  Only in me can your sins be forgiven, and you can find eternal life.”

But like I said, people don’t want to accept this.  The implications are too deep.  It means casting aside the things they value most highly.  It means that they can no longer simply live as they want to.  And so they say Jesus was a liar.  Or misguided.  Or misquoted.

But if you want to find true life, you can only find it in Jesus.  Truth is absolute and it is found in him.  And if you’re ever going to see heaven and meet the Father, you can only do so with Jesus by your side.

I can’t make you believe that.  You need to find that out for yourself.  And you will, one way or another.  So as Isaiah urged the Israelites, I urge you now.

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.  (Isaiah 55:6-7)

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John 14:1-3 — What’s waiting for us

As I said in my last blog, the disciples were both stunned and troubled by what Jesus had just told them.  First he told them he was leaving and they could not follow, and then he told them that they would all abandon him.  If that weren’t enough, he told them that Peter, who seemed the strongest of them all, was going to deny Jesus three times.

Jesus must have read their hearts, for he immediately tried to comfort them saying,

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  (1)

In other words, “Don’t worry.  I know these things sound awful.  I know you can’t imagine these things happening.  But God is still in control.  Trust him.  Trust me.”

He then gave them a glimpse of the future and why he had to go.  He said,

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (2-3)

Here we see three promises Jesus gives us.

First, he’s preparing a place for us.  If we have put our trust in him as our Savior, he is preparing a place for us in heaven.  I don’t know if it’s a “mansion” as translated in the King James Version, or if it’s a deluxe condo.  But whatever Jesus is preparing for us, I know it’s going to be glorious.  Jesus would make nothing less.

I love the sentiment of Keith Green who wrote in one of his songs,

In six days You created everything,
But You’ve been working on Heaven [for] two thousand years.

Jesus then promises that he will come back again.  The disciples were freaking out that he was leaving them.  But Jesus reassured them, it would not be for forever.  That he would come back.  First by sending his Spirit to dwell in them, but also, someday, by coming back literally in physical form.

And when he does, Jesus promises that he will take us to be where he is.  The apostle Paul writes about it this way,

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever. (I Thessalonians 4:16-18)

Think about this, though.  Jesus made these promises to a bunch of people who he knew would be unfaithful to him and would abandon him within hours.  How could he promise them these things?  Because he wasn’t finished with them yet.  And there was no way that he would ever give up on them.

And neither will Jesus ever give up on you.  Whatever struggles you may go through, however badly you may fail him, he is preparing a place for you.  So don’t get discouraged.  Keep getting up, and pressing on.

As an old song once put it,

So why should I worry?
Why should I fret?
‘Cause I’ve got a Mansion Builder
Who ain’t through with me yet.

-2nd Chapter of Acts

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Matthew 26:31-35; Mark 14:27-31; Luke 22:31-34; John 13:36-38 — A God who knows our weakness, and accepts us anyway

When Jesus told the disciples that he was leaving for a place they could not follow, it must have really troubled them.  He was their teacher, and they couldn’t imagine life without him.

As usual, it was Peter who spoke out, saying,

Lord, where are you going…why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.  (John 13:36-37)

Jesus then stunned Peter and the rest of the disciples by saying,

Will you really lay down your life for me?  I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!  (John 13:38)

He then said,

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift (all of) you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.  (Luke 22:31-32)

Again, Peter declared,

Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.  (Luke 22:33)

But again Jesus replied,

I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.  (Luke 22:34)

Perhaps, at that point, the other disciples thought that Peter was the betrayer that Jesus had talked about earlier.  Perhaps even Peter was wondering.

So Jesus said,

You will all fall away…for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’  But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  (Mark 14:27-28)

Still Peter continued to insist,

Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.  (Matthew 26:33)

So Jesus made his declaration even stronger and more specific saying,

I tell you the truth…today–yes, tonight–before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.  (Mark 14:30)

Even then, Peter refused to believe it, and insisted with all the other disciples that he would never do such a thing, even if it meant death. (Mark 14:31)

In the end, of course, they all did as Jesus had predicted.  All of them ran away when Jesus was arrested, and Peter ended up denying Jesus three times.

What’s my point?  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows our weaknesses, even when we can’t see them ourselves.  And yet, he accepts us.

That’s the amazing thing of all of this.  He never condemned Peter.  Rather, he tried to encourage him saying, “I’ve been praying for you that your faith will not fail.  You will fall, but you will get up again.  And when you do, encourage the others.”

In the same way, Jesus knows our weakness.  Yet he doesn’t condemn us.  Rather, he, as our great high priest, prays for us daily.  He reaches out to pull us up when we fall down.  And when we get up again, he tells us to have mercy on the others we see around us who have fallen as well.

So in our weakness, in our failures, let us always remember,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)

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John 13:31-35 — That the world may know

With Judas now gone, Jesus begins his final address to his disciples before the cross.  And to this bickering, prideful group, he said,

A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  (34-35)

This was the group that even up to a few hours before, were arguing about who was greatest among them.  Who were too proud to take the role of a servant to wash each other’s feet.

And so Jesus wanted to drive home what was really important to him:  that they love one another.

Notice he doesn’t say, “Love everyone around you,” although most certainly he wanted them to do that too.

He said, “Love each other.”

Why?

Because that’s how people will know we are truly his followers.

Yet even today, the church is so lacking in love.  We fight among ourselves, as prideful and bickering as the disciples were.  And when people walk into the church, they start to think, “Is this what followers of Jesus are like?  Is this what Jesus is like?  If so, I want nothing of it.”

