Knowing Jesus: “Pawns of the Powerful” (John 7-10)

Did you ever feel like your life was like a game in which you were more a Pawn than a Rook or a King? We’ve all had those days. We got up and nothing seemed to work for us.

  • Your toaster suddenly decided our toast should be cinder black instead of its usual delicate brown.
  • Your hair dryer decided to take the morning off.
  • Your car didn’t think turning the key was something impressive enough to make it want to start up and go for about forty tries.
  • Everyone ahead of you in traffic was apparently on vacation; everyone behind you had a date with destiny at the nearby race track.
  • The time clock at your job was set fifteen minutes ahead of your watch.
  • The notes for your meeting were all completed and ready for distribution, but laying on your dining room table, right where you accidentally left them.

It isn’t hard to feel sometimes like life is “doing us” rather than the more appealing method of us “living life.” It is clear that in a fallen world, there will be days that things don’t work out. How we see life is largely determined by our attitude.

“Facts are facts,” some will say. “I have had a tough life,” another will chime in. Yet, it may be their life was far easier than others. They just didn’t see it that way. We need to be careful about the standards we use to judge our life. In fact, we need to be careful about the standard of truth we use altogether. Today, our lesson from John 7-10 will remind us of an essential and perhaps startling truth…

Key Principle: How we see Jesus determines our ability to discern the truth.

We will unpack that from the Gospel of John in a few moments…

If you think back before the Christmas Season came, we were pursuing a more careful look at each of the seven miracles of the Gospel of John that showed Jesus’ identity, character and power. So far we saw:

  • Jesus changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11).
  • Jesus healing a child long distance between Cana and Capernaum (John 4:46-54).
  • Jesus restoring the legs of a lame man at the Pools of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-11).
  • Jesus multiplying loaves and fish for a hungry Galilee crowd (John 6:6-13).
  • Jesus shutting down a storm on the Sea of Galilee that brought fear to His disciples (John 6:16-21).

The sixth installment of this series is what I would like to look at today in the story of Jesus…

  • Jesus giving sight to a man born blind at the Siloam Pool in Jerusalem (John 9:1-7).

This is the story of a man who felt himself to be a pawn in life – a man with few options and even fewer friends. At the heart of the story was the solution Jesus offered him. He needed to be able to “see” Jesus for Who He is, so that he could see life for what it is. It is a lesson worth hearing.

Jesus is the lens through which truth is made clear.

A man born blind got his physical sight restored, but he was still blind until he saw the identity of Jesus clearly. It was only then he could truly say he was no longer blind.

Open your Bible to John chapter seven.

The chapter opens a story that doesn’t close until chapter ten, as John recounts the week-long festival in Jerusalem at the Feast of Sukkot (or Tabernacles) one autumn. Because it was one story, let’s take a few moments and refresh in our minds the details of how He got there, and in what setting He found Himself. Let’s set up the context and then look at the main event.

John 7 reminds us that Jesus was well-regarded and had become quite popular in the Galilee region by that time. In John 6, a crowd wanted to proclaim Him to be its king (I’d say His popularity was in an upward curve!). Jesus just fed thousands on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee and they were stunned, excited and full! By John 7, we read of an attempt by the earthly brothers of Jesus to coach Him to go to the feast in Jerusalem to perform public miracles, and get better known. Their reasoning in John 7:

John 7:4 For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For not even His brothers were believing in Him. 

Verse five reminds us there is a stark difference between crowd popularity and real belief.

We can give away $100 bills to all new attenders here at church, but that doesn’t mean they will really believe what we preach. It only means they want the lotto ticket without the cost of purchase.

Jesus didn’t need to do stunts for the boys who weren’t sincere about their belief. Funny as it may seem, they were some of the blind men in the passage.

Consider the fact that a Brazilian farmer, right now as we are seated in this room, may be burning a field and clearing Amazon rain forest land of the last of a plant that would cure cancer… but he doesn’t know that. He is working to build his farm and is blind to the valuable asset right in front of him.

That describes the brothers of Jesus in John 7:5.

Jesus didn’t do what they asked. John 7 reminds:

John 7:6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” Having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee.10 But when His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He Himself also went up, not publicly, but as if, in secret. 

When I read those words, Jesus sounds “down” or “feeling persecuted.” Do you take it that way? We cannot know what He was thinking, but three things are clear:

First, Jesus was not going to allow the ministry timing to be directed by the boys. He reserved the right to know before the Father WHEN He should reveal Himself to the crowds. This was a similar problem to what we saw in the first miracle at Cana, where Jesus was being pressed by His mother to deal with a wine crisis, and He declared, “It isn’t yet my time!”

Second, it is clear Jesus knew when He was revealed, there would be a significant backlash in the world around Him. Some would react with violent negativity He described as “hate.”

Third, Jesus didn’t tell His brothers His whole intent. When they left, He journeyed to Jerusalem. Perhaps He understood their plan to stage a grand theatrical entrance to the city.

Let’s summarize the whole scene this way: Jesus did not seek a review of His plans, nor did He ask for approval of them by those who pressed Him to do so. He still doesn’t. He knows what He intends to do and when He intends to do it, and is fully able to deal with the tension of not pleasing even a follower in the immediate in order to pull off the best plan. It is important that we remember that. Jesus’ first allegiance is to the plan of God, not to our intermediate comfort. He isn’t cruel, and He doesn’t desire you to suffer unduly – but the plan set by His Father has priority over our sense of temporal timing.

Even mature believers can forget this. We begin to think because something makes sense to us, it must be what God truly desires. The problem with such logic is how much it ignores the stunning amount of truth I do not understand and my often ignored inner desire to have immediate relief from trouble at any cost.

If you took the time to read the remaining verses of John chapter seven, you would immediately see that Jesus’ sense that some would grow quickly violent and reactionary was valid. After Jesus arrived quietly in Jerusalem, He began teaching and the Temple leadership immediately sought to shut Him down. They questioned Him directly but found out that was a mistake. He was extremely well-versed in spite of the fact none of them could identify from where He could have learned the Word so well. (There are definite advantages to being the Author of “the Law” when parsing the difficult portions!)

After plotting to seize Jesus because He made them look bad (see John 7:32), Jesus seemed to disappear into the crowd for the week of the feast, re-emerging to offer public teaching on the last day of the feast according to John 7:37. Chapter seven closed with a division in the crowd – some sent to seize Him and most at least seem to like what He said.

In John 8, during that last great day of the feast, Jesus was in the temple courts and the leaders thought of a way to trap Him in a complex situation between the popularity of the crowd and the technical discourse of the text of Scripture. They brought a woman who was caught in the act of committing adultery.

It is notable the men drew her past the outer doors that were normally reserved for those who were ritually cleansed. It is also important that we see through the set up and recognize only the woman was brought to Jesus. The Master saw through the attempt to railroad the woman without proper consideration and testimony of her husband, and with no attempt to see if he was also committing such acts.

Jesus didn’t object to carrying out the law against adultery; the Bible claims He was at Sinai and spoke that Law with His Father. He had no desire to amend or retire the holiness standard of marriage in exchange for some lawlessness people would call “grace.” God’s undeserved favor does not demand God cancel His own rules. Remember, they were revealed to offer long life, security, and propriety – as well as to bond people together in holy matrimony.

Jesus saw the plot and objected to hidden bias and trickery that was being characterized as proper judicial behavior. He understood the play. They wanted Him to take a side and they wanted to paint Him as “for” or “against” something for which they could prove Him wrong before the crowds. It is an old political ploy used often by people who call themselves “leaders” but find their strength, not in character but in the popular polls.

When it became impossible to trap Jesus, the leadership again engaged Him in debate, and chapter eight ended with leaders grabbing stones, ready to kill Jesus, but holding back in recognition the great day of the feast could not be maintained if they acted on their angry emotion.

We have skipped through two chapters, and shoved two violent and angry reactions beneath the surface. That’s important. Leaders were seething but(for the moment) stuck. When John recalled Jesus passing a man born blind, he built the scene above the wave of strong tension.

Now enter the scene for a moment:

John 9:1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

Jesus was walking though the city, when He encountered a blind man, put mud in his eye, and sent him to a public pool to wash it off. That pool has recently been excavated, and was elegant for a public watering place in the time. We don’t know how close to the pool Jesus was when they met, but the initial dialogue wasn’t with the man. It was with His disciples.

They asked a question that showed how deep an impact the Sadducees had made on their thinking and spiritual formation. Sadducees (who ran the temple in Jerusalem) typically believed in no afterlife, and thought all inequity in this life was a sign of judgment. “People are blessed or cursed in the here and now according to their worthiness,” they routinely taught. Since they didn’t believe in afterlife, they reasoned that God needed to settle all things in this life (at least according to their misguided teaching).

Jesus made clear the man’s blindness was not because someone sinned, but because it suited His Father’s plan to use this man’s eyes to point a sign toward Jesus’ identity. As you read the rest of the story that is exactly what happened.

We must remember that we are, like the disciples, wholly unqualified to know why God does what He does when He does it. At least they asked, even if it showed poor theological foundation.

Did you notice that Jesus turned the discussion to the limitation of time? He warned, “A night is coming in which no one can work.” He seemed stuck on the fact that opposition was rising around Him, and after two chapters of ducking angry leaders, you can understand why He felt that way.

Jesus made the point that while He was doing His earth ministry,   He could use His power to make things clear and plain – for that was part of His purpose (in John 9:5-7). To that end, He spit on the ground, made some mud, and put it in the man’s eyes. He told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam, which we hope was not a long distance for the sake of the man. Why send him there?

The term Shiloah is the word “sent” or “caught” and refers to the water of the Gihon Spring being caught in the catching pool south of the canal that carried the water. Jesus sent the man to the place where the waters that made Jerusalem a living city were sent – to separate the man from Him when he was healed, and to make a point about His own sending, His own mission from the Father. The man would get clarity of sight by the power of God, not the clarity of Jerusalem and its water source.

The last part of the story captured the reaction of both the healed man and those who encountered him after his eyes were restored. His neighbors in John 9:8-9 became stirred when they say him walking about able to see. When they determined it was the former blind man they engaged, they asked:

John 9:10 “…“How then were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.”

The rest of the passage recalls how people reacted to the work of Jesus.

The Lord worked to give the man new physical eyes, and that amazed the people around the man born blind. Think of it this way: The One Who made man’s eyes remade this man’s eyes. That puts the act in a different perspective. Physical healing is the peak of God’s work – it isn’t even close to what is most important to Him. People get very excited about this life and its comforts and cares, but forget the larger concern of Jesus is what happens to people after they leave this broken body.

The man could see but was still blind. His neighbors could see, but they were blind as well.

Some people are swayed by an encounter with Jesus’ power to change them; that is all it took.

The man born blind didn’t start following Jesus right away – he didn’t even know where Jesus was at the time! Because of the stir, John 9:13 reveals they brought the man for a review by Pharisaic authorities, a standard practice for people to be declared “well” after sickness, giving them access to public works, etc. The Pharisees asked the man how he was made well in John 9:14-16. The Pharisees then asked:

John 9:17 So they said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.”

His encounter was enough for the man to conclude that Jesus was in touch with God and could access God’s power. The Pharisees pressed the man for a judgment on Jesus. Ironically in the passage, they couldn’t agree (and they ostensibly had the training the man on the hot seat didn’t have)!

John 9 continued:

John 9:24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

The man kept his claims simple and based on what happened to him. That is where we all start in our testimony of God at work in us. It is clear from our reading, this man was both changed and surprised that such a welcome event wasn’t being celebrated by people in charge.

Some people are moved by the evidence; they see a change.

Others discount the evidence, because it doesn’t get them to the conclusion they desire.

I particularly enjoy the few verses in John 9:18-21 that record what happened when the parents of the man were brought in and questioned:

John 9:18 The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, 19 and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” 20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but how he now sees we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.”

What shocks me is how little these who should have cared were moved by the man’s new eyes. They saw what everyone else in the room wanted, and that changed what their own eyes beheld.

Some people are so molded by peer pressure; no evidence  really matters much to the view they hold.

It is clear to me the parents were blinded by fear. John continued:

John 9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. 23 For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

Think about those leaders for a moment. For them, the method of investigation seemed to be: conclusion first, evidence second. We must remember that many are blind because they truly choose to be!

Some people have a vested interest in Jesus NOT being Lord, because that would change their sense of license.

No amount of new testimony will open the ears of one who does not want to hear the truth. Only God can do that. In fact, keep reading…

John 9:26 So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” 28 They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.”

The new seeing man was starting to get snippy with them. This was the best day of his life and they were quibbling over details. Add to that, his mom and dad seemed to love their status in the community more than they stood in truth beside their son. Boy, was he getting his eyes opened!

The leaders tossed out words about how they knew truth in John 9:29 and the man retorted:

John 9:30 “…Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes.”

A changed life is a hard thing to deny, even by learned skeptics.

The man pressed the leaders again about their qualifications in knowing truth:

John 9:31 “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. 32 Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.

To any Jew of the time, being put out of the synagogue seemed like a terrible thing. Yet, if you keep reading, it was outside the place the man really got his spiritual eyes opened. Jesus came and found the man who was “on the street” again. John concluded:

John 9:35 Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” 38 And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.

Now the man could see. He could see the truth about who cared for him and who cared for their reputation. Can you see it?

How we see Jesus determines our ability to discern truth.

Some people will change when they see the light. Sadly, others won’t change until they feel the heat. Jesus’ message urged people to see while the light stood before them.

A blind man saw. His heart changed. His thoughts, his ideas and his desires changed.

To close my Christmas season for 2018, I must return to the story of change I watch each year:

When Dickens finished his work called “A Christmas Carol,” he left us with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a man in desperate need of change. Though rich, the man took pleasure in nothing and seemed wholly indifferent to human suffering.  On that fateful Christmas Eve, Scrooge was visited by a series of ghosts who took him on a journey to see,  perhaps for the first time,  his own character.  They showed him his sins,  his faults and his effect on others. As the last spirit’s bony finger pointed Scrooge toward his own future headstone, Scrooge was commanded to wipe the snow off and read the name carved on it. Weeping and shaking, Scrooge pleaded with this spirit, “Are these the shadows of things that will be… or are they the shadows of things that may be only? Why would you show me this if I was past all hope? His was the human predicament.

That is where we are today if we don’t understand what Jesus has done. We face the grave with our regrets and our shame. The good news is that you need not face it at all. Jesus died so that I don’t have to. Even when my mortal body gives way, it will be swallowed up in the victory of salvation provided by Jesus.

Either the death of the body is the beginning of judgment, or it is the end of it – and the beginning of uninterrupted joy. It all depends on how you see Jesus.

Myth and Memory of the Savior’s Birth

What do we know about Jesus’ birthplace?

With current scholarship in mind, it appears we can say this:

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the fruitful region of Ephrath, in a cave included within (and probably at the rear of) a family three room cave-style home, likely in a home associated with oversight of the birthing of lambs used in Temple sacrifice. The baby was wrapped in cloths most commonly associated with the wrapping of the dead and an apparent protective binding of the Temple lambs commonly born in that area. All of those details were carefully included in the narrative to evoke a richer story for the early Jewish follower of Jesus and provide detail to the fulfillment of prophetic prophecy.

Let’s carefully examine each part of the statement we just made.

We will do so by a process of understanding normal trends of the region in the time, and by examining both text and archaeological evidence.

The Village of Bethlehem

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the fruitful region of Ephrath, in a cave included within (and probably at the rear of) a family three room cave-style home, likely in a home associated with oversight of the birthing of lambs used in Temple sacrifice.

First, let’s consider Bethlehem as the village location and what that reference in the Gospels meant to early Jewish followers of Jesus. The village name is clearly part of Luke 2:4 and meant “house of Bread” (though the name was probably originally derived from a Canaanite unrelated meaning before). It is perfectly reasonable that early followers connected two ideas in the Gospel text: the notation that Jesus was the “Bread of Life” and that He was born in a place called the “house of bread.” Extending the metaphor, the baby was placed in a manger, or feeding trough for animals.

Additionally, we know that some (read: many) shepherds from that village were regularly assigned the task of “keeping watch” over the Temple’s flocks (described below). A key feature of their work included making certain none of these lambs were blemished. To that end, they may have had special training, beyond the normal restrictions found in Baba Kamma 80 a (a Talmudic Aramaic phrase meaning “The First Gate” that refers to the first of three Talmudic tractates in the order Nezikin or “Damages” – an order that dealt with civil damages and torts). Baba Kama 80 offered restrictions on household animals and expressly forbade the keeping of flocks throughout the land of Israel, except in the wilderness regions. The exception: flocks kept for the Temple-services.

It is reasonable to assume that some, if not all the shepherds in Luke’s account were trusted individuals who were specifically trained for a Temple-related task, and may have even been specifically connected to cave homes that acted as birthing centers. The shepherds were probably educated in keeping the animals from hurt, damage or blemish.

Third, Bethlehem was thought to be the place of Messiah’s coming, based on Micah 5:2, but the Hebrew prophet Micah may have indicated a more exacting location when he foretold (Micah 4:8):

And you, O Tower of the Flock (Migdal Eder), the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto you shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem

Scholars debate whether the reference of Migdal Eder – ‘the Tower of the Flock'” referred to a specific tower in the area (not archaeologically identified but widely thought to have existed) or a more common feature of the landscape of the Judean wilderness near to Bethlehem (a common watchtower, the foundations of many of which still exist in the area).

In the story, the shepherds were ostensibly encamped near enough to Bethlehem (in one of the adjacent valley locations) to access the town in a matter of hours (at most). If the tower referred to a specific location, as some believe, it may be it acted as a station where shepherds brought Temple flocks as they were chosen to be transported to Jerusalem, the males for burnt-offerings, and the females as peace-offerings (Mishnah, Shekalim 7:4). Evidence in the narrative for this may exist in the idea of how directly the shepherds found the baby (as though they knew the place the angels indicated). Many scholars, however, believe it is more likely a truncated narrative indicating the baby was located in an area home that was associated with birthing Temple lambs (known to them), where shepherds would have natural access to check on their property among the attendants. If that is true, the words of the angelic messenger, in that case, were a short hand to help the shepherds know where to look for the baby.

It is clear that many lambs of the region were used by the Temple, and many, if not most, shepherds in that area were involved in the specific regimen of supplying the Temple’s needs (and abiding by their restrictions and protections of the animals due for sacrifice). We cannot know if those specific shepherds were, in fact, doing that work. It would not be unlikely but is not clearly stated in the text.

