Following His Footsteps: “Rising Star” – (Mt. 4, Lk. 4, Jn. 4)

risingstar1“The hardest part was at the very beginning!” said the young pop music star. “I came along before there was an ‘American Idol’ show, but just after the big record labels were already losing to the digital market of iTunes and Napster. That window was very hard to get started in this business!” the young woman complained. Truthfully, I didn’t know who she was, but her interview caught my attention on the TV set above my head. Of course, the fact that my flight was going to be delayed and my sandwich was utterly uninteresting may have also had something to do with my interest in her interview. I watched the whole exchange and then my mind drifted. Getting started… sometimes that really IS the hardest part. My mind faded back to my home:

My hedges need clipping, but to do it I’d have to get the clippers and the cord out and drag them through the hot backyard in the Florida summer sun… I think that can wait!

I really need to start this diet and drop off these extra summer pounds that came from writing for hours in a chair, but to do that I have to get the stuff to make those morning breakfast shakes in the cupboard, and besides… there is a pan of brownies in the kitchen that shouldn’t go to waste…

I need to paint the woodwork upstairs, but in order to do that I will need to check in the garage on the pan and brushes, and that garage is a mess. I am not sure where the paint is, and that is going to be another fiasco to get the right color…

Anyone who wrestles with themselves to get things done knows that starting isn’t easy. It takes commitment, and you have to believe that it is both important and able to be accomplished. Today’s lesson is about the beginnings of the public ministry of Jesus – the “getting started” in crowd teaching, healing and shepherding. Jesus was stepping out of the shadows into center stage in some Galilee villages. After Nicodemus was taught by Jesus to see life in a new way, and the Samaritan “woman at the well” in Sychar found that her life was not empty and useless – Jesus made His way back to the western lower Galilee, to the region where He had grown up years before. The first interviews were concluded, and Jesus was now working with growing crowds and a handful of disciples that John sent his way. Jesus needed to make His message known, and back it up with significant works to show His power. Four short passages recall this time of ministry, and each offers a view that includes different problems and different reasons to believe in Jesus and His message.

Key Principle: Though some ignore the Savior’s true message in favor of a religious control or a self-directed life, those who trust Jesus find Him to be the answer God promised long before His coming.

The short passages found in both Matthew’s Gospel and that of the Gospel of Mark tell us the same thing about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry – it began with public preaching. Jesus was not simply some philanthropist – He was a public preacher.

Preaching: Preaching repentance and Kingdom preparation (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:14b-15).

Note the two records and what they offer us about the message of the Savior at the outset:

Mt. 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Mk. 1:14 “…Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

First, Jesus’ preaching was, from its beginning, about BEHAVIOR, not simply about Pharisaism or “world peace.” That is a more important point than we may have believed in time past, because people in our country have been consistently told otherwise. Listen to the words of the text – Jesus said four things if the two accounts are taken together:

The time had come: God has a plan, and He unspooled events to coincide with His purposes. God chose a time when a portion of Judah had been returned to the ancient homeland of Israel. He chose to send Jesus into a time when a singular language gripped much of the western world. He offered His Son when the Roman Empire – a politically contrived power – was blending many languages, cultures and cultic worship forms into one cohesive unit around the Mediterranean. He picked a moment in the timeline of human history that He knew would work the best for His plan.

Repentance was necessary: Meeting God is always on His terms. Jesus didn’t tell people to “fix themselves”, but rather to turn away from their self-determined path and follow Him. That “turnabout” is the meaning of the word “repent” (meta-noeo). The implication is that change must come. As long as one believes they can apprehend God by their own seeking, the need for a Savior is tiny. If one doesn’t see themselves as “lost” they seek no Savior. The requirement of repentance was this: Know you have a need and that you cannot find it within, or in any religious system you currently possess.

The Kingdom was near: Where the King goes, the kingdom follows. The Jesus of the New Testament was the “Eternal Son of God” involved as the very agent of Creation (Colossians 1:16-17). He is the “expressed image of God’s person” (Hebrews 1). Because He was the promised King that would one day sit on the throne of David, the Kingdom was near. It would be enacted, first spiritually and later physically… but God always delivers His promises.

It was time to believe in the Good News: The coming of the “Perfect Lamb” that John the Baptizer made clear “came to take away the sin of the world” was very good news. The system of atonement was never-ending with death and bloodshed – a graphic reminder of sin and the payment in blood and death. The message that Jesus’ sacrifice, as gruesome and horrible as it was made, was the total payment was very good news. Sheep and goats applauded along with their human owners! His death was their life – and that was good news.

As long as people believe they can earn God’s forgiveness through religious or philanthropic deeds, they will maintain their own control over their spiritual destiny, and therein is the lie. God has a plan, and God provided the Lamb when it suited Him to do so. The message came with the King – the Kingdom was coming next.

Power: Healing long distance (John 4:46-54).

During the early days of His preaching, Jesus returned to Cana (sometime after He had turned water into wine at a wedding). People were excited to have Him back, and I am sure He had plenty of invitations for upcoming parties! John’s Gospel recorded:

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.

By including this short episode, John offered us the opportunity to observe the happenings in Cana, and recorded a story that can easily be broken into three simple parts:

The Encounter with Jesus (4:46-50a): the official left Capernaum and traveled up the steep climbing road to Cana. He met Jesus and explained his need, and Jesus obliged and told him the child was healed.

The Trust in Jesus (4:50b-52): the second half of verse fifty began with the simple statement that “the man believed”. The truth of that belief was illustrated in his journey home.

The Full Grasp of Belief (4:53-54): as the healing of his son was made plain, the man knew how to connect his son’s change to Jesus’ words.

Let’s move into the verses and examine the “encounter with Jesus” (4:46-50a). Though the man was a “royal official”, he was also a father. This desperate dad heard of the reputation of Jesus and sought out a rescuer for his child. We know three things about the man. First, the man knew of Jesus and what others claimed He could do (4:46a). Second, the man was faced with a heart rending problem he could not care for (4:46b). Third, the man reached out for Jesus and begged Him to have mercy and deliver him from the clutches of the terrible need (4:47).

The troubles of his son led the man to abandon any sense his self-sufficiency and seek Jesus. He was an official, but he was unwilling to mask his vulnerability. In a way, his son’s plight became the source of a great blessing from God, but it was found only when desperation opened his heart and made him willing to take his need to Jesus, abandoning self-reliance. The man had to traverse both the steep upward path from Capernaum to Cana and the humility of the social difference in status between Jesus and himself. Under normal circumstances this reach “downward” would have been unthinkable. This nobleman had to “lower himself” to seek help from a humble Jewish villager and now roaming preacher.

It is worth remembering that when we speak to people who are “at the top of their game” that there is no home into which pain, sickness and sorrow cannot enter. The most accomplished athlete, the most popular celebrity – every person lives within fragile bodies and in a fallen world. Our power, glory and strength can be reduced in the turn of a single news cycle of events. With the wrong word, we can watch our popularity recede faster than our hairline. When a person speaks in arrogance, it is often because they are not yet far enough along the journey – but their day will come. Troubles and pains, sickness and death – these realities humble every man or woman who isn’t senseless. It is for that reason we should look beyond arrogance and anger, and see a person within.

Jesus met the official, and listened to his need (4:47) but His initial response did not seem helpful. Jesus said that Galileans only seemed to believe what they could SEE. (4:48). Is that strange? Jesus’ reaction did not sound loving at all – is seemed cold. He said (apparently to the crowd around Him): “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never 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 in the string of John’s narrative, like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman – and each illustrate an earlier statement of that Gospel: “Jesus knew the heart of man” (John 2:24-25). Jesus knew how manipulative people can be – especially those who have been in positions of power. Most of us can readily admit that we will move heaven and earth to achieve what we want. When the miracle is something as pure as healing for a child or when the miracle or God intervention is something else. The sad truth is, though, when it’s done we will show no commitment to Him or His message – but will move through life in our own plan and strength. Many of us need to admit we use God to get what we want rather than allow the struggle to lead us to full submission to God.

God has an objective in the troubles of our lives – but it may surprise us. His objective is our trust in Him in all times and circumstances. 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 reframed and God’s goodness is questioned – not our submission to Him based on what He has already done. In this scenario, God left Himself cloaked and refused to do what was necessary to make us believe. Our disbelief then, is HIS FAULT… but the problem is framed over false logic. Think about it: There are plenty who have enough to eat, aren’t struggling with the effects of war, a roof over their heads. Yet many of those people have no relationship with God. There have been many good times in our lives that did not yield surrendered lives. Our relationship with God cannot 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 requires no effort is a faith that is not worth having. Faith takes effort because it requires a change on our part. It comes from God, Ephesians tells us – and not from within us. A new king sits upon the throne only after a pitted struggle removed the former king!

Jesus told the man that he could trust the Word alone – “Your son is made well.” (4:50a). What is clear on close inspection is that the man changed when he encountered Jesus. Panic fled away. The ‘need to trust only what he could see’ left him… as he exchanged panic for trust (4:50b). How do I know? Let’s take a closer look…Jesus spoke to the man at one o’clock (the seventh hour of the daylight – 4:52b) and yet did not return 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 rested in the promise of Jesus overnight. He “ceased striving” to find a way to care for the need because he believed the need was already met.

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… 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. (Adapted from Source: 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. 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. In the royal official, He got a surrendered heart.

Problems: Facing hometown rejection (Luke 4:16-31a).

Luke 4:16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, 19 TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” 20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” 23 And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ ” 24 And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. 25 “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; 26 and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 “And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, He went His way. 31 And He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and He was teaching them on the Sabbath;

Four observations struck me in this story:

First, it is interesting that the Holy Spirit led Jesus to conflict (Matthew 4:1-13) and ONLY THEN to fame, when the temptation to fulfill a mission for self-motivation had been clearly defeated. (Matthew 4:14). Jesus was not taken off His mission or message by the affirmation of the crowds, but He understood the need to remain on message regardless of the response (4:22-24).

Second, Jesus established a reputation of teaching that caused others to take him seriously (4:15), but only after they had observed His life (cp. 2:52). His life was marked by the commitment to worship and the Word (4:16).

Third, Jesus’ understanding of both His mission and of the crowds was bathed in His knowledge of the Word, and the examples of Elijah (cp. 1 Kings 17:9ff) and Elisha (2 Kings 5:1-14; 4:25-28). He framed the situation and the response to it from Biblical examples – because that was the source of truth.

Fourth, Jesus responded to opposition with strength and surety (4:29-30) neither harming the opposition, nor acquiescing to them. It is not necessary to “win” a discussion that uncovers people in conflict with God (or even the notion that He exists). You must strive only to be clear and not be derailed. We should concentrate on speaking Biblical truth with grace and show patient love toward the dissenting voice. It isn’t our job to make people believe in God or the goodness of His plan, but to show how belief works out in the practice of our life. Their heart is ultimately their responsibility.

Prophecy: Settling down by the Kinnereth (Mt. 4:13-17).

There is yet one more short passage that captured the landscape of the start of Jesus’ preaching, and it is found in Matthew 4:

Matthew 4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 15 “THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES – 16 “THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The summary statement in verse seventeen was at the heart of the first part of this lesson – that Jesus came “out of the gate” with a message of repentance. Our second story reminded us that submission was a non-negotiable point in Jesus’ work. His time in Nazareth illustrated that Jesus was undeterred in His presentation – He would not be led by family or follower – but by His Father and the mission given to Him from above. This last portion reminds us that the mission was not a new innovation, but a long expressed prophecy. Jesus was following a path that was revealed to prophets long before His birth in Bethlehem.

What appeared to be a REJECTION in Nazareth was a signal to move to Capernaum near the Kinnereth (Sea of Galilee). Matthew 4:14 made clear this was NOT a simple choice – but the fulfillment of a designed work that was already stated. Think about that for a moment. God made a plan, and even the choice to move “home base” was a part of that plan.

Was not the arrest of Jesus part of that plan? How about the striking of the face of the Savior by wicked men? Was the Cross itself part of that plan? Listen to words about the Savior written seven hundred years before His birth:

Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.”