I remember walking into a church once, and for some reason, the worship leader wasn’t leading worship.  Another guy, who was just a beginner, was up there struggling to lead the worship.  The worship leader, meanwhile, was just sitting in the back stone-faced.  And the tension in that room was utterly palpable.  I later found out that he had just had a falling out with one of the leaders just prior to my arrival.

The sad thing about it all?  A visitor came that day.  And I think she noticed it all.  She never did come back, so far as I know.

If we can’t learn to love the people in the church, how can we love the people outside of it?  And if we act just like the people outside of the church, how in the world are they ever going to see Jesus in us?

How about you?  You can’t change the other people inside of the church and make them more loving.  But you can shape your own attitude with God’s help.  How are you responding to those in church around you?

Are you looking down on others?  Sniping at others?  Tearing them down?  Grumbling about their shortcomings?  Or are you approaching them with the same love that Jesus approached you?

The next time you go to church, or even as you go to church today, think on these words.  Meditate on them.  And ask God to help you live them.

A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  (34-35)

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Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:14-20 — Pictures of the cross

The Old Testament is rich with pictures of Christ.  And in this passage, we see the fulfillment of them in Christ.

The disciples were having the Passover meal, and after the first cup of wine, Jesus pulled out a piece of bread from a bag, a bread called matzah.  There were actually three pieces of bread in this bag, which were put into three different compartments.p1020-20matzah

Why three?  Some people said it represented Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Others said it represented the priests, Levites, and the people.

During the meal, the second piece was pulled out and broken.  And for  the first time in any Passover meal, Jesus gave his disciples the true meaning of the bread.  He said,

This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.  (Luke 22:19)

Jewish Christians tell us now that they believe the three pieces of bread represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But it was Jesus who came out and lived among us.  And in the matzah, we see what he was like.  Matzah was made without yeast.  In the Bible, yeast is always a picture of sin, and so the bread was a picture of Jesus’ sinless nature.  The bread was also pierced, so that the bread would stay unleavened during the cooking process.  In the same way, Jesus was pierced for our sins.  And then the bread was broken, just as Jesus’ body was on the cross.

Then Jesus took the cup, and the cup he took was what the Jews called the “Cup of Redemption.”  It was a reminder of how God had bought the Jews out of slavery to Egypt and set them free.

But Jesus, instead of pointing back to the past, pointed to the future, saying,

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)

What did Jesus mean by new covenant?  Well, when God brought the Jews out of Egypt, he gave them a covenant.  An agreement.  That if they would obey his laws, he would be their God and they would be his people.  But there was a problem.  No one could keep those laws perfectly.

And so God promised in the book of Jeremiah that he would make a new covenant that would not depend on our effort.  He said,

I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people.  No longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all will know me from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

In this new covenant, God made several promises.  First he would change us from the inside, changing our hearts and minds so that we can obey him.  Second, we would have a new relationship with him.  We don’t need priests or pastors to stand between us and God.  We can have a close intimate relationship with God himself.  And third, all our sins would be wiped away.  He will remember our sins no more.

Now Jesus was saying, “The time for the new covenant has come.  My blood will be poured out for you so that your sins may be forgiven and you may find new life.”

So because of Jesus and what he did for us,

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  (Hebrews 10:22-23)

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Matthew 26:20-25; Mark 14:17-21; Luke 22:21-23; John 13:18-30 — Betrayal

As I’ve mentioned before, harmonizing these passages is a little tough.  One question is whether Judas participated in the first communion.  Luke seems to imply so, while the other gospel writers seem to say Judas didn’t.  It’s just my opinion, but I don’t believe Judas was there, and that Luke for whatever reason didn’t keep things in chronological order.

At any rate, in these passages, Jesus dealt with his betrayer Judas.  There are some interesting things to note here.  While it was John who sat on one side of Jesus (assuming that he is “the one Jesus loved,” there seems to be a good chance that it was Judas that was on Jesus’ other side.  It seems hard to believe that Jesus could say what he did to Judas without the others hearing unless this were so.  Unlike most pictures you see of the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples did not sit in chairs.  They sat on couches.  And when they reclined, they didn’t lean back, rather they leaned to the side, resting on their left elbow, right near the bosom of the person on their left.  Thus it seems John was on Jesus’ right, and Judas on Jesus’ left.

Like I said before, to be seated next to Jesus at the table was an honor to the people there.  And Jesus let Judas sit next to him.  In short, he honored Judas.

Yet despite all of this, Jesus never fooled himself concerning Judas’ true nature.  He told the disciples,

I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.  (John 13:21)

This of course, shocked all the disciples, and they started to ask Jesus one by one, “Is it I?”  Judas himself asked “Surely not I, Rabbi?”  (Matthew 26:25)

Perhaps Judas thought he had fooled Jesus.  But Jesus whispered to him, “Yes, it is you.”

Imagine the look of shock that must have come on Judas’ face.  He was totally exposed.  Perhaps he was afraid that Jesus would now denounce him before his disciples and have him killed.  At about that time, Peter nudged John and said, “Ask Jesus who he’s talking about.”  (John 13:24)

When John did, Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”  (John 13:26)

He then (in the eyes of the other disciples watching) honored Judas once again by offering a morsel of bread to Judas.

To everyone except John, they must have been thinking, “Wow, Judas is more special than we thought!”

Judas himself must have been wondering at all this honor that Jesus was bestowing upon him.  Maybe he thought he had misunderstood Jesus.  Then Jesus told him,

What you are about to do, do quickly.  (John 13:27)

And Judas quickly realized that Jesus knew exactly what was in his heart.  And he went to betray Jesus.

