Follow Me

Our final Gospel reading for the year comes from the end of John’s Gospel, chapters 20 & 21. I have always loved the personal touches John includes in this section, including the fact that he was a faster runner than Peter (20:4).

One of the interesting debates surrounding this portion of Scripture has to do with the occasion of the writing of chapter 21. It certainly appears that 20:30-31 is the ending of the Gospel. And yet there’s chapter 21. I could bore you with all of the scholarly arguments back and forth, but the truth of the matter is that all early manuscripts of John contain chapter 21. What does this mean? Chapter 21 was written by John as well. It appears that John completed his Gospel with chapter 20, and was then moved by the Spirit to include one more episode in the life of Jesus, likely for the reason given in 21:22-23. It’s an important story with a message we need today!

If you remember in John 18, we see Peter deny Christ three times around a charcoal fire (see 18:18). This so devastated Peter that it appears he had given up on his ability to follow Christ and had returned to fishing (21:3). Jesus performs yet another fishing miracle among them, a clear signal to Peter about who was talking to him, and the disciples come to shore where they find Jesus cooking breakfast, once again around a charcoal fire (21:9). In a way, Jesus has once again placed Peter at a charcoal fire in an effort to give him another chance. Three times Jesus asks Peter to confirm his love for the Savior. Each time Peter does, and each time Jesus invites Peter to feed his sheep, an expression basically telling Peter to act like the pastor he has been called to be. But Jesus also gives Peter an ominous prediction.

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” – John 21:17-19

Did you notice what just happened? Peter returned to Christ. He has been reinstated, and called to shepherd the flock of believers. As Jesus is calling Peter he basically tells him that the pain and suffering he himself had just endured would also be endured by Peter. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Peter, you too will be crucified. Now follow me.” And the shocking thing is Peter did. Peter followed him! And in case you are wondering, church history tells us that Peter was crucified, but differently than Jesus. Peter claimed he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, so Peter was crucified hanging upside down from the cross.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow him. He calls us to die to ourselves and follow him. He calls us to give up everything, including our own lives to follow him. It’s radical. It’s extreme. It’s Jesus. My question is this: What is Jesus calling you to do that you have not done? Is he calling you to change something in your life? Is he calling you to share the Gospel with a friend? What is he calling you to do that you haven’t done?  Just like Peter, if you have denied him or ignored his call, it’s not to late. He will welcome you back, with open arms. But the call remains: Follow me!

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What Jesus Knew and When

The Gospel reading for this week is John chapters 18 & 19. We have one more week to go before we have completed 50 weeks of study on the life and ministry of Jesus. Today we focus on his crucifixion.

John reminds us of several key points as we read his account. Jesus is in complete control the entire time he goes through being arrested, his trials, and his death. Even his surrender to the authorities shows his power (18:6). He is fully aware that all this was happening to fulfill prophecy (18:9). Jesus also knew what he was facing. He predicted the betrayal of Judas (13:21), the denial by Peter (13:38), the manner of his death (12:32-33), and his resurrection (2:21-22).

John also includes a detailed listing of everything that Jesus suffered during this time. He was bound (18:12), he was put on trial in the middle of the night (18:13), he was interrogated (18:19), he was struck in the face (18:22), they kept him awake all night (18:28), they called him a criminal (18:30), they detained him and released Barabbas as well (18:40). They flogged him (19:1), the crowned him with thorns and put a purple robe on his shredded back (19:2), they mocked him and struck him again in the face (19:3), they forced him to carry his cross (19:17), they crucified him (19:18), they killed him (19:30), and they pierced his side with a spear (19:34).

Now, put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. If you knew what was coming, would you have gone through this? Knowing everything that was about to unfold, would you have allowed yourself to be treated this way by the very creation that you yourself created? (John 1:1-3) Would you have deemed the human race worthy of saving? Would you willingly humble yourself so much and allow your creation to pummel the life out of your earthly body all the while you have the power to wipe out all creation and start over with just a word?

Jesus did.