Here is the point: What looked like a spontaneous rejection of his neighbors was part of a bigger plan. What appeared to be a failure to reach people with a message of love was also part of that plan. Jesus’ life was pre-scripted and pre-revealed in prophetic narratives. His earth ministry wasn’t about self-choice, but about following His Father’s plan… and so is yours. You have few plans to make… you have paths to follow. You do not know what they are – so you must trust the One who does.

There is an old story about a potato farmer who had a son. The farmer was old, but the son young and strong. The son was accused of theft and thrown in jail – and the old farmer was heartbroken. It was time to break up the hard ground to plant the potatoes – if he didn’t do it soon the year would be lost to the crop. He wrote a letter to his son and expressed anguish that hard times were at hand. His son wrote back: “Dad, don’t dig up the potato field…that is the place where we stashed the loot!” Within hours, a team of policemen were digging the entire field searching for the proceeds of the theft. Finding nothing, they went home. The next day, the young man wrote from his cell: “Dad, that was the best I could provide to get the ground broke up, and as I have said all along, I didn’t steal anything. I hope they got the place ready for you.”

The young man cared for his father’s need in a way that no one expected – but he was working a plan. That was the same story we read in the Gospels. There was a man accused as a criminal, beaten and executed…but that wasn’t the story. The truth was that God provided something they didn’t understand in a way that they didn’t expect. That is the kind of God we serve.

Though some ignore the Savior’s true message in favor of a self-directed life, those who trust Jesus find Him to be the answer God promised long before His coming.

• Jesus is the answer. He created me, and He insists that I yield to Him – and He is right.
• Jesus is the answer when those closest to me are hurting, and I take their need to Him.
• Jesus is the answer when people want to use Him to fix their problems, but want to deny His right to choose when, where and how He works.

He was the answer when His coming was announced three thousand years ago, and He was the answer when He came two thousand years ago. He is still the answer today.

Jesus will be the answer when believers are assaulted by academics, scoffed at by cynics and beheaded by evil men. He will be the answer when the church is hated, and when it is removed. He will be the answer when Israel is brought under the full weight of human hatred. He will be the answer when He comes in the clouds and they “look on Him Whom they have pierced”. He will be the answer when His mouth opens and destroys the best weaponry of the world’s military machines. Jesus WAS, IS and IS To COME – as the answer to the human need.

Following His Footsteps: “The Candidate” – John 3 and 4

the-candidate_lRobert Redford has played some famous roles, but none bigger than the Oscar winning performance in the 1972 movie called “The Candidate. In that role, Redford starred as a lawyer (and son of the former California governor) who was convinced to run against a senatorial incumbent who faced no competition. Even those who asked Redford to run anticipated a dramatic loss, so the candidate was able to run with frankness and integrity in order to demonstrate a new brand of politics. When people realized they preferred a fresh, young and honest looking face – the campaign became serious. Thirty years have passed, but the issues in that election were none other than: abortion, environmental issues, and access to health care. The Candidate demonstrated that it wasn’t simply WHAT the man said, but HOW the man said it. Someone quipped: “If you can fake sincerity, you will have the world as your friend!” We are thinking about The Candidate in this lesson, because our text in John’s Gospel offered some early interviews and reactions to Jesus as He began to become known.

Key Principle: Jesus brought out a reaction in people! The gospels reveal that Jesus was pressed from the beginning of His ministry by scholars, sermonizers and other sinners. He answered them all with sincerity and knowledge of their real need.

John 3 and 4 tell four stories that can easily be “paired” into sets – private interview followed by public endorsements. When you see that we are looking at two chapters of the Bible, it can seem daunting, but these four stories are actually very familiar. In addition, they follow a pattern – a private interview followed by a public story – two times. As you look deeper, you will note that in John 3, these were done in the context of mainstream Judaism, in John 4 they were in the context of a fringe group known as the Samaritans. Let’s look at the stories briefly. One of the four stories we covered in a recent lesson, so we will lightly touch it:

The first story was an “interview” – a private discussion: Nicodemus the Pharisee talks with Jesus of Nazareth (John 3:1-21).

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born [c]again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever [d]believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His [e]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the [f]only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

The record of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is the first interview of the Savior (in the Gospel of John) by a trained theologian. The exchange is offered in two parts. First, John included the context – time and people involved. Second, he included the dialogue. That exchange had three sentences offered by Nicodemus, together with the answers of the Savior, which were longer than the questions.

Look at John 3:1 closely. Don’t forget the context in the story of the Gospel of John: this story of Nicodemus was set up by the penetrating truth offered at the end of John 2:25 “…He Himself knew what was in man.” This story seems to be placed in the text as an illustration of Jesus reading the heart of an important man of His day. Don’t overlook that John 3:1 is short, but PACKED with information that helps the rest of the exchange make sense. John recorded:

There was a “man of the Pharisees” – this was a man of PEDIGREE of PUBLIC (if not also private) PIETY. Nicodemus held a distinguished religious position – but position doesn’t make one live eternally – and this man suspected something was wrong.

He was “named Nicodemus” a name which meant in Greek “conqueror of the people” or “the people’s champion (victor)”. His name suggested the intent his parents had for him was him to be popular – but popularity in the here and now does not solve the issue of afterlife.

The next phrase remarks: “ruler of the Jews”, which offered a statement of obvious POWER and PRESTIGE in the community – but power and prestige on earth doesn’t translate into security for a moment after the last breath on earth.

The subject of the exchange was clearly about being “born again” – but what did that mean? Clearly this new birth was not about human accomplishment – it was something God did through the power of the Holy Spirit. Being born again was explained by Jesus as an intervention from God that leads to a TRANSFORMATION by God… That supernatural act was not given because of a pedigree – for no degree could get a man right with God. It was not a matter of religious reform or behavioral practice – because Nicodemus was already living righteously as best we can tell from the story. This “born again” experience was something brought from above – a transformation accomplished by the work of God.

Consider the three statements of Nicodemus that were recalled in the Gospel account. Each reflect common assumptions that still plague people and keep them from understanding salvation by Grace:

Statement One: “Externals are accurate barometers of internals”. That seems to be the implied idea behind John 3:2 “This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” First, the statement is untrue. Ask Moses’ brother Aaron (a story from Exodus 7) as the eighty year old Moses and eighty-three year old Aaron saw Pharaoh’s black magic men make snakes just like God did. Sadly for the magicians of the court, Aaron’s serpent ate all of theirs – leaving them “staff-less” in the end! The fact remains that in the Bible, JUST BECAUSE A MIRACLE TOOK PLACE, DID NOT MEAN GOD INITIATED IT. Nicodemus assumed that the externals were accurate proof of internals.

Statement Two: “Spiritual transformation occurs because of physical activity.” John 3:4 offered these words: “Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Note how consumed the Pharisee is with the ability of the man to DO something to change the outcome of his standing with God. Here Nicodemus offered the mistaken assumption that SPIRITUAL CHANGE OCCURS BECAUSE OF PHYSICAL CHANGES ONE MAKES. In the atonement system, a man or woman’s participation was NOT designed to make them think they “participated” in God’s work of forgiveness, but that is the message many took away. Many who followed the Law of God ended up believing the way to change the INSIDE was to change the BEHAVIOR on the OUTSIDE. Did you ever hear a joke about people entering Heaven. They begin like: “Three men died and were standing at the pearly gates…” We have all heard these kinds of jokes and though they may bring a smile to our face, behind most of them is the false assumption that we must do something to get into Heaven. That wasn’t the message of Jesus. The problem is that by nature, we want to earn and then deserve God’s favor. That isn’t the Gospel – because the message of the New Testament is that you cannot make any effective installment on the payment for sin.

Statement Three: “Only what I understand can work!” That seems to the message behind John 3:9: “Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” It would have sounded like a reasonable question in the tect, but Jesus’ answer showed that it was nothing of the sort. Nicodemus was assuming that in order for things to be true, they had to fit into his considerable knowledge of the spiritual world – and that wasn’t true at all. His assumption seemed to be, IF IT DOESN’T FIT MY UNDERSTANDING, IT MUST BE NONSENSE! Jesus poured it on at the end with a rather detailed reply to his question.

Jesus each question Nicodemus offered…

Answer One: “Total transformation is needed, and that isn’t from the outside.” In John 3:3 we read Jesus’ response to the idea that externals are reliable barometers of internals: “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Savior offered words that set Nicodemus back on his heels – that one can ONLY see the kingdom if they are REBORN. Technically speaking, a baby doesn’t CAUSE their birth – and though the pass through the birth canal – no one observing closely in the birthing suite at the hospital would think they were in charge of the event. A man or woman needed to START LIFE AGAIN – this time as a newborn all over again. The point of the statement that “only by being born again” is this: Nicodemus, you must totally rethink your premise. Entering the Kingdom is NOT by conforming to a set of rules, reforming your lifestyle to a certain set of rules… it is being transformed by a process YOU DO NOT CONTROL!

Answer Two: “The new birth is a spiritual reality, but no less real than physical birth.” In John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

This was a three point response: First, two types of birth are necessary to be in the kingdom – a physical birth and a spiritual birth. You are not born spiritually WHEN you are born physically. There is no special class of “child of believer” that exempts them from the later spiritual new birth experience. No one is physically born right with God.

Second, the two births are distinct from one another. The spiritual birth is LIKE the physical, but not the same thing.

Third, those born of the spirit are compared to the wind – the effects of wind can be seen without the work of the wind being displayed. It is the nature of religious people to look for ways to observe God’s hand. Ironically, whole church movements that began with an emphasis on the work of the Spirit have found themselves tilting quickly into a theology that emphasizes blessing in the physical world… even though Jesus said they were not reliably connected – at least in appearance.

Answer Three: “God will not negotiate this requirement!” In John 3:10 “Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? … 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The answer Jesus offered was this: First, a true teacher of God’s people should understand transformation by the Spirit is required! Second, this was not a theory, nor an option (3:11). Third, failure to grab the transformation blocks other truth from your heart (3:12). Fourth, Jesus was the only source of this transformation (3:13). Fifth, failure to get behind this message will block your ability to lead others to eternal life (3:14-15). Sixth, Jesus came to SAVE men (3:16-17). His message was God’s MERCY AND GRACE. Seventh, the sole basis of judgment is belief in Jesus’ Word. People could choose not to believe and live in the darkness of their own controls! (3:18-21).

Here is the truth: Jesus wanted a learned man to come away from the interview with one clear message: “You need a total transformation that I control.” That reminds me of the old story of someone who asked revivalist preacher George Whitfield, “Why do you always preach “You must be born again?” He replied, “Because you must be born again!” The interview completed, the message was clear – Jesus didn’t come to offer us a list of reforms – He came to offer new birth, a total transformation of a life submitted to His care.

The second story was of a public endorsement: John the Baptizer commended Jesus (John 3:22-35).

Since we looked at this passage a few lessons ago, we need not give it much more time and space – but stop briefly and consider how John’s reaction to Jesus’ ministry affected Jesus…

The Gospel writer recorded: John 3:22 “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized … 27 John … said… 30 “He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. … 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John recognized Who Jesus was, and was unafraid to endorse Him publicly – in spite of the fact that people may decide to stop showing up at the Jordan to see John and his disciples. John’s logic: “It doesn’t matter – He is above all and before all.” Let’s say it in simpler terms that any believer can learn to respect: “Jesus first!” The truth is that Scripture records that John laid down his life long before his head was placed on a platter or his neck on a chopping block. He laid his life down when he decided that Jesus’ glory was worth living for – and that is inherently Christian teaching. A theology of personal abandonment and Christocentric glory is the very essence of the first century disciple’s life choices. Jesus was clear to those who wished to get on board with His gang: “Unless they were willing to take up their cross daily, laying their lives down – they could not become His disciple.

Here’s the truth: Jesus isn’t willing to share the stage with His followers. Either we get the fact that He is Lord and we are His servant – or we don’t recognize the paradigm of discipleship that Jesus offered. A Christian message that is oriented to offering us temporal benefits – a happier life, better relationships, more money in the bank, a better job – all these are not specifically Christian at all. Ask the believers who just fled from Mosul if knowing and loving Jesus guaranteed a happy life and peaceful experience? We have to stop repeating nonsense and get back to Christian teaching the way Jesus framed it. HE is what we get from surrender. Where HE leads is what will bring HIM glory. My best good is found in HIS plan for HIS pleasure. Christianity cannot be about self-aggrandizing and self-affirmation or it isn’t Christianity at all. John understood – and John laid down his life. Jesus said that is the kind of man who will LIVE because he died to self.