There are some memories, based now largely on modern Samaritan practices near Gerizim, that in the lambing season the sheep may have been brought to a specific watchtower location and a lower level of that tower (built on a natural cave) functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Samaritans maintain controls in the birthing as Temple priest may have done in Bethlehem. The matter is speculative, and though it could conceivably have been part of the events of Luke 2, it is worth noting the shepherds appear to have been outside Bethlehem and came INTO the village to find the baby.

William Thomson, a Presbyterian missionary to the region, wrote in 1857:

It is my impression that the birth actually took place in an ordinary house of some common peasant, and that the baby was laid in one of the mangers, such as are still found in the dwellings of farmers in this region.

Clearly, Bethlehem is a village associated with the care of Temple lambs. Here are some other important details about the flocks destined for the Temple, showing the scope and normality of that work in the region at the time:

• The twice-daily male lamb offering (known as the tamiyd (meaning continual from Numbers 28:3) was to be tamiym (“without blemish”). Gospel students will recall the fact that the tamiyd was sacrificed the third hour every morning, and Mark’s Gospel recalled that was the same time Jesus was Crucified (Mark 15:25, Mishnah: Tamid 3:7). Further, Mark 15:33 marked the ninth hour as the time of the last sayings of the Savior, and the giving up of His Spirit at the time associated with the second of the tamiyd lambs.

• Male lambs born in the Bethlehem area, were most often used exclusively in the Temple, as this was the best and most steady commercial outlet to satisfy the needs of the Temple. Many, if not most of the new flock were routinely set-aside to be the TAMIL, i.e. the morning sacrifices which began each day. Lambs could also be used for burnt offerings (Oleh dedicatory offerings). Female lambs were more often chosen for use in peace offerings (Shelmim). In short, the hills around Bethlehem were home to the hundreds of lambs used in ritual worship in the Temple.

• The number of lambs needed each year depended upon the length of that year. The Hebrew calendar has regular length years (kesidrah), shorter years (cheserah or a deficient year with 353/383 days) or longer years (shlemahor complete year with 355/385 days). Sacrificial lamb numbers ranged, then, between 706 to 770 sacrificial lambs per year plus addditional lambs needed for Passover (Pesach ) and various elective offerings (Shelmim,etc).

Clearly the most common usage for these lambs born in Bethlehem was this: they were destined to become sacrificial lambs. That isn’t any more a stretch that referring to Detroit as a “car city” or Pittsburgh as a “steel city.” The reference likely evoked imagery of Temple lambs to many early Jewish followers of Jesus (though we cannot know for sure what they thought). In fact, the Mishnaic memory recalls:

An animal that was found between Jerusalem and Migdal Eder, or a similar distance in any direction, the males are [considered] burnt offerings. The females are [considered] peace offerings. Rabbi Yehuda says, those which are fitting as a Pesach offering are [considered] Pesach offerings if it is thirty days before the festival.” (Shekalim 7:4; from Sefaria online trans.)

Some students of the Word take special note of the definite article before “manger” in the text, and understand that to mean this was a birthing place the men already knew.

The Cave Birth (and Kataluma)

There are some who insert in the story of the birth the idea that there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the local caravansary, and surmise the parents of Jesus were allowed to occupy one of the attended birthing caves in the hillside. That doesn’t seem likely, since the shepherds were directed to the village to find the child, and it doesn’t seem to take into account the literal wording of the text. Luke recorded:

Luke 2:7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The phrase “no room in the inn” gave rise to the idea the couple was “stuck” in an animal stable as a last resort to give birth , but that is a merely implied in the English reading. The Greek term for “inn” (Luke 2:7) is kataluma, normally translated “guest chamber” and used also in Luke 22:11. It was a term that could be used in its time for a hall, as in a place refitted for occasion. Luke used pandokheion when he desired to designate a commercial inn (cf. Lk 10:36). Conversely, the other use of kataluma in the Gospels is in Luke 22:11 (and its parallel in Mark 14:14) where it clearly does not mean an inn.

As such, consistent with the three-room cave style homes found in Tibe/Ophrah in Ephraim, Nazareth in the Galilee and Bethlehem in Judea (areas with significant chalk geological intrusion) we find remains of caves used as stables in the cold time of year, center rooms used as storage or work space that could be given as a “kataluma” in the time of guests, and a front room for living space. Luke made clear there was “no room in the kataluma” which was a makeshift guest space in the family home Joseph.

Some Bible teachers reason that Torah restriction for impurity offer evidence the child was born in a place away from a family home, based on the Levitical laws (Leviticus 12 and 15). They reason that when a woman was ritually unclean (as in childbirth), she had to live apart from her family so as not to defile the household. They offer in evidence the careful observance of Mary of the timing of her Temple visit. After the cessation of blood and required time of waiting, a woman and her child would perform the necessary rituals of purification to be ceremonially clean and return to the household with the rest of the family. Though this was true during the sojourn in the wilderness, there is little to validate that practice in the period of the First and Second Temples for villagers. We simply don’t know how this was regulation specifically observed. It may have ranged in observance from separation of sleeping areas by a curtain to a separate lodging. It is not certain that Mary would have felt the need to be outside the house, and the text seems to indicate that she was in the family home, but in the cave at the rear recesses of the home.

There is another important historical evidence some scholars use to signal the birth of Jesus was outside the family home, outside the village, and perhaps at a cave near a specific tower. Origen wrote it was generally accepted in his day that the Nativity took place in a cave at Bethlehem which could be visited in his time (cp. Origen of Alexandra,”Contra Celsum”, book I, chapter LI).

Justin Martyr claimed Jesus was born in a cave outside the city of Bethlehem. The statement reads:

But when the child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi came from Arabia and found Him. I have repeated to you…what Isaiah foretold about the sign which foreshadowed the Cave.

(From: Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, LXXIX. Cf. The Writings of Justin Martyr and Athenagoras, trans. by M. Dodds, G. Reith and B.P. Pratten (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1868), pp. 195–196). It is also notable the Protoevangelium of Jacob similarly suggests the birth of Jesus was outside the village in a cave. Sources of that period echo each other.

The issue with these sources is the many historical details that Justin Martyr and others of his time added to the story for the purposes of showing Jesus to have fulfilled prophecy. They seem excellent sources for early thinking about the Gospel and sharing it, but not great sources for detailed historical analysis of the original events.

If the shepherds knew of this home in particular (as had been suggested), it would likely have been because Joseph’s family was involved in the network of places used to birth lambs for the Temple, though this is mere conjecture. It is not unreasonable or even unlikely, but nowhere close to certain.

The Swaddling Wrapping

The baby was wrapped in cloths most commonly associated with the wrapping of the dead and an apparent protective binding of the Temple lambs commonly born in that area.

There are a number of possibilities of how we should understand the reference to the “swaddling cloth” put on Jesus. The Greek verb tense of Luke 2:12 should be translated “having been swaddled”.

First, we should understand that historical memory includes the fact that babies were wrapped after birth in various ways in the Biblical period. In a passage about God’s inordinate grace to Israel, we read about God’s care of the nation:

Ezekiel 16:4 As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. 5 No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.

While it is true the prophet Ezekiel wasn’t offering intentional detail on wrapping infants, he does show it was a known practice that demonstrated (along with salting the newborn) at least minimal care. Notably, Job offered a side reference to the same practice in Job 38:8-9 as God disputed with Job about how things were created:

Job 38:8 Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; 9 When I made a cloud its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band

It appears in both Ezekiel and Job, the reference was toward a common image of nurture and care after a child is born. The real issue is whether the cloth referred to in the narrative of the birth of Jesus denotes something more. Why would the swaddling clothes be something more? Textually, this action was taken, according to the angel of the Lord, to be a sign to the shepherds. Does that suggest it was something unusual in its time or place? If it does, perhaps we need to look further at other possible explanations.

Beyond the Job and Ezekiel references for child care, it is easily attested that such wrappings were widely used for the bodies of the dead. These were wrapped or covered, and often cloth was kept in a family home to be prepared for such an eventuality. Some cite this as a cloth wrapped on one’s person during a long journey, to aid in case of injury or wrap in case of death. This is oft repeated, but without any obvious source. It isn’t beyond the norm that one would use the allegory of “coming to die” for the baby in the manger, and this may explain some of the use in the text. Yet, how would that make sense to the shepherds to whom the symbol was given.

A third possibility should be mentioned, because there is a reference in the (Apocryphal) Wisdom of Solomon 7:3-6 that may relate the identification of this cloth to the royal line of David. Traditionally the words of Solomon said:

7:3 And when I was born, I drew in the common air, and fell upon the earth, which is of like nature, and the first voice which I uttered was crying, as all others do. 7:4 I was nursed in swaddling clothes, and that with cares. 7:5 For there is no king that had any other beginning of birth. 7:6 For all men have one entrance into life, and the like going out.

The text argued as though the wrapping cloth was symbolically related to the fact that he was of a kingly line. It is at least plausible the comment of this cloth related to the “son of David” designation, but it doesn’t seem obvious in the narrative, unless the shepherds knew something we cannot discern in our reading.

Some promising notes can be found in a fourth suggestion of the use of swaddling “cloths.” This use involved a reported use in subduing animals at sacrifice, where strips of gauze-like cloth were used to restrain a lamb being prepared for inspection before sacrifice to prevent thrashing that they not “blemish” themselves. Mishnaic sources offer evidence for this, found in the terms of sacrifice as something that had to be “bound” (Hebrew `aqad) in order to be valid. The grammatical term for “binding” an animal for sacrifice is the Hebrew akeida and was specifically mentioned in Abraham’s “binding” of Isaac in Genesis 22. Some suggest such a binding of baby lambs set for sacrifice may have been intended to halt thrashing that could cause blemish or injury in their first couple of hours of their lives. We simply don’t know if that practice was routine or widespread.

The benefit of this last suggestion could be more simply explained if we link the shepherds to Temple duties. If it was true the shepherds were trained to deal with the specialized needs of Temple lambs, and if the practice of binding extended back from the time of the Mishnaic memory to their time and place, the wrapping could have been significant. Surely, later Gospel allusions would be made that Jesus was our sacrificial Lamb, and John the Baptist later announced.

Here is what the preponderance of evidence suggests:

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the fruitful region of Ephrath, in a cave included within (and probably at the rear of) a family three room cave-style home, likely in a home associated with oversight of the birthing of lambs used in Temple sacrifice. The baby was wrapped in cloths most commonly associated with the wrapping of the dead and an apparent protective binding of the Temple lambs commonly born in that area. All of those details were carefully included in the narrative to evoke a richer story for the early Jewish follower of Jesus and provide detail to the fulfillment of prophetic prophecy.

What Jesus DID: “The Seven Works of Jesus” (Part IV) – John 6:1-15

Overlooking Jesus

If you have been paying close attention to the habits of people in our time, you know that most of us spend much more time conversing electronically than we do face to face. Whether you are from the generation that sits in front of the news and commentary shows on the TV, or you have learned the skill of not walking into poles while reading your phone and traversing the street, you know we are growing to expect our human contact to come primary through machines, and not directly with humans at all. In her book, “Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from one another,” Sherry Turkle offered some compelling and astute observations about modern life in “first world” settings. She wrote (p.279):

In the fall of 1978, Michael Dertouzos, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science, held a two-day retreat at MIT’s Endicott House on the future of personal computers, at the time widely called “home computers.” It was clear that “everyday people” …would soon be able to have their own computers…But what could people DO with them? …Some of the most brilliant computer scientists in the world…were asked to brainstorm on the question…tax preparation…teaching children to program…a calendar….games [all were mentioned].

She continued: “Now we know that once computers connected us to each other, once we became tethered to the network, we didn’t need to keep computers busy. They keep US busy. It is as though we have become the killer app…”We don’t do our emails; our email does US. We talk about spending hours on email, but we, too, are being spent.

For my students, I think that isn’t really true. The next generation doesn’t spend their time on email as my generation does. At the same time, the computer (or shall I say “cell phone” – which seems to be everything BUT an actual phone) has replaced much social conversation. Many of us complain that the simplicity of spending time together has been overtaken by a wave of unending, but commonly accepted interruptions. Anyone who knows me well, knows I HATE cell phones, because I prize uninterrupted conversation, and undisrupted time thinking. I cannot multitask, and being forced to try is honestly one of the things I find most annoying in modern life. Let’s soberly evaluate for a moment:

We live with changed expectations of social etiquette: We don’t pull up in a “drive through” and expect a greeting from the server – because he or she is busy speaking to the person behind us who is just giving their order. We will get a hand out for the money, and a bag for the food – often with little or no human interaction apart from the almost indiscernible voice from the loud speaker when we ordered. If we don’t get the proper order, WE feel like we are blocking up the assembly line of food orders. The customer is often made to feel now they have become the servant of the food server.

We create limits on communication with controls: Many prefer TEXTING over talking on the phone. If you ask them, they may not consciously understand why. For most, I dare say, they prefer to control the length and depth of the conversation – and avoid the time saving greetings and “niceties.” We can ask what we want, and get what we need – no extras. It serves the budget conscious communicator.

We seem bored with whatever we do, like we are missing something: Did you ever sit with someone who shouldn’t have a remote control in his hand, because he can’t stop looking for something better to watch? Sitting at the airport you will notice people contacting others via computer, but often they are checking email or Facebook in the background while “conversing.”
• We learn how to build an image that isn’t whole: We construct avatars and selective profiles, and many wrestle with how to “say enough to be included in the conversation and judged an interesting person.” Many who respond aren’t the people we were intentionally addressing.

We routinely give away privacy in favor of convenience: We have accepted that everything we watch, buy or show interest in can and is tracked – because we see the value of the convenience – even if the ads are numerous and distracting. At least they are tailored to our interests!

We live with a false sense of urgency and importance: Vacations have become a change of location, because our instant connection goes with us. Technology speeds up expectations in our boss and our co-workers. Clients expect faster response time, and it is hard to maintain a true sense of what really matters – over what seems urgent right now.

We set aside the need to plan well: We rush off to the grocery store, and then call our spouse to get an accurate list of what we went there to grab. Fewer and fewer people walk through a grocery store without a cell phone at their ear or the “ding” of a cell message.

The outcome of this lifestyle is that we are losing the ability to talk uninterrupted to the people in front of us, and always feel the need to be in touch with someone who may want to reach out to us. It is as though we favor the possible over the actual – the distant over the present.

In an effort to be more efficient and more productive, we may have lost something in the quality of daily life.

We search for what we want, and we don’t seem to be getting it in what we have. The unending blaring light of technology has fed constant adrenaline as a reaction to immediate boredom. We KNOW life isn’t supposed to run non-stop, but many of us feel “out of the loop” if it doesn’t.

We have become the most technologically advanced AND the most exhausted and easily bored generation of human beings ever on the planet.

I think that may affect believers who have been “fully marinated in American juices” when they attempt to meaningfully stop for an hour on Sunday morning at church and worship. We explore the Word and we seek truth, but some are fighting the urge to stay off their phone right now.

We feel the guilt of being bored with a time to reflect, pray and hopefully even think deeply about our lives and our Savior.

The tendency of our lifestyle leads even worship leaders to CRAM church meetings with sound, thought and challenge. We struggle to find new ways to keep people engaged. Constant hunger for connection has left a stress fracture. Constant stimulation has made us hunger for more constant stimulation. Technology is the new sugar.

Here is the heart of our problem – we were designed for CONSTANT CONNECTION – but not to our fellow man. We were designed to get the depth of fulfillment from our Creator.

His network is ALWAYS ON. In short, what we NEED isn’t what we think we WANT, and what we WANT isn’t what will WORK. We think we want ACTION and CONNECTION to EACH OTHER to feel important and affirmed… but that WILL NEVER SATISFY. Our problem isn’t material, social or moral. At its root, our problem is willingly walking separate from God.
Look at the beginning of John 6 and watch Jesus train His first followers in this powerful lesson…

Key Principle: Believers aren’t called to solve problems for Jesus, but to invite Jesus to become their solution.

The Background (6:1-3)

The passage begins…

John 6:1 After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). 2 A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples.

Pay attention to the fact that Jesus LED the disciples to the place where a problem uncovered issues within them. They were in the place east of the Jordan River’s entrance, north of the Sea of Galilee, where no “kosher deli’s” could be found. The nearest cities were the Gentile holds of Julias and Gergesa – neither of which Jesus would ever visit. People there ate ham sandwiches and didn’t like Jews much. The bottom line is that Jesus took His followers to a place that was uncomfortable, and didn’t seem to have all they would need. Jesus knew what they needed, but they didn’t know, and this place would make evident the problem.

They needed to trust His power and sufficiency, especially in areas where they normally felt perfectly capable and sufficient. Inviting Jesus into what we think we have mastered and become “good at” is a necessary part of daily inviting the Savior to lead us.

Notice when the boys followed Jesus, they looked back and saw a big crowd coming after them. I don’t know what the men felt, but I will bet some of their hearts dropped a bit when the “private time with the Master” became another service for which they had to usher people, print bulletins and set mics up. Even those who love to serve get wrung out. Yet, I have found the times when Jesus speaks loudest to me are often when I am worn to the bone. It is often our weakness that summons the Savior’s strength!

The Set Up (6:4-9)

Go back to the story…

John 6:4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?”

Don’t gloss past verse four. If you were Jewish, you would know bread was on the minds of the people as Pesach (or Passover) approached. This is the time of removing “chametz” or yeast, leaven or dust bunnies from every part of one’s house. On the street in Jerusalem today, when Passover arises, people burn little piles of dust outside their house to mark the “spring cleaning” in preparation for Passover.

Exodus commanded:

Exodus 12:15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.

Even today observant Jews spend nearly a month cleaning out their houses after Purim in Preparation for Pesach. They clean every room in the house and get ready to remove all chametz from the place. That was the time of this story. People were thinking about bread, for the time of matzah was drawing near.

Back to the text…

John 6:6 This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.

This is a great verse, because it is an important reminder of how God works in us. If you go back to the very first test God ever gave man, it was in the Garden of Eden before sin came. It was even before Eve was created. The text of the story revealed that God KNEW man was alone, so He commanded him to name all the animals. Man concluded that he was alone AFTER the work God gave him. God’s command was also God’s test of Adam. Isn’t that often the case? The command offers us an opportunity to learn, not JUST in disobedience, but even in obedience.

Adam obeyed and God got his attention, gave him holy anesthesia, knocked him out and took out some bone to give him a companion called woman, because she was taken from man. God didn’t need Adam to name the animals or to take a test to know what he needed. All of God’s tests are designed to teach US; He never learns anything from the results.

Sometimes LACK is the device God gives us to test us, so He can fulfill that sense for us. Sometimes God has to make us hungry through a test so that we eat well from the provisions of His table! Listen in on the conversation as the boys answered:

John 6:7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”

The test was to see if the disciples could grasp that with Jesus, every need could be met. The bread wasn’t really lacking if the Savior’s power was present.