What can we learn from this?  Two things.

There are people that will betray us.  That will hurt us.  And it is easy to get bitter against them.  To dishonor them as they have dishonored us.

But just as Jesus honored his betrayer, we are to show the same kind of honor and respect to them.

At the same time, however, we should know exactly what kind of person they are.  We should not deceive ourselves about what their nature.  And we should protect ourselves from them.

When you look at the life of Jesus, he always did this.  When people sought to kill him, he got out of there.  The only time he didn’t was with Judas, and that was because it was his whole purpose to die.  His time had finally come.

But God generally does not call us to submit to abuse from others if we don’t have to.  Stay away.  Keep your distance.  And if that’s not possible for some reason, keep your armor up around them.  The chances of them hurting you deeply is much less if you have not fooled yourself concerning their character.

That said, we are called to forgive them.  And even more, to treat them with respect and honor.  As Peter wrote,

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  (I Peter 3:9)

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John 13:6-11 — Getting our feet cleaned

One more point from this story before I go on.

As Jesus went to wash Peter’s feet, Peter exclaimed,

No…you shall never wash my feet.  (8)

When Jesus replied that Peter would have no part with him if he refused, Peter then went over the top as he usually did, and said,

Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!  (9)

But Jesus replied,

A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you.  (10)

What was Jesus saying?  He was telling Peter, “Because you have put your faith in me, you are already clean.  Once you’ve been made clean from your past sins, the only thing that you need to deal with is the sin you accumulate as you walk through this life every day.”

The same is true with us.  When we come to Jesus and put our faith in his work on the cross, he washes completely clean from all the sins of our past.

But each day, as we go through life, we get stained by sin once again.  We do things that hurt God, hurt others, and hurt ourselves.  This does not mean that we are no longer Christians and need to be saved again.

But it does mean that every day we need to come to Jesus so that we can be cleansed once again.  Not for the sins of our past.  But for our sins of the day.

And John tells us in his first epistle that when we do, that

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  (I John 1:9)

I have to admit, I need to get my feet washed a lot more.  Too many times, I forget to look back on my day and confess my sins.   And that sin can put a barrier between me and God if  I let it go unconfessed.

So let us make it a daily practice to come to Jesus and get our feet washed.  To confess our sins, and to ask his forgiveness.  And if we do, he is faithful, and he will wash us clean.

 

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John 13:1-17 — The ultimate servant

The Bible is full of pictures concerning Jesus and his work on the cross, starting from God’s promise of someone to come stomp on the serpent’s head even while getting his heel struck in the process, to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, to the tabernacle sacrifices.  And this is not even including all the prophesies made by Isaiah, and the ones made by David in the Psalms.

And now, just before the cross, Jesus gave two more pictures.  One, of course, is communion which we’ll get to in a few blogs.  But the other is right here in this passage.  And because of the beauty of the picture Jesus painted, I would be remiss in not talking about it.

It says that Jesus got up from the meal, he took off his outer garments, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  What was this a picture of?  The apostle Paul tells us in Philippians chapter 2.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  (Philippians 2:5-7)

Jesus, though he was God, made himself nothing.  The NASB puts it this way, “He emptied himself.”  He took off the outer garments of his glory and became one of us.  But not only did he become one of us, he wrapped a towel around his waist, and in so doing, took the very nature of a servant.

Paul goes on to say,

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!  (8)

Just as Jesus humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples, so did he humble himself, going to the cross, that our sins might be washed away by his blood.

That’s why when Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet, Jesus replied,

Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.  (John 13:8)

In other words, “Peter, you’re messing with my picture here.  Just as I am washing your feet, so will I need to wash away your sins.  And unless you allow me to wash away your sins, you will have no part with me.  You cannot have a relationship with me.”

After Jesus finished washing their feet, he then put his clothes back on and returned to his place at the head of the table.  And in the same way, Paul tells us,

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:9-11)

Now Jesus asks us the same thing that he asked his disciples.

Do you understand what I have done for you?  (John 13:12)

Do you?  Do you understand all that Jesus gave up and sacrificed for you so that your sins might be forgiven?  If you do, then Jesus tells you,

You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you...Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  (13-15, 17)

Jesus was the ultimate servant.  And he calls us to be like him.  Are you?

 

 

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Luke 22:24-30; John 13:1-17 — True leadership

Trying to harmonize the gospel accounts at this point is a little sticky.  I get the impression that things were not always told in chronological order and that there were little asides thrown in.  This passage in Luke, in my opinion, is one of them.

It says that at the meal that the disciples started arguing with each other about who among them was the greatest.  I don’t know how this argument started, but at a guess, it started when they were deciding the seating arrangements after arriving at the upper room to celebrate the Passover.  In their culture, the person sitting to the right of Jesus would be considered the most important, and the person sitting to his left would be second most.  And the further you sat away from Jesus, the less important you were considered.

And so they were probably arguing about who should sit next to Jesus.  Peter may have been saying, “Hey I’m the leader of all you guys.  I should sit there.”  John may have replied, “Yeah, but Jesus loves me more.”  Even Judas might have gotten into the act.  “Everyone knows I’m the most important.  I handle all the money.”

How long Jesus watched this, I don’t know, but perhaps after everyone finally settled down into their places, with some still grumbling about where they were sitting, Jesus did something that shocked them all.