The third story was yet another private interview: The Samaritan woman at the well met Jesus (John 4:1-29).

A third story can be found in the beginning of John 4, and we again find ourselves looking at a personal interview – this time with a Samaritan woman. How different than a Pharisee! She was wounded by life and covered the wounds with theological discourse. On second thought: “Was she actually that much different than Nicodemus?” Here is the record:

John 4:3 He [Jesus] left Judea and went away again into Galilee. 4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, … 7 There *came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She *said to Him, “[b]Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman *said to Him, “[c]Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” 16 He *said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus *said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” 19 The woman *said to Him, “[d]Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is [e]spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman *said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus *said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” …28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and *said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?….”

It is easy to divide the story into three parts, as John recalls the events: First, the Setting (4:1-6), second, the Exchange (4:7-28), and finally the Results (4:29-42).

The interview lasted for only a short time, but the woman appeared to move from broken to hopeful. How did that happen? Look again. The woman spoke six times in the passage – five of them to Jesus. In the five direct statements, there was a progression to her thinking. Often, when people are confronted with the direction that Jesus offers, they place “road blocks” – objections to the uncomfortable truth – yet Jesus knew how to deal with her objections.

Let me offer a simple observation. Nicodemus was an example that no one can become so great as to rise above the need for the Savior. Yet, the Samaritan woman (a page later in the story) was a great example that no one can sink below the rescue of the Savior, either!

The Samaritan woman raised some common objections to Jesus and His message:

First, there was a doubt of intention: What does Jesus really want from me? (4:9) Clearly the woman was stunned that Jesus as a Jew would ask her as a Samaritan for something to drink. Yet, on more careful examination, it appears that she was not only asking why a Jew would speak to her, but she was exposing a very basic reaction that many people have when Jesus reaches out to them. The Gospel offers life, but it also requires something of them. Without submission of the will there is no real salvation. Jesus began ASKING FOR HER TO DO SOMETHING FOR HIM. The simple act of giving a drink to Jesus was an act of obedience – an act of trust.

Second, there was a sense of unworthiness: How can you deal with someone LIKE ME? Many people carry the misconception Jesus came for, and spent His time with religious people in clean and tidy places. That is not the Jesus of the Gospels. This woman knew prejudice and rejection – and she wasn’t living with someone who valued her highly – which is why she came midday alone to get water! Jesus’ answer was direct to her – You are worried about who you are and what I may really want. Both are the wrong focus. If you refocus on Who I am, you will find a gift is awaiting you! (4:10). Yet, in order for her to receive the gift, she needed to THIRST TO KNOW HIM!

Third, there was doubt of His ability: Jesus made an overt claim that He had something to GIVE the woman, but she couldn’t see how it was possible for Jesus to deliver on the promises (4:11). She chided, “You don’t think you are greater than our fathers, do you? (4:12). Wrapped in her question is one of the oldest forms of objection to Jesus and His message. She wanted to compare Jesus to other great men, and didn’t see how He could claim to offer more than other men of seemingly greater stature could offer. Jesus’ answer was again direct and overt – I am not one among many. That is the wrong conclusion. Jesus said, in essence: “I have the gift and the ability to deliver it.” (4:13-14). It will surely accomplish satisfaction beginning within and flowing outward. It is superior to anything offered before, and it will deliver the ultimate and final rewards.

Fourth, there was a distraction over benefits: The woman appeared to be ready to accept the offer made by Jesus, but Jesus knew she was not truly prepared. There was a hole in her heart, and He wanted to address it. She was distracted by the part of the offer that appeared to care for her problems, but she did not comprehend what Jesus wanted from her (4:15). Jesus peeled into her life to help her expose the deep secret that she was hiding. He asked her to go and bring her husband. This was a respectful request, especially if she was about to make a bold move to accept His claims and follow Jesus (4:16). The woman replied, “I have no husband!” She told a half-truth (4:17-18). She was a woman who both lived in pain, and as a result walked in hidden compromise. Here is the central issue – she wanted to add Jesus to a life of self-will and hidden impure behaviors. That is a wrong assumption. It is true that Jesus loves us. It is true that He came to save us. It is simply NOT TRUE that He is so longing for us that He will simply dismiss our desire to continue to walk as we choose – in sinful practices that are forbidden by God. Hidden sin robs us of full joy – and Jesus wanted her change to be honest.

Because we know that in the first century Jewish context, divorce was an issue of a man putting away a woman in most cases – it is likely that the woman’s history of marriages has more to do with stinging repeated rejection and not simply a life as a “loose woman”. She was evidently repeatedly judged deficient in some way by the men in her life. Rejection upon rejection appears to have left her desolate of self respect. She eventually shed the need to even have the appearance of a real marriage (4:18).

Charles Swindoll, in his book Growing Deep in the Christian Life, tells the true story of a man who bought fried chicken dinners for himself and his girlfriend to enjoy on a picnic one afternoon. He was in for a surprise because the person behind the counter mistakenly gave him the wrong paper bag. Earlier, the manager had taken the money from the cash registers and placed it in an ordinary bag, hoping to disguise it on his way to the bank. But when the person working the cash register went to give the man his order, he grabbed the bag full of money instead of the bag full of chicken. Swindoll says, “After driving to their picnic site, the two of them sat down to enjoy some chicken. They discovered a whole lot more than chicken — over $800! But he was unusual. He quickly put the money back in the bag. They got back into the car and drove all the way back. Mr. Clean got out, walked in, and became an instant hero. By then, the manager was frantic. The guy with the bag of money looked the manager in the eye and said, ‘I want you to know I came by to get a couple of chicken dinners and wound up with all this money here.’ Well, the manager was thrilled to death. He said, ‘Let me call the newspaper. I’m gonna have your picture put in the local paper. You’re one of the most honest men I’ve ever heard of.’ To which the man quickly responded, ‘Oh, no. No, no, don’t do that!’ Then he leaned closer and whispered, ‘You see, the woman I’m with is not my wife. She’s, uh, somebody else’s wife.’” Swindoll closes the story by saying, “Harder to find than lost cash is a perfect heart.”

Fifth, there was theological redirection: Jesus spoke resounding truth into the life of the woman, and she knew it. He opened her eyes to the truth about her own pain and made clear that He knew all about it. He peeled her heart to its core. She perceived He was a prophet. Yet, she was not ready to surrender to Jesus. She re-directed the conversation to theology and arguments over the place and nature of worship, emphasizing the difference between Jews and Samaritans (4:19-20). Jesus answered her and told her that she was essentially on the wrong issue. She was concerned with the PLACE of worship, and Jesus answered with the NATURE of worship (4:21-24). Getting caught up in any discussion that kept away the pressure on the woman to yield her broken heart to the Lord, no matter the value of the discussion, was a distraction.

Sixth, there was the voice of procrastination: “Someday I hope it will happen for me!” was the final objection raised (4:25). Many have raised it. “One of these days, when things work out for me, then I will be ready to commit to Jesus.” Jesus replied to the woman, “You are on the wrong timing!” The time for her salvation was the day Jesus beckoned. Later would be too late.

The fourth story was another public endorsement: The Samaritan Village validated the ministry of Jesus (John 4:39ff).

Before we finish with our lesson, one more short story is necessary to review – the reaction of the Samaritans to the woman’s testimony. John recorded:

John 4:39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. … 43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee…

Jesus chatted with one woman and the message of His life and ministry reached a village. The disciples went as a group to shop in the midst of the village and reached NO ONE. Why? The answer lies in the truth that Jesus did what they did not want to do. In order to bring about healing to the lives of others, we must first learn to become lovers of the unlovable…that is what our Savior did.

Years ago, in a moving short story by Elizabeth Ballard that was published in Home Life magazine (1976) the fine fiction writer wove a touching story that really helps set love in perspective. Who the story was based on in her life we shall never know. Here is the story:

Teddy Stallard was a young man who was turned off by school. He was sloppy in appearance, largely expressionless in class, and generally unattractive. Some would have called him “slow” – because he had a “dull look”. Often he sat in his school classroom staring into space, unresponsive and blank – which was an irritation to every teacher he ever had. Miss Thompson, who was known to have enjoyed bearing down her red pen — placed many a big red X beside Teddy’s often blank and mostly wrong answers. If only she had studied Ted’s school records more carefully. They read:

• 1st grade: Ted shows promise with his work and attitude, but (has) poor home situation.
• 2nd grade: Ted could do better. Mother seriously ill. Receives little help from home.
• 3rd grade: Ted is good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.
• 4th grade: Ted is very slow, but well-behaved. His father shows no interest whatsoever.

Christmas arrived. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher’s desk. Ted brought one too. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with Scotch Tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch. Out of Ted’s package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing along with a bottle of cheap perfume. The children snickered, but the wise teacher silenced them by splashing some of the perfume on her wrist and letting them smell it. She put the bracelet on too. At day’s end, after the other children left, Ted came by the teacher’s desk and said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And the bracelet looks real pretty on you. I’m glad you like my presents.” He left. Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude. The next day, the children were greeted by a reformed teacher — one committed to loving each of them…especially the slower and harder to love ones…especially Teddy.

Surprisingly — or perhaps not surprisingly at all, Teddy began to improve in class. He eventually caught up with most of the students and excelled beyond a few. Graduation came and went and Teddy was gone into the world. Miss Thompson heard nothing from him for a long time. Then, one day, she received a note: Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class. Love, Ted

Four years later, another note arrived: Dear Miss Thompson: They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Ted

And four years later:

Dear Miss Thompson: As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Ted

Miss Thompson attended that wedding, and sat where Ted’s mother would have sat. The compassion she had shown that young man entitled her to that privilege.

I love that story, and I am glad that Elizabeth Ballard wrote it. It isn’t bad to have our hearts tugged to learn an important lesson. Here is the truth: Jesus brought out a reaction in people! He was pressed from the beginning of His ministry by scholars, sermonizers and other sinners – but He knew the hearts of people – so He knew how to respond…and He still does.

Following His Footsteps: “Exposing the Secret” – John 2

closetThere are English expressions that are used by various movements in different times in history, and along the way they adapt in meaning. The phrase “out of the closet” was used by advertisers long before it was adopted by modern social action groups. More recently, as a surprise to virtually no one, this phrase has become the mantle of those who see themselves as “bravely stepping forth on issues of sexual preference orientation”. Yet, the phrase actually denotes exposing a long held secret. It was historically linked to the idea of “skeletons in the closet” – and denoted potentially embarrassing things kept hidden from view out of potential shame. I want to go in a different direction with the phrase as we tackle the next part of the ongoing series to follow the footsteps of our Master as we study the record of His life in the Gospels. I want to talk about how a secret identity of Jesus became publicly exposed.

Jesus’ miracle at Cana was like the moment Clark Kent went into the phone booth to shed his suit and emerge exposed as the super hero of the classic comic books.(I know, that is a terrible comparison, but the image might actually stick with you!)

Think of it this way… Jesus had a secret identity. His mother Mary knew what it was because an angel named Gabriel told her thirty years before. His stepfather Joseph knew it, because God told him in dreams thirty years before our story. The angels knew it, because they made the announcement at His birth. The enemy knew it, because he faced Jesus in a “temptation sparring match” in the Wilderness of Judea a short time before the events of today’s lesson took place. Yet the truth is that although many BEINGS in Heavenly places knew Who Jesus was – the Eternal Son of God living in human flesh –few PEOPLE who lived near Him knew the truth of Jesus’ identity. This lesson is about how Jesus stepped out of the shadows and showed Himself to be the fulfillment of God’s promise from centuries before… man’s Redeemer was eating breakfast next door to someone who was clueless of His presence!

The problem is that Jesus’ identity also led to a problem. If He is Master, then I have someone in charge of me… and no one likes that – now or then.

The passage for study is John 2, and it offers two essential lessons that set up the first steps of Jesus’ public ministry after His baptism by John in the Jordan River and after the temptation wrestling match was completed in the nearby Judean Wilderness. Jesus picked up His first five “would be” disciples, and then two stories unfolded:

• The first public miracle of Jesus (John 2:1-11). Jesus turned water into wine at a Cana wedding feast and showed that the ordinary could become the extraordinary – if it received the touch of the Master.