This is the sadness of living in a world of relative values presented by the teachers of “situational ethics.” They ask, “Is the man really wrong for stealing if he and his family are starving?” The problem with implying that wrong isn’t wrong in these circumstances is it leaves out the power of God! Ask George Mueller who prayed when his orphans were hungry, only to discover the bread truck that broke down outside and offered them plenty to eat.

The answer of the godless is to re-write the rules out of what seems like compassion but ends up licensing sin and normalizing wrong. It posits “an aloof” God that isn’t the One True Creator. It reduces the options to the ones WE can pull off. That is what is at the heart of the lesson for the disciples.

Philip saw the limited resources (purse) of the disciples and concluded it was not possible. Andrew saw the limited resources (lunch box) of the crowd and concluded it was not possible. Neither disciple factored in the power and presence of Jesus to fulfill the needs.

Jesus’ question included HIMSELF. He said, “Where are WE to buy bread?” It is incredibly easy for the disciples to set aside Jesus and NOT include Him – and we still do it all the time. Jesus cooperates with His disciples, but never leaves them fully responsible to care for needs without Him.

What the people needed wasn’t to eat bread to live, but to embrace the very “Bread of Life” and watch Him work!

The answer to their problem wasn’t in a lunch box, it was standing in a tunic beside them. HE was the answer. Yet, it was the tendency of the disciples to LEAVE HIM OUT, not His desire to be excluded. Without Him we can do nothing; through Him we can do all things.

The Example (6:10-15)

Watch Jesus make the lesson plain…

John 6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. 12 When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.

The first thing Jesus told the disciples was not to walk away and watch, but to participate with Him and organize the people to receive from Him. God loves working through us and with us. He could do it Himself, but relationship is at the heart of God (and participation is the key to relationship). He wants US to want HIM to work in and through us. Frankly, anyone who works in a church today will tell you a lot of rewarding ministry is just organizing the people and watching Jesus work through and around us.

Next, Jesus took the loaves the crowd gave to Him, and multiplied it to care for the need. I am certain He expanded the loaves as they were broken, but the first of what He used is what they handed Him. He started the miraculous with that which was willingly offered and humbly submitted for His use. Everyone who ministers in Jesus’ name knows what that is. We aren’t superstars for Jesus – we are carriers of God’s broken loaves of provision to those in need. We bring what was touched by our powerful Master’s hand. If someone said, “Thank you!” to Andrew as he passed them food, he probably felt like an idiot, since he knew the food came from Jesus – not him.

Jesus needed no plan from His disciples to do the Father’s work – only submission to His direction. When they DID exactly what He asked, He took what they had and made it more than they ever could!

Did you notice that Jesus gave sufficient to fill all that were gathered there? Even more, did you see that He even gave enough to care for the needs of the disciples! When they finished passing the baskets, Jesus made sure they got what they needed as well.

Yet, the Master wasn’t done. He taught His disciples through the reaction of the crowd in front of them – for the problem provided an opportunity to learn something!

John 6:14 Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Jesus wasn’t unaware the people really didn’t grasp Who stood before them. Later in the passage He said of the crowd:

John 6:26 … Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.

At the same time, John included this work of Jesus because it really helped underscore a lesson the earliest Jesus followers learned… The problem wasn’t a material lack – it was a spiritual one. It wasn’t BREAD; it was TRUST.

Sometimes we think our problem is a STUFF problem (don’t have enough, don’t have the right stuff). Sometimes we think our problem is a connection problem (we feel isolated and long for connection and affirmation).

Our real problem isn’t material, social or moral. At its root, our problem is to intentionally, willingly, openly invite Jesus to walk with us to solve life’s confounding issues.

The separation anxiety many believers feel is from God. It is easily masked by other symptoms, but that is the root. We aren’t called to solve problems for Jesus, but to invite Jesus to be the solution. It is our walk with Him that gets too little attention.

When Benjamin Franklin wished to interest the people of Philadelphia in street lighting, he didn’t try to persuade them by talking about it—instead, he hung a beautiful lantern on a long bracket before his own door. Then he kept the glass brightly polished, and carefully hung it at the approach of dusk. People wandering about on the dark street saw Franklin’s light a long way off and came under the influence of its friendly glow with grateful hearts. To each one it seemed to say, “Come along, my friend! Here is a safe place to walk. See that cobblestone sticking out? Don’t stumble over it! I shall be here to help you again tomorrow night, if you should come this way.” It wasn’t long before Franklin’s neighbors began placing lights in brackets before their homes and soon the entire city awoke to the value of street lighting and took up the matter with interest and enthusiasm. Example is always a strong motivation for doing the right thing in life. (Pastor Steven Sheppard,

If you want people to trust Jesus as their Savior, perhaps hanging a lamp of your own trust is the best place to start.

What Jesus DID (Part III): “Growing People of Faith” – John 5

In my middle and high school years, our family used to leave our little town in south Jersey for much of the summer, and head down to Cape May, New Jersey, at the very bottom of the state. We had a camper, some tents and a large screen room (our Smith dining hall) where we would camp out for a couple months at a time. I have many good memories of that time, including the smell of burned sneakers placed too close to the campfire to dry, the hours spent out on the sand dunes near our campsite, and friends I made in those years. For a job, I worked some of that time at a farm near Higbee Beach baling hay and cleaning horse stalls. That is as close to farming as I have ever come.

When I recount my days, over the fifty-seven years of my life, I haven’t spent much time actually growing plants. I don’t cultivate, plant, water and harvest much of anything now, because much of my life has been centered on “city living.” I travel extensively as part of the ministry entrusted to me and that isn’t ideal for keeping a garden.

Yet, I have learned a few things about growing people, and some of those critical lessons have come from the text of today’s lesson in John 5. Today we want to see Jesus heal a man, and then watch how tempting it was for that man to become religious while losing faith.

Today we will learn…

Key Principle: Jesus called His followers to be people of FAITH not people of RELIGION.

That may sound strange, but it happens all the time. What begins with a move of God in the heart can quickly get covered in the ice of rules and regulations and become a religious exercise – with little heart remaining in the mix.

To look forward properly, let’s set the text in the series we have been studying. We are following “What Jesus DID” by looking at the collection the Apostle John put together and sent to the churches of the first century. When he wrote the Gospel, he was a pastor of a local congregation that was sourced from two different kinds of people. Some of the congregation came from the sons of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. They were Jews that had committed to follow Jesus. They didn’t leave Judaism; they found completion in Jesus as the promised Messiah.

The other part of the congregation came from what I term the “pig eating pagan” crowd of Gentiles. They heard the message of Jesus and decided to follow Him as their Savior, but knew much less about the promises God gave to the Jewish people generations before. They learned of these things after the came to Jesus.

Jews looked for the actions of a man to determine his real belief. Gentiles, influenced by Greek teachings, listened more carefully to self-claims of a public teacher to frame his belief system. In short, Jews cared more about what someone DID, while Gentiles hungered to know what self-claims they made in what they SAID.

John collected seven “I Am” statements of Jesus and paired them with seven “I Do” works, so that everybody in his congregation would be able to identify the truth about Who Jesus is, and why they should follow Him.

In the first two lessons of this series on what Jesus DID, we have observed these principles:

• In the story of the water into wine at Cana (found in John 2), we saw that Jesus transforms what is yielded to Him for His use.

• In the long distance healing story (found at the end of John 4), we saw that Jesus expects our firm trust in His Word.

In the third lesson of the seven works in John’s Gospel, the writer selected a tender moment between Jesus and a hurting and lonely lame man.

The book, up to that point, seemed to feature many “face to face” encounters or even interviews with Jesus. These included:

• A dialogue between Jesus and His cousin John about His identity (John 1);

• An exchange between Jesus and His mother during a crisis (John 2);

• A theological interview of Jesus by Nicodemus the Pharisee (John 3);

• An engaging conversation between Jesus and the “Woman at the Well” in Samaria (John 4).

The “face to face conversation” of John 5, then, wasn’t out of keeping with the book, but became like its connective tissue: one of the series of personal interviews with the Savior recorded to expose His true identity.

At the same time, the story in John 5 is unique among these personal encounters in its moral or lesson. This account vividly illustrated how some people seem to love the rules and want to make everyone around them do them, but don’t really seem to care as much about the people for whom the rules were made. They don’t appear to care as much about intimacy with God as they appear to desire controlling the actions of men. In short, they seem to be great at religion and lousy at faith. It is also a cautionary tale to warn us not to become what they were. Remember:

• Faith is about seeing things as God says they are, and becoming what you know God made you to be.

• Religion is about making people conform to what you believe they ought to be.

Faith has rules, but they are based on true caring. At their core, religious impulses are based on the control of another’s behavior.

Our text will push us to ask, “Which one are we trying to build? Will people around us be able to tell?”

Don’t forget: Jesus called His followers to be people of FAITH not RELIGION. People of faith love struggling people and want to walk daily and deeply with God. Let’s look at the story:

It opened with notes about “The Setting” (John 5:1-7).

John 5:1 After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. 3 In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] 5 A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” 7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Look closely at the detail and you will see three setting points:

• First, John set the scene at the point in time (John 5:1). The event appeared to be after some initial outreaches among the Samaritans (John 4) and the Galilee “long distance healing” (John 4:46ff) – if the events were intended to be in order. At that time, Jesus headed with some followers to Jerusalem. The feast was not specified, but is likely either Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot) or Tabernacles (Sukkot) as attendance was required for observant Jews in Deuteronomy 16:16.

• Second, John supplied the place in Jerusalem for the event (John 5:2-4). North of the Temple Mount where the ridge sets higher on the former property of the Zatha family, there was a pool cut into the solid rock of the mountain several hundred years before this story. The water entered by both the surface and some submerged vents that periodically caused the stirring of the water. The “probatic” pools were beside a well-established sheep market, and for a time the area was apparently dominated by a pagan Greek shrine from which the healings were reported in a superstitious way. Many Jews were part of Greek speaking communities, and some adopted strange practices as part of their eclectic experience of living among pagans. Some of these even made their way to Jerusalem.

• Third, to color in the whole event, John focused on a particular man who became the participant in the work of Jesus there (John 5:5-7).

He included three truths about the man Jesus encountered:

• The man was sick for a long time (5:5). The man appeared to be ill with a long term effect of suffering the inability to walk (the word for his ailment was as-then’-i-ah: a feebleness of mind or body). According to Jesus’ conversation with the man after his healing, the illness was because of some sin in his life that the man was fully aware of (So Jesus told him in John 5:14: “sin no more” using the term may-ket’-ee: no further — any longer).

• The man was quiet – not begging (John 5:6).

• The man was largely un-noticed by others around him, and felt alone, lonely and despairing (John 5:7). Crowds surrounded him, but few ever saw or acknowledged him.

The notes about the setting gave way to the record of the Miracle (John 5:8-9a).

John recorded:

John 5:8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” 9 Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk

Notice how Jesus spoke to the man. Here the hold of the physical need was broken (John 5:8-9).

• Jesus didn’t promise to lower the man down a rope into the pool when an angel stirred the water.
• Jesus didn’t give him someone to help him.
• Jesus called the man to take responsibility for his own life, and follow Jesus. He didn’t get attached to another. His allegiance was to Jesus and His Word alone.

Clearly the man expressed he had NO ONE, but was able to obey Jesus ON HIS OWN.

The sin that bound the man had crushed his life and left him alone and broken (cp. John 5:14). The man knew what caused the problem – we don’t need to know. When Jesus encountered the man, He asked the man if he was ready to surrender yet. When the man cried, “I will, but I need help!” Jesus offered the only thing he needed to be helped – the Word of Jesus. The man added obedience and the deal was complete (John 5:9).

After the Setting and the Miracle, John noted the Problem (John 5:9b-16):

John 5:9b …Now it was the Sabbath on that day. 10 So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” 11 But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’?” 13 But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.

The man followed the Word of Jesus, but that word was not the common idea of the day. Their understanding of Sabbath-keeping was that of the popular rabbis of the day, not from the text of the Law.

Here is the remarkable thing: People who had tripped across the man for thirty-eight years, not offering to assist him when he needed help, suddenly became interested in him when he didn’t do what they thought he was supposed to do.

That was a display of the worst of religion at work.

Remember John 5:14 made clear the lame man got that way because of some willful sin in his life.

John 5:14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

According to the text, the disturbed people who complained of his apparent Sabbath violations were not just religious leaders… they were people nearby. His sin didn’t get addressed before his illness. Help and assistance didn’t come IN his illness. That makes me wonder…

How many sexually confused young men will grow up in our churches and no man will ever take them under their wing and teach them to be a man of God until one day when in confusion they declare themselves gay?

I wonder why it is that many a young woman seeks desperate approval by allowing men to misuse her body that God loaned her, as she cries out for love, and few seem to say a word until she is pregnant and alone. The words they say then are more often condemnations than extensions of grace.

We have a lot to say when someone sins. Even believers are tempted to light up the phone line when moral failure is apparent, but what about when their insecurities are displayed before…

Do we take the time? Do we even know the names of people who are demonstrating deep insecurities and needs BEFORE their public humiliation?

Let’s remember these people thought they knew what God wanted, but misjudged God’s heart for the man who was sprawled out on the porch in front of them.

If you look carefully, you will see the man wasn’t told to break the Sabbath according to the standard of the Torah (the Law of Moses).

Genesis 1:1-2:3 offered the “story of the seven days and the Sabbath.” In 2:2-3 God stopped his creative labors, but He continued to maintain the life of the creation He built. Planets still were spun, solar systems still turned. God wasn’t creating anymore, but He wasn’t completely passive either.

Later, in Exodus 20:8-11, God told the people not to work in a way that would add to their wealth and comfort. What the people were referring to is specifically in Jeremiah 17:21ff. The people at the time of Jeremiah reasoned that they could carry burdens and make deliveries on the Sabbath as long as they weren’t actually working. They were skirting intimacy with God, trying to “pull a fast one on God.” The first twenty verses of the chapter dealt with the issue of deceit, and that is exactly why God addressed it through Jeremiah.

This man wasn’t violating the Sabbath. He was removing an obstacle in order to make the path safe, and then heading to the temple to worship and be declared clean! (John 5:13-14).

Only after the man encountered Jesus again did he become aware of the One Who healed him, and readied himself to share that with others (John 5:15-16). All attention left the man as the leaders went after Jesus. The man became INVISIBLE once AGAIN. Why? They weren’t asking him about the healing out of wonder or fascination – but out of a desire to CONTROL the actions of people.

Even those of us who have walked for a long time with God must face the fact that we may deeply desire to control the behavior of others. It is the religious spirit at work.

Some believe that the ethical commands of the Bible are license to do become the judge of everyone around them. Do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that all rules are bad things. I am saying that God shared His ethical and moral standards that we would always speak of them with the deep desire to help the one we direct them toward (“speaking the truth in love” – Eph. 4:15, though there the original context appears to be believers who need instruction).

In contrast to these men, Jesus addressed what PEOPLE OF FAITH must recognize:

The remaining section contains several lessons about being people of faith (John 5:17-47).

If you take the time to read the remaining part of what John recalled from Jesus’s words that day, you will see several important truths about being a people of faith – and not a people dominated with a religious spirit.

Go to John 5:17 and 18. It is clear that people of faith understand the unique place of Jesus. Jesus, who is Lord of the Sabbath, claimed that He had the right to make the man carry his things, since God ALWAYS WORKED on Sabbath (5:17-18). This was an overt claim not missed by those who heard it! The Bible repeatedly made the overt and specific claim that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who was the agent of Creation (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3ff) and had specific conversation with His Father about coming to earth prior to His arrival (Philippians 2). He wasn’t presented simply as a Prophet or Healer, but rather as God in human skin.

Remember, that is the fallacy of “What would Jesus do?” You and I aren’t called to do what Jesus did, but rather what Jesus instructed US to do.

The text also reminds us that people of faith follow God’s Word closely, and must always be careful not to equate their preferences and deductions as equal to GOD’S STANDARD. They thought He was “breaking the Sabbath” while Jesus made clear He was following God, not fighting God’s standards. That is the point of John 5:19.

People of faith understand that direction comes through intimate connection with God. Out of love God showed Jesus what He wanted Him to accomplish, and promised even greater demonstrations (5:20). Jesus spent time with the Father and taught His disciples to spend time with Him in prayer.

A relationship of following edicts is not intimate; it is sterile.

Drop down a few verses as we close…Jesus said,

John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

People of Faith are convinced there is only one path to walk upon. They aren’t “Plan A” and “Plan B” spiritual journeys; there aren’t “many roads leading to Heaven.” They understand the one and only formula of eternal life is this:

• Hear (Listen to and conform life to) My Word.
• Believe my Father sent Me (trust the source of my message as from the very Creator).
• Bypass judgment and LIVE NOW! (5:24).

Don’t miss that Jesus offered three witnesses to His identity and veracity:
• His cousin John (cp. John 5:31-35)
• His works (cp. John 5:36)
• The previously disclosed Word of God (cp. John 5:37-47)

People come to Christ because of our testimony – something that only happens when we love and engage Jesus and other people. Jesus’ cousin, John, did at Jesus’ baptism and five men decided to follow Jesus. Following Jesus, His disciples watched what He did in the lives of people around them. They watched His works, and felt His warmth. They marveled at His power and gazed at His greatness. Finally, they tested Jesus against the prophetic Word of the Living God.

Others religious leaders were busy studying that same Word, but because of the spirit of religion, they were transfixed with controlling people – not throwing them a life-line.

Jesus called His followers to be people of FAITH not RELIGION.

People of faith love lost and struggling people. They want to walk daily and deeply with God. They work at allowing God to control them, and pay little attention to trying to control others.

A preacher named Derrick Tuper told a story a few years ago I found interesting:

In Atlanta, Georgia an 84-year-old widow started to become restless and bored watching TV and reading the paper, but she couldn’t drive anymore. A friend sat with her and she told them she felt the Lord calling her to DO something. Her friend asked her what she loved to do. She simply said, “I like to play hymns on my piano.” After a few days of thinking, praying and reflecting on that conversation, she decided she would use her ability to minister to others if God would allow her. She put a small add in the local newspaper which read, “Pianist will play hymns over the phone to shut-ins.” Within three days of issuing the advertisement, she received three hundred phone calls requesting her service. She worked out a schedule, and began to play her favorite hymns for people. In a short time, she began to connect people and listened to those who were alone, getting them a “buddy.” In a few short years, she grew her ministry to over 12,000 people. When asked why she did it, she replied, “My church taught me… to love people.”

I am hoping we are teaching that too. We need to set aside religion to gain Jesus’ view of “real faith.”