It was customary in situations like this meal, that someone would wash the feet of the others.  With everyone wearing sandals on dirt roads, feet could get pretty filthy.  Usually a servant would do the washing, but in circumstances where a servant wasn’t present, typically it was the lowest person on the totem pole who would do this.  John, being the youngest, might have been expected to do so.  But he apparently somehow managed to weasel his way right next to Jesus (John 13:23) and was not about to give up his place to do a “servant’s job.”  And after this big blowup, none of the others were inclined to do so either.

Jesus could have rebuked them.  But instead, Jesus “showed them the full extent of his love.”  (John 13:1)

He got up, took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, and started washing their feet and drying them.

How embarrassed the disciples must have been that Jesus was doing the job that one of them should have been doing.

After Jesus had finished, he sat down and asked them,

Do you understand what I have done for you…You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.   (John 13:12-14)

He continued,

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.  (Luke 22:25-27)

He then concluded,

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  (John 13:15-17)

What was Jesus telling them?  These were the men that Jesus had chosen to have great responsibility.  The day will come when they will sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel.  They will have the privilege of sitting at Jesus’ table and eating and drinking with him.  (Luke 22:28-29)

But as he had pointed out earlier, leadership is not about lording it over people.  It’s about servanthood.  Jesus served them by washing their feet.  Jesus served them and all of us by dying for our sins.

So now he tells us that as leaders we are to do the same.  And Jesus tells us that the true blessing of leadership comes not from all the “privileges” we receive as leaders.  It comes not from exercising our authority over others and telling them what to do.  But rather it comes from serving as Jesus did.  That’s what leadership is all about.

How do you see leadership?  As being served?  Or as serving others?

 

 

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Matthew 26:1-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13 — Room for the master

Jesus’ final public appearances (of his own volition, anyway) are now over.  And he now knows that the time of his arrest and crucifixion is close at hand.  But before that happens, Jesus prepares to have one last meal with his disciples.

It’s kind of an unusual account that’s given concerning the preparations for the Passover meal.  Did Jesus supernaturally know that a man would be carrying a jar of water around (something only women generally did), or had he worked out an arrangement and a special signal ahead of time with the parents of John Mark (the author of the book of Mark)?

Whatever the case, when the disciples entered the house, they found the upper room furnished and ready for them.

It’s very interesting to me that at the time of Jesus’ birth, there was no room for him.  But now, just before his death, there was a room already prepared and ready for him.

How about your heart?  Is it always prepared and ready for whatever Jesus wants to do in it?

Or is it so cluttered with sin or your own desires that it’s impossible for him to make use of it?

Lord, may there always be room in my heart for you.  More, may my heart be cleared out from any clutter that would prevent you from doing what you want to accomplish in me and through me.  May my life always be used for your glory.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; John 12:1-11 — True love, false love

Here we see a stark contrast in love.  One person’s love came from the heart.  The other’s came only for what profited him.

Jesus was in Bethany having dinner at the house of a man named Simon.  Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were all there, as were Jesus’ disciples.  And at the meal, Mary took some expensive perfume, and poured it on Jesus’ feet and on his head.

Judas’ reaction was immediate.

Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?  It was worth a year’s wages.  (John 12:5)

And apparently, the other disciples chimed in with Judas.

John tells us, however, that Judas’ love and concern for the poor was not genuine.  Instead,

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.  (John 12:6)

But of Mary, Jesus said,

Leave her alone…Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.  But you will not always have me.  She did what she could.  She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.  I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  (Mark 14:6-9)

Judas’ reaction?  He went to the chief priests and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

We will always wonder why Judas decided to do this, but I don’t think it was simply because Jesus rebuked him in front of the disciples.  I think it went much deeper than that.  His love for Jesus (and for others) apparently didn’t go much further than what it benefited him.  As treasurer among the disciples, he was happy to give to the poor as long as he could help himself to some of the money himself.  And as a disciple, he was happy to follow Jesus as long as it seemed Jesus would become king.

But time and again, Jesus talked not about ruling as Messiah, but of his death.  Perhaps frustrated and fed up with this, Judas thought, “Fine, if you want to die, die.”  And he went to betray him.

Mary’s love, on the other hand,  came from her heart.  And unlike Judas, who followed Jesus for what he could get, she loved Jesus enough to give him what was precious to her.  I love what John said about what happened when she opened the bottle of perfume.  He said,

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  (John 12:3)

And that’s what our love for Jesus and others should be like.  It should permeate the world around us.  It should be so evident, that no one can miss it.  Some people, like Judas, will criticize us for it.  But to Jesus, it’s a sweet smelling aroma.

How about you?  Is your love selfish, only interested in what you can gain?  Or is it a sweet smelling aroma to Jesus and the world around you?

 

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Matthew 25:31-46 — How we treat others

Jesus finishes his dialogue on the end times with this last story.  And it talks about the final judgment following the tribulation.  At that time, God will judge the nations, separating the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Considering the context, it seems God will specifically judge the nations for how they treat his people Israel during the tribulation.  Some, who out of their love for God, work to help the Jews in their time of need will be blessed and welcomed into the kingdom.  But those who participate in their persecution, or who simply turn a blind eye to them will be condemned.

But there’s a broader application that we can get from this.  For as much as people will be judged for how they treat the Jews during that time, we will be judged for how we treat others here and now.

Jesus said,

The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  (34-36)

And when these people asked when they did such a thing for him, the King will reply,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.  (40)

But to those who did not help others in their time of need, he will say,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  (45)

When we see others in need, how do we react?  Do we reach out to them in the love of God?  If we do, we do so to Christ.

But Jesus says that if we instead turn a blind eye to them, we are turning a blind eye to Christ and we will be held accountable for it.