• The first public challenge by Jesus (John 2:12-25). Jesus walked into His Father’s Temple distracted by the commercial barkers and turn a bazaar into chaos while He showed that much becomes little – when God “weighs in” on religious nonsense.

Key Principle: Jesus knew His place, and revealed it from the very beginning of His public ministry. What He met was resistance, because people want a Rescuer, but not a Master.

It is important that we recognize this truth – because among those who do not both carefully study the narrative and believe it is historically valid – a common notion is that Jesus “slowly discovered” His place as the Son of God. Some “scholars” even express the notion that Jesus was never fully aware of it until after the Resurrection. In the more liberal circles of “Christian” thought, that is not even a debated concept – it has been accepted.

Not to pluck a phrase from our current political Benghazi discussion of our current news cycles, but here is the question of our lesson: “What did Jesus know and when did He know it?” We are not entertaining the debate that Jesus was NOT the Savior – that debate is simply answered by a faithful study of the Gospel accounts that were NOT fuzzy on such things…Our thoughts concern the challenge that Jesus was a benevolent and hapless rabbi that was unaware of some greater position He had. Does the Gospel reveal that? Not at all…

It is true that the Bible does not overtly state the moment at which Jesus knew that He was the Eternal Son of God sent to die as the “Spotless Lamb” for man’s sin. It is also true that He DID know those things. We read that later in His ministry Jesus fully expressed Who He was from eternity past, declaring: “Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58). Later, John recorded Jesus praying this way: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5). Clearly, if the Gospel record is true – Jesus knew His place. Our question is when did Jesus fully grasp that truth?

Some believers want to believe that He was consciously spinning planets while lying in a manger in Bethlehem – a view that I do not hold. Scripture does express that as a young child He was fully aware of His work, but He did feel an early need to be preparing as a boy to complete a work His Father in Heaven sent Him to complete by age 13. On a boyhood trip to the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus was “sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46). When his parents discovered Him there, He offered this question: “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” (Luke 2:49-50). Luke made sure that in reading the account and reader would know that Jesus possessed information beyond what His parents could grasp. After the recorded incident, Luke noted: ”And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Let me suggest that though Jesus may well have known Who He was, his physical immaturity still lacked the completed ability to make all things clear to those around Him. He needed to grow physically, emotionally and mentally. Though He was cognizant by that time that He was fully God, He needed to become fully a man. Over the early centuries of Christianity, this subject was explored deeply and hotly debated by Church Fathers who were trying to understand the theology of the God-man.

Let’s accept the Biblical record that Jesus knew years and years before everyone else understood His mission and move forward with the story. What happened at the early stage of His ministry, then, concerned exposing the truth to those both near to Him and those in charge of the God’s people. The two episodes found in John 2 effectively do just that – and then they expose the way people responded to the message that God wanted to both SAVE then and RULE their lives. The first message is preached, loved and celebrated. The second truth (that of the rule of Jesus) is taught seldom and loved little – even by people who profess to follow Jesus. Somehow we have invented in modern Christianity a Sovereign Lord that leads us by following after our desires. That Jesus isn’t the one pictured in the Gospels.

First Miracle at Cana

We open the chapter with our first look at the miracle ministry of Jesus:

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 waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots 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.

John made clear:

• On the third day there had been a wedding at Cana, and Jesus’ mother was there (2:1).
• Jesus and His first five followers were invited (2:2) apparently arriving at the end of the feast.
• When the wine ran out, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3), explaining they had run out of wine. She was evidently confident that Jesus was able to meet the need in some incredible way.
• Over Jesus’ initial objections (2:4), she left Him with the servants and instructed them to follow all His directions (2:5).
• Jesus told the servants to take the six stone pots that held twenty to thirty gallons each and fill them with water (a stunning violation of their purpose of ritual purity collection – 2:6-7).
• Jesus then told them to draw out from the stone jars a cup and take it to the head cupbearer of the feast and have him sample it for the guests (2:8).
• The cupbearer was shocked and complimented the groom on his surprising stash of excellent wine (2:9-10).

While it is nice to know that Jesus liked weddings, and that Jesus would make a good vintner, why would such an event become important enough to record for posterity?

First, it is important that we understand that Jesus wasn’t so “other worldly” that He wouldn’t celebrate a wedding with two people starting a new family – His earth ministry wasn’t just about lofty theological debates and Satan hunting… it was about loving people and celebrating the stages of their lives with them. Though life is PRIMARILY about the eternal things – life here is a gift from God to be enjoyed, celebrated… it is to be lived. God is nowhere more present than in the room of people who love Him and each other and are falling on the floor laughing hysterically over something that won’t let go of their funny bone. God isn’t a prude. Anything you have ever enjoyed – He thought of. Any flavor you have ever savored – He created. Any beauty that has ever taken your breath away – He pulled out the brush an painted on the landscape. God is not just powerful and Majestic – He is personal and creative. He knows good coffee and can delight in the swirls of freshly stirred caramel sauce. Don’t you DARE make Him into some monastic prior with itchy clothing eating bread and water! There is no pleasure without the Creator of all things. Even in our fallen state, God’s joys still shine through. Let’s say it clearly: Jesus knows how to party!

Beyond that truth, we observe in the passage the truth that Jesus speaks, and the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. God isn’t into the light adjustment business – He is a total and complete transformer! When Jesus spoke forgiveness over your life, you began a transformation that is ongoing. You know the problems, and you encounter your own resistance – but let’s be honest… YOU KNOW YOU ARE BEING CHANGED. You don’t want all the things of the world you once did. Your tastes buds are already starting to salivate when you smell the fresh baked bread of Heaven. When people are really in a walk with Jesus – they don’t have to be convinced of transforming power – they are living it. Here is the really neat thing: someday soon the Heaven’s will open, the trumpet will sound, and the very molecules of my body will be transformed from earth’s smell of slow decay to Heaven’s fresh, new aroma of purity and life.

Jesus told the servants to bring the water pots – but He didn’t use water from a nearby well. He used water DEDICATED TO PURIFICATION in pots beside the house. He used something that was set aside for God’s holy purposes already. It was never “just a pot of water”, but a “purification pot” set aside for God to use.

Here is the truth: God uses what we give to Him to use. What is kept for us to use as we please is not surrendered, so it doesn’t get used in the marvelous display of transformation – because we don’t want to give it up. Some believers aren’t changing, simply because they are keeping the pots of water for themselves and not surrendering them to Jesus as He told them. They have their own religious pots, neat and clean, and their water is still just ….water. If we want transformation, we are required to surrender what we have to Jesus to get it. When they gave it to Jesus, He dramatically transformed into something outlandishly exquisite.

Don’t miss the story in the water pot. God’s intention for you is not that you become a raging and angry separatist – trying to whine your way into people’s ears. What pleases Him isn’t that you HATE, PROTEST and COMPLAIN. At the same time, God isn’t looking for you to become a tolerant conformist who measures what is TRUE by what is POPULAR. God wants ONE THING that will mark your life… He wants you to deliberately yield your life choices to Him, so that He can TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE in front of all the people in your life. Don’t worry – when he does – they won’t mistake the exquisite wine for bland water. When God gets hold of a life, people smell the aroma of life and taste the spice of truth. You don’t need a t-shirt, a bumper sticker or a campaign. Transformed lives are the best evangelism program any church will ever have.

While we are studying the story, let’s not pass over a problem that often occurs when Jesus is at work among His followers. Don’t forget that when Jesus arrived in Cana there was a problem. It seems like it was his mother’s problem, or at least she felt responsible for some reason… What happened next is a common problem believer’s will understand…she thrust HER PLAN for the problem on Jesus. It is surely true that Jesus was, at least from an earthly perspective, her son. Bu the truth is, many believers act exactly this way toward Jesus when they get into trouble. Do you see it? The text doesn’t say Mary “dropped to her knees and sought God concerning the difficulty”. She didn’t consult Jesus on what should be done. MARY HAD A LITTLE PLAN and she wanted her plan cared for by Jesus. Can you identify with that? Did your prayer life ever sound like you were offering God sage counsel on how to fix things?

We need to be careful: We cannot tack Jesus on the plans we have already made and call that a surrendered life… it isn’t. Jesus is our Master, not our Holy errand boy. I love that Jesus honored her request, but I don’t want that to become my pattern in life.

First Challenge at Jerusalem

The story of the Cana miracle is always thrilling, because I want to be transformed and I love that God shows He can do it in dramatic ways! At the same time, the second story – the “First Cleansing of the Temple” (John 2:13-25) always changes the temperature in the room when I am passing through the study of John chapter two. It isn’t a happy time, but a serious time of challenge.

John 2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated [at their tables]. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove [them] all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

The time came for the feast of Pesach (Passover) and He went to Jerusalem to celebrate it. He journeyed south to Jerusalem (about 80 miles as the crow flies – cp.2:13). “Passover” was so important we have some record of authorities that would repair the roads for the great influx of people … and whitewash the tombs so nobody would accidentally touch them and accidently defile themselves. Homes were cleaned, cooking utensils cleansed, and houses were removed of all leaven. Those living in Jerusalem were expected to put up out of town guests, so “dust bunnies” in every corner were removed. Fortunately, most homes were a simple plan and not very large.

• Jews celebrated deliverance from bondage in Egypt and Jews from all over would come to the Temple in Jerusalem to present their offerings. Animals were slaughtered, fat was burned, and blood was sprinkled on the altar. Meat was taken home, and eaten by the family in a stew. People stood in line to pay the “Temple tax” of a silver ½ shekel coin to pay for daily sacrifices through the year.

• This was the biggest event of the year. Jesus stood on to the south porch of the Temple, observing merchants selling animals and money changers hawking the crowds as the best rate providers. (2:14).

• It seems like the place sounded more like a Middle eastern open market than a place of worship and prayer, and that got under Jesus’ skin because it wasn’t what God wanted at all. He responded with open rebuke. (2:15).

• Some reports tell us that the High Priest’s family auctioned concession stands to the various merchants and money-changers … to the highest bidder. Merchants charged inflated prices for sacrifice animals, and inequitable rates of exchange for Temple bound coins.

When you read the account, don’t get the mistaken impression that Jesus “lost it” in a heat of the moment reaction. He didn’t fly off the handle. While He was walking around, observing the chaos, He carefully picked up some of the leather cords that were laying around … used to tie up the animals that had now been sold. While He was walking, He formed into a small whip.

Stop for a second and ask what Jesus would do on the set of the televangelist that is pleading for more money for a third of their airtime. I wonder if it is not worth asking if our generation has gotten off the path that He marked for us to follow. I wonder about the many Bible belt churches that look more like social halls and town clubs than hospitals for the spiritually wounded. Someone has said: “We worship our work … work at our play … and play at our worship.” I am not sure they are off base at all.

Jesus knew that God’s plan was for His House to be a house of prayer … a special place … a place of worship and praise. He called it: “My Father’s house” (2:16). He saw the people’s attitudes and actions – just like he sees ours. Did we sing that solo to get people to notice US, or to call them to worship HIM? Did we come because we wanted to seek Jesus, or because we thought the girl we want to date might be here?

The sadness is this: Jesus saw all the decorations of worship, but not the focus of worship! He called for UN-DISTRACTED worship of God. He plead for no ulterior motive – money, career, advancement, attention, affirmation…

Here is my simple question: Do we have Jesus’ zeal of heart (2:17)? Do we say, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord”? (cp. Psalm 69:9).

Jesus’ zeal was literally “eating Him up inside”. He had a PASSION for the things of God… We are passionate about our sports … our eating … music…our work. Are we that passionate about worship and prayer? He did, and He wanted others to have it as well. The authorities didn’t ask about the nature of His dispute, that wasn’t their issue. They wanted to know: “Who do you think you are to be doing this?” (2:18).

Their objection was John’s point in the narrative – that very question…”Who was Jesus anyway?” Jesus as God’s Son, was not willing for people to PLAY AT WORSHIP and feign a surrendered life before His Father!

Why didn’t they stand up to Jesus and kick Him out? There were certainly more of them than Jesus and his few disciples. That would come later in the story of the Gospel of John. For now, Jesus was operating with an authority that could be felt, and that made them hesitant! They knew this was not simply some mad man…. Emerging was a fuller picture of Who Jesus is.