Habits of Healthy Disciples: “Getting there Together” – Romans 15

About a month ago, after 86 years of life, Johnny Kline died in Tennessee.

If you don’t know who Johnny was, you aren’t somehow deficient. He was famous, but not as an individual. He was part of a famous team. Johnny was once a Harlem Globetrotter.

If you never got the chance to see the Globetrotters back in the day, you really missed a treat. They were hilarious, talented and worked like a well-oiled basketball playing (and sometimes goofing off) machine. Individually, each man was a highly skilled black man, at a time in American history when opportunities for men of color were few and prejudice was even more bold than now. These men broke molds. They crashed through barriers. They made us laugh – but they did it as a team. People don’t recall each of the individuals, they think of them as one identity. That is what good teams produce.

You might think team sports are exciting to watch, but it is much harder than it appears to coordinate a vibrant team! It was never easy to get people to work together well. Getting people to think in tandem, let alone work in tandem is very difficult.

Did you ever see a team take on a group-oriented obstacle course? They include some very interesting group building exercises. On the better courses, there is a high wall over which each member must pass. They attempt to climb to the top of the wall, and toss their legs over the wall, and then descend the other side without getting hurt or getting hung up in the netting over the wall. Such obstacle courses offer teams a visual opportunity since dealing with obstacles is what a team must learn to do. These courses are all about building teamwork, and they can be very effective.

Today, we want to return to a discussion from Romans about living out our faith together. We want to think about teamwork while we look at Paul’s words to an ancient church that was “on mission.”

We have been studying Paul’s words and we have been looking closely at his teaching on how they should practically care for one another as team members. In Romans 15, his instruction includes a big idea about how to think as a team. In essence…

Key Principle: In Biblical terms, “I” don’t go to Heaven, “we” do.

Romans 15 isn’t about a new subject, but a continuation of the discussion Paul had from the previous chapter.

If you look back, you will note that he was already writing to them about stronger believers and weaker believers from the opening verse of the last chapter.

In Romans 14:1 he admonished the strong believers to invite into the fold the weaker, but to be careful with them as it regarded their convictions. Their ideas may not have been well-founded, but they were deep – and caring for them took precedent over some harsh form of “crash training.” It wasn’t that Paul wanted the weak to remain so; it was because he knew that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care about them.

The areas of conviction cited by Paul were two: consumption and celebration. Some believed consumption of certain things violated Biblical principles. They thought abstaining was the only godly response, and all who partook were of a lesser spiritual quality.

I find the verses comforting because the same tendency exists centuries later among believers. There have always been believers who defined spirituality by what they DON’T do, rather than intimacy with Jesus.

As we keep reading from this letter, we will also find another tendency that has traveled with the church down through the centuries – the tendency to think of Christianity in individual terms. Paul sought to make clear that in many respects Christianity is a team sport.

At the core of his teaching was a word to the strong believers of his time: Believers are intended to be intentional about progressing together as a team.

Look at the opening in Romans 15:

Romans 15:1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.

The verse offered two instructions:

  • First, the strong were to lift, bear and carry the weak who were unable to carry themselves.
  • Second, the strong were to put their own pleasure behind the needs of those who needed their help.

Our faith is not a competitive race, where we each line up and launch out at the sound of a starting gun, breezing past one another in pursuit of Jesus. It is a team endeavor. We only win when we all break the tape together.

Baby Christians celebrate (rightfully) that Jesus saved THEM. They think in terms of their own growth… in the same way a physical CHILD does. The point is, believers must GROW UP.

The first growth point is when believers learn why “together” is important.

If you keep reading, it becomes readily apparent WHY the instruction was issued.

Romans 15:2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” 4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Did you notice there were three reasons why this focus on the “other” was marked out as very important:

First, believers are commanded to seek to please our brother in a way that builds him up.

Second, believers are called to remember the example of our Savior. If Jesus put our needs first, we are to put the needs of others ahead of our own. We pale in comparison to His importance, and He did it willingly for us, and for the glory of His Father.

Third, believers must follow the pattern that was outlined for us in the Scriptures, in order to navigate this world successfully, applying well the Word that brings hope.

Don’t miss the caution here. It is easy for a believer to feel as though they have gained strength, and they are ready to “go it alone.” Individualism seems responsible, but our call is to slow down and bring those who cannot make it alone with us.

If we put other people before us, we demonstrate maturity and care. We act like Jesus. We model the lifestyle of someone who both HEARS the Word and LIVES the truths found in it.

At this point in the narrative, I can’t help feeling like Paul seemed to break into a song. I keep picturing in my head a musical praise interlude. He dropped in words of praise in verses five and six:

Romans 15:5 “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can’t you picture Paul stepping out of the scene on a stage and breaking into song?

It may take a moment to get past the “break out in praise” appearance of the passage (at least it did in my mind). Go on and you will grasp the underlying truth here…

Believers may gain most when “forward progress” seems least.

Did you notice how Paul shared that God gives perseverance? He also made the point that God gives encouragement. He even hints that God gives unity that leads to the blended sound of harmonious praise.

At the risk of sounding obvious, let me caution you about requesting perseverance from God. What generally builds muscle really hurts in the process.

At the same time, I think there is something more here. There are things that we cannot rush through in life.

I have a confession: I have a tendency to walk fast, and I find myself often having to stop and wait for Dottie to catch up. I don’t know why I do things quickly, but I am finished a plate of food before my wife has finished her first few bites. I walk quickly, I eat quickly – I live like I am in some kind of race to accomplish more. I honestly don’t know why. I have thought long and hard about it, but I just cannot understand where it comes from.

What I know is that it is an impulse that must be fought when I am with other people. There is no prize to the guy who finishes eating first at the banquet.

Think about Paul’s exclamation of praise for a moment. Take a moment to grab a truth. Essentially, when we make our faith about individualism, we rob it of its essence.

God intended the strong believer to focus attention on getting the weak over the wall with the rest of the team.

In a sense, the weak were a GIFT to the strong – because they forced the strong to slow down and help others who can’t get over the wall without assistance. The teamwork that results from the strong helping the weak is part of the design of the body of Christ.

At our core, we are to learn that getting there together is more important than getting there first. “I” don’t go to Heaven; “we” do. “I” don’t run the race;
“we” do.

Deeply rooted in the Christian life and experience is a team making its way through an obstacle course.

Have you ever considered how some of the best lessons come from hurting people in the grip of tough experiences, even when they aren’t getting the team to move ahead in profound ways?

Consider Mary’s story for a moment. In the book “It’s Not Fair” she wrote:

While battling my first bout of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, my treatment was like rafting down an unknown river. As a Long Island gal, Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams” seemed to be the sound track of my life during that time. Despite the hair loss, chemo, and keeping an Excel spreadsheet of my kids’ schedules and sleepovers with friends and relatives, the lunacy of it all did not escape me. As I rode the rapids toward my bone marrow transplant, I could not get over the sheer comedy that comes from trying to live a typical life in such an atypical way. Morbid humor is truly something that must be embedded in one’s DNA, because it can seem really inappropriate at times. Not to mention, people really don’t know how to react or treat you when, well you know, you have no eyelashes, eyebrows, head hair, and just look like a freak.

In my case, nearly 100 percent of the time, most people, when totally surprised or unguarded, responded with kindness and genuine compassion.

This was most evident in two cases. My neighbor Jim, a sixty-five-year-old former Marine from the Greatest Generation, opened the door to find me in my gray hoodie, sloppy warm-up pants, scruffy sneakers, red bandana covering my cue ball head of no hair, red eyes from crying crying out of frustration, and a face mask. I had just waved good-bye to my children, who were being parceled out to loving friends for a few weeks as I prepared to go to Johns Hopkins for my transplant (twelve-week stay). Unfortunately I was locked out of my house. When Jim opened the door, his face went into shock. Without a word, his face clearly said, “I am being mugged in broad daylight by a druggie gang member!” Once I saw that he didn’t recognize me— why not?— I quickly said, “Hi, Jim, it’s me, Mary, from across the street, and I am locked out. Can you help me?” His demeanor changed in a nanosecond. Without skipping a heartbeat he said, “Oh, Mary, [cough, gulp], I am so sorry. I didn’t recognize you there. Must be these glasses [as he wiped them].” His graceful save made me smile, as did his breaking-and-entering skills using a credit card.

Not one week later, as I lay in my hospital bed, I felt another ripple of gallows humor. The female doctor, clearly practicing her bedside manner, sat on my bed, leaned in to tell me how my treatment was progressing, and the whole time had an angelic look and a purposeful calming cadence to her voice. All were useless. Once seated, I looked at her navy blue monogrammed name that was embroidered on her crisp white doctor’s coat— Dr. Maggot. Whatever she said, I couldn’t hear, as my insides were busting and I was trying ever so gallantly not to cry from laughter or pee my pants (bedpan optional). It made me wonder about so many things, most notably how a person with the name Maggot would go into medicine. When she asked if I had any questions, I fought the urge to spit out, “Have you ever thought of using an umlaut with your name?”

From that point forward, I knew that funny, illogical, and nonsensical stuff happens every day and will continue to be there even when you are thrust into a gushing river of unfair stuff. You just need to keep looking for it and finding it.

-From: Dale, Melanie (2016-08-16). It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose (Kindle Locations 286-288). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

It was in the pain of another’s experience that we all heard the possibility of finding humor in the circumstances.

Maybe it isn’t clear to you, but the Bible teaches that we can move so fast, we rush past God’s best lessons…because they often come from weakened people. Look around the room. Those who may be weakest physically may be a special gift from God to all of us. Those who hurt are a treasure planted in this place to teach all of us important lessons. It isn’t all about speed and progress – it is about the whole team moving ahead in spite of the hurting.

They aren’t a problem; they are a blessing. They aren’t a distraction; they are an opportunity to put others first.

In a sense, slower progress can mean more God. No individual on the team may become a superstar in this scenario, but the whole team can become more healthy, more balanced and more secure when they learn to work together. Progress may be less dramatic, but it will be more lasting.

Believers will struggle with our differences – but that is part of the learning process.

Paul argued that because God intended us to pull together, both the weak and the strong, we must fight the pull to reject one another because of our differences. He wrote:

Romans 15:7 “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.

In short, Jesus accepted US – so we can learn to accept EACH OTHER.

When we consider what we are compared to Who He is, we see it clearly. We are flawed; standing beside the One Who is perfect. We are selfish; standing beside One Who gave His very life for those who mutinied. We are no bargain.

With the truth in mind that I am not a superstar, not the key to the future of the movement, not the greatest thing to happen to Christianity since Christ…. I can look with tenderness to the one who is struggling behind me to get over the wall. I can help them with their obstacle. It may slow me down, but the point is to get there together.

Paul drove home the point of acceptance by mentioning that Jesus accepted both Jew and Gentile, while he quietly called them to accept each other. He wrote:

Romans 15:8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Your name.” 10 Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” 12 Again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope.”

Jesus served the Jewish people and fulfilled the promises God made to their fathers. Yet, He also served the Gentiles and fulfilled some promises that were more cryptic, but nevertheless included in the Scriptures. The Savior DID the things God promised. He did them for all of us. He accepted both Jew and Gentile, and didn’t decide He would do for one what He would not do for the other.

Here is the truth: We see differences more easily than we see similarities. We pick out what distinguishes one person from another more often and more deeply than we attempt to see each other as the same. That won’t build a good team.

We all have days that fall apart. We all make mistakes. We are all wrestling dragons of our own making. We are all facing frailties that come with living in a fallen world. Stuff breaks on all of us. We could all use a decent dose of hope.

Did you notice the ending verse of our section sounds like Paul broke out in song again?

Romans 15:13 “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A Few Words about Hope

I cannot leave the passage without mentioning that if you read the first thirteen verses of the chapter, you will note four times the word “hope” falls off the page (15:4,12 and twice in 15:13). Obviously, running beneath the teaching of the passage was another theme – God wanted to make plain how hope could change the Roman believers and where they could find it.

The Greek word for hope is “elpis” – taken from elpō, “to anticipate or welcome”). It means simply the “expectation of what is certain to happen.” It is used to denote how the experience of “pre-savoring” a taste as the dish you love is being plated in front of you, after you have snuck a taste from the serving tray.

Hope in the Bible is more than a glancing wish for the future – it is an expectation based on a taste of experience already attained.

Hope of Heaven is rooted in the taste of the Spirit – the presence of the Holy One in this life. Our hope is in the Lord Himself, and the expectation comes because we have, in some small way, already engaged Him in this life. What we expect in His arms is based on what we have received while touched by His Spirit.

Don’t overlook that in the text, there are four sources of hope found tucked within the passage:

First, there is the record of God’s work in the people of the Book. The Scriptures are designed to give us hope as we follow the contours of the lives of believers who went before – each with their own set of challenges and pains. The story isn’t about how good they were, but rather about how good God is in spite of how fickle they were. That should encourage us: Our future doesn’t depend on our ability to pull off life well.

Second, the promises found in the Scriptures were designed to bring us hope. We can gain important insights from the past, but hope is about a certain future. Paul grabbed four passages from the Bible to emphasize that God promised (and was now keeping His Word) to plunge those who followed Jesus from the Gentile world into an ocean of hope. He mentioned God doing it for Jews, but he drove it home repeatedly in the case of Gentiles, because it was something harder for the people to believe.

Third, hope comes from the presence of God Himself, as is clear in the first part of verse thirteen. The God of hope can fill you with resolute assurance and the sense that all things are coming to be what they should be as you trust Him more. That is the careful rendering of the verse.

Finally, hope is driven deep within by the powerful impact of the Holy Spirit. It grows by the Spirit’s expansion with you. The term “abound” in the end of verse thirteen demonstrates that hope is something the Spirit inflates inside of you by His own power, like a compressor fills a tire. Hope floods in and fills up space left uncomfortably empty by the assault of troubles.

Records, promises, the presence of God and the inflating work of His Spirit are all at work to fill us with hope – when we don’t fill our lives with fake answers, false memes and platitudes. When you need real hope, you need to come emptied to the One Who alone can offer it.

God’s Word, when lived, will birth hope within His people. The hope isn’t for one of us – it is for ALL OF US.

In Biblical terms, “I” don’t go to Heaven, “we” do.

Christianity isn’t an individual thing – it is a team thing. I am supposed to be heading toward the goal, arm in arm, with my team mates. This isn’t about ME as much as it is about US.

There are certainly aspects of my walk that are individual.

The yielding of my heart to Jesus is my responsibility. The authenticity of my desire to know and follow Jesus is a personal matter.

Yet, if I forget that is paired in the Word with the sense that I belong to others and they to me, I turn family into footrace and replace team with individual super-stardom. That isn’t the plan – it never was.

Think about your faith this way:

Play for the team and don’t hog the ball. You see, ball hogs don’t trust the team. They have an inflated view of themselves, and a cynical view of team mates.

Would you be offended if I noted that many Christians look like spiritual ball hogs?

Habits of Healthy Disciples: “Transformed Focus” – Romans 14

Recently, Dottie and I had the delight to travel to Ireland. When we arrived in Dublin, we got a rental car. I admit driving on the other side of the road is a bit of a challenge, so I insisted we get an automatic. I didn’t think I could shift with my left hand while driving on the left side of the road.

The hardest part of the driving were the one hundred and fifty “roundabouts” (or circles), because the driver must access them in the opposite direction from what we do here. It can be confusing. In order to drive effectively, we have to be able to re-train our focus. We have to look right when we would naturally think to look left. We cannot keep our old focus and drive effectively under the new rules.

In Romans 14, Paul moved into a set of instructions with the believers that pressed them to focus on a different way of looking at each other, and the traffic of believers merged into the church body. Here is the central truth of the passage…

Key Principle: Believers have to learn how to “stay in our assigned lane of conscience” while we offer great care to others around us.

As you may recall, the letter was designed to answer five big questions:

What happened to mankind? Why is sin rampant and why is the world full of troubles. Paul answered with essentially one word: mutiny. Man’s rebellion caused his troubles (cp. Romans 1-3).

What did God do about man’s rebellious and languishing state? The second question was answered by a single word as well: gift. God gave His Son to remedy sin’s hold on man (cp. Romans 4-5).

How can I cast off sin’s hold on my life as a follower of Jesus? Through Paul’s quill, God instructed Jesus followers that the prison doors of sinful behavior have been unlocked by God, and we can be free to walk in God’s Spirit (cp. Romans 6-8).

Is God really trustworthy in keeping His promises? A large part of the Epistle deals specifically with the history of God and His promises to Israel, as a case study in His trustworthiness (cp. Romans 9-11).

What should a healthy walk with Jesus look like in practical and daily lifestyle? This is the section we continue with in our study today.

We have spoken about care for and appreciation of other believers and their gifts (Romans 12), as well as submission to authorities outside the church (Romans 13), but now we turn our attention to a n issue of contention among believers:

How should we handle other believers with whom we may fundamentally disagree on some life practice?

Romans 14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

Because we are to be inspected by God and transformed in thinking, as well as the fact that we are to regard others as more important (whether brothers or authorities outside the church), we must seek to bring in those who, for reasons of their own, may be unable to handle a personal liberty to which we have subscribed. We must not be hard-hearted toward them when they cannot separate their own preferences from absolute truth. We must handle their opinions with care.

Paul offered two test cases:

Test One: Consumption – Some believe it acceptable to consume something that others believe would be wrong to consume.

Romans 14:2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.

Skip down a few verses and you will note a second test case issue…

Test Two: Celebration – Some believe following a certain calendar of celebration to be that which honors the Lord, while others find no reason to do so.

Romans 14:5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.

John attends a monthly cigar club. As a group, they get together each month to try out a new cigar as they sit about and talk. He doesn’t smoke as a rule, but doesn’t feel twelve cigars a year will hurt him, since he keeps good oral hygiene and doesn’t inhale. Suzie thinks that tobacco in any form was grown from the garden of Satan, but she drinks flavored coffee that contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar every morning. She struggles with her weight, but she can’t face the day without her coffee.

Alex drinks a beer with his lunch, while his friend Brian thinks that alcohol is intrinsically evil. He has searched the Scripture and acknowledges that alcohol wasn’t avoided by the ancients in the text, but he regards principles of purity in consumption to such a degree he honestly cannot see how it isn’t clear to Alex.

Lisa believes the celebration of the birth of Jesus has been terribly tainted with commercialism and overladen with ancient pagan practices like tree decorating and gift giving. She believes every aspect of the celebration of the season has been marred. When she showed up at church and saw a Christmas tree, she protested. She cannot be a part of a group that won’t follow Jesus with their whole heart! She is thinking she should leave and visit other churches, but all the other churches have them as well. She is hurt because she feels the church of her time is going apostate.