Jesus felt you and I were worth the unbearable pain and agony of the cross. If that doesn’t move you to follow him, I don’t know what will. The Creator of all things gave up everything for you. How will you live in light of that? How will you serve him knowing his servant heart through this process? That is the Christian life in a nutshell. We live each day seeking to serve him because of what he did for us on that cross.

As we enter the Christmas celebrations, keep in mind that he willingly came into this world. But that’s not the end of the story. The story of the cross is key to understanding why we follow him. But we must also remember that the story didn’t end at the cross. It continues each day in the lives of his followers until the day he returns. How will you live in light of that?

Kosmos

This week’s reading comes from John 15:26 through the end of chapter 17. Jesus teaches many things during this time concerning his sacrifice, what will happen after he returns to heaven, and how the disciples should live in light of all that is going on. But I’d like to focus on a part of this message that I believe often gets misunderstood. And it’s only one word. Kosmos.

Kosmos is a Greek word that means “world” or “universe.” The word appears 185 times in the New Testament, and 105 of those times are in the writings of John. And Christians have thrown this word (world) around quite a bit when discussing their lives following Christ. In some circles this means if there is something that didn’t originate in the church, then we’re not supposed to be involved with it. “We’re not supposed to be of this world,” or “Have nothing to do with this evil world,” are statements that I have heard in the past. But is that what the Gospels are really calling us to do? To have nothing to do with the lost people we live around?

Kosmos as universe is used by John (1:3, 10, 3:17), but the most significant part of the universe is the place where we humans live, earth (John 16:33). So the word kosmos mainly refers to the persons inhabiting the earth (John 12:19). As you read John’s Gospel  you will notice that the majority of people Jesus encounters oppose his ministry and teaching, so kosmos comes to be associated with those who reject or oppose Jesus. This view of “world” equaling opposition to Christ is unique to the New Testament use of the word (John 1:10, 7:7, 14:17, 17:25, etc.)

When you read passages that say the “world” hates Jesus and his disciples (15:18), and that the followers of Christ are not to “belong to this world,” realize that John is referring to the people that reject Jesus, not the ones who simply don’t know about the truth. Think about these statements: “…the Prince of this world” (12:31, 16:11) = Satan. Christians are not to love “the world” (1 John 2:15-17) = love the lifestyle or actions of those who intentionally reject Christ.

Some will use this misunderstanding of the word “world” to try to tell you not to celebrate Christmas, stating that it’s “worldly” and originated as a “worldy, pagan holiday.” Some research points to a pagan origin for Christmas, other research points to Christmas pre-dating the pagan use of the date. But that really doesn’t matter. Christ came to redeem the world (Titus 2:14, 1 Tim. 2:4). He came to redeem our hearts, our souls, and our actions. Yes Christmas may have some elements that we do not accept (mainly gross commercial consumerism), but God has given us a wonderful opportunity to engage our kosmos.

For one time a year the world is more open to discussing the origins of the Christmas celebration, Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, the Savior of the Kosmos. Don’t miss this opportunity that God has given you! Invite your friends and neighbors to worship times. Speak with them openly about your faith. In doing so you will participate in overcoming the Kosmos. (John 16:33).

Serve Faithfully

This week’s Gospel reading comes from John 13-15:25. This reading is full of huge theological concepts, but I want to focus on one that is seemingly simple, yet so often left undone; serving others. “Serve Faithfully” is one of our Firstfruits (we’ll discuss this on Sunday), and it’s one that is extremely important. Jesus never teaches us to do something that he hasn’t done, so he gives us an example of service.

3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (Jn 13:3–5)

Jesus already knew that Judas was going to betray him, yet he dined with him and then washes his feet. In our cultural context this is quite strange, and misunderstood. But in first century Palestine, foot washing was common practice as sandals were the common footwear, and roads were rarely paved. The custom is found all throughout the Old Testament, yet we see very few examples of someone washing someone else’s feet (see 1 Sam. 25:41, Luke 7:44, 1 Tim.5:10). The custom was to provide water for people to wash their own feet, but Jesus goes far beyond that custom and serves his disciples humbly by washing their filthy feet.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (Jn 13:12–17)

Jesus is very clear that his followers should continue this practice of serving one another. It seems that the early church continued the literal practice of washing each others feet (1 Tim. 5:10), but I believe Jesus is using this extreme example to show us just how far he expects us to go in serving one another.