He is loving, and He is tenderhearted. He is merciful and He is kind…. But that isn’t all He is. He is holy. He is just… and He doesn’t like people playing religious games and substituting them for a serious passion for God. When the situation called for assertive leadership He did not shrink back from the task. He didn’t “let it go.” HE answered with clarity and force.

Maybe a story will help:

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis were set in a mythical world. That world was inhabited by centaurs, dwarves, talking wolves and beavers, fawns, and all kinds of creatures more familiar to ancient Greek mythology than modern reading books. In one installment Narnia was covered in an endless winter as the result of a cruel White Witch – a world desperately waiting for a terribly cold winter to finally end. The central character of this book, a talking lion named Aslan (who the author said represented Christ). He was both a ruler and a Savior-type.

Four children – Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter – ended up in Narnia and were educated by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who told them about Aslan. They learned that Aslan was the true King and the son of the “Emperor-Beyond-The-Sea.” They learned that Aslan was a lion – not a man. When that truth was made plain, Susan said: “Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” Mr. Beaver replied, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just quite silly.” Then the youngest of the children, little Lucy, says, “Then he isn’t safe?” Mr. Beaver replied, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”

I remember that quote, because I think it says it all! Jesus is not who people think He is, and He breaks the molds we make for Him! He is not safe – He is Sovereign… and our reaction to His place in our lives determines if we really are Christians, or just religious church tourists that are self-deluded. Jesus knew His place, and revealed it from the very beginning of His public ministry. What He met was resistance, because people want a Rescuer, but not a Master.

Following His Footsteps: “Starting Block” – Matthew 3-4; John 1

sprinterI am no sprinter, and I have never won a foot race on any track, anywhere – at least that I can recall. Like most of you, I am a sports fan – but I am no sports man. As such, I watch the athleticism of younger men and women, and feel the absolute right to comment on their technique as I watch – though I couldn’t begin to fathom the sacrifice involved in their preparation, nor would my body be able to do any of my suggested moves were I in their place. As a fan of many sports and a master of exactly none – I offer this amateur observation that I have observed: The race is often determined in the moment after the starting gun. The right positioning on the “starting block” often proves to be a supreme advantage. Getting started with strength and stability seems, at least from the view from my cushioned recliner (watching on television) an essential step toward winning. It seems that beginning well is important. It isn’t everything, but it is significant. Yet, I am not thinking primarily about sports…In our lesson I am thinking about how the earth ministry of Jesus began.

The earthly ministry of our Savior as recorded in the Gospels took place over two thousand years ago, and lasted a mere three to four years long. During that time, Jesus became popular and selected His disciples. I marvel that God’s invasion of His fallen planet was pressed into a few short years and took place in one small area of the globe – on a planet in one corner of one galaxy – yet His work is transforming the whole cosmos. What began as a work of human rescue and salvation, will not see its completion until the final transformation when all things that are made new. Our question to consider is this: “How did Jesus begin His ministry?” What were the very first moments of God’s reclamation of creation like? How did that beginning offer a portent of the whole ministry? In the simplest terms, the early record of Jesus’ ministry emphasized three aspects of ministry that would dominate the whole work…

Key Principle: The work of ministry is about three things: God’s call – selecting us for His work, the enemy’s obstruction – attempting to distract us from the assignment and the prime objective of building disciples in the midst of the battle.

Yes, we are referring to the opening of the ministry of Jesus. At the same time, the ministry we have been given is a continuation of the same priorities. We need not redeem man, but the message of that completed redemption IS in our hands, empowered by His Spirit. The record of the opening of Jesus’ ministry will help us define three issues:

• What is required to begin a work for God?
• What resistance should we expect when we begin to work out our ministry?
• What is the chief focus of ministry?

When I use the term “ministry”, I am not thinking in some professional sense, but in this way: “Ministry is using God’s power to accomplish God’s purpose in God’s way, according to God’s stated priorities.” Ministry is the LIFE of the follower of Jesus. We have the incredible privilege to live in service to Jesus – and to serve Him by serving others. Let’s look into the passages that share how Jesus began the work.

The Presentation of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11 and Lk. 3:21-23)

In the story of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He was announced as the Deliverer at His baptism in the Jordan by His cousin John. As we look at the scene, ask yourself this question: “What is required to begin a life of service to our Father in Heaven?” In the case of Jesus, His ministry began with a CALL that acted in His case as a public endorsement – so that a handful of those who would follow Jesus had a stunning awakening to His presence. It was a shocking, verbal affirmation from Heaven:

Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan [coming] to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit [it] at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove [and] lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

It is clear in the text that the baptism by John was God the Father’s announcement that Jesus had prepared well for the work to come, and that He was ready to commence His redemptive work. Yet, that was admittedly a unique feature that was designed for Jesus. Should I anticipate that God will open Heaven and make such a display for me as I begin to serve Him? No! Yet, there is an example here we should observe that is instructive for us…

First, notice in Matthew 3:13 that Jesus recognized the work God was already doing, and went to John’s baptism site. He didn’t forge off on His own, but began with a place that God was already moving in hearts, and where God’s Word was already being represented. Ministry and service for God isn’t about you “doing it all right on a path of your own”. Your call to ministry adds you to a team that has already been at work. You are JOINING A TEAM, not establishing the beginning of God’s work on earth. I am concerned about those who view themselves as so self-important they cannot place themselves in a position of “team” at all.

Second, John’s response to Jesus in Matthew 3:14 reminds us of the kind of ministry we should seek out when we want to be a part of God’s work on a team – a ministry that acknowledges the supremacy of Jesus. We need to expect ministry to do more than good works for helpless people. Pagans can fill soup bowls. We need to recognize that real ministry exalts Jesus, and recognizes His unique position as the Eternal Son of God. Good works are important but proper worship at the center of any ministry is essential for those works to have the right meaning.

Third, Matthew 3:15 reminds us that a proper ministry follows the Word of God. John’s thoughts were reverent but Jesus’ commands were Biblical. Jesus called the play, and John executed it as called – because that is what ministry is supposed to do. We go where Jesus points.

Finally, an essential point for our call to ministry is this: God sets us aside to do the work He gives us. It begins with His affirmation. Because Matthew 3:16-17 are so unique to Jesus, it is easy to obscure this point. I am not suggesting that God will open Heaven for us before a host of our friends and exclaim that we are called to do a work for Him. What I am saying is this: God will affirm your careful preparation, and God will call you to accomplish things for Him if you open yourself to His desires. The most frustrated believer is one who has a sense of duty without knowledge of God’s calling. God waits to be asked, and waits to be wanted.

Jesus began by going to where God was already working – a place where the Word of God was being explained and the priority of God was being fleshed out. He stood in the water and God affirmed the beginning of His earth ministry in a formal way. You may not see a light from Heaven, but if you yield the balance of your life to your Heavenly Father – He will acknowledge that in your life. He will show it to others. He will affirm that you are following His call.

The story is told of a time when Henry Ford was riding through the Michigan countryside and happened upon a man who was beside the road trying to get his “Model T” working again. The problem was not severe, but the man had no earthly idea how to get it working properly. Ford pulled over his car and jumped out of the driver’s seat. He asked the man if he could help. The man was very open to assistance, and Ford had the car purring in minutes. “What a miracle worker you are!” exclaimed the man. “Not really”, said Ford. “I am the designer of the automobile, so I know how it works.”

That makes obvious sense to anyone who hears of the story. Yet, think about it: People spend their lives searching for answers to make life work, but won’t take their broken lives to the Designer of life. If you do – expect more than restoration – expect a mission. Expect a call. God starts at the point that we surrender to Him – and then He moves us into things we NEVER could have imagined.

Ministry (“using God’s power to accomplish God’s purpose in God’s way, according to God’s stated priorities”) begins with our surrender and God’s affirming call… but that is just the beginning.

By the way, was God’s affirmation from Heaven recognized as an important event years after? Yes, indeed! Hebrews 1 opened with the argument of Jesus’ position based on that day:

Hebrews 1:1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world…5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”?

Jesus went to the right place with the right heart and right preparation – but God exalted Him and marked His life. You are not the Redeemer – but God will do the same for you. If you offer Him your life, He will affirm your choice, empower your work and attract others to you. That is the beginning place for your work to accomplish His purposes. When you do that, however, be warned… the complications of life are about to hit you…

The Problem for Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13 and Lk. 4:1-13)

Affirmation and accomplishment are exciting to talk about, but they come at a price. God affirms and Satan attacks. If you have walked with God, I need say little about this to you. Let me address the one who is at the beginning of their road of surrendered heart and accomplished ministry. Look carefully at the words that mark out the work of TEMPTATION in our lives:

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'” 5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON [their] HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.'” 8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'” 11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and [began] to minister to Him.

Look at the pattern – because it will become familiar if you follow God:

First, don’t ignore that temptation came while Jesus was led by the Spirit – it cannot be avoided by a walk with God because it is part of the walk (4:1a). We will pass into tempting situations and experiences. God will not forsake us, but He will not block all temptation from coming our way. He will do so at strategic times to protect us – and then expect we will use the armor He provided (Eph. 6:10-20) for the other times. God expects a believer to be wise, prepared and disciplined in areas of temptation.

Second, though not all temptation is directly from the enemy, it all originates with him and can be linked to his person and attitude of rebellion (4:1b). The devil isn’t interested in rebelling alone. He wants a degraded audience, destroying their lives beside him. He is at work in our day, “the prince of the power of the air” warping our world’s sense of justice to defend perversion as a right and convenience killing as a social necessity. He is laughing as we indulge in entertainments that enrich our rebellion while proclaiming Jesus as our Savior. He is very much behind the things tugging you away from a surrendered heart before God.

Third, temptation is most effective when we are at a position of need and in a state of dormancy (4:2). Matthew recorded in some detail the specific instance of the temptation of Jesus by His enemy – so that we would learn the pattern:

• The tempter began by questioning truth (“if you are the Son of God”) and raising Jesus’ attentiveness to His own hungry desires (“turn these stones to bread”). This was a call to self-absorbed thinking – focusing more on a desire or need than on careful obedience to His Father.

Here is the great tragedy of America. When the post mortem is done on how the west fell, it will show, I am confident, that a paganization of education was at the core of the fall. Instead of using God’s Word as the foundation of truth – we have deliberately replaced the truth with unending questions and bold assertions that such truths do not really exist. As we quadruple our social services budgets and clog the system with an unending number of dysfunctional people, we will see the error of that way. People cannot get life together when they don’t have a truth foundation to put it on. When any nation is taught to focus on fulfilling their desires without the balancing truth of taking joy from wholly serving their Creator – they lose their way.

• The second phase of the tempter’s work attempted to draw the Master into “proving” to the enemy His rightful position while using “half-truths” and “partial quotes” of the Word to do so. This was a call to self-reliant thinking – focusing more on one’s position and ability than on the pleasure of our Heavenly Father with our lives.

Here the enemy didn’t want to change WHO Jesus was, but rather try to focus Jesus on Himself rather than on His Father – for Whom the whole mission was conceived. Jesus was here for His Father’s joy – and focus on Who He is was a distraction from that chief end. Satan is a master at pulling our eyes from the MOST IMPORTANT to the LESSER THINGS – and once our eyes are following his prompting, he will pull our attention into rebellion. Jesus would have none of it. Even as the Eternal Son of God – He knew His call was to serve His Father, and keep His attention on that as His chief joy.

I wonder how many believers have been trained to think this way. Have we really instilled in those we disciple that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him in the process? The message of modern Christianity often sounds like the tempter’s voice: “Come to Jesus and YOU will find fulfillment and happiness.” Even though the words are true, can we not see that they beckon us to get Jesus for our own purposes – and not to surrender our lives to HIS? We must be careful about this, for how we motivate people will show up later in the discipleship process.

• The third phase of the temptation was all about exaltation and glory (“cast Yourself down from here”) – the enemy offering promised results. When Satan cannot get us to succumb to some warped version of self-desire, when he cannot delude our thinking with half-truths – he will beckon to a deep desire within us to be important and famous. He will summon us to do something that calls for the obvious recognition of our own importance. This is a call to our self-important thinking – focusing on glory for self and not glory for our Father.