All of these people are believers. They are trying to follow Jesus as He has taught them. None of the issues is specifically commanded or forbidden in Scripture. They are trying to follow principles of the Word, but the way they see an issue is complicated by their personality, their experience and their perception of what is essential and important. None of them oppose any verse of Scripture openly to the best of their knowledge. Each has a strong view about what they do.

Let’s be clear: The issues under consideration are NOT a reference to things God carefully outlined in His Word.

Sabbath for Jewish believers is not in view in regards to celebration, because Jews were commanded by God specifically for “all their generations, forever” to celebrate that day. Those who came to Jesus from such a background learned the benefits of keeping the Sabbath as a Jewish Jesus follower. They experienced something wonderful. The problem was not their obedience to that command; it was the application to others who did not come to Christ from the same background. They carried their heartfelt celebration into the assembly and disdained those who didn’t follow suit. They assumed that anyone who didn’t keep Sabbath just wasn’t willing to give it all to Jesus. Sabbath, commanded to the Jewish believer, was never subscribed to by the believer from Gentile background. Some got on board and learned to keep it after they were saved, but others didn’t – because they didn’t see it as a necessary thing. They saw it as something God told the Jewish people to do.

Meat knowingly and publicly consumed that was offered to idols is not in view here since there was a specific command regarding that. Apparently, some concluded the best way to avoid the problem was to simply become a vegetarian. The problem is they carried that conviction into the assembly as the standard of truth, when the private consumption of such meats was not forbidden (see 1 Corinthians 10).

The point is, the issues of consumption and celebration were not issues of debate when the text of Scripture was clear. We aren’t talking about some who feel that lying to their boss may be acceptable. That isn’t a judgment call – it is simple sin. It is a violation of the text in its simplest terms. For instance, Jews were not allowed to eat pork – and that was specified. Coming to Jesus didn’t lift their restriction, despite some who have tried to say otherwise.

• In a debate in the Gospel of Mark over the washing of hands, some have read “by this Jesus made all foods clean” to mean that Jesus approved ham for Jews. That wasn’t the issue under discussion – the way to wash hands was the debate.

• There is another story in the New Testament where Simon Peter has a “vision of a sheet filled with edibles” dropping from Heaven in Acts 10. God told him, “Arise, kill and eat!” Peter objected because some of the sheet contained acceptable foods for Jews (called kosher) while other items were unacceptable animals that were commanded by God not to be consumed. Peter declined to eat what Scripture said was unclean. Some concluded that God was adjusting His Laws, given long before at Sinai, because Jesus had come. Yet, Jesus made clear He didn’t come to uproot the Law. The point of the story was about the men who were about to knock on the door down below the roof Peter was on – and he noted a lesson from the sheet that God showed him “PEOPLE God says are clean, are clean.” Peter was learning about people, not receiving a change of dietary restrictions.

By the way, Gentiles who came to Jesus never had such restrictions, and were not commanded to sign on to all of the restrictions that belonged to Jewish people when they came to Jesus. The differences between them, though one in Christ and saved by the identical way, still meant they lived out God’s Word differently.

Nothing in the teaching of Romans 14 is about undoing Scripture. If God commanded it specifically, it was not in view in this passage.

Add to that, the heart of the teaching is not to settle the issues on their face, since they are subjective matters of conviction and conscience and not objective matters of truth. Rather, the teaching is about how to get along in a divided atmosphere where all cannot agree and each has deep-seated reason.

Paul offered several essential instructions to the church:

Instruction One: It isn’t our job to make everyone agree with our view, but it is our job to regard each other with love and care.

Romans 14:3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.

Look closely at the verse. The central issue isn’t about who is right at all. The issue is how we treat one another – the one who consumes and the one who abstains. The consumer must not “regard with contempt” the abstainer, nor should the abstainer judge the consumer. God can and will work in the heart of both – if we don’t hinder Him by wounding another trying to help out God in the process.

Here are a couple questions: How do we disciple people if we can’t take deduction and application of passages of Scripture to help them know right from wrong? Since we are attempting to equip them, how can we do that if we don’t teach them to go beyond the letter of the Scripture to apply its principles? Those are fair and mature questions.

Paul isn’t silent about discipleship. His letters are filled with the application of Hebrew Scriptures to early church issues, and how to get the timeless principles into contemporary life. At the same time, he acknowledged that God gave each believer His own Spirit, and is willing to work within each of us to convict of sin, direct in lifestyle and work with each of us over the long haul of life.

The central teaching here shouldn’t get buried in detail: Don’t think that because you are certain you shouldn’t do something, that everyone else who doesn’t see it your way is somehow smaller in the eyes of God. You may be right – but your view may not take into account other things that go beyond your culture, your life experience and your personal connection to God.

God put you in the body, but reserved the right to run the lives of His people without your approval.

This idea leads right into the second instruction…

Instruction Two: It isn’t our job to decide if the other’s convictions are warranted for them, but it is our responsibility to recognize we all serve the same Master, Who alone is the proper judge of each of us.

Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Paul made clear a central truth we must re-emphasize and remember: We don’t work for one another. We all work for Jesus. He is the Judge,

When we make it our business to check out the liberty of others beyond the obedience to the text of Scripture, we set ourselves up to become haughty and judgmental. It is worth remembering this isn’t the only place Paul offers instruction on this (see 1 Corinthians 8-10) but it is the tenor of everything he taught.

There is a tendency in many of us as we mature to believe we have been placed in the lives of others as God’s interpreter of Law.

The fact is: Beyond living out the principles ourselves, many of us have had to learn to project those principles into decisions we made as a family. We may have decided our children couldn’t participate in some activities with some other children, because our conviction was solid on our lifestyle, and the other family did not regard the issue we felt strongly about in the same way. It was our responsibility to take the conviction of the Spirit and make a judgment for our children. That is called parenting.

Here is the caution, however.

While we should be open about why we concluded from the Word that participation is wrong for our family, we must also teach our children the principles of GRACE.

We must teach them that, even though it seems clear to us, it isn’t “the truth” as much as it is “our heartfelt conviction” with which others had the right to disagree. We wouldn’t attend the event, but we wouldn’t quietly condemn them in our hearts as “less than obedient” and whisper gossip about them to each other.

God will grow the people to whom we aren’t commanded to take responsibility. We have to offer grace and let Him do it.

Instruction Three: It isn’t our job to focus on what is right for others, but we are called to focus on Jesus’ ownership of us all.

Romans 14:6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Don’t overlook two simple caveats:

• We aren’t talking about the expressed command of Scripture.
• We aren’t talking about someone in a leadership position of responsibility for others.

We made clear before that all the things in the passage regard subjective thinking: personal judgments. This ISN’T about whether pornography is “ok for me” since sexual purity is made clear in the text. It may regard how one looks at a Baroque nude sculpture of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in an art museum, but it certainly isn’t about porn.

In addition, the teaching here does not take into account one who is given charge of others to set standards for the whole group.

For instance, if a worship leader was given the directive to decide what standard of dress was appropriate for those in the team, they have the right to make a judgment regarding the dress of those on the team when they are participating. That isn’t being judgy; it is leading in a given setting. If they determine a certain length of dress is too short for those leading worship, they are to be heard because they were charged with leadership in that area.

At the same time, that doesn’t make them the “dress length sheriff” for the church. They don’t get to show up at the youth swim night and measure bathing suits. That isn’t their job.

What Paul made clear in verses six through nine are these three ideas:

• People may decide differently regarding personal issues of conscience, but the Lord will teach each of them individually to yield to Him (14:6).

• Believers grow to understand who the Lordship of Jesus affects our daily lives over time (14:7).

• Ultimately, our lives are in His hand, not in each other’s hands (14:8-9).

Instruction Four: It isn’t our job to become “life fruit inspectors” of one another, but rather we must learn to focus on the “gaze of Jesus” on our practices and behaviors.

Romans 14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

Scripture isn’t silent about the fact that even believers will answer for our choices when we stand before Jesus. Everyone faces two judgments: one over sin and one over works. For believers, sin was judged at the Cross of Jesus. Yet, our works will still be evaluated as Jesus gazes at what we bring Him as the prized accomplishments of this life.

The simple fact is that we live for Jesus, not for self. If that is true of each of us, we need to focus much more on living with Him and for Him – and spend less time figuring out His call to everyone else around us.

Paul offered this final analysis:

Stop trying to fix other people and start cleaning up things that can cause them to trip over in YOUR life. He said it this way:

Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.

Stop worrying about being the teacher over those God didn’t give you responsibility and let other people grow and develop without playing Holy Spirit for them. Paul personalized this:

Romans 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

Paul recognized that God gave a conscience to each of us, and life experiences shape that conscience. We don’t see everything the same way, and we shouldn’t expect to. Let others have convictions in areas you don’t. Allow God to convict you about things others are allowed to do – but YOU aren’t.

In all things, keep your eye on whether your liberty and conviction will lead another to walk away from obedience and intimacy with Jesus. Don’t deliberately do what will offend and hurt them, because it hinders their walk. Love them enough to be careful as God leads you. Don’t let your testimony take a beating out of your own carelessness.

Romans 14:15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

To those who are tempted to judge everyone, stop making trouble. Stop the gossip. Grow up and be truly mature. You don’t know everything, and your judgmental spirit isn’t helping to equip people. Maybe you believe something strongly, but the other person doesn’t. God will grow him in His time. He will grow YOU as well…

Romans 14:19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.

Ultimately, don’t do what will cause another to fall into sin. He doesn’t say, “Don’t do anything other people won’t like.” Rather, he restricts his comment to those who are so deeply impressionable that your participation will license their wrong choices. He wrote:

Romans 14:21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.

Finally, Paul said, “Make your choices wisely and honestly.”

Romans 14:22b “…Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Let me be clear here: Some of us have chosen to participate in things that violate our conscience. We have a nagging sense gnawing inside that we are engaged in something we shouldn’t be, but we hide it under the liberty bell. If that is you, drop the pretense and remember that you will give a report to Jesus concerning that thing.

Believers have to learn how to “stay in our assigned lane of conscience” while we offer great care to others around us.

John can have his monthly cigar. I don’t smoke them and I don’t like them. I have had two in my life, and enjoyed neither. I don’t need the distraction, but I am not going to tell him he can’t because it will harm him unless I am willing to cut all the sugar out of my diet.

Suzie can think that tobacco is rolled sin. She just needs to live according to that and still show care to John.

Alex can drink his beer with his lunch if Jesus said to him it is ok. I won’t join him, because I cannot afford the calories. Brian’s objections about alcohol should be taught in his home to his children, but he should also teach them to have grace to those who see it another way.

Lisa must stop believing she is the only one with the Spirit at work in her. She needs to get off Facebook and stop condemning others over whom God has not placed her. She should promote Christmas celebrations that offer a way to magnify Jesus, rather than trying to correct the rest of us with long diatribes on the history of the Christmas tree. The rest of us need to hear her heart. She loves Jesus, and she doesn’t want Him disrespected in our methods of celebration.

In the end, believers have to learn how to “stay in our assigned lane of conscience” while we offer great care to others around us.

What Jesus Said: “The Expectations of the Master” – Matthew 5-7

If you breeze quickly through social media like Facebook, you may see how little has changed over the centuries in regard to what gets people “wound up.” Imagine if there were social media outlets at the time of Jesus. What would you read about? I suspect posts would have highlighted concerns, and perhaps even voices of outrage at the following realities:

Economic Inequity: The world seemed very economically divided between those who possessed the best things this life could offer and those who had hardly enough to survive, or were living paycheck to paycheck. In the shadow of Tiberius’ residence in Rome, starving Romans passed through the streets. Among those scratching out an existence in daily labor, many felt their efforts were being sucked off into the purses of the rich and they itched for a justice they couldn’t seem to get through the economic system in place at the time.

Political Intrigue: Political leaders flopped from one crisis to another as they fixated on the head of state and his personality. How Tiberius felt and whether or not he slighted some Senator would have been all the rage. Politicians jockeyed endlessly through a never ending series of internal divisions to gain or hold some sense of power. They weren’t sure what the Emperor would “tweet” next. They didn’t know who was “in” and who was “out” on a daily basis. Rumors swirled. All they could do was align themselves with strong political allies and hope their party would gain or hold power long enough for them to build a successful political career. They cared about their world, but they were much more invested in holding onto their place than standing firmly on big issues – since those who stood on principle often ended up floating in the Tiber River.

Theological Incoherence: Religious leaders were vastly separated into different “faith” groups, and they didn’t really attempt to venture out of their little “kingdoms” and encounter one another. There were no great conferences to bring together the long established cults of the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) and blend them with the more “contemporary cults” (like that of Isis). Off by themselves in corners of many cities were the followers of the God of Abraham, and many of their leaders were clinging to arrogance and steeped in minutiae of their own theological debate, while their culture spun out of control around them. Add to that, many of the followers of the God of Abraham could be found to living quite differently than the ideals they taught.

Does this sound like things have changed all that much? I didn’t think so either.

One day truth came like a piercing light into a pitched dark room… When it flashed, it hurt the eyes of people who had grown used to cynicism and dark thinking. Jesus came. He walked among men. He looked humble, but possessed the greatest of wealth. He sounded plain-spoken, but offered the richest truths of mankind’s Creator.

The Gospel according to Matthew followed the saga of Jesus pressing against the political power machine, the confused religious establishment and the raw demonic attacks as the light of truth pushed into a well-fortified castle of darkness. Many were captive there, and God wasn’t content to let darkness prevail. Consider what Jesus did:

• He came to bring truth that would settle people in times of crisis.
• He came to fill the emptiness with real substance.
• He brought satisfaction to those who longed for deep truth.

In this lesson, we begin a short memory of the story unfolded, from its beginning to the first sermon of Jesus recorded in its pages. There is a truth that will become clear:

Key Principle: Jesus’ message made clear his expectations for the character, the commitments and the choices of a true follower.

To grab that truth, we should set the first sermon, found in Matthew 5-7 in the context of the book.

Look for a moment at the opening of Matthew’s Gospel. What do you see? It is a long list of names, a genealogy. In your mind, or in your Bible, write the word “Promise.” The opening verses should remind us that Jesus came in response to a long-revealed promise, and part of a long-blessed family line. His coming included God’s use of unexpected people, as in a group of Gentile women like Rahab and Ruth are found on that list – and none of us would have made a plan that included them. God isn’t like us! (Matthew 1:1-17)

Go to the last part of chapter one (Mt. 1:18-25) and add in your margin or mind the word “Miracle.” It took Divine intervention to bring a child to a womb without a father, but God knows how to make an entrance and enjoys dropping surprises into His story. This was a child born of miracle.

Move on to chapter two, and place beside the narrative the word “Dignitaries” to remind yourself of the story of the arrival of the Magi from the East, when they brought unexpected honor to a meager couple because they recognized the significance of the Child’s arrival (Mt. 2:1:12). At the same time, you may write the word “Reaction” beside the last part of the chapter because His come coming was met with a violent, bloody reaction from those who clung to the power of darkness (Mt. 2:13-23).

Turn to chapter three, where John the Baptizer was preaching from the Jordan, and mark the word “Announcements” because the arrival of Jesus was publicly broadcast by John even as a thundering voice from the Heavens by God Himself proclaimed His satisfaction on His Son’s coming (Mt. 3:13-17).

Now drop your eyes to Matthew 4, and write the word “Temptation” as you note how Jesus stared down the enemy face to face in a direct contest (Mt. 4:1-11). I would add a second word, “Message” beside the summary where He fired a warning shot in His message of life change (Mt. 4:12-17), and mayb e a third word “Disciples” at the point in the text where He gathered close companions (Mt. 4:18-22) to charge into the small villages of the Galilee encountering the sick and demonically abused (Mt. 4:23-25).

We have the story of a fulfilled promise, a miraculous birth, powerful dignitary visitors and brutal political reaction. Jesus emerged from the shadows with the endorsement announcements of a godly man and God’s voice. He faced His enemy, gathered His first followers and began His ministry… now, what did He teach first? That is our lesson…

Matthew chapter five opened the preaching message of Jesus beyond the summary words “He preached repentance and the arrival of the Kingdom” from chapter four.

We shouldn’t be surprise that Jesus knew the kind of followers He was looking for, both then and now. Though the Gospel of Matthew is thematically arranged, this sermon of Jesus was clearly offered early in His earth ministry, and had these three major parts:

• The Expected Character Traits of a True Disciple (5).
• The Expected Commitments of a True Disciple (6:1-7:12).
• The Expected Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-29).

This first major sermon offered the truths about what Jesus expected from His followers.

First, He expected “Character Traits” (Matthew 5)

The first part of the message can be grouped generally into four major character traits Jesus pressed His disciples to exhibit to be a true follower:

His opening remarks offered this: “You cannot be about YOU and ME (5:1-12) at the same time!” Jesus expected His followers to be “other person centered.” Let’s take a look.

Jesus began with words that separated those who were ready to fulfilled and blessed from their countrymen. Promises of blessing were woven into the lives of people who followed His teaching (Mt. 5:1-12). These opening words are called the “Beatitudes.” The setting was a hillside on the north of the Sea of Galilee, where Matthew noted:

Matthew 5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and [began] to teach them, saying…

A rabbi normally stood for the reading of Scripture, but they sat down when they were about to offer their key teaching. Jesus sat, and the disciples gathered close to hear. He said:

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when [people] insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In essence, Jesus said He expected His followers to run from self-reliance into His arms, depending on His strength, not their own. He said: I am seeking one who is:

• Look at the word POOR and read: bankrupt in their own spirit, and not self-dependent (3),
• Look at the word MOURN and see one empty enough to mourn their own insufficiency, not self-secure (4),
• Look at the word GENTLE and see one worn enough to lose a sense of self-reliance (5),
• Hungry for a righteousness denotes they don’t have, and are not self-satisfied (6),
MERCY reflects an attitude that is caring enough not to be unduly self-focused (7),
PURE IN HEART suggests an openness that is vacant for God’s use and not divided into other loyalties (8),
PEACEMAKERS show someone kind enough to release self-serving agendas (9),
PERSECUTED set them apart as patient enough to endure hardship and not become easily self-defensive (10),
INSULTED shows they were compassionate enough to be patient while unfairly taunted (11-12).

We fire back at people when we aren’t Jesus centered, but feel the need to protect our own weakness. Jesus isn’t weak. He doesn’t require my feeble voice to protect His strength.

In short, a Jesus follower must become “other person centered.” Paul later said it this way (when addressing Jesus followers):

Philippians 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus wasn’t done. In addition to relying on HIM, they would need to grow to rely on ONE ANOTHER. He said His followers needed to act in concert and not plan to stand ALONE (5:13). This emphasized the loyalty of the believers together in their “salt”. He said:

Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?