What does foot washing look like in our society? What is a practice so humbling, yet so significant in our culture that Christians ought to be doing for one another to show a Christ-like heart? I honestly don’t know, but I’m not going to stop looking. Followers of Christ should seek to serve one another in humility. We should look for ways to be “washing the feet of the Lord’s people.” This will look different for everyone, but everyone should be doing something.

Bottom line: We are called to live like Christ. He set us an example of humble service to follow. So what are you doing to serve your brothers and sisters in Christ? If you aren’t doing anything, then it’s time to follow your Lord’s example and serve one another.

Why Kill Jesus?

Our reading for this week is John chapters 11 & 12. We will focus mostly on chapter 11, as this is a huge theological turning point in John’s Gospel. The first 11 chapters of this Gospel shows Jesus revealing who his glory through performing “signs and wonders.” After this point Jesus will reveal his glory through his death on the the cross, and his resurrection. But the raising of Lazarus is the linking event, and the catalyst that will ultimately cost Jesus his earthly life. But why did the religious leaders decide to put Jesus to death? We’ll answer that question in a minute.

Jesus was very close to Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. The text is quite clear on this point…this wasn’t some acquaintance. They were close. (11:3) Yet Jesus is painfully slow in responding to the news that Lazarus was near death. (11:6), but this was for a purpose… “that you may believe” (11:15), which is also the entire purpose of John’s Gospel (20:30-31).

Martha and Mary have huge confessions of faith in this chapter as well. It starts with verse 21 where Martha believes that if Jesus had been present, Lazarus would not have died. She has just shown her faith believed Jesus had power over death! Mary has the same statement in verse 32. But notice Jesus’ teaching surrounding this:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” – John 11:25-27

Jesus wept. That verse is so meaningful to me, not because it’s short and easy to remember, but it shows the humanity of Jesus. He wasn’t weeping for Lazarus, he knew he was going to be raised from the dead. But he weeps at the pain that this has caused Mary and Martha, and the sting of death that he himself had not yet conquered.

Jesus calls forth Lazarus from the dead, and he is miraculously raised from the dead; another example of the glory of God being revealed through signs and wonders (see 2:11). This was a deeply controversial event. Jesus was showing quite clearly that he had power over every aspect of human life and this troubled the religious leaders, some of whom didn’t believe resurrection was possible.

But back to the original question: Why did the religious leaders decide to put Jesus to death? Look at the statement by the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” – John 11:47-48

Notice how their resistance to believing in Jesus has nothing to do with what is true, but rather what it might cost them. They craved power and authority over the truth.

Questions:

How many people have this same hang-up today when confronted with the Gospel?

Have you ever had a similar reaction to God’s call on your life?

Jesus and Facebook in John’s Gospel

This week’s Gospel reading comes from John 7:25 through the end of chapter 8. This passage probably contains a note in your Bible. The NIV includes this statement:

[The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53–8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]

The New International Version. (2011). (Jn 7:53). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

This troubles many people, but the translators are actually trying to help the reader here. Let’s look at a few things together.

    1. Was this passage originally part of John’s Gospel? Most likely, no. The further we remove ourselves from the date of the writing (later manuscripts) the more likely the text is to have things added by later generations of people. This is why scholars strive to find the earliest and best manuscripts to translate from.
    2. So should we not have this story in our Bibles? No! We absolutely should! The stories of Jesus were passed along in oral form long before, and long after they were written down by the New Testament authors. The fact that this passage appears in many manuscripts in multiple places within John’s and Luke’s Gospel can show that this was a well known story of Jesus. Therefore, we can have faith that it actually happened.
    3. Should we view this portion of Scripture as uninspired, or not the true Word of God? No! The Holy Spirit inspired over 40 authors over a span of 1600 years in three languages on three continents to write 66 documents with a unifying theme that can only be explained by a God at work behind its writing. Do you not think he could inspire the church to want to include that story later?