I strongly believe we are living in a day of delusion -even within the community of the Christian faith. Many begin with the flawed foundational idea that God’s chief interest is their happiness (not holiness). Because of that, anything that would curtail their ability to express their inner desires and feelings could not be commanded by this “reshaped” god they now follow. If they feel they were “made with certain desires”, they cannot imagine a god that would tell them to deny their feelings – because their true god is their appetite. We live in a time where even believers have been subtly convinced that the center of the universe is how they feel, not Who they serve – and that separates the modern church from the message of its past.

This can sound harsh, but I truly mean every word of it in love, and it is a pleading question, not to the world, but to my friends who claim to follow Jesus: “What difference does it make “what you feel attracted to” if it conflicts with the Word of God?” Why would I spend my time trying to carefully dissect and discern my feelings instead of simply asking what the Master has said will please Him? Is not greater sacrifice the platform for greater joy in the time of reward? Are we not told to be like Jesus Who surrendered His desires, blessings and comforts to serve His Father’s end? With that in mind…Does not God have the right to call you to celibacy if he chooses? Can He not call you to childlessness – regardless of what you feel you desire? When did God give up being in charge of His own plan? Self-centered Christianity isn’t Christianity at all – it is a religion cloaked immature selfishness – and we need to see it for the bankruptcy it is.

The attempt Satan used has been a successful method against many. While ineffective against Jesus, the record offers us an ability to know in advance the enemy’s way of pulling us off track. It is a model… and we must watch for appeals to self-absorption, self-reliance and self-importance. On each are the fingerprints of a fallen angel.

Jesus answered the tempter’s melody with three responses from God’s revealed Word:

• In Matthew 4:4 Jesus faced the tempter and made the simple point that it is God’s Word – not man’s hunger – that is supreme. What a statement! Jesus literally said that what was more important than what He wanted at that moment (something to eat and drink) was subservient to the Word of God. That is Christian thinking put succinctly and powerfully. His Word moves me to place second my desires. My life here is about sowing; my life to come in Heaven is about reaping. When I get that truth confused I expect people here to be fair, and circumstances here to work out to my benefit. Sometimes they do, and that confuses my focus all the more. Yet, when I live for the eventual applause of Heaven, I gain peace amid the problems on earth. I drop my need for things to please ME, because I want ultimately to please HIM.

• Jesus made clear the issue wasn’t simply what we DO, but for WHOSE GLORY we do it (Mt. 4:7). A man who lives to make himself happy doesn’t live for God’s glory… period. When I live for my Master, I can and WILL enjoy life – but that cannot become the goal or I am changing the essential message and purpose of my faith.

• In the last retort of Jesus to His enemy (Mt. 4:10) the Master made clear that there comes a time when the best we can do is dismiss temptation with the Word and move on – reasoning with deception is often a lost cause.

The attack of the enemy was activated when God acknowledged that Jesus’ work of redemption was underway. We should expect nothing less. When we move ahead, the enemy dispatches those who push us back. They may come in the form of temptation to do wrong, or simply temptation to lose focus on the goal.

Here is the point: If we surrender we will be called. When we are called, we will face attack. Yet, there is more. We must understand the priority of ministry or we will spend our lives on the wrong effort – a great many have over the years!

The Priority of Jesus (John 1:29-51)

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! … 35 Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John [speak] and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter)…”

Jesus left the tempter behind and fully fixed his gaze on the mission ahead. It was clear that mission was not simply about the crowds – though it included public ministry. His was a ministry of DISCIPLE MAKING. This was His initial priority, and based on the record of His final hours before the Cross – it was His CENTRAL priority. We must recognize this! The church is not primarily about preserving the culture – it is about replicating disciples that can live truth REGARDLESS of what the culture does.

Disciples came to Jesus because another follower (John) pointed out Jesus to them (John 1:29). If John was concerned with his own fame, he may have hid Jesus from his own followers – and many so called “Christian” leaders do that. They make disciples increasingly dependent upon them – not equipping them and encouraging them to carry the work. They will create ministry based on paid staff, instead of igniting and encouraging the work of the Spirit from the church pew. They will not bring people to MATURITY, but to DEPENDENCE. We must make every effort to do the work of equipping, and keep pointing people to God and His Word – and not to us.

How do you know when disciples are grown? When they are reproducing – when they are calling others to Jesus they are BEGINNING the process. That isn’t the end. Having babies doesn’t make you a parent – just a biologically functioning adult. Raising children is what makes one a parent. Don’t see John 1 as the END, but the beginning of making disciples that make disciples – a subject we will handle more deeply in coming lessons…

Here is the truth of our lesson: The work of ministry is about three things: God’s call – selecting us for His work, the enemy’s obstruction – attempting to distract us from the assignment and the prime objective of building disciples in the midst of the battle.

According to Mike Neifert in his writing called “Light and Life” (February 1997), staff members from the Bridger Wilderness Area in Wyoming reported receiving comment cards from visitors to their rustic wilderness park:

• Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
• Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the areas of these pests.
• Please pave the trails…Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.
• The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.
• A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? Please call…
• Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.
• A MacDonald’s would be nice at the trailhead.
• Too many rocks in the mountains.

Larry Sarver wrote a sermon that is included in the Sermon Central library on the subject of discipleship and he cited these complaints. I appreciated his insight, so I close with his words:

These comments and complaints indicate that the people who made them do not really understand what it means to stay in a “wilderness area.” They were looking for something convenient and comfortable, but not truly a wilderness experience. In a similar way, many people today do not understand what it means to be a genuine Christian. There are multitudes that often follow Jesus or claim to be a Christian but they do so on their terms and not his. They do not truly comprehend the biblical definition of discipleship. Because of this ignorance there are many who consider themselves to be followers of Jesus who are not, even though in many ways they do look like followers of Jesus. They go to church, have a profession of faith, read their Bibles, pray, even give in the offering, but they are not the real deal or at least are not living and thinking like the real deal. … there is no reason for anybody to be ignorant or self-deceived… To be a disciple of Jesus you must be committed to him above everything else… In our hearts Jesus must come before our loved ones, self-interest, possessions, careers, hobbies, goals in life, and even our very lives. In practice this commitment to Jesus will be tested and sometimes, in a moment of weakness, Jesus will not come first in our choices, but genuine disciples have made a sincere commitment in their hearts and will not continue to put other things before Jesus.” (Sermon Central illustrations).

Following His Footsteps: “The Incredible Shrinking Man”- John 3:22-36

shrink vertIn 1957, Jack Arnold adapted a novel into a sci-fi movie that was titled: “The Incredible Shrinking Man”. The film went on to gain awards in 1958, and was considered by some to be a minor classic in its field. The story was a tale of a businessman who vacationed with his family off the California coast and encountered a strange radioactive cloud that left a sparkled coating on the man’s skin. About six months later, the man began to notice he was visibly shrinking. Doctors studied the man and determined the cloud, and a later exposure to an insecticide caused his body to begin to shrink. As he grew smaller, he became famous for his malady, but sunk deeper into a depression. Now very small, he was eventually trapped and attacked in a famous and chilling scene, by his former family pet, a common house cat. Thought to have been killed, he actually escaped into his basement and was forced to navigate its terrors at an ever smaller and smaller size. Much of the time in the basement is spent battling a voracious spider, trying to stem off his own hunger, and facing a lasting fear that he would eventually shrink down to oblivion. Eventually, he escaped the basement, but continued to shrink. He eventually came to terms with his fate and concluded he still “mattered in the universe” because, as he put it, “To God there is no zero.” Comforted he faced his future without fear.

Getting smaller is a very real fear to many people – but not in the way the movie was depicting it. They are not afraid of radioactive clouds causing them to be reduced in size – but they do not want to shrink in the eyes of men and women around them. Many are hungry to have, and keep, an impact. They hunger for significance, and fight to remain relevant. As we age, many of us learn enough about ourselves to recognize our own self-protection and our reactions to feeling marginalized.

The truth is this: I must choose to become less significant in myself to have God work through me powerfully. If I contrive and strive to be relevant, my memory will be swept away in short order. This isn’t a new idea…

In Yorkshire, England, during the early 1800s, two sons were born to a family named Taylor. The older one set out to make a name for himself by entering Parliament and gaining public prestige. But the younger son chose to give his life to Christ. He later recalled, “Well do I remember, as in unreserved consecration I put myself, my life, my friends, my all, upon the altar. I felt I was in the presence of God, entering into covenant with the Almighty.” With that commitment, Hudson Taylor turned his face toward China and obscurity. As a result, he is known and honored on every continent as a faithful missionary and the founder of the China Inland Mission (now known as Overseas Missionary Fellowship). For the other son, however, there is no lasting monument. When you look in the encyclopedia to see what the other son has done, you find these words, “the brother of Hudson Taylor.” “…he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:17). (A-Z Sermon Illustrator).

What was clear to Hudson Taylor, must become clear to every believer if they are to be powerfully used for God’s positive purpose…

Principle: Godly people learn to shrink, allowing the words and work of the Master to displace their own self-importance.

I can think of no one who overtly exemplified this truth in the Bible (about shrinking to self) better than the “cousin” of Jesus – John the Baptizer. Before we dig into that truth, let’s refresh our memory with a few Biblical details about John:

• First, we know that his birth was announced by the angel Gabriel to Zacharias his father, as we have studied in a previous lesson.

• Second, the Gospels make clear that he prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1:2-8; John 1:23) and was, in that way, the promised “Elijah type” from Malachi 4:5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”.

• Third, he was an unusual man who grew up in the desert wilderness (Luke 1:80). Matthew 3:4 records a certain eccentricity of John: “Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”

• Fourth, John preached a preparatory message of repentance, baptizing people in the Jordan river (Mark 1:4,5). Along with that, John baptized Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (though John expressed unworthiness to do so – Matthew 3:13-17).

• Fifth, John wasn’t self-effacing, he was humble. John was a man of conviction and was not swayed by popular opinion and openly rebuked the “religiously correct” (of the parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees) telling them that works (fruit) not just words show that they have a repentant heart (Matthew 3:6-10).

• Sixth, Jesus held John in very high regard and said concerning John (see Luke 7:28) “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

• Seventh, John was not a superhero – but an ordinary man. In a more “human” story concerning him, at a moment of apparent doubt during his imprisonment, John sent his followers to ask Jesus if He was the “One” (anointed) or if there was another (Luke 7:18-20). Herod put John in prison because he spoke against the Tetrarch’s stealing of his brother Philip’s wife and other wrong things he had done (Luke 3:19-20). Herod later reluctantly had John beheaded in order to keep a promise he made to his stepdaughter (Matthew 14:1-10).

That set the stage for our study, but we need to spend a few moments looking at what the Gospels record about John’s understanding of “shrinking to self”… First, let’s establish that John DID understand the concept, and then let’s look at what details the Gospel writers offer us to recognize how John got there in his life. That will help us make the journey ourselves…

After Jesus was baptized, and after He began to have a significant following, we read of an incident in John’s Gospel that highlighted John’s character and his desire to shrink in size behind the Savior:

John 3:22 “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and [people] were coming and were being baptized—24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 “You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 “He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 “What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 “He who has received His testimony has set his seal to [this], that God is true. 34 “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Seven Character Traits of a Godly Man

The simple record of the encounter at Aenon near Salim offered a window into John’s maturity of heart. Look briefly at the passage what contains John’s response to questions, and you will see seven character traits that model a godly man who is ready to shrink before the Lord’s greatness and exalt his Savior above himself.

First, there is GODLY CONFIDENCE (3:27): John stood before his own disciples and answered one who attempted at divisiveness through encouraging envy. “Jesus is gaining more popularity than you, sir!” the man said. John didn’t blink. He wasn’t upset about being upstaged by another preacher. He soothed the envious hearts of his own disciples with these words – “You get what God gives you!” Out of context, these words could be used for one who was simply hiding laziness, but that wasn’t the case! John acknowledged that he served a Sovereign God, and he (like all who follow Him) needed to be content in God’s hands. Godly men and women lose their self-confidence and gain a “God confidence”! Self-confidence thrives on human affirmation. God confidence thrives on Heaven’s smile revealed by the Spirit within. John was courageously confident about what God had in store for him. I cannot help but smile at Zig Ziglar’s comment: “Confidence is going after Moby Dick in a rowboat and taking the tartar sauce with you.”