John wrote,

This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.  (I John 3:16-18)

Jesus has given us so much.  He laid down his own life to give us life.  How then can we not do the same for others?

Let us turn a blind eye to Jesus no longer, but reach out and touch the lives of those he loved enough to die for.

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Matthew 25:14-30 — Being faithful

The second parable in this chapter goes to the point that Jesus brought up earlier.  That we need to be faithful, doing the things that God has called us to do until he returns.

In this story, Jesus talks about a man who gave money to three different servants to invest.  To one, he gave five talents (a talent was a measure of weight for precious metals, usually 58-80 pounds) of silver, to another 2 talents, and to the last servant he gave one.  And it says that he gave to them, each according to their ability.

In the same way, God has given us different talents (not money, but abilities) and resources.  He does not give them equally to us, but rather according to what we can handle.

And like the story, God requires us to use and invest what he has given us.  If we are faithful, doing what he’s asked us to do until he returns, then like the master in the story, he will tell us,

Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!  (21)

In the story, the master said this to two of his servants.  But there was a third servant, who instead of investing what his master had entrusted to him, buried it in the ground.  And when his master returned, he had nothing to show for what he had been entrusted.

Why?  Probably more than anything because he did not honor his master.  He saw his master as unfair, as a man who merely leached off the work of others.  And he feared that his master would be unfair in judging him were he to try to invest, but instead lose everything.

Many people look at God the same way.  They don’t truly honor him.  They see him as unfair.  They see him as too harsh.  They throw all kinds of criticisms his way.  And they use these criticisms as an excuse to live for themselves, instead of investing what God gave them and living for him.

This will especially happen in the last days when everything is falling apart.  Earthquakes, famines, wars, and plagues.  And people, even more than they do now, will throw criticisms God’s way, rather than turning from their sin and serving him.

But when Jesus comes back, they’ll find out that all their criticisms and excuses are empty.  They’ll realize that God is completely fair and just, and that it was they who were wrong.  It was they who were selfish, wicked, and lazy.  And they will be judged for that.

Part of faith is believing that God is good.  That though there is evil in this world, it is not God who is evil.  That though there is injustice in the world, it is not God who is unjust.  Rather it is we who have made a mess of things.  But as long as we fail to honor God and criticize him for the mess we made, we will make all kinds of excuses for why we need not be faithful with all he has given us.

How about you?  How do you see God?  Do you honor him enough to honor him with your life?  Do you honor him enough to be faithful and use what he’s given you to make a difference in this world as he has called you to?

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Matthew 25:1-13 — Being ready

In this chapter, we see two parables on what Jesus was just talking about, watching for his return and also doing the things he’s asked us to do until he comes.

In this first parable, I think it’s easy to try to over-interpret each facet of the parable, and I think we can get into trouble trying to do so.

The main point, again, is that we are to watch and be ready for when Jesus comes back, because he will come back when we don’t expect it.

That’s what happened with these bridesmaids.  The bridegroom had gone to the bride’s house and was due to return to his home for the wedding banquet, and so everyone was waiting for his return.  But for some reason, it took more time than they expected, and so when the bridegroom finally came, they were fast asleep.  Awakened from their slumber, the bridesmaids quickly realized that their lamps were going out, and needed more oil.  Five of the them were ready for such a situation, and quickly refilled their lamps.  The other five, however, were not ready and as a result, had to go out and buy more oil and by the time they came back, the doors were shut and they could not enter.

The point?  Some thought they were ready and were not, while others were truly ready for the bridesgroom’s return.  Those who were ready were able to join the banquet, while the rest were shut out.

Many Jews will be like this when Jesus finally returns.  They have been yearning for the Messiah for so long.  And some will be ready; they will have already acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, been filled with his Spirit, and be ready to enter the kingdom when Jesus comes.  But others, though they claim to be waiting for the Messiah, are not ready.  And they will find that out when Jesus returns.  That the Messiah they’d been waiting for had been Jesus all along.  But when they find out, it will be too late, and they will be locked out of his kingdom.

But the same can be said of the rest of us.  Many people claim to be Christians, but have never truly received him as Lord and Savior.  Rather, they merely have the “form of godliness but deny its power.” (II Timothy 3:5)  They claim to follow Christ, but in their hearts, merely live for themselves.  And when Jesus returns, they’ll realize that they are not ready for his return, and will find themselves locked out of his kingdom.

How about you?  Are you ready for when Jesus returns?  There is only one way.  The apostle Paul wrote,

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  (Romans 10:9)

Are you ready for our Lord’s return?

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Matthew 24:36-51; Mark 13:32-37; Luke 21:34-36 — Being ready whenever

There are a lot of people concerned about when Jesus will return.  And over the years, many people have predicted when he will come back.  I remember back in my high school days, a book came out called, “88 reasons why the rapture will happen in 1988.”

Needless to say, it never happened.  Not that it stopped the author from making more futile predictions.

For some reason, such people seem to ignore the words of Jesus who said,

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  (Mark 13:32)

God has his plans, and he hasn’t chosen to reveal to us when Jesus will return.  What he has given us is signs to look for, which we’ve already talked about.  And he’s given us an admonition that too few Christians follow today.  Watch, and be ready.

Jesus  said,

Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come.  It’s like a man going away:  He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back — whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’  (Mark 13:33-37)

I know I mentioned this yesterday, but considering that Jesus repeats the same admonition 4 times in the same passage, I figure it can’t hurt to repeat it again.