 

 

Within the text there are several things we modern western readers need to pay attention to. First, there is a woman caught in adultery. Adultery isn’t a solo act. So where is the man? We really don’t know. But it would seem if you catch the woman, you also catch the man. This gives us at least two thoughts: 1) This was a trap to catch the woman, thus her guilt may or may not be correct, 2) The group really didn’t care about what the man did, thus this is a sexism at work.

We should also notice that when Jesus tells the crowd to feel free to stone her as long as the sinless people cast the first stones, it is the oldest ones that left first. I think the weight of our sin becomes more obvious the older we get.

Finally, notice how Jesus does something that many Christians feel is impossible today. Jesus does not condone her sin (in fact he tells her to leave her sinful life), but neither does he condemn her. (8:11) What you are seeing is a grace-filled righteousness offered by Jesus. This woman has been through hell in this ordeal. Heaping verbal abuse upon this woman would likely push her further from the Father. Instead Jesus calmly and lovingly tells her to leave her sinful life in a non-condemning way.

Perhaps Christians today could learn a thing or two from Jesus’ interaction with this woman.

Question: How should this grace-filled conversation play out in a modern context, such as discussions on Facebook?

Jesus vs. The Status Quo

Our Gospel reading for this week comes from John 6:22-7:24. We could spend weeks on this section alone, so I am not able to adequately address everything going on in John’s text. I do want to touch on a few items, however.

This passage comes just after Jesus feeds the 5,000, and walks on water where he acts like God (see Ex. 16:4 for manna, see “Enter the Water” sermons water themes). Jesus even uses language that indicates he is God (6:20 – “ἐγώ εἰμι” literally means “I am”, not “It is I” – see Ex. 3:14)

Now Jesus enters a discussion based on a statement by Jesus, “I am the bread of life.” (6:35) This is one of seven “I am” statements that Jesus makes in John’s gospel, plus an additional absolute “I am” statement in 8:58 (where he is nearly stoned for equating himself with God.) Jesus begins using figurative language of eating and drinking to describe how his disciples should relate to him. Jesus wants the audience to realize that God provided manna for the Israelites, and now God has provided Jesus for the Israelites and later the Gentiles (10:16). The manna was temporary, the ones that ate it were hungry again and eventually died. Jesus says if you feast on him, however (his words, his body, his blood – Lord’s Supper type language) then you will not die (6:50). Jesus’ audience, however, is really wanting more miracles…a free lunch if you will. (6:30-31) When Jesus quit feeding them, and instead entered into some serious teachings that were difficult to understand, they left him. (6:66)

This leads to an observation, but one I think John is channeling in the text. Following Jesus isn’t all fun and games and magic shows. Following Jesus takes work. Following Jesus requires you to engage your mind in thinking, and your whole body in following him. It means giving up yourself and your desires, and instead following Jesus wherever he may lead, even to the cross. One who truly believes Jesus is the Son of God, Lord of all, will go wherever he calls, and do whatever he commands, not simply want to sit back and be fed! (6:40, 10:7,11,14, 6:34)

Chapter 7 continues this same line of thinking…this idea that Jesus will entertain people, and carry on the status quo, including taunting along these lines from his brothers (7:3-5). But verses like 7:20 and 7:24 indicate that the people simply didn’t want to be challenged in their thinking…they were content to keep things the way they were. I close by sharing Dr. Ross Cochran’s commentary on this passage:

“The status quo killed Jesus. The status quo is so powerful that it will even turn a deaf ear to God. Obeying God’s word requires repentance and transformation. Few really want that. Most of us would rather embrace what we know presently in order to be comfortable. So we are tempted to reject anything that threatens the status quo, even if it is from God. Think of it! God appears in the person of Jesus and the people would rather have things as they are than to hear a word from God. Scary isn’t it? The status quo has a gravitational pull that must be overcome.”

Question: In your experience, what is the biggest status quo we are facing in the church today?