Have you ever watched Olympic sports on TV? Put yourself into that picture. Imagine you are competing and you have done your absolute best, but you have one more time to perform in the competition. Just as you prepare your muscles and your mind, your trainer breaks in with a message: “You have already scored enough points for the gold. No one can catch you. Now go out and do this one for fun!” After thousands of hours of training, hundreds of hours of turning down the foods you most want to eat, conditioning, practicing, disciplining…you will go out on the floor with an excitement. You aren’t EARNING the medal, you are ENJOYING the sport. You’re DONE competing against others, now you are just working on your craft to hone yourself to do it better. That is a picture of godly confidence.

Second, there is a SENSE OF PURPOSE (3:28). John made the point that he was not unclear within or in his speaking about who he was and why he spoke. He recognized his purpose and place in life. He was the center – not the quarterback. He would have the ball first, but he would have it only for a moment before it was in the hands of the One Who would determine the rest of the play. He was not to be the center of anyone’s universe. Only a mature godly man or woman really grasps this. Though we all have a deep longing to be the center of someone’s universe – our place as believers is help others put the Lord at the center – not a relationship with US. Godly men and women answer the question, “Father, what have you made me to be?”

Third, there were expressions of JOY (3:29): John moved the discussion about Jesus to a “betrothal” and a “wedding” – times of great JOY! John learned the secret of taking JOY in being what God created him to be. He didn’t “settle” for his lot in life, he REVELED in the joy of his God-given identity as a “close friend of the groom”. No one in the bridal party should distract people from the couple – it is their day! Godly men and women seek to take the joy of the journey on each step with them – the resolute assurance that God has not lost interest in them, nor lost the ability to care for them.

Singer MICHAEL CARD told the story of a man named Joseph who came to Christ out of a Muslim background. One day walking a hot, dusty African road, the man met someone who shared Christ with him. He accepted Jesus as his Savior beside that road and the power of the Holy Spirit overwhelmed him with such joy that the first thing he desired was return and tell his whole village. He walked about, door to door, telling of the cross and the forgiveness for sin. He expected the faces of his neighbors to light up as they encountered this wonderful truth. Much to his amazement they became violent, seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged and left to die alone in the bush. After a time, he was again conscious and made it to a water hole where he spent days recovering and hiding. He was confused and finally decided that he must have left something out or not told the story correctly. After rehearsing the message he returned. Stood in the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. Again grabbed by men and beaten by women, reopening the wounds that had just begun to heal. He was again dragged while unconscious and left to die. Days later he awoke and determined to go back. This time he was attacked before he even opened his mouth. Before he passed out the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him had begun to weep. This time he awoke in his own bed, the ones who had beaten him were now trying to save his life. The villagers were challenged by their own hatred, and many came to know Jesus Christ. The man did not come to them to condemn them for not believing, but was compelled to come because he was released from his own sin, and he couldn’t contain that!

Fourth, John had CLARITY (3:30) one can only have when they see the truth. He recognized Who the Savior was, and without hesitation he said: “He must increase and I must decrease!” The was the crystal clear sound of a voice that has embraced TRUTH. John not only knew who he wasn’t – he knew Who the main character WAS in the story. Godly men and women recognize that even what we call “our lives” are not our own. The story is not about US; it is not about God’s Son!

A person who calls himself frank and candid can very easily find himself becoming tactless and cruel. A person who prides himself on being tactful can find eventually that he has become evasive and deceitful. A person with firm convictions can become pigheaded. A person who is inclined to be temperate and judicious can sometimes turn into someone with weak convictions and banked fires of resolution . . . Loyalty can lead to fanaticism. Caution can become timidity. Freedom can become license. Confidence can become arrogance. Humility can become servility. All these are ways in which strength can become weakness. Dore Schary, Bits & Pieces, December 9, 1993, pp. 3-4… It is only by connecting our lives to the foundational truth – seeing clearly what God says, that we can take our weaknesses and allow them to become our strength!

This is not small affair. The failure of our nation will come as we disconnect ourselves from the truth that government does not bestow rights – God does. He made us, and we made government. As that truth falls from our classrooms, it falls from our children’s hearts. They will be ready for tyranny – and they will even invite it as an expedient answer to some supposed emergency. Connection to God’s Word offers protection from God’s enemy.

Fifth, there was a simple, noticeable and humble SUBMISSION (3:31): John answered his disciples’ complaints with a straightforward claim that Jesus is Lord from Heaven, and worthy of all submission. No man or woman can ever truly be considered Godly that does not understand submission to the Creator. It doesn’t mean we will live every moment with our spiritual knees bowed, but it means that is our GOAL – to serve on earth as God’s servants do in Heaven. Angels don’t add God to their schedule – He IS their schedule. They don’t wonder if they have a better way to pull off life – they KNOW they do not. I tell you the truth: Self-willed and stubborn Christians are doing more to damage the Gospel than atheists ever will.

Sixth, he possessed keen DISCERNMENT (3:32-34): John claimed that Jesus spoke that which He knew first hand, that is was the absolute truth of the Word of God and that it was infused with the limitless power of the Spirit of God. He trusted what Jesus taught, and he had the discernment to see it as truth and label it as such. Godliness presupposes the ability to discern truth from nonsense. No godly man or woman will truly walk as they ought without discernment that acts as a screen to filter out the false and allow the truth to permeate.

George Hunter contends that the first characteristic of a secular person in the modern world is that he or she is ignorant of basic Christianity. It has been said of the Baby Busters, those born between 1963 and 1977 and the first generation to grow up in a postmodern context, that they lack even the memory of a hope-giving gospel. Today many people outside of the church struggle with the concept of Christ’s deity. They think he was a good man, perhaps even a prophet, but not God in human form. Further, seventy-two percent of Americans now deny the existence of absolute truth, and few have confidence in the historical accuracy or ethical authority of the Bible. Two-thirds of the population does not know what John 3:16 refers to, and less than four out of every ten Americans have any idea what the term gospel means. Ten percent believe that the name of Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc.” – James White, Rethinking the Church, p. 41

I am honestly concerned about how many people are “churched” but not “Bibled”.

They manage to join programs, listen to sermons, attend conferences and yet don’t seem to be growing in their grasp of the Word of God – which is usually the STATED purpose of most of those settings. Without grasping God’s Word with discernment, they will be swept into the ever-adapting popular forms of “tolerance morality” which is really cloaked self-will and immorality. Because people call evil good does not make it so – and believers must know the difference. Discernment was never a luxury – but now it will determine survival in a world setting that is increasing in flagrant and egregious sin.

Finally, John had CONTEXT because he had UNDERSTANDING (3:35-36) of the broader picture of life and afterlife. His frame of decision making wasn’t only about EARTH, but about the reality of HEAVEN and what GOD WAS DOING. He was not so ego bound that all he could perceive was how everything affected him – life held a bigger picture before him. In this larger window view, what God was calling him to do made real sense. John understood that God was from the beginning a God of relationship. He loved, and because of that, it was easy for God the Father to offer authority to the Son. If the Father could do that, so could John! He loved Jesus, so surrendering crowds and accolades to Him was not a sacrifice he couldn’t accept!

That understanding is where the great truth was revealed from John’s lips. Because John saw that the Father in Heaven loved the Son, and trusted the Son completely – John could follow suit and give up any position, title, fame or importance to Jesus. God – out of love – gave the Son authority, how could John give less than his passing fame? He knew that Jesus’ coming wasn’t just a political stunt or an earthly religious control play.
I cannot find the statement, but in my memory it should be ascribed to John Piper. Years ago I heard it, and it stuck with me (I am adapting as memory serves)…

“What other religion do you know that shares the love of God by that very powerful and majestic being coming to die for a rebel? What other personality claimed openly to be God and died for that claim, yet have millions that follow Him? Buddha never made such a claim. He didn’t say he came from God, nor that he was God. Mohammed never made the claim that he was God in human skin – only that he was a prophet that died and remains in the tomb like all other men. In every other religion the word of God is a verbal revelation, a book or a set of moral codes. Only in Christianity does God become flesh. Only in our Savior does He subject Himself to wicked men to win their hearts.” (adapted from unknown author).

John recognized the sacrifice of God, and he made his own sacrifice to God…

On March 5, 1994, Deputy Sheriff Lloyd Prescott was teaching a class for police officers in the Salt Lake City Library. During a break he stepped into the hallway, and as he did he saw a gunman forcing 18 hostages into a nearby room. Prescott, who was dressed in street clothes, fell in line with the group and became the nineteenth hostage. The gunman had not noticed him, and Prescott followed them into the room, and shut the door. The gunman announced the order in which hostages would be executed, and then it was that Prescott identified himself as a police officer. A fight ensued, and Prescott, in self-defense, shot the gunman. All of the hostages were released unharmed. The officer placed himself at great risk, but he was not thinking of himself, he was thinking about the danger the hostages were in. (sermon central illustrations).

Why would the Officer Prescott do that? The answer is simple: He thought of another first. He shrunk, and they grew. So did John, and it wasn’t philanthropy, it was surrender to Jesus.

Godly people learn to shrink, allowing the words and work of the Master to displace their own self-importance.

If you ever get the opportunity to go to Florence in Italy – do it. Near the Ponte Vecchio is a church called Santa Felicita. One piece of artwork in that church was painted by Antonio Ciseri in 1863 called “The Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees”. It recalled a story from 2 Maccabees 7, when about 160 years before Jesus, a tyrant general tried to make seven sons of one woman eat pork. One after another the boys were horribly killed in front of their mother, yet she did not tell them to capitulate – because she taught them to observe the Law of Moses. Faced with the loss of all of her sons, she would not relent – nor would they… What kind of person stands up to pressure like that? The kind that is convinced that following God is more important than physical life itself. “Too radical!” you say? It may seem so. Yet, if we are not willing to stand for God’s word, but try to tolerate and compromise our way through – we will have loved this life and lost our opportunity to show Jesus to others when it really counted.

Following His Footsteps: “Jesus is for Losers” – Matthew 1, Luke 1 and John 1

introducing_manToday I want to introduce the most important figure in my life. I first heard of Him as a child, but didn’t meet Him until I was in High School. He continues to be my friend, counselor and constant companion through each of the seasons of my life… but He is much more than even those words can describe. He is also my Master, my Sovereign, my King and my Lord. He has no equal – not in my life, and not in the cosmos. There truly is NONE like Him, and there is no real and lasting answer found in any other. I want you to meet Jesus, not just in this lesson, but in a whole series of what the Bible records about Him. I want to look at His life, not in bits, but rather as one story – one harmonized story of the Savior. That is what this new series of lessons is all about. That means, we will leave our normal “book study” method, and be looking at four presentations of Jesus – side by side – the four accounts we call the “Gospels”. In fact, I want to take you to three passages in this lesson – each expressing the beginnings Gospel accounts, and begin to unpack the story of Jesus.

Before I do, I have to admit something. I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus is for LOSERS. A careful study of what He said and did will reveal, I believe, that He did not come for the strong, but for the weak. He did not come for the self-satisfied, but for the bankrupt in spirit – struggling souls who know that they have shipwrecked their lives by their own choices. Those who feel they can navigate life without Him will choose to do so. Some will call them “arrogant”, but the Bible calls them simply “fools”. I am no fool, but I am a loser. I am not a loser because of what I was when I found Jesus – but rather because of what Jesus told me to DO as a result of knowing Him. I was called to LOSE… but more about that a bit later….

Jesus came to change us. He was an example – but that wasn’t His primary goal. He was a helper to the fallen and weakened, the social outcast and the religious flunkie – but that wasn’t His main purpose. Jesus came to wipe out the atonement system – the “kill a goat for God” and replace that whole system with permanent, complete and total justification. He came to set us free from sin – the Bible repeats the claim again and again. In His redemptive plan, He also came to challenge us to surrender to God our lives as He surrendered His for us. He came to move us from where we were when we met Him, to where He intended us to be – in His service. The opening verses of the Gospel accounts will help us see a truth very clearly…

Key Principle: Christianity isn’t merely a belief system, it is a movement. It requires more than mental assent to a list of facts; it requires deliberate opening of my heart to God’s transformation of my life.

The Gospel writers were very open about what they wanted to present. They offered a clear picture of Jesus, and desired to enlist a clear response. Here is the truth: the Biblical notion of faith requires surrender or it is neither faith nor Biblical. That is a fact historic believers recognized that seems to be obscured in our time. Let’s look at how the writers shared Jesus.