A lot of Christians argue about when Jesus will rapture the church.  Will it be before the great tribulation?  Will it be in the middle?  Will it be after?  I’m not saying these things aren’t important.  What I am saying is that it’s not so important when Jesus is coming, but to be ready whenever he comes.  And if you are ready whenever he comes, you’ll never be caught by surprise.

That is the whole point of what Jesus is saying here.  So before you start arguing about pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib, or premillenial, postmillenial, or amillenial, ask yourself one question.  If Jesus were to come today, am I ready?  Am I doing the things that he has asked me to do?  If he were come today, what would he say to me?

And if you have that question settled, everything else will work itself out.

So…are you ready?

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Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-38 — Until our Lord returns

The Lord talks a lot about the events that will occur before he returns.  And the thing that you get from all he says is that things will get worse before he returns.  A lot worse.  There will be wars, earthquakes, and famines.  And because of all these troubles, false prophets will arise, trying to bring hope, but instead deceiving many.  And if that weren’t bad enough, Antichrist will appear.

The result?  Persecution.   There will be a persecution of the Jews in particular, but also of any who follow Christ, leading to a great falling away from the faith.  You won’t see what you see today with many people claiming to be Christians, all the while living as they please.

And because of all the wickedness surrounding them, the love of most will grow cold.  Trust, I believe will be in short supply as well, as people will be turning on each other, especially on those who are following God.  And then celestial phenomena will start to occur that will further shake people’s hearts.  But just when things reach their worst, Jesus will appear and bring an end to these things, and his kingdom will finally come.

Having said all this, Jesus gives us warning and encouragement.

The first warning he gives is to be careful of false Christs.  When Christ comes, he’ll come from the sky and the whole world will see his coming.  So don’t waste your time running after rumors.  And though people may come with great signs and wonders, if they claim to be Christ, don’t believe them.  For that is exactly how the Antichrist will come, performing signs and wonders, deceiving many.  (2nd Thessalonians 2:3-9)

He then warns us and encourages not to lose hope through this time of trouble, but to be ever watchful doing what he has called us to do.  He says first,

When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.  (Luke 21:28)

In other words, don’t fret when these things happen.  Don’t get discouraged.  Don’t lose hope.  Because all these things mean that Jesus is truly coming soon.

But then he says,

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.  (Luke 21:34)

It will be so easy in those days to fall into discouragement and depression from all the evil you see around you.  And so Jesus says to be careful not to let that happen to you.

He also warns us not to become jaded and cynical, and to start thinking that Jesus will never return because of all the evil we see.  Instead, we are to continue waiting in hope.  Waiting in terms of watching for his return.  But also waiting in terms of serving him, and doing the things he has asked of you.  And if we do, we’ll be rewarded.  If we don’t, we will be punished.  (Matthew 24:46-51)

I know that there are a lot of people thinking, “Well, this isn’t really for me.  I’ll be raptured by then.”

I certainly hope you’re right.  But if the day comes that you see the “abomination that makes desolate” standing in the temple (a mirroring of what Antiochus did when he sacrificed a pig on the altar of God and set up an idol in the temple), then know that these words are not only for the Jews.  They are not only for those who become Christians at that time.  They are for you.

And no matter what happens, no matter what trials we may go through, let us keep watching for our Lord, serving him faithfully until he returns.

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Matthew 24:1-35; Mark 13:1-31; Luke 21:5-33 — A sign of things to come

I mentioned in my last blog that this is one of the more difficult passages in scripture, and part of the difficulty comes in the harmonizing of it.  Jesus had just told the disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed, and troubled by this revelation, the disciples asked when this would happen and what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age.

I’m trying to think of this from their perspective.  At this point, it still had not sunk in that Jesus had to die and be raised to life.  It had never even crossed their minds that Jesus would ascend to heaven and depart from them.  So when they asked about his coming, they weren’t asking when he would come back from heaven.  They were probably asking when he would set up his kingdom.

They had heard all the prophesies of the “Day of the Lord” from the Old Testament.  A day of judgment for the nations, and a time when Israel would be restored.  But now Jesus was saying that this temple would be destroyed.  The Day of the Lord could not certainly happen before that.  And yet, this very week, they had heard the people in Jerusalem shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”

As a result, they were understandably confused.  What’s difficult about interpreting these passages is trying to harmonize them.  In particular, Luke, at a certain point, uses certain language to describe the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and Matthew and Mark seem to use that very same language to describe something that is yet to come even in our day.

My guess is that as time went on, after Jesus had left and the Holy Spirit had come upon them, the disciples started to understand that Jesus’ words had relevance not only for what was to happen in the near future at the destruction of the temple, but what was to happen when Jesus returns again.

At any rate, in Luke’s account, Jesus talks about how in the future, there would be false Christs, wars, and disasters.  But he warned the disciples that before these things happened, they would be persecuted and even be put to death.  All this happened in the book of Acts.  We also see when they were put on trial, the Holy Spirit gave them the words to speak in such a way that their opponents couldn’t answer them, just as Jesus promised.

He then warned that when they saw armies surrounding Jerusalem, to get out of there because Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people taken captive.  And he talked about how terrible it would be for those women who would be pregnant or nursing at that time.  All this happened in AD 70, and most if not all the Christians at that time took Jesus’ warning and were not there when Jerusalem was destroyed, while many other Jews stayed in Jerusalem thinking it was their only hope for safety.