In the Near East, the salt was a symbol of loyalty. Mark 9:50 finished the saying this way: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Add to that Jesus’ expectation that we would not come to Him and then hide it. He said: “You cannot remain anonymous!” (5:14-16). You will not be hidden, for you are not called to be hidden! His expectation was this:

Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus then, made clear He wanted God-reliant, team-oriented and openly outreaching people to be His followers. He expected that.

The Manual of Behavior for a Jesus Follower

It is important that we also understand where the standards of discipleship that Jesus set before the crowd originated (5:17-48). The Law of God was His given standard, (5:17) but only when truly understood with His true intent (5:18-48). Listen to what Jesus said about the Law:

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Jesus had no desire to render the Law void, neither by “keeping it and thereby retiring it” nor by cancelling it. He wanted His followers to recognize the intent behind it. That is why we teach the principle approach to the Scriptures. All Scripture is profitable, but much of it was written NOT TO ME but rather FOR MY BENEFIT. Let me explain:

Jesus offered a series of six “You have heard it said…” type quotes ranging over five issues. Most of them were “word for word” lifted out of the Hebrew Scripture (though not all). He included sayings about:

• Murder
• Adultery
• Divorce
• Revenge
• Enemies

They heard ‘You shall not commit murder’ – but Jesus argued that His original intent was not to limit the scope of harm to a knife or a club, but to include “murder by mouth” and other kinds of wounds to the heart. The Law appeared to say you were not in violation as long as they were still breathing – but that wasn’t the point of what God intended. As Jesus explained, the point of “Do not murder” was to place the weight of another person’s well-being on your shoulders, and make us care about what we say and do to hurt or hinder one another.

They heard ‘You shall not commit adultery’ and thought God wasn’t upset until they were caught in the sack together. Jesus said God’s real intent was to keep our eyes from roving and our thoughts from fantasizing about physical rendezvous with another that was not our spouse. Adultery occurs in the head, not just the bed. That was God’s point.

They heard ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’ and thought God was fine with them making a covenant of marriage and then finding an excuse to walk out on that covenant. Jesus argued forcefully that our words before God matter, and the covenant promises we made in marriage matter. He went on to press the case by saying, Don’t make complicated arguments to get out of things you promised. Just say what you mean and mean what you say.

They heard ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ and thought God was legalizing revenge. The law of the scales was intended to establish that a punishment was to fit the crime, not license revenge at all. Jesus turned that desire upside down and told His followers to hunger to be helpful instead to hungering to get even.

At that point, Jesus left the words of Scripture and moved to the words of some rabbis who had influence on the crowds, but weren’t accurately reflecting God’s intent at all. He said they heard: ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ Jesus made clear that wasn’t even what God SAID, let alone what He INTENDED.

What God DID say was this:

Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

Exodus 23:4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.

Proverbs 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

Here is the point: Jesus said the standard for His followers was His Word, set properly in its context and filled out with the principles behind what was written.

It wasn’t just a set of memorized rules – the Law provided a mindset, an understanding of the bigger things God cares about.

Without the Law, Jesus followers will seek other standards to follow Jesus. They will either get used to walking without the knowledge of what pleases Him, or they will fill in the blanks with things they care about and make it sound like Jesus had the same cares.

List what Jesus said He cared about. It will sound like this:

• I care about people – their feelings, their needs, their success.
• I care about purity – our heart, our inner integrity, our authenticity.
• I care about promises – keeping our Word, particularly when promised before God.
• I care about passion – letting how I feel govern what I do when others hurt us.
• I care about practice – showing love to others and not keeping account of wrongs of others.

Jesus offered eight areas of commitment (Regular Practices) in which His Disciples would regularly engage (6:1-7:12)

We can’t look deeply into these in this lesson, so I am dedicating the next one to these eight intimate practices of a Jesus follower. Here is what we can say to help hold the message together…

The first three practices all focus on ONE VALUE, that of a personal, intimate authenticity that avoids SHOWMANSHIP. Our faith isn’t a public show – our heart is connected to God on the most intimate level.

• Giving for God’s eyes only (6:1-4).
• Praying for God’s ears only (6:5-15).
• Fasting for God’s attention alone (6:16-18).

Next Jesus turned to issues of our genuine trust in God. This second set of practices focused on the temptation we all have to operate life apart from resting in God’s power. He said:

• Save for your “Heaven account,” not just retirement (6:19-24).
• Trust God for things we don’t control and things we THINK we do (6:25-34).

The final set of teachings show our confidence must be in God’s power, not ours. In practice, we should so value the Word, that we guard the truth of it in our daily practice. We should be people of grace, looking to help a neighbor but discipline our behavior as an example to others.

He offered these three more practices…

• He called His followers to judge people properly (7:1-5).
• He called His followers to guard carefully truth vigiliantly (7:6).
• He called His followers to seek God’s provision regularly (7:7-12).

We will take more time here, but don’t miss the key points.

Jesus told us to avoid the temptation to put on a show with our faith – because in the loss of authenticity we become acting hypocrites.

Jesus told us to intentionally place our lives at His command and disposal, and not see ourselves as “un-coached free agents.”

Jesus told us to deliberately seek God’s blessings of provision, and be neither presumptuous nor ungrateful.

Do you see what ties them all together? They are about attitude and they are intentional. Let me say it plainly, if you want to be a follower of Jesus, you won’t be able to think like everyone else, and you will need to deliberately open yourself to allowing the Spirit of God to deal with your attitudes. All of us must make the effort, and our attitudes will show how effective we are becoming at following Jesus. It won’t be our service alone, because we can put on a show. Our following of Jesus will show up in the inner attitudes of the heart that we know we won’t let go, and let God change. It comes down to active choices…

Four Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-27)

When it came down to it, followers of Jesus were, and are measured by our choices to do the unlikely and often unpopular thing – we follow Jesus. We make daily choices:

• He told of two gates (7:13-14): A true disciple must choose the path less traveled, opting to forego the way “everyone else” seems to be going! You have a choice!

• He told of two fruit trees (7:15-20): A true disciple will be careful to watch the fruit of a teacher before following their message (7:15-17). He will recognize the fruit exposes the type and usefulness of the tree (7:18-20). You must evaluate my teaching as true!

• He told of two confessions (7:21-23). A true disciple won’t just speak as though they know me, but will live according to My teaching (7:21). Some will even be self-deceived into thinking they experienced My power in places where My presence was not even found (7:22-23). You must submit to obeying My words!

• He told of two foundations (7:24-29). If you hear and then follow My word you are building well (7:24-25). If you hear my teaching but don’t allow it to transform you – you are setting yourself up for a future collapse (7:26-27). My teaching must be transforming you!

Jesus ended His message with four choice statements. Will you choose to follow Him even if it is not popular? Will you choose to follow a world that is killing the fruit that was so abundant when we took His Word more seriously? Will you pretend to know Him, but not obediently listen to Him? On what will you build your life.

Jesus expected us to choose His way over the way of the crowd, the way of convenience, or the way of casual acquaintance. He doesn’t want fans – He wants followers. He made clear the character, commitments and choices He expected in a true follower. It shouldn’t surprise us to know that Jesus knew what He was looking for in a follower. The question is: Are you truly seeking to be one?

Dr. Haddon Robinson writes: “Some people are attracted to Christianity because they have a leaky faucet that they want God to fix. Perhaps they struggle with a destructive habit and they would like to tap into God’s power to help them break it. Or maybe they have broken relationships that they want God to mend. But they learn from this Sermon on the Mount that God is not a plumber. Leaky faucets are minor league stuff to Him. God wants to tear the plumbing out entirely and deal with the well from which the water flows. He wants to change what comes out of the faucet, not merely stop its leak.” – The Solid Rock Construction Company, pg.122

Jesus wants to go deep inside of you, and change who you are. He has the power to do it, and the expectation that you will let Him.

What Jesus DID: “Seven Works of the Master” (Part II) – John 4:46-54

Most of what happens in life is well beyond my comprehension. I don’t really understand how my microwave works. I get the basic concept, but I cannot (for the life of me) figure out how someone worked out all the mechanics.

Honestly, I am still trying to figure out how someone put together the string of information that invented the first pasta! Think about it! How did someone actually figure out that if you take the grain head from the wheat, let it dry thoroughly, take off the husk of the grain, grind the head into flour, add water, knead it, cut it into small strips, lay it out in the sun to dry, take the dried material and boil it for a brief time – you will have “al dente” pasta?

These things amaze me. Think about it. Men and women can blast other men and women to the moon or up to a space station. We can engineer the combinations of DNA strands in a “Petrie dish” to change physical characteristics of our offspring. We can store 100,000 pages of text on a silicon chip the size of a finger tip. We can dive deeply enough to explore the depths of the ocean with an unmanned submarine and fly a mission thousands of miles away from an unmanned drone to shoot a missile at a small group of men hiding out near a cave. Much of what we can do most of us cannot truly understand. So I need to ask you…

What does “faith” really mean in a time like ours?

Does it mean that someone knows how it works, and I should just accept it and keep learning? Ever since I was young in my faith, I have heard people say that I just needed to “accept some things by faith” as if that was supposed to satisfy the curiosity of all, and be the end point of the discussion
when something could not be readily explained. Yet, I kept asking, “Is that really what God intended me to do?” Is faith a last refuge, a “cop out” for things that Christians don’t know or haven’t searched out? Am I supposed to turn off my mind and simply trust whatever I am told about God that cannot seem to be explained? I know now that is not at all the case.

In the Bible, faith is not about whether you can explain the “how” of something or not. Faith, in essence, is the absolute trust that the world is not how it appears, but how God says it operates in His Word. It is a “Biblical world view.” When I accept Jesus by faith, I accept that God’s record of Who Jesus is and what He did was both correct and accepted by the Creator. When I walk by faith, I walk in the light of His Word and see the world as He proclaims it to be. Yet, my belief isn’t without evidence at all.

I believe in a Creator because I see the product of organization all around me, and I know that billions of years won’t create structure and organization exacting enough to make a strand of DNA morph into an aardvark while another morphs into a zebra. The heavens proclaim organization, color, beauty and design. Design requires a designer in every area I can grasp.

At the same time, we are called on to “believe” and “have faith” in our God, so I ask: “What does it look like to truly believe?”

That is our subject for this lesson, “What Jesus Did.” In John 4, we are going to encounter a man who modeled belief because he trusted the word of Jesus so fully that he rested when others would have run. In the verses of John 4:46-54, the writer revealed a second miracle performed by Jesus. Part of that group of events John collected in his account. Remember, John’s gospel included seven miracles, each recalled so that a reader might know more of Jesus, believe in His claims, and have life through that belief, according to John 20:30-31. John offers us a lesson that is unmistakable, if understood in context. He taught:

Key Principle: I demonstrate true faith when I change my life to conform to what God said.

The story recorded in John’s Gospel (4:46-54) is a profound and yet simple story – but it requires you know something of the geography of where Jesus lived and traveled. The key to the entire story is contained in the details of time and distance between two ancient villages, set in the hills of lower Galilee. I have walked the path between these villages, and though neither is a living town today, the ruins can be identified and still mark the places. The ancient roadway is still a trail along the edge of the hillside, since roads tend to remain in place for millennia. People purchase and cultivate both sides of a roadway, but no one owns the road, so they tend to stay in the same place.

In the case of this path, the steep incline rose from Capernaum (a village that was in the Jordan Rift Valley north of the Sea of Galilee) up through the Arbel Pass to ancient “Khirbet Cana.” To walk up the path is no less arduous than can be traversed in an eight hour journey (plus or minus a few minutes). That same path in reverse direction is a mere five and one quarter to five and one half hours journey (because it drops downhill).

Jesus was around the Sea at Capernaum, and people knew Him there, but it wasn’t YET a big part of His ministry. In the early part of the ministry, He was in Nazareth, went to John’s preaching by the Jordan, made His way to Jerusalem for a time, and then began to announce His ministry throughout the towns of the Galilee region.

Let’s drop in as an observer to the happenings in Cana some two thousand years ago…

John 4:46 Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” 49 The royal official said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. 51 As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. 52 So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”; and he himself believed and his whole household. 54 This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

Look closely at the text. There are two things you should note before you take a “deep dive” into the scene:

First, the places are mentioned. Cana was the location of Jesus, but Capernaum was the location of the sick boy.

Second, the time of the healing was given. Did you notice the “seventh hour” in verse 52 was the hour that Jesus healed the boy according to verse 53?

The text can be broken into three simple parts:

1. A desperate man came to Jesus (4:46-49).
2. A believing man trusted Jesus (4:50-52).
3. A household demonstrated faith and belief (4:53-54).

First, we need to examine the account of the man that came to Jesus (4:46-49).

It is clear in the account that a man who lived in Capernaum heard the reputation of Jesus based on His previous works or in some way knew Jesus casually, but now found himself in desperation because of his sick son (4:46-47). Though Capernaum means “village of comfort,” in this story the man was nothing close to comfortable. Let’s summarize the things we know about him based on the account:

• He knew of Jesus and what others claimed He could do (John 4:46a).
• He was faced with a heart rending problem beyond his ability (John 4:46b)

Note that his “problem” led him to seek Jesus, and meeting Jesus met more needs than he anticipated.

That is often how it works. Ask people who walk with Jesus how they met Him. They may tell you about a background problem that led them on the path to the Lord. Problems can break down our sense of self-sufficiency. They can unmask our true vulnerability.

Desperation opens our hearts to make us willing to take our need to Jesus and abandon self-reliance. Giving up my falsely constructed sense of control is at the heart of accepting Jesus.

Before we skip past the detail, look at the identity of the man who came seeking assistance. He is called “a royal official” as the English translation for the Greek word basilikos. Basileus is the term for a king. This related word is the term for something or someone from a royal line. The weight of the word is not in reference to their job, but rather their “standing” in the community. This guy was a “somebody” in the celebrity category.

Though deemed important in rank, the man didn’t send one of “his people” to Jesus. Rather, he climbed the steep path some twenty miles from Capernaum to Cana. With the pictures of his son playing like a video loop in his mind, the man cared little about any humiliation of asking for help, nor was he fixed on any social difference in status between Jesus and himself. His son was facing death. He couldn’t stop it any other way. There was nothing else more important on his mind.

When you read the nobleman had to lower himself to seek help from a humble Jewish villager and itinerant preacher, don’t forget this truth: There is no home into which sickness and sorrow cannot enter – and when it does it reduces our man-made social divisions. Stand in the hospital and watch. Rich and powerful break down just like poor and needy when sickness strikes and death nears.

Crisis led him to Jesus. Crisis reduces arrogance and allows a man of standing, wealth and power to humbly kneel. For some of us, that crisis was the best thing that ever happened to us.

Notice how the man reached out for Jesus and begged Him to have mercy and deliver him from the clutches of the terrible need (John 4:47).

If you read the Scriptures thoroughly, you will note the man’s humility is part of what led Jesus to help. God resists the proud, but gives undeserved help to the humble. Jesus responded in two ways:

First, Jesus told those around Him that Galileans only seemed to believe what they could SEE (John 4:48).

We need to consider these words carefully. Jesus’ reaction (on first reading) does not seem loving at all – it sounds almost heartless and cold. It sounded like He said (apparently to the crowd around Him): “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you don’t believe.” Why take a seemingly desperate man and “hold out on him” like that? The answer is not as complicated as it may appear. Remember, this is another story to show that Jesus knows the heart of man (as John noted back in John 2:24-25).

This man was far from home. He couldn’t see his child. Jesus could claim to heal him, but the man wouldn’t be able to immediately check. Jesus was stating there was an opportunity there, not rejecting the man’s request. He was going to heal the boy, but the key to the story is what happened NEXT.

At the same time, Jesus DOES understand how manipulative people can be. We will move heaven and earth to achieve what we want. We ask desperately for the healing of our child, but when it’s done no commitment to Him or His message remains. We will use God to get what we want rather than allow the struggle to lead us to submission to God.

Consider the forces at work when people say: “If God is a healer, then why are there sick children in the world? If God is peaceful, then why do wars happen? If God loves, then why do bad things happen to good people?”

Behind these questions there is the desire to see God prove himself by taking these evil things away so that we will all believe in him and live happily ever after.

The problem is when God removes these problems it usually doesn’t end with the whole room following Him. The problem is based on a false premise: that people would believe and kneel if God did something about our troubles.

Think about it: There are plenty in our world who have enough to eat, aren’t struggling with the effects of war, plenty who have food on the table and a roof over their heads. Yet plenty of those people do not have a relationship with God. There have been many good times in our lives that did not yield surrendered lives.

Our relationship with God must not be simply based on his ability to heal us or perform other miracles for us. Our faith must leave this world’s way of thinking and take on a Biblical world view, solely based on surrender to the Word of Jesus.

Why didn’t Jesus make it easy for the man?

In our modern American lifestyle, we often act as though life should be easy. Ease, in fact is not always what is best for us. A faith that doesn’t challenge us is a faith that is not worth having. True faith requires of us a change. Real faith comes from God, as Ephesians tells us – and not from within ourselves. Yet, it results in surrender to Jesus’ role in our lives, not simply the solution to the immediate crisis.

A new king sits upon the throne only after a pitted struggle to remove the old king!

Second, Jesus told the man that he could trust in His Word alone.

He said: “Go, your son lives,” (John 4:50a). He didn’t even say He healed the boy! He merely said, “Go home. He’s ok!”

Yet, the man changed when he encountered Jesus:

At first, he was clearly panicked by the delay and distance (things he could observe with his eyes and heart) and tried to get Jesus to understand the immediacy of the need when he said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (John 4:49). After Jesus spoke, the man clearly believed the word so thoroughly, that he exchanged panic for trust (John 4:50b). How do I know? Let’s take a closer look…

Next we need to examine the man and his apparent “trust in Jesus” (4:50-52).

Jesus spoke to the man at one o’clock (the seventh hour of the daylight according to John 4:52) and yet did not return home the same day. The text is clear the man encountered his slaves “the next day.” How could this be? He came with panic in his heart and yet stayed from one o’clock in the afternoon until the next day to journey down the five and one half hour path to his home? The key to the change is the word “BELIEVED” in verse 50.

The man believed. The man trusted the word of Jesus. He exchanged SEEING for what Jesus TOLD HIM – “Your son is alive and well.” He rested in that promise overnight. He ceased striving to find a way to care for the need because he believed the need was already met.

It was in his going, not in his arriving that he received the assurance that his faith had been rewarded.

A single act of faith led to a life of faith. In Genesis 12, God called Abraham to follow Him from his home to new land that he had never been. His decision is described in Hebrews 12:8, “he went out, not knowing.”

