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?

Advertisements

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

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.

Just the Right Time

This week’s reading comes from Luke 23. Amongst the sayings recorded in the Synoptics stands one ominous paragraph that both Matthew and Mark do not record: Luke 23:26-31. Many atheists will argue that occasions like this in Scripture prove that the text can’t be trusted because something as simple as a quote of Jesus is only recorded by Luke and not the others. However, when we explore the historical background of the text, and look for clues in the text and in outside sources, we can be confident in the truth of the Scriptures we have.

Each Gospel author had a specific purpose in their writing, as well as a unique audience to which they wrote. Recognizing these unique qualities of Luke, what reason might he have in including this otherwise unrecorded statement by Jesus from the cross?  To answer this question we will need to examine the statement, its meaning to the original audience, and the context of Luke’s original audience.

Luke’s statement about a large crowd, including women who were weeping, is critical to our understanding of this comment. In fact, Luke indicates that this very group of women is to whom the warning is spoken by the words “…and said to them.”  Jesus is not rebuking these women for mourning His fate, rather He calls for these women to weep for themselves. Jesus is indicating there is something else coming which will cause greater weeping. Jesus’ indication that these women might wish they never had children shows the severity of this warning.  He then follows this statement with a reference to Hosea 10:8, a passage where Israel and Ephraim are facing severe punishment for the sin of idolatry. According to David Hubbard’s commentary on Hosea, the call to the mountains and hills is a suicidal death-wish brought on by the stark reality of the punishment they now face.  Jesus is applying this same sentiment to the situation that would eventually face Jerusalem.

Finally, Jesus concludes this statement with a reference to their actions by comparing them to green and dry trees.  According to Plummer, this statement could be interpreted three different ways:

(1) If the Romans treat Me, whom they admit to be innocent, in this manner, how will they treat those who are rebellious and guilty?

(2) If the Jews deal thus with One who has come to save them, what treatment shall they receive themselves for destroying Him?

(3) If they behave thus before their cup of wickedness is full, what will they commit when it overflows?

It seems very clear in these few verses that Jesus is once again warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, an event He had wept over earlier in the week. Most scholars believe Luke’s Gospel was written just prior to the actual fall of the Jerusalem, and certainly after Mark’s Gospel (see Lk. 1:1-4). It is clear that the Holy Spirit moved Luke to include this specific statement in his Gospel, just as He inspired every word in Scripture. Therefore He equally inspired Mark, Matthew, and John not to include this statement from Jesus.  There was something unique about the time, audience, or intent of Luke’s Gospel that required this admonition from the cross.

Just as you would certainly tell a story differently to your closest friend than to your boss or or a stranger, the Gospel writers each had a different reason, audience, and time they were writing to. The Spirit decided Luke’s original audience would need this passage. How awesome is our God to send just what his people needed at just the right time!

Be Like This Crook. Well, Sort of…

This week’s reading comes from Luke 15-16. This article will focus on one of Jesus’ more difficult parables. In the first fifteen verses of Luke 16 we read about a very backwards and messed up situation.

First, a manager has been embezzling, or at the very least wasting the resources he has been entrusted to manage. His master wants him to give a report of his accounts after he fires him. (16:2)  Knowing he has lost his job, the manager wants to gain favor with people who owe his master money in hopes that he will find a job with them when the dust settles. (16:4) The manager decides to greatly reduce the debt (most likely rent for producing crops on the master’s land) that is owed. In doing this he has gained favor with potential employers, but also reduced his masters income! (16:5-7).

Now after hearing that passage one would assume to hear the master berate the manager and cast him out of the kingdom. But that’s not what happens. Instead, the master commends the manager! (16:8)

Now surely Jesus would tell us that as followers of him we should never act this way. But he doesn’t! Instead he wants his followers to take on at least one characteristic of this crooked manager. In total, Jesus gives us at least four lessons from this passage.

First, we are reminded to be shrewd. Just as the manager saw an opportunity and took it, we as followers of Christ should also take advantage of opportunities we have. (16:8) We often pay more attention to things that don’t matter than we do sharing the Gospel. I like how William Barclay summarized this: “If only people would give as much attention to the things which concern their souls as they do to the things which concern their business, they would be much better human beings. Over and over again people will expend twenty times the amount of time and money and effort on pleasure, on hobbies, gardening or sport as they do on their church. Our Christianity will begin to be real and effective only when we spend as much time and effort on it as we do on our worldly activities.” (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke)

Second, we are taught that we should not hoard wealth, but use it to bless others. (16:9) Helping others, or blessing their lives will bless our friendships and store up eternal rewards.

Third, we must must have integrity. We must be honest at all times, even in the little things. Trustworthiness and integrity not only affect our earthly dealings, but can harm or enhance our witness for Christ. If we are dishonest, who will ever trust what we say about Jesus? (16:11)

And finally, we cannot serve two masters. Focusing on earthly wealth will lead us down the same path as the manger; we will wind up serving our own appetite and fail to serve the master who truly provides. (16:13)

As you go through the rest of your week ask yourself the following question:

Is what I’m doing right now honoring God and building his Kingdom, or am I serving myself and building my kingdom?  

Knowing the difference helps us see our lives as God does. (16:15)