But Matthew and Mark seem to use the same, or at least similar language for what will happen in the future.  That there will be an abomination that causes desolation standing in the temple.  The book of Daniel refers to this event, and it was originally fulfilled when Antiochus Epiphanes set up an idol of Zeus in the temple, and then sacrificed a pig on the altar of God.  But there was no such event in Jerusalem when it fell in AD 70.  So it must be referring to something that happens in the future.

Here also, Jesus is seen as saying to flee Jerusalem and how horrible it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers.  But he goes on to say,

Those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now–and never to be equaled again.  (Mark 13:19)

It’s hard to say Jesus was talking about Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70, when the future tribulation will be much worse.

So what am I saying?  All the things that happened in Jerusalem in AD 70 were a sign for what will happen in the future.  And indeed for what’s happening even now.  For even now, we see wars and rumors of wars.  We see famines, earthquakes, and other natural disasters.  We see false Christs popping up all over the place.  We see persecution.

And all this will not end until Jesus comes again.  And when he comes, all will know it because he will appear in the sky for all to see, and at that time he will call his elect to him.

I know that many people think that Jesus will rapture all Christians before Antichrist even comes.  I certainly hope so.  I’m willing to be convinced.  But I wouldn’t count on it.

Whatever you believe, here’s the point I want you to remember:  Jesus’ words concerning Jerusalem came true, exactly as he had said.  We see his words coming true even today.  And so when he says he will come again, we can know it’s true.  Because he said so.  Jesus said,

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.  (Luke 21:33)

So no matter what trouble we may suffer through, let us wait in hope, and be ready whenever he does come.

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Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; Luke 21:5-6 — When our temple becomes corrupt

We now come to one of the more difficult passages in scripture.  I want to say straight off that if you’re hoping to get all the answers for what all this means, I don’t have them.  There are other people much more qualified to espouse their views on the matter of whether pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, are correct and all that goes with it.

More than anything, as I have through my blogs, I want to stay with what’s clear and what things mean practically for us (although I’m sure all the pundits for the different positions will argue that the scriptures are clear about their positions).

Today, though, I want to look at what started this whole discourse.  After this final day of arguing with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus’ disciples said concerning the temple,

Look, Teacher!  What massive stones!  What magnificent buildings!  (Mark 13:1)

And indeed from the outside, the temple was beautiful indeed.  But Jesus quickly doused their enthusiasm by saying,

Do you see all these great buildings?  Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.  (Mark 13:2)

That was exactly what happened.  When the temple was attacked in A.D. 70, a fire started, and the gold from the roof melted into the cracks of the walls of the temple.  As a result, the commander of the attack ordered that the temple be dismantled stone by stone so as to retrieve all of the gold.

Why did this happen?  We saw the answer earlier.  While the temple looked beautiful on the outside, and though there were certainly some good things that happened on the inside, nevertheless, the corruption was so great that it could not stand.  There was greed (as seen in the cleansing of the temple), and even worse, a rejection of the very God they claimed to serve.  They couldn’t even recognize him when he stood right there among them.  Rather, they were determined to kill him.

All of us as Christians are God’s temples.   But how often have we seen high-profile Christians, particularly in ministry, fall because of corruption.  And not just fall, but fall utterly, with “not one stone left on another.”

But before we start judging others, we need to look at our own temples.  What is there?  Is there any hint of corruption?  Greed?  Hypocrisy?  Jealousy?  Pride?  These things in particular were in the temple of Jerusalem.  Are they in your temple?

What about other things that can corrupt a temple?  Lust?  Bitterness?  Unforgiveness?

And are there things that should be in your temple, but aren’t?  Things like love and mercy?

Our temples might look good to those who see us from the outside.  We might seem to be shining examples of what a Christian should be.  But if our temples are corrupt, eventually, they will utterly collapse and be exposed for what they really are.

What’s in your temple?

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Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4 — What God is looking for

After the blistering criticism Jesus gave the Pharisees, he settled back, and quietly started to watch the people walking past the place where offerings were put.

A number of rich people walked past, and with great ceremony dumped in large amounts of money.  And perhaps as they did, Jesus’ face twisted in consternation.  Person after person walked by, giving their offerings, but somehow, I imagine Jesus’ face only grew darker.

And then a poor widow walked by.  Unlike many of those who had dropped in their offerings, this woman only dropped in two coins.  There was no pride in it.  No seeking of attention.  I imagine there was only a heart filled with love and gratefulness toward God.

At this, Jesus’ face lit up.  And he quickly pointed her out to the disciples, telling them,

I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  (43)

The disciples must have thought Jesus was out of his mind.  And they probably said, “Jesus, what are you talking about?  You can barely buy anything with what that woman gave!”

But Jesus replied,

They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.  (44)

I don’t think it’s coincidence that Jesus pointed this woman out after all he had said about the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  He had just scathed them for all their hypocrisy, because all of their righteousness was merely for show.

And so when he finally found the kind of person that God was really looking for, he said to his disciples, “This is what I’m talking about.  This is the kind of person God is looking for.”

What kind of person was that?  A person whose heart truly belonged to God.

A heart that didn’t worry about what others thought about her.  A heart that didn’t cling to what was hers.  But a heart that said, “Here I am.  Here’s what I have.  I give it to you.”

How about you?  Is that the kind of heart you have?  Can Jesus point to you and say, “Here is a person whose heart is mine?”

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Matthew 23:29-38 — When we reject those sent to us

Nobody likes to be rebuked.  To be told you’re wrong.  But how do you respond when you are?

The Pharisees followed the long line of their ancestors throughout Israel’s history.  Instead of listening and repenting when rebuked, they turned on those sent to them.  They turned on Jesus, murdering him, and they turned on his disciples, all the while claiming that they would never have murdered the prophets that their ancestors murdered long before.