First, the record of Jesus was presented with a clear purpose:

Luke: 1:1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write [it] out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; 4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Our faith is built on a set of truths that were passed to us, and must be accepted (Luke 1:1-2a). Let it be clear to all who embrace the Bible and its message that our faith is defined by the text, and recorded by our earlier faith family.

Our faith came from eyewitness testimony that followed Jesus from the beginning of the story, not loose rumors and idle imaginings from centuries after the fact (Luke 1:2b). The Bible is clear, and a simple sample makes the demand clear:

• 2 Peter 1:16 says “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…21 “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

• 2 Tim. 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness

Luke reminds us that our faith is rooted in an actual story that had both a progression of events, and evidence that these events were real (Luke 1:3). He was able to interview people, collect accounts, and gain evidences. He did his homework with a surrendered heart and the Spirit’s leading – and we have the product of his work.

Sir William Ramsay (15 March 1851 – 20 April 1939) was a Scottish scholar that undertook careful archaeological research to test the authenticity of the account of the Gospel of St. Luke. He began his work as a skeptic of the Bible, and was educated at the Universities of Aberdeen, Oxford and Gottingen, Exeter College, Oxford, and Lincoln College. In 1885 he was elevated to the position of Professor of Classical Art at Oxford, and in the next year Distinguished Professor of The Humanities at Aberdeen. He was immersed in the skeptical teaching that prevailed in his day, but forced himself to search for primary source materials and evidences that would lead him to a conclusion very unlike his peers of the day. After careful research, Ramsay astounded his fellows with the belief that the Gospel of Luke was actually written by Dr. Luke, and that it shared historically accurate information. After a time, Ramsay further concluded that the evidence he saw led him to believe the message of the Gospel of Luke – that Jesus WAS, in fact, the Messiah and Lord. He began his career as a mocker and skeptic, but closed his career as an ardent defender of the Gospel accounts.

Luke also made the point that our faith must be grasped from the text of the Scriptures, for they possess the exact truth about Who and what Jesus is (Luke 1:4). This isn’t a “I feel Jesus is this way” kind of faith. Our feelings are subject to the text – because it offers the true view of the Person of Jesus.

It is also worth noting that Luke made clear that our faith leads us to certainty about God and His work in us. Modern “scholarly mysticism” has made uncertainty into a “Zen-like” positivism – as if KNOWING makes one at least weak and at worst bigoted. It seems in the modern classroom, the only person considered a true scholar is the one who claims that “little or nothing can be truly known”. The Biblical message stands opposed to that sentiment. Note that Luke wrote that “you many know” (1:4) to a group of Jesus’ early followers. The purpose of the Gospels was not to offer a string of myths and pithy sayings that may or may not have come from the mouth of Jesus of Nazareth. The purpose of the Gospel record was to document the account and accurately record the history of a real man that walked on the earth, in order that believers would be able to fully grasp the model and meaning of Jesus’ life and work.

In times of trouble, fluffy feelings of camp Christianity won’t hold us together. In persecution, general musings about Jesus just simply won’t do. In times of searing pain, the weightless Hallmark Jesus won’t get us through the tears of the night. God offered SUBSTANCE in the “four windows into the life and work of Jesus” because He knew well that we would need carefully examined structures and principles that will help us when the world refuses the truth and the winds of culture turn coldly in the face of the Christian!

Jesus was truly introduced by the Gospel recorders with A CLEAR PURPOSE in their accounts, but that isn’t all… The record of Jesus was also presented with clear implications:

The record of Jesus MEANS SOMETHING. It isn’t simply the introduction to an ancient mythical hero like Achilles or Ulysses. This record is meant to CHANGE THOSE WHO ENGAGE IT. It forces us to look not only at the FACT of His coming, but the implications of that coming to the way that we conduct our lives. Take a few minutes to consider the ways Jesus was exposed in the narrative, and the implications will become quite clear.

First, Jesus came in the flesh, not as a simple mythical action figure of campfire stories. He is not “man idealized” as German skeptical scholars tried to cast. He came as a child into a real family, birthed from a real womb and suckled by a real woman. This tale was one of cold nights, uncomfortable journeys, near death traps, and nosy shepherds. It was the tale of a real child born into a real cave stable and warmly wrapped in cloth and placed in a pile of hay.

While we introduce Jesus in the records, we have to admit that there are TWO GENEALOGIES of Jesus presented by the evangelists – one in Matthew’s opening verses, and one in Luke 3:23 ff. Side by side, they offer some interesting and important opening notes about the record of the Savior that we don’t want to skip. Don’t flinch when you read the two accounts – Matthew and Luke – and find that they don’t agree. Remember, if the account were “doctored” by the church, every place the accounts didn’t match they would have been “edited” to do so. The fact that two genealogies are left in the text speaks to the veracity of the accounts. At the same time it begs the question: “Is one of them faulty?” Obviously, as one who believes in the historical veracity of the text, I would say a firm “No!” Yet, some explanation is necessary.

Look at Luke 3, and you will read a litany of unfamiliar names – all are offered to carefully demonstrate Jesus came as an Israelite child:

Luke 3:23b “….being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Hesli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Heber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

His lineage is presented in reverse order of history, moving backward from Jesus’ parent to Adam, summarizing generations. Three important observations are in order:

First, “son” in antiquity was used for “descendant” and could mean a direct son, or a grandson of any generation following the father. Therefore, Luke included forty-two names in the list, while Matthew only included twenty-six names – each are legitimate records of “son ship”. The fact that Matthew omits names can be cross checked in the passages in Kings and Chronicles easily.

Second, Luke makes the point that the genealogy is “unusual” in that Jesus’ legal father was not His actual father. Note the awkward wording of Luke 3:23 “being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph”. Clearly the genealogy, were it to be that of Joseph, had a “legal character”, but did not represent the “physical genealogy” of Jesus – for He will be clearly presented by the same author as “from the Holy Spirit” and not from the “seed from a man”. This led many church historians to believe (as I do) that this genealogy is that of Mary’s line, leading to her grandfather Eli. Early church historians recognized this possibility, though some of them (like Julius Africanus in about 240 CE) that perhaps both were of Joseph’s line – and Eli was Joseph’s legal father while Jacob was his physical father. Before we get lost in the detail of that view, let’s just simply say it this way… If Joseph’s mom married Eli, but he died without leaving an heir, Eli’s brother Jacob could have fathered a child in the place of his brother (what was called a Levirate marriage) to raise up the name of the dead brother Eli). It is nice to know that families were NEVER simple! Some early church historians thought this was the case, but I am not convinced.

Third, the simpler understanding may be that Luke presented the PHYSICAL line of Jesus through the line of Mary, while Matthew presented the LEGAL line of Jesus through Joseph – His LEGAL dad. The reasons for this view are carefully documented in Thomas and Gundry’s Harmony of the Gospel (pp. 316-317), and need not be dissected in this summary.

The bottom line of the two accounts is this: Jesus was a Jewish little boy, a son of the tribe of Judah, born through the womb of a young woman. Though conceived through a miraculous act of the Spirit, His birth was conventional and physical. This fact will be explained again and again in places like Hebrews and Galatians – because it is necessary to understand the story.

In Matthew’s account, the baby was not simply a Jewish child – but Jesus came as an heir to the Judah’s throne:

Matthew 1:1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa. 8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 12 After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. 14 Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. 15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. 16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

At least fifteen names off the Matthew’s list are easily identifiable as ancient kings of Judah. In the midst of the account, the claim was made three times that an even span of “fourteen generations” existed between Abraham and David, David and Babylon, and Babylon to Jesus – a claim that a modern student may find difficult because it is simply not true to the account of the Hebrew Scriptures. The issue was the indicative devise from first century numerology, common to the ancients, but lost in modernity.

In the ancient near east, much was made of the juxtaposition of names with their “numerical equivalents”. In Revelation 13:18 the “Antichrist” had a name that was numerologically determined as “666”. In Matthew, the name DAVID is the number fourteen – and the issue Matthew was driving at was that Jesus was of DAVIDIC ROYAL DESCENT. Matthew consciously chose the numerology and it was significant to early believers in Jesus, but the devise has been lost in modern generations.

Here is the point: Jesus came as KING. His was the position of RIGHTFUL SOVEREIGN – not a simple and humble teacher from the Galilee hills. He was a promised ruler, and will one day show exactly what that position means – but you must stay tuned for the Second Coming of Messiah.

Jesus came as an Israelite priest:

When we cited Luke 3, we skipped the first few words… Yet, in them is another piece of the story line…Note in Luke 3:23 the words: “When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age…”

Jesus began a “ministry” or “priestly work” when He was the age of inauguration of service for that purpose – age thirty (2:23). If He began His work at the time of a priest, could it be that His work was intended to be seen as priestly? Of course it can…

The point of all this information is this: Jesus was real child, born to a real mother, in a real village. He came as a promised king, and did the work of a Temple priest. All these truths have implications for how we respond to Him.

• If He is a King – I am not his equal.
• If I am His subject – than His desires and direction for my life are more significant that my own.
• If He came as man – than God literally poured Himself into the form of human flesh for my salvation – a fact that should stop me in my tracks. The God of Wonder, the Master of Heaven cares about my lost state, and wants me to know Him!
• If He came as a priest – I have One that can take me by the hand and lead me into God’s presence and full acceptance.

It is true there was a clear purpose in the story of Jesus, and that His positions have clear implications for us, but that is not all…The record of Jesus offers a clear portrait:

Look at the rich words of John’s introduction to Jesus. The text alternates between words about John and about Jesus. I am selecting out the verses dedicated to the introduction of the Savior in 1:1-5; 1:10-18

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [Him].

Look carefully at the portrait of Jesus, because John knew Him very well. John followed Jesus, sat in warm rooms and listened to the Master’s teaching for hours on end. He stood horrified at the Cross, watching his mentor breathe His last breath. He was qualified to offer a close-up view of Jesus… Here is what he carefully shared:

First, John said that Jesus already existed before the creation of the physical world with His Father – the Creator God. He was the Word (1:1,15) for He was the One that came “and dwelt with us” (in 1:14).

Second, John claimed that His Savior was the very CREATOR of all that existed (1:2-3). John was not unaware of Genesis 1, but rather agreed with Paul’s words to the Colossians 1:16: “For by Him all things were created, [both] in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” John even adds that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING exists that He didn’t create (1:3).

Third, John made the case that Jesus brought the light of truth to a deceived mankind, and that light burned their eyes.

Max Lucado tells the story about a tribe of people who lived in a dark, cold cave. The cave dwellers would huddle together and cry against the chill. Loud and long they wailed. It was all they did. It was all they knew to do. The sounds in the cave were mournful, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known joy. The spirit in the cave was death, but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known life. But one day they heard a different voice. “I have heard your cries,” it announced. “I have felt your chill and seen your darkness. I have come to help you.” The cave people grew quiet. They had never heard this voice. Hope sounded strange to their ears. “How can we know you have come to help?” “Trust me,” he answered. “I have what you need.” The cave people peered through the darkness at the figure of the stranger. He was stacking something, then stooping and stacking more. “What are you doing?” one cried, nervously. The stranger didn’t answer. “What are you making?” another shouted even louder. There was still no response. “Tell us!” demanded a third. The visitor stood and spoke in the direction of the voices. “I have what you need.” With that he turned to the pile at his feet and lit it. Wood ignited, flames erupted, and light filled the cavern. The people turned away in fear. “Put it out!” they cried. “It hurts to see it.” “Light always hurts before it helps,” he answered. “Step closer. The pain will soon pass.” “Not I,” declared a voice. “Nor I,” agreed a second. “Only a fool would risk exposing his eyes to such light,” said another. The stranger stood next to the fire. “Would you prefer the darkness? Would you prefer the cold? Don’t consult your fears. Take a step of faith.” For a long time no one spoke. The people hovered in groups covering their eyes. The fire builder stood next to the fire. “It’s warm here,” he invited. “He’s right,” one from behind him announced. “It is warmer.” The stranger turned to see a figure slowly stepping toward the fire. “I can open my eyes now,” she proclaimed. “I can see.” “Come closer,” invited the fire builder. She did. She stepped into the ring of light. “