Here is the key: I truly believe God’s Word only when I accept the Word as it is stated and change my life to conform to what it says I should do and become. I change my behavior. I rest in the words and see life through them. I don’t keep seeing as others see!

That helps us understand the “full grasp of belief.” The man’s household believed by the end of the account (4:53-54). What does that mean?

Notice two important changes that occurred in the heart of the man after his initial trust was confirmed by the facts on the ground:

• The man trusted in Jesus’ words, but that trust was confirmed in his life as he walked in those words (4:53). He didn’t require proof, but he got it as he believed.

• The seed of that man’s belief became a testimony that when shared sprung up in a tree that sheltered the whole family, and they all believed together (4:53b).

A profound testimony can produce great faith in those who observe your changes. It is hard to refute a life surrendered and changed by Jesus.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God. And it seems plain as a matter of history that He taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way. In other words, I believe it on His authority. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority… The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them.” (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)

As we examine the story then, what is faith? It is seeing the world as God says it is, not as my eyes say it is. It is accepting HIS WORD as the authority on what truly happened and what will happen.

It begins when I admit my need. The truth is that my senses are limited and can produce a faulty conclusion.

The other day I was driving and I wanted to make a left on Thunderbird Road coming from The Home Depot. My wife was in the car and it was raining. I looked first to my left – no one was coming. I looked to my right – no one was coming… or so I thought. I began to pull out and my wife said, “Stop, stop! There’s a car!” Blocked by a blind spot on the car at that angle and by my wife’s lovely head, I totally missed the view of the car. I was responding to what I saw, but not what was truly there. I was boldly proceeding as if I knew what was there, but I did not truly see things as they were.

That is how many of the people we know live today. They are proceeding confidently and ignoring blind spots.

Faith is the ability to see the truth. Since Jesus is the truth, and speaks the truth – it is the ability to see “through His eyes.”

Akin to faith is the Biblical word “BELIEVE” (επιστευσεν from pisteuo: to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), to entrust. Belief is only truly seen in change (as James notes). It is “the convincing of the mind and heart that leads to a willful surrender to the conditions of that truth accepted.” When Abraham believed that God would send him a son — he built a nursery. The belief was not complete until the actions accompanied the faith confirmed the change in authority over the life of the man of faith.

Sometimes, it even takes time to find out if the surrender is real:

A young woman had become critically ill and her prognosis was grim; she would likely die within the year. Her family had a nominal “Easter and Christmas” commitment to the church, so the discussions in the hospital between this young pastor and the family always ploughed new ground. The woman challenged him – if Jesus healed in the Bible, he should be able to heal me today. If not, what use was He? So she begged and bargained. “If only” God would show mercy, the family urged, they would completely recommit themselves and come to church every Sunday. This earnest young pastor prayed with all his heart. He refused to join the ranks of those who said, “If it is Thy will.” It was God’s will that she be healed, he concluded. Then to his amazement, God healed her—completely. And with the physicians shaking their heads, she was sent home from the hospital. Next Sunday, the entire family was there in the front pew, dressed and sparkling. The young woman gave her testimony, praising God for his goodness. The following Sunday, the family was there again. In four weeks, it was only the woman and her husband. And after that, attendance was sporadic until they dropped into their previous pattern. Before long, the woman rationalized the entire incident. She had experienced the most dramatic sign God could give her: healing, bathed in prayer and surrounded by the church. But after only two months, its power dimmed to nothing. (Sermon Central Illustrations)

Her surrender was not real, though her amazement was. She was amazed at first that God could and would act on her behalf. If our encounter is with amazement alone, it will fade.

God isn’t looking to amaze you if it doesn’t change you.

If our encounter led us to true surrender – we will ever be changed and marked by our walk with Jesus. Jesus is looking for surrender to Him, not an applause line from an amazed admirer.

Jean Francois Gravelet, also known as “The Great Blondin,” was the first tightrope walker to appear at Niagara Falls. On June 30, 1859 the rope was fully in position to cross the falls. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and Blondin started the trip that was to make history. As he began his ascent toward the Canadian shore, he paused, steadied the balancing pole and suddenly executed a back somersault. Never content merely to repeat his last performance, Blondin crossed his rope on a bicycle, walked blindfolded, pushed a wheelbarrow, cooked an omelet in the centre and made the trip with his hands and feet manacled. And then, he announced that on August 19 he would cross the gorge carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back. (Source: http://www.

Harry Colcord demonstrated what we are referring to as “Biblical belief.” He didn’t just have the faith to know that Blondin could make the trip; he acted on that faith in allowing it to change HIS future.

In that same way, Jesus invites us to crawl upon His back, and to surrender control to Him for our lives and future. He will walk us through Heaven’s gates. Nothing less than crawling on is what He seeks.

Here is the truth: I believe God’s Word when I change my life to conform to what it says. His Word isn’t meant to inform me; it is meant to change me.

What Jesus Did: “The Seven Works of the Master” (Part One) – John 2:1-11

Unless you have been living under a rock or away on an isolated island vacation with no TV broadcasts, you are probably aware that the U.S. has been alight and buzzing with recent testimony before our Senate Judicial Committee as it met in session for the purposes of presenting or declining a candidate for the vacant seat on our Supreme Court. As powerful lobbies and political factions collided before our eyes, Americans saw the worst attributes of power players seep out in a drama that captured some of the largest ratings on American TV. At the heart of the issue are accusations from decades past, and deep concerns of many who, in unrelated personal stories, have sadly faced criminal abuse in their lives that was not resolved justly. To get to the heart of the facts, a few selected testimonies were paraded in front of us, while much happened behind closed doors and we were left without enough to bring a factual conclusion, but got enough to tarnish everyone who was involved. Toss enough slop around a room carelessly and the whole room will end up covered – and they did.

This isn’t a political seminar, so relax. I don’t have to take a side here, and the truth is: my vote doesn’t count in this exchange.

It is fair to point out the Bible requires “corroboration of testimony” before any public accusation against leaders without such evidence. That protection has been historically enshrined in our civil laws – but the idea clearly emanates from the Bible itself (cp. 1 Timothy 5:19).

With the very same voice, I want to say without qualification the Bible supports real tenderness for those who have been victims, and every attempt should be made to be sure we care for the hurting as best we can (cp. 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

In the end, I simply argue that one cannot find the truth in a process that is not specifically designed to get to it, and one will not find the truth when power players are at work to bend the information in different ways for pre-determined causes. In short, we’ve been set up to fail here.

We won’t know for sure (this side of eternity) what happened long ago between these people (if anything) by the methods used in this process. I would suggest that by looking deeply into the hurting eyes of a victim as they pour out their fragmented memories on TV you will learn little of certainty. Conversely, we will not ascertain facts solely by judging the full-throated defense of a professional judge who is a trained lawyer, since he argues for a living.

What seems very much at the heart of the main issues of our day is how we can find the truth… and why truth really matters!

That is what we need to talk about. Where and how do we find truth?

If these proceedings have shown us anything, they clarified a weakness in teaching people to distinguish between deeply held “gut-level opinion” and carefully “cross-checked” evidence.

Some honestly believe they can tell if someone is telling the truth by their demeanor as showed on a flat screen TV; but I think that is at best naïve.

• I want to examine evidence. I want to know truth based on verified evidence – just like everyone else.

• I want every victim of crime to be consoled that one day, even if not in this life, every abuser will stand before God, and the Lord will not decide based on their demeanor. “He Who is the Truth” will speak definitively in judgment.

• At the same time, I want every person who has faced false and stinging words employed to harm their reputation to remember, God said not to bear false witness, and those who speak lies will also stand before the Judge of truth.

What a great setting to introduce a subject we will be following for the next few months. The title of our series exposes the simplest part of the idea: “What Jesus did,” but it doesn’t offer the richness of the texture to what we are going to deep dive into. We are going to look at the evidence of what Jesus DID to offer testimony and substance to what He claimed about Himself. We are going to go back into things that happened in the past and gather the testimony of verified deeds.

We are going to follow the evidence that has been combed over for centuries, and listen to the words of those who saw Jesus in action, and judged His character and personal claims by His deeds.

As with every search in our modern times, we should also anticipate there will be much distraction. An anonymous Amazon book reviewer offered this on a book about Jesus. He wrote:

Each year as we approach Christmas and Easter, we are inevitably greeted at magazine racks by news journals trumpeting the “latest scholarship” on the “historical Jesus.” The fact that very little of what appears ever has lasting scholarly value seems of little concern to the journals in question. The attraction of the sensational and the scandalous governs media coverage in our age and any “scholar” who claims things about Jesus Christ that ordinary Christians would find disturbing is enticing to a cynical media looking for a “story” – even if the views promoted lack any credibility with the vast majority of experts in the field…

That reviewer nailed the sentiment that we have a hard time getting to the truth in an age where people value their presuppositions and conclude as much based on flimsy opinions as they do by carefully entertaining the eyewitness testimony.

Long ago, the work of a pastor at Ephesus (today in western Turkey) named “John the evangelist” offered a series of testimonials about Jesus’ activities in the first century. His account gave selected events with a specific stated purpose that he included near the end of the work. John recorded that purpose and wrote:

John 20:30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Listen to his words carefully. He selected events to help us truly see, believe and have life.

John was interested in his readers. He wanted them to know what Jesus said (so he included seven “I Am” sayings of Jesus in the work) and he wanted them to grapple with what Jesus DID (so he included seven miracles of Jesus) as well.

Recently we listened to a series of teachings on what Jesus said. Now we examine the accounts of what He did. These are seven miracles including:

• Changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11).

• Healing a child long distance between Cana and Capernaum (John 4:46-54).

• Restoring the legs of a lame man at the Pools of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-11).

• Multiplying the resources of the loaves and fish for a hungry Galilee crowd (John 6:6-13).

• Shutting down a storm on the Sea of Galilee that brought fear to His disciples (John 6:16-21).

• Giving sight to a man born blind at the Siloam Pool in Jerusalem (John 9:1-7).

• Raising up the dead body of His friend Lazarus at Bethany in Judea (John 11:1-45).

Each of these seven events were recalled to offer clear evidence that Jesus is Messiah, God’s Eternal Son and sole door to God. Don’t forget what is at stake! John also wrote:

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

If that record is accurate and Jesus was speaking the truth, we are forced to conclude that knowing Him provides the one and only door to our Father in Heaven. In that case, Jesus isn’t one of many paths, He is THE WAY. John wanted us to know that truth by knowing accounts of His works.

Let’s start our investigation early in the account…

Here is what I think you will see:

Key Principle: Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.

Look with me at the first of these seven stories found in John 2:1-11. See if you can pick out what the account tells you about Jesus that will change you.

John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus *said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus *said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother *said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone water pots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

Put on your detective hat and let’s look at this account from a wedding at Cana to see what we learn about Jesus and how He can give us life.

Don’t skip the details, because the Word of God didn’t:

The Setting:

The opening two verses provide both the cast of characters at the event, as well as the specific setting of it.

First, the text opened with a timing note: “on the third day.” There is an old Jewish wife’s tale that Tuesday was the best day to get married. Many in Jewish circles still echo that. It wasn’t actually part of the Bible or of the Talmud, but some held the “ideal day to get married is Yom Shelishi (Tuesday, or the “third day”) because in the Creation story, the phrase “ki tov” (for it is good) is used twice on that day. Halachot (Jewish laws) and common customs existed regarding getting married on particular days, months, seasons and even parts of the month, but there was no specific law regarding marriage on any day other than Shabbat (the Sabbath). At the same time, this account is often quoted in an historical way to show the old custom. Here is the bottom line: It was likely a Tuesday the events unfolded. The idea that this follows “days” from chapter one doesn’t seem to really fit the time.

Second, the text offered a place: Cana of Galilee. This was no small town (like Nazareth) but it was a town along the rim of the Beth Netofa valley system in lower Galilee, in a low lying place where reeds were (at one time) probably harvested for the making of roofing materials. (The term Cana is “reed”.)

Third, the text offered a list of people: the mother of Jesus (2:1), Jesus and His disciples (2:2; we presume the five He got from John the Baptizer in the previous chapter which were: John, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, and Simon Peter). Included in the account were also servants of the master of the house (2:5), a headwaiter and a bridegroom (2:9). I take it the list of people to corroborate the events, then, was at least ten people, perhaps more. It was a public party, and the disciples clearly learned of all the background events according to their response in verse eleven.

The Problem:

The story recounts more than an embarrassing moment – it records a disaster.

Obviously, Mary was (in some way) linked to what could seem to us as an embarrassing faux pas, but it was much more than just a slight to the guests in that time and place. This problem had deep and powerfully enduring consequences. Middle Eastern society, both then and now, is steeped in a culture that expects certain social obligations to be met in the community. One of them is the notion of “reciprocal hospitality.”

Let’s say last year because you celebrated a feast at my child’s wedding where we fed you lavishly and had all the wine you cared to drink, you are expected to do the same for me when I attend your son’s marriage feast. Failure to respond in kind comes with severe social consequences. The marriage will be labeled a disgrace, and there could well be a lasting social stigma on the couple and even the children of that union. In some circumstances, such a breach of hospitality could have brought a lawsuit for damages by the family of the bride, since this part was in the hands of the groom’s family. The hired steward of such a disaster would probably never work another celebration in that community again.

This was no small incident, and when the wine ran out early, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3).

Don’t miss that Near Eastern culture is also quite a superstitious culture in many ways. Even though God gave His Word to the Jewish people, if you know their history and writings, there is no shortage of reference to what amounts to “omens” and “signs” that move them. Paul referred to that tendency when he wrote:

1 Corinthians 1:22-24: For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Bear in mind that marriage feasts were intended to be the most joyous of community occasions for a village. In the Hebrew world, wine personified joy, plain and simple. In the poetic language of the Hebrew Scriptures, wine is most often a symbol of God-given joy:

Psalm 104:15 And wine which makes man’s heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man’s heart.

Judges 9:13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’

Isaiah 55:1 Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

The point is that wine represented JOY and the lack of it stood to condemn this couple and their new home. You don’t want to be the couple that started marriage with the omen of joy that ran out. It doesn’t bode well for you or your children. If the local crops fail next season, plan on getting blamed.

Now look again…

The phrasing isn’t completely clear, but I want you to consider a reasonable way to look at the detail of the text. There is an indication in verse one and two that Mary was already at the feast, at the time when Jesus and His disciples arrived on the third day. Since wedding feasts were often seven day events, John may have recalled that Jesus and the disciples (who were in fact invited) didn’t get there until the end of the week long feast. The point is, the wine seemed to be a sufficient amount until additional people showed up. The steward made a judgment call and didn’t get additional resources during the week, because he thought they had enough to get through the end of the feast. With more people, the lack of supply quickly became apparent.

Part of the text recalled a personal interaction between Mary and Jesus.

John 2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Obviously, the discussion was truncated. We don’t know all they said to one another. If the words recorded were the whole conversation, it was just plain weird. We assume John cut off the unnecessary parts of the interaction, but it is interesting he included Jesus’ objection. He did it, I believe, to show that Jesus was being pressed to do things to confirm what Mary was told about Him at the time of His conception by the angel Gabriel,
and at the times when God intervened on Jesus’ behalf as a child. Mary seemed sure that Jesus could fix the problem because Mary believed Jesus was the Promised One.

Jesus, on the other hand, wanted to make sure that He was not going to be “outed” by the agenda of anyone beside His Father. This was part of His objection when Satan wanted Him to jump off the southwest pinnacle of the temple in the temptation (Mt. 4).

In any case, out of respect for His mother and her faith in Him, He apparently agreed to deal with the crisis. Mary left the scene with two great statements:

• First, she gave the servants the best words offered in the New Testament: “Whatever Jesus tells you to do, do it.”

• Second, she left apparently totally trusting Jesus, and didn’t return to add additional input. She trusted Him, and she rested in His ability. That is a wonderful reminder to all of us who have wrangled with Jesus after we have prayed.

The Heart of the Miraculous Account: Water was changed into wine.

Verse six shared the scope of the miracle by offering us the vat size and number of containers. There were six stone pots, each containing between twenty and thirty gallons. One hundred twenty to one hundred eighty gallons of wine seemed like a lot of libation to get through to the end of the feast – but that wasn’t the KEY DETAIL that changes your thinking. Obviously, Jesus provided enough for all that they needed to celebrate, and what they needed to start their own label for the next year!

Yet, don’t neglect to look at WHAT KIND OF POTS they were.

If you believe the detail of the ritual purification pots was just incidental, it is because you aren’t looking at the story the way a Jewish person would. Ritual purification was, and is, at the heart of observant Jewish life. The
elaborate rules regarding ritual purity and impurity are deeply embedded in the Hebrew law.

The noun “ṭumah” (defiled or unclean) is used some forty times in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible to denote ineligibility for different services. The adjective tamei (טָמֵא) (impure) is all through the text of the Hebrew Bible.

These were people that wanted to please God by collecting the rain water in the required stone vessels, so that every impurity of life could be symbolically washed away. Do they seem like the kind of people who CARE about symbolic things? Of course, they do.

Consider the volume of the pronouncement of what Jesus did when He took THAT WATER and transformed it to wine. The account ended with a commentary:

John 2:11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

We see in the story that Jesus wasn’t so “other worldly” that He wouldn’t celebrate a wedding with two people starting a new family. He knew family was important, since He established the family to begin with. Yet, remember our key truth…

Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.

• Jesus didn’t offer them INFORMATION on where to get more wine.
• Jesus didn’t give them an EDUCATION on why they should plan better in the future.
• Jesus didn’t pull the crowd in and offer EXPLANATION of why the steward could not have known His boys would arrive late.

Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.

He understood the longing of that family to have their impurity washed away – so God brought them Jesus. What He brings is more than they could understand, ask, think or expect.

• If you are reading today for scintillating information (something new you hadn’t heard before) – you are willing to settle far too low for what Jesus can bring you.

• If you would be satisfied with more education about the Word today, you are far too easily pleased.

Jesus wants to take your longings and completely, utterly, entirely and unreservedly transform them by His touch. He can make plain His GLORY and offer you something from Heaven.

He transformed their longing into something far beyond what they could have expected.

He made the ordinary into the extraordinary when it was set aside for His exclusive use. The water put exclusively under the control of Jesus was transformed into something greater than it could be without His Word.

Don’t miss that. Don’t overlook that many people will file into a church today looking for Jesus to fix the plumbing leaks of their life. They had a break-up with one they love. The bills rolled in like a tsunami and they are under water. Their health is failing them. An injustice against them hasn’t been settled and unfairness seems to be winning. They will pull together their list, their tears, their pain – and they will file into a church and wait for God to fix their problem. Yet, what God wants to give them is so much more. He wants them to encounter the powerful transformation of Jesus’ Word.