And so Jesus said,

You snakes!  You brood of vipers!  How will you escape being condemned to hell?  Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers.  Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.  And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.  (33-36)

Jesus then wept, saying,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’  (37-39)

And that’s what happened.  Within a generation of the people that murdered Christ, Israel fell, their beloved temple demolished until this very day.

What happens we reject those God sends to us to rebuke us?  Ultimately, our lives will fall apart.  And we will be judged.

God takes no pleasure in this.  He weeps over it.  But there can be no life, there can be peace until we acknowledge him as Lord over all in our lives.

Solomon wrote,

Faithful are the wounds of a friend.  Proverbs 27:6 (NASB)

The truth can hurt.  It can be painful to hear.  But if we take them to heart, they can bring healing.

What do you do when you are rebuked?

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Matthew 23:25-28 — Cleaning out the inside

Jesus continues his scathing of the Pharisees and teachers of the law by saying,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  (25-28)

Scathing indeed.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were held up as so righteous by the people.  But Jesus exposes every filthy thing in their hearts, their greed, their self-indulgence, and their utter hypocrisy.  He called them whitewashed tombs which look so beautiful on the outside, but are filled with rotting bones on the inside.

How about you?  What would Jesus say about you if he saw you?  Would he call you a whitewashed tomb?  A cup that is clean on the outside and filthy on the inside?

It is so easy to put up a front.  In fact the word “hypocrite” originally came from the word for “actor.”  But God looks beyond your exterior to your heart.  And when he does, what does he see?

For that matter, what do you see?  Can you even see the areas in your heart that are ugly in the sight of God?  Or are you so blind that while you can see everyone else’s sin, you can’t even see your own?

I suppose the real test is this:  Do you feel compassion for those “sinners” around you because you know just how much mercy you yourself have received from God, and continue to receive day by day?  Or do you just feel utter contempt for them, thinking, “I would never do something like that!”

What is in your heart?  What needs to be cleaned out from your cup?

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Matthew 23:23-24 — Remembering what’s important

It’s really sad the reputation that a lot of Christians have in the world, particularly in the States.

Some of it is the natural response of the world to people who love the Lord.  Jesus did say that there would be people who hate us because of him.

But I wonder sometimes how often Christians get a bad reputation, not because they are following Jesus, but because they’ve forgotten what’s important.

Many of these Christians go to church every Sunday, perhaps go to a Bible study during the week as well, they read their Bibles and pray daily, and they are very loud in their championing of Christian values.  There was a group very similar to that in Jesus’ time:  The Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Yet Jesus said of them,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.  (23-24)

Jesus adds another thing they neglected in Luke 11:42, “the love of God.”

Jesus said in another passage that the world would know that we are his disciples by the love that we have for one another.  (John 13:35)

I suppose the question I have, not just for you but for me, is this:  “Is my life marked by the love and mercy of God?  When people look at me, do they see these things flowing from me?  Do they know that I truly do care for them?  Do they see the compassion I have for them?  Or do they merely see a person who constantly condemns them and their lifestyle?

“When people see me at work, do they see a person of integrity, a person who does what is right even when it hurts me?  Do they see a person who is faithful at what he does, or someone who slacks off whenever he can?”

If people don’t see these things in our lives, the condemnation and criticism we receive from the world will be well deserved.  And sadly, they may never come to Christ because of it.  And while God will hold them accountable for the decisions they made, we also will be held accountable for giving them the opportunity to blaspheme God and to hold him in contempt.  (2 Samuel 12:14)

How about you?  What’s coming out of your life?  Love?  Mercy?  Justice?  Faithfulness?  These are what is important to God.

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Matthew 23:16-22 — Loopholes

I’ve mentioned before the different problems of legalism.  Here we see another problem.  People who are legalistic tend to try to find loopholes.  They may keep the letter of the law (as they see it), but try to find ways to avoid keeping its spirit.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were masters of this, and we see an example here that Jesus brings up.  The law said that you were to keep oaths that you made to God.  But then these men made all kinds of rules of what that actually meant.  If you said, “I swear by the temple,” you weren’t bound by your oath, but if you said, “I swear by the gold of the temple,” you were required to keep it.  If you said, “I swear by God’s altar,” you weren’t bound by your oath, but if you said, “I swear by this gift on the altar,” you were.

And Jesus points out the utter fallacy of this way of thinking.  It is the temple that makes the gold holy, not the reverse.  It is not the gift that makes the altar holy; rather, it’s the altar that makes the gift holy.  Lest the Pharisees try to squirm out from under that concept, he goes on to say that if you swear by the temple, you’re swearing by God who dwells there.  And if you swear by heaven, you swear by God’s throne and by God himself.

What was Jesus’ point?

Just do what’s right.  When God said, “Keep your oaths that you have made to me,” the point wasn’t that it it’s okay to break your oath if it isn’t made in God’s name.  While that is certainly important, the real point was that your word is important.  If you say you’re going to do something, do it.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law focused on “oaths to God” rather than “keeping your oath.”  In so doing, they “strained the gnat,” in making rules on what “oaths to God” meant, and “swallowed the camel” by consistently breaking their other oaths.  (Matthew 23:24).

How about you?  Do you have a heart that truly wants to please God and do what’s right?  Or do you have a heart that only does so grudgingly, and is always looking for loopholes?

You cannot please God by claiming to find loopholes, and slipping through them in your daily life.  Do what’s right.  Do what you know in your heart God has told you to do.

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