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?

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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?

Assured Salvation

Our Gospel reading this week comes from John 5 – 6:21. In this article I would like to focus on the words of Jesus that address a struggle many people seem to face: “Can I really know that I am saved?”

John’s Gospel shows more than any other gospel writer that true believers in submission to Jesus are saved now. It’s not something we have to wring our hands over, and worry that if we’re “good enough” God might save us. That type of teaching borders on heresy because Scripture is full of clear statements concerning this (Rom. 8:1, Col. 3:3, 1 John 5:13, etc.) But here, John includes language by Jesus himself that contradicts this misguided teaching.

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24

What’s important about 5:24, as well as several other texts in John, is that we do not have to wait until judgement day to know how we stand with the Lord. You can know in the present that you are saved! Notice how Jesus uses present tense language in describing this: “..has eternal life…”, not will have…HAS!

Far too many live in doubt of their salvation instead of living confidently and victoriously in the present time. Some believe we can never know about our salvation until the final judgement. But think about that belief for a moment. Can you know that you are lost? If so, why can’t you know you are saved? How can you know one and not know the other?

In one of his letters, John puts it this way:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13

Is that clear? “…you may know that you have eternal life.” Not “you will know someday.” You may know now! John is very clear on this. The use of present tense in 1 John, as well as John 5:24 clearly shows that salvation in Christ can be known and experienced now, not just in the future. Does that mean that there’s nothing left to experience in the future? Absolutely not. Salvation is experienced both now, and in the future. The fullness of our salvation will only be experienced at the return of Jesus, but rest assured that you can know that you are saved, and that knowledge and freedom should affect how you live now!

Saved people don’t sit and worry about their salvation. Instead, they tell others about their salvation, what Christ has done in their life, how it has freed them from evil, and how others can experience the same blessing in Christ. Perhaps this is why we struggle so much with evangelism…we’re not sure anyone else wants what we have because we’re not sure we have it ourselves! To use the metaphor from recent sermons, if you’ve been through the water then you’re God’s child. Start living like it!

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24

The Seekers Heart (2018 Blog Tour)

I wrote this post for the 2018 Blog Tour, so it is also being published on a number of other blogs as well. Our theme this year is “What are you seeking?”

“You are what you love.” That’s the title of a book by James K. A. Smith that has challenged my life, particularly my heart. I’ve learned that my heart isn’t always focused on what it should be, regardless of what my actions show. This realization led me to the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in Matthew 5-7. Some view this passage as a checklist we need to keep to please Jesus. But viewing the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist shows you’ve missed the point.

Take a look at this summary of the teachings in this passage:
– Attitudes (5:1-12)
– Actions/Witness (v13-16)
– Righteousness (v.17-20)
– Conflict (v. 21-26)
– Marriage and Adultery (v. 27-30)
– Divorce (v.31-32)
– Honesty (v.33-37)
– Revenge (v.38-48)
– Giving (6:1-4)
– Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15)
– Fasting (v.19-24)
– Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34).

That’s a lot of topics! It seems Jesus has something to say about nearly every part of our lives. But Jesus isn’t addressing a bunch of topics here. In reality, he addresses one topic and applies it to many different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

In every instance, Jesus is teaching us how we should orient our heart. We can try to follow checklists all day, but without our heart being right we’ll never be the people God calls us to be. Take a look at his teaching on murder, or adultery in the passage. The issue wasn’t outward actions, rather a matter of the heart.

Let’s look at one two more statements. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Yet chapter 6 starts with “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.

How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. Logic says you cannot do both, but it all boils down to what our heart is seeking. Are we honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves? If the heart is in the right place, we are doing exactly what Jesus wants. It all boils down to 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Smith puts it this way: “…if the heart is like a compass…then we need to regularly calibrate our hearts, turning them to be directed to the Creator, our magnetic north.” In other words, what we do shapes us into who we become. The life of a Christian should be drastically different than a non-Christian. So how are we doing? Do we have a heart seeking God, or are we chasing after the world? What you love shapes your life. So, what are you seeking?

It’s time for a heart check. If we orient our heart toward seeking God, our attitudes will be God-focused when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right, we will be salt and light (both of which are elements that change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are seeking Christ and his righteousness, we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are seeking the Father, we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are centered on the covenental Creator, we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are on the God of justice, we will show love and honesty, and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are pure we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).

“You are what you love.” What does your heart seek? Do you seek after the things of God, or chase after whatever the world calls important? Jesus reminds us to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Keep your heart focused on God. Keep honoring Him in everything you do. Seek him first and foremost. Only then will you have the true heart of a seeker.

 

Matt Stidham is the Preaching Minister for the East Side congregation in Snyder, TX. He and his wife Jennifer have three beautiful children. You can connect with Matt on Facebook (@matthew.d.stidham), on Twitter (@MatthewStidham), or at his blog – www.crosseyedchristianity.wordpress.com.

What Are You Seeking… Really?  By Peter Horne

This week on the Cross Eyed Christianity blog we’ll be starting the 2018 Blog Tour. You will read several guest posts over the next few weeks, as well as my regular weekly posts as we continue through our reading of the Gospels. This week’s post comes from Peter Horne. Be sure to check out his blog using the link at the bottom of this post. 

Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about worship. Suddenly, it dawned on me how much my thought process differed from other worshippers. 

  1. There are some people who come to church each week asking “Will they sing the songs I like?” “Will the sermon meet my needs?” “Will my friends by there?” “Will my prayers be answered?” “Will my life be improved?”
  2. Then there’s another group of people who come wondering who God will bring this week. They’re praying for opportunities to speak encouragement into someone’s life. They’re looking around for people they can meet and serve, and hoping that some first time guests will attend this week.

At first glance I hope that #2 seems more spiritual, more godly, more mature. Generally speaking, I agree. But generalizations have exceptions. We should bear in mind that we all have times in our lives where we need to receive rather than give. We need to be served rather than serve. Additionally, at some point almost all of us walked through the doors of a church as guests with a list of questions asking whether this was the right church for us.

We were seekers seeking.

Some of us knew what we seeking. Others found the object of our search only when we stumbled upon it. We were all seeking.

Jesus asked a crowd of people a similar question in Matthew 11:2-15. Jesus’ cousin John has been imprisoned by Herod and sends messengers to Jesus. It seems that John wants confirmation that his ministry and now suffering were for the right reason, that they were worthwhile and that they mattered.

Jesus responds by giving a list of examples from his ministry, such as “the blind can see” that can be connected to messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah such as Is 61:1-3. But then he turns to the crowd and asks this important question:

“Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”  Who were you seeking?

Matthew 3:5 records that, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.” That’s a lot of people going to see and hear John the Baptizer. Now, some years later Jesus asks, “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

He gives some choices: “Was it a reed, blown in the wind, waving this way and that?” “Was it someone in fine linens who’d make your life more comfortable and prosperous?” “Or did you go to see a prophet.”

Jesus knew well that people came to see him for a variety of reasons: Entertainment, financial gain, truth seeking, overthrowing the Romans, or protecting the status quo.

This blog series challenges us to reconsider our motives as we follow Jesus.

  • Do we participate in his kingdom out of obligation or passion?
  • Does our status as adopted children of God seem real to us, or a theoretical concept?
  • Do we worship to please others, or because we love God?
  • Do we desire to participate in expanding the borders of God’s kingdom, or do we like our church the way it is?
  • Do we long to grow our relationship with God, or are we comfortable with our current level of knowledge and commitment?

What are you seeking? Really?

Imagine you had the opportunity to interview Jesus like you might interview the leader of a church you’re considering attending. What would you ask him?

  • Jesus, will my relationship with God be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my relationship with my husband be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my family finally accept me if I follow you?
  • Jesus, how much (or little) money do I need to give you to make you happy?
  • Jesus, will I still get to do the things I really enjoy doing?
  • Jesus, can I keep my friends?
  • Jesus, how much time will I need to give you each week?

Without putting on your holy hat, what would you ask Jesus? What are you seeking… really? Will you take 10 minutes and make your list? When you’ve done that, pray over it. Read it to Jesus and see how the Holy Spirit moves your mind.

Peter Horne moved to the United States from Australia in 1999 to pursue training for ministry. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around the US and Australia, he now gladly serves as the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY. You can find more of his writing on his blog: www.aussiepete.wordpress.com. He also writes to equip multi-ethnic churches at www.culturalmosaic.org.

Hurry Up and Wait…and Pray

Our reading for this week is Luke 24. We read of the resurrection, the road to Emmaus, and some instruction and encouragement Jesus gives to his disciples before his ascension. Let’s focus on the last words Jesus speaks to the disciples as recorded by Luke.

This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. – Luke 24:46-49 NIV

Here we have Luke’s version of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20). Jesus is clearly calling his disciples to preach the “forgiveness of sins…in his name to all nations…” But did you notice something strange? Jesus has this awesome mission, and I would add urgent mission, for these disciples. They have been called to the most important work someone can do: preaching the Gospel to the world. These men and women would bring the Good News of the resurrection to all people. The work they accomplished is the reason you are even reading this article. But did you notice something strange? The greatest mission that anyone was ever called to begins with waiting.

…but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

How often do we do things backwards? How often do you set out to do something powerful and meaningful, but fail to wait on God to equip you for this work? How much time do you spend in prayer preparing for your mission?

The book of 2nd Luke (also known as Acts) tells us that:

“They all [the Eleven] joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers…(a group numbering about a hundred and twenty.) – Acts 1:14-15 NIV

Notice that before this group entered into the work of the Lord, they spent time in prayer and waited until God was ready for them to proceed. Why don’t we take this approach more often? It clearly worked for the disciples! Here’s a few takeaways from this passage:

  1. Because you know of the resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins, you are called to be a witness of this to all nations…that means to everyone you encounter.
  2. By the time of Acts 1, the entire ministry and miracles of Jesus netted 120 disciples. Don’t be discouraged (or overly encouraged) by the size of your congregation. The course of human history was forever changed by the Spirit working through these 120 people.
  3. Before you begin a new ministry, or continue in a current one, bathe the entire process in prayer, and rely on the “power from on high” to power your ministry.