He doesn’t want to wash them with their saved up water in their old stone pot – He wants to transform their water and satisfy their thirst with something they have never tasted before!

He wants to fill them with something made in Heaven – not a religious ritual cut from a stony hillside and carefully calibrated by men.

Jesus is the timeless transformer. He is so passionate to show you Who He is, He actually came in the flesh bringing transforming power to you.

As I close, I want to echo the words offered by Billy Graham a few years ago, before he entered the presence of the Savior on February 21, 2018:

• There is no doubt that our generation suffers from moral uncertainty. We have a great deal of levity, but little real joy. There is searching on the part of young people for fun, but little real happiness. There is a great deal of canned laughter on television, but it is empty and hollow.

• We are zealous for freedom, but we are weak in our worship of God. We boast over military strength, but our television screens show that it is brutal in application.

• We have everything, but possess nothing. We seek knowledge, but lack understanding. There is plenty of struggle upward, but we continue to sink lower.

• As John Steinbeck said, “Our civilization needs the panic of a great crisis to shock it out of its Pharisaism.”

It is time for you to take your stone pot, set aside for washing to find a sense of cleanness – and let the Word of the Savior transform it.

If you don’t know Him as Savior, today is the day you can ask Jesus to take your life from you and commission you to follow Him. If you DO know Him as Savior, you have tasted of the sweetness of His ability to transform your life. What pot hasn’t been given Him? That one is still just plain water…

The Gospel in Action: “Sunrise of the New Day” – Romans 13

Ask any nurse or care giver, and they will tell you: “Pain increases at night, but it seems to slowly relinquish some of its hold as the sun rises.” It seems that as a new day comes, the throbbing that came in with the darkness recedes back into the body, only to be prompted to strike out again when the sun goes down.

Sunrise helps ease pain. It is a well-documented notion.

I must admit that I love to watch the sunrise in the morning out back of my house! As the morning dawns the birds awaken, and the animals stir all around my house (and there are plenty of them!). The once formless dark forest beside our house begins to come into clear view. Shapes are defined because sunrise brings light, and light brings clarity.

This isn’t poetry; it’s a Scripture idea. Paul made note that the sunrise is coming soon, and that should change our sense of urgency about what we DO and our desire to be transformed to be more like Jesus. Think about it:

• In Romans 12, Paul made clear believers should act in a certain pattern within the church by using their gifts and appreciating others in the inter-connected nature of the church body.

• In Romans 13, Paul appealed to the believers to allow God to change them in relation to the way they handle people OUTSIDE THE CHURCH in their local community – especially in relation to those who were in charge of the society.

Yet, what sticks out to me is not simply the commands (though we will look at each) but the reason for commitment to the call to change. It is found near the end of the chapter…

Romans 13:11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Do you see it? Paul shared the central reason for following some of the instruction he gave in verses 1-10 of the passage. He said it was simply because the alarm clock was about to go off. A new day was about to dawn.

If you listen closely, you can hear the optimism in his words. He called the time believers live in the present age the word “dark,” but he also promised a soon coming light.

Did you happen to notice how he characterized believers in the darkness of this world? He noted it was a time when believers seem to be “dozing” a bit. Is that a fair characterization?

Actually, I think it is.

In some ways, even the most disciplined and mature believers among us spend far more time providing for the flesh in daily life than for the real world – the spiritual one. The effect of that fact is we tend to see the physical life as more important, and dare I say it, more real.

It isn’t more real; it is fleeting. It isn’t more important; it is temporary.

Yet things aren’t as they seem. Life in the here and now SEEMS more real and more permanent than any misty thoughts of Heaven and eternity. Talk to anyone who doesn’t believe in life beyond this one, and you will hear clearly that denial of self in this life is loss – even if it is because we know we have been called to do so with a greater life after in mind.

Listen again to what Paul said (in my own paraphrase):

Romans 13:11 “We obey these things, we make these changes, because the alarm clock is about to snap us awake from this sleepy existence (with its unreal and dreamy qualities). We are about to wake up to reality. That reality is our rescue from the world we have come to think is: “Oh so important.” The practices that go with the sleepy, dark and temporal world are about to be over. That fact presses us to unhand deeds that go with the darkness of this world and cover ourselves with the armor of light.

Our time on earth has temporary demand and temporary rewards. Someday, most of the things of this world will be as useless to you as a hair brush to a bald man. Because of that, Paul said it was time for the Roman believers to wake up to reality.

Stop and look for a moment, before reading the list of things Paul commanded them to DO in the chapter, at the final command found in the last line of Romans 13, at verse 14:

Romans 13:14“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.

Now ask, “What does that truly mean?”

The command has two parts:

• Put on Jesus Christ.
• Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

Are you hungry right now? If I hunger and get into my car to drive to a restaurant and order a meal, am I being disobedient to this passage? Am I letting my hunger determine my eating? Isn’t that why God gave me the impulse to eat anyway? What does Paul mean by “make no provision for the flesh” then?

Am I about to listen to a message that encourages me to look at a model Christian as the one who leaves church on Sunday in their car without using the air conditioner? Will they refuse a good restaurant for lunch and go home to eat bread, drink water and send the money they would have spent to missionaries? Will they avoid comforts through the week, and sleep on a hard floor rather than a soft mattress?

“You’re being silly!” some will protest. Maybe I am. Now, let me ask you, how does one make NO PROVISION for the flesh in regard to its lusts and walk through a buffet line?

There must be more to this! The passage appears to tell us what God expects from us, but not HOW God expects us to do what He told us to do.

I think, when it is all said and done, you will see the “how” more clearly. Let’s back out of the passage, set it in context, and then try to understand the truth. The big idea of the text is this…

Key Principle: I can’t put on Jesus until I actively seek to peel off self.

Now let’s unpack that.

First, let’s set this truth in the context of the letter Paul was writing, so we are sure that what we take away is consistent with its original message to its original audience. As you may recall, the letter was designed to answer five big questions:

What happened to mankind? Why is sin rampant and why is the world full of troubles. Paul answered with essentially one word: mutiny. Man’s rebellion caused his troubles (cp. Romans 1-3).

What did God do about man’s rebellious and languishing state? The second question was answered by a single word as well: gift. God gave His Son to remedy sin’s hold on man (cp. Romans 4-5).

How can I cast off sin’s hold on my life as a follower of Jesus? Through Paul’s quill, God instructed Jesus followers that the prison doors of sinful behavior have been unlocked by God, and we can be free to walk in God’s Spirit (cp. Romans 6-8).

Is God really trustworthy in keeping His promises? A large part of the Epistle deals specifically with the history of God and His promises to Israel, as a case study in Hi trustworthiness (cp. Romans 9-11).

What should a healthy walk with Jesus look like in practical and daily lifestyle? This is the section we again study today – the section that explains how a mature and healthy believer should appear, or how they should demonstrate Jesus in daily life (cp. Romans 12-16).

Next, look at the grammar of what Paul said God expected to fulfill the commands of the first part of the Romans 13.

Romans 13:14“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.”

Notice three things:

• In this metaphor, Jesus is One you can “put on” like you would put on new clothing. If you think of trying on new clothes, you can easily understand you cannot put on the new until you remove the old.

• Second, the term “flesh” is modified by the term “lusts” – making them one and the same. He isn’t talking badly about our physical bodies (nor our God-given nees like food, etc.) , but rather making the point that we cannot and must not pander to the fallen urges that he summarized by the word “lusts.” Lust, in this context, is a strong desire once imbedded into us by God, but torqued through the Fall. Most often in the New Testament, lust of the flesh is a description of an implanted hunger the enemy uses to draw us into fulfilling our felt needs without God.

A believer is not to make provision for the desire that leads us to fulfill a hunger without God and His provided plan as shared in His Word.

Four Instructions for Believers from Romans 13

Set in this context are the four instructions of the chapter. Go back to the beginning of the text and review quickly…

Instruction One: Believers are to learn to let God put people over us we wouldn’t always choose.

As a follower of Jesus, we accept that what is happening in the physical world is but a symptom of the spiritual world. We believe that behind the scenes are two competing agendas – that of a loving God and another of a deceiving enemy. Though God’s enemy has great power on our planet, he is limited to the realm God has set for him until the time that evil is brought to an end. Ultimately, all things happen under the authority of our Heavenly Father – even the things He is not pleased by. Yet, the underlying system, though at times suffering from later corruptions, is still a reflection of His original establishment. Paul put it this way…

Romans 13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.

Romans 13:3b “…Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

If you follow the logic of his argument, you will see:

Paul told them the deliberately place themselves in subjection to authorities in light of the Author of their place of authority (13:1). In order to drive home Divine reasons, Paul had to press the case as to why subjection was so important. He enumerates several reasons:

God designed authority and placed people into it. (Romans 13:1) From the original call of man in the Garden, ruling and ordering were part of what God wanted man to accomplish.

Resisting the structures God put in place was often a proxy battle for resisting God Himself (Romans 13:2). We need signs and symbols of authority to remind us to obey – because we can get feisty or thoughtless and do what we want, even if it isn’t right. Authorities were designed, in some ways, to help deter wrong action.

Think of the police car you see when traveling down the road. What is the first thing you do? You look down at the speed limit. Why? Because if you are going the right speed, you anticipate he won’t stop you. He isn’t looking for more paperwork to do if he doesn’t need to do it. His presence slows people down and gets them thinking about obeying the signs.

Subjecting ourselves will most often put us in a place of peace and not fear. When the one in authority sees a clear demonstration that we understand their importance and function, they are far more likely to have a positive exchange with us (Romans 13:3b).

Resisting authority and violating law, even in an imperfect and fallen world, should make us afraid. Deterrence is a God thing. God has put within man a sense of the society in which they live. He has made us nervous when doing wrong from our earliest “cookie heist” as a child. That built in anxiety is called “guilt” and is part of our “conscience.”

We are, when all is said and done, to be in subjection because it can save us pain and trouble, but also because it helps us keep peace inside. When we do nothing to violate law, we move through life without hiding the guilt of our transgressions (Romans 13:4-5).

The battle with submission is a battle of the ego.

Let’s say it this way: We actively seek to “peel off self” when we set aside ego and learn humility and respect. It is an act of worship, especially when it is consciously done to obey the teachings of Jesus.

Do not be drawn into the trap of only respecting an authority after you make them prove they deserve it. That is another form of deep rebellion and arrogance. It is a popular notion, but one that assumes God is not behind authority structures.

But there is more…

Instruction Two: Believers are to learn to practice submission in demonstrable and practical ways.

God doesn’t want us to subscribe to a theory of obedience; He wants us to practice truth in life. This became very pointed when Paul connected the truth of submission to our use of money to demonstrate submission and honor. He noted:

Romans 13:6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

Here is the truth: Believers must not embrace civil authority and then feel justified starving its ability to collect revenue necessary to perform its vital civil tasks. The passage requires that we openly agree to pay, honor and show respect to those in authority without compromise. Bear in mind Paul was a Roman, writing during the early years of Emperor Nero. Though he was not yet acting out, there were ample illustrations of inequitable rulers readily available at the time.

Don’t cynically read this as some kind of patronizing passage to keep the authorities off the back of the early church leaders – it is both their record and the breathed Word of God!

The instruction was clearly to respect, fear and honor civil authority based on their placement by God. This included paying taxes into a system that used the money for purposes we wouldn’t individually agree to as believers.

We actively seek to “peel off self” when we practice the theory of submission in something as physical as money. Even mature believers may find themselves negotiating terms of obedience when they don’t like the way the taxes are used. That is a distraction from the call to give to temporal rulers the temporary (but prized) bank balance.

There is yet a third instruction…

Instruction Three: Believers need to learn to see others through eyes of love and act in ways respecting them and their things.

It is important for us to note that when God calls for us to give honor, fear and treasure to civil authority, He has the right to direct my finances. All that I have has come into my life because of My Heavenly Father. Listen to what God directed:

Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law. 9 For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of [the] law.

Obviously, Paul argues that believers are to keep a ledger clear of debt as much as is possible, but recognize there is one part of the ledger that can never be clear: the part concerning our love. We OWE it to people to love them.

• If we violate the sacredness of another’s marriage – we steal from someone. We steal their special bond, violate the sacredness of their promises and covenant to each other, and potentially wound their children and family.

• When we murder another human being, we steal their right to more opportunities for forgiveness, more chances to find love and experience grace – we take from them what is not ours to take.

• When we take from another the things that are justly theirs, we remove from them the fruit of their labors, and we show ourselves discontented with what God has placed rightfully in our hands.

All these are sins: adultery, murder, theft. We must not take, but we are equally commanded not to withhold – or we also sin.

• We are not to withhold our deliberate action to meet the needs of those around us, without the expectation of any specific return on our action.

• We are to love, because we were commanded to by God. That alone is reason enough.

Love is about the other person, not about you. The battle inside is about placing other people first, when our default is about making ourselves first. We deliberately “peel off self” when we think of the needs of others over our own needs.

There is one final command…

Instruction Four: Believers are to learn to put on Jesus’ character and choices.

In putting others before me, I must also put Jesus before me. I put on Jesus when I deliberately take off my right to choose and put on His choices. The end of the text calls for us to deliberately change our appearance…

Romans 13:11 [Do] this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.

Paul warned the hour was later than they thought. We don’t have time to put this off. We have to get busy.

Paul also warned that we can be sleepy when we should be vigilant. We can easily get the idea that important things are not that important.

Paul anticipated that our rescue from this life was about to happen, any day. He wasn’t depressed. He wasn’t disgusted with this life. He was acknowledging a truth we must ponder to stay on track: We don’t belong here. We aren’t designed to live with the pain of death, the struggle with sin and the power of the enemy forever. We will be set free.

The night will pass. The pain will go away. The fog of putting hope in my body and its pleasures will be lifted. I will see the Savior. I will know peace. I will experience the delight of one-ness with God. I will have the eternal life Jesus promised…and it is coming SOON!

Paul continued:

Romans 13:12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day…

Paul told them to act NOW as we will act THEN. Believers are to bring Heaven into the room, not try to sneak darkness into Heaven when they go. Our values are to be transformed to eternal ones.

What does that look like? It includes separating ourselves from pandering to our physical wants and desires apart from an intimate walk with Jesus. He wrote:

Romans 13:13b “…not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.

Note the areas: Partying to release us from responsible action, sexual indulgence to release us from the tensions of desire, sensual feeding to grow the fallen nature’s hold within us, fostering anger and division to feed our ego and the stirred broken spirit within us.

Each of these exalts OUR NEEDS over others. Each removes our conscious choice to follow Jesus and not make a god out of our belly – our hungers, our desires. Paul ended with clear words…

Romans 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.

Instead of indulging self I am to put on the actions and attitudes of Jesus in my daily choices. That is the Christian life. Some things are to be increasingly evident: My Christ-like thinking will cause me to focus on fulfilling the desires of my Father and enable me to put my hungers behind His desires.

If we took the time to read Paul description in detail of the works of the flesh that he wrote not long after, it would sound like this:

Galatians 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Look at the WAR WITHIN YOU as a believer for a minute. In Galatians 5, God made clear the works of the flesh are all ABOUT ME taking care of ME (at least my perceived needs). Here we have a list of fifteen deeds we can be drawn into – all of which displease God and enslave us: (Note: The Greek words are defined below).

• Immorality: porneia; illicit sexual activity to use my body for self-pleasure without regard to the proper bonding use of the gift of sexuality.

• Impurity: a-katharsia; uncleansed living, living with unbridled desires that are not corrected. This is literally about living in a withdrawn state from God, because you refuse to yield to His cleansing and have the relationship restored. It is hiding in guilt and isolation from God, because you don’t want to stop doing what you are doing.

There is an old story about how a mountain lion felt so good after eating an entire bull, he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter tracked the sound and shot him… The moral of that story: When you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

• Sensuality: aselgia; shameless hungers for self-fulfillment.

• Idolatry: idolateria; shaping an ideal of value and bowing in allegiance to it.

• Sorcery: farmakia; using anesthetizing drugs for release from reality.

• Enmities: echthros; someone who harbors irreconcilable hostility, with actions prompted by envy or hatred.

• Strife: eris; someone who brings wrangling and dissention with gossip and trouble making.

• Jealousy: zélos; someone who burns for things that belong to others.

• Outbursts of anger: thoomus; someone who boils over and lashes out verbally or physically.

• Disputes: erithia; someone who manipulates for personal gain.

• Dissensions: dikhosetia; someone who forces a wedge between people to divide them.

• Factions: ha heresis; someone who labels people to keep them apart.

• Envying: fthonos; someone who plots another’s downfall out of jealousy.

• Drunkenness: methay; someone who refuses to take their pain to their Savior.

• Carousing: komos; someone who celebrates feeling in the here and now more than a sense of pleasing God.

All of these items are about ME. MY PLEASURE. MY HAPPINESS. MY STATISFACTION. MY NEEDS. MY WANTS… and they stand in direct contrast to the “other person centered” lifestyle taught in the Scriptures. They are the things we are to peel off to put on Jesus.

Paul claimed that ACTIONS AND BEHAVIORS could show the reality of a person’s true walk with God.

That is either true, or its not. If it IS, we may need a time of examination.

In a world centered on individual rights and liberties almost to the exclusion of community responsibility, this thinking challenges us to be transformed. The shocking claim is this: There is, in fact, a connection between how I live and whether or not I truly belong to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Let that soak in for a moment. Paul actually claims that people who truly have Jesus as their Savior make choices to walk a different path than they had when they came to Christ.

We deliberately “peel off self” when we recognize the lateness of the hour and snap out of the delusion of night. The battle with procrastination is fueled by the belief the hour is not as late as it truly is.

A recent article by two CNN reporters (Rachel Held Evans & Laura Sessions Stepp). Attempted to explain why many are leaving the American church. CNN decided to counsel churches on what congregations needed to do to start appealing to the upcoming generation. What was their conclusion? People were leaving congregations because the church wasn’t meeting their WANTS.

Throughout their descriptions of Americans they repeatedly shared what they “want.” CNN was saying: unless the church accommodated these WANTS they’d lose people.

Paul would completely understand that thinking. Jesus isn’t asking to join YOUR WAY, He is calling us to abandon our way for HIS.

The simple call of the believer is to put on Jesus and peel off self. I can’t put on Jesus until I peel off self.

We must be careful that you and I aren’t living two different sets of values – one for Sunday (a “quick slip on” version of a Jesus costume) and another for Monday (the self beneath). Let me offer a story about someone who tried it…

I heard about a farmer who was 2 hours late getting home. His wife questioned him about it and he explained that on his way home he saw his preacher on the road and picked him up. “What does that have to do with being late? The man replied, “Once that preacher got in the wagon those mules couldn’t understand a word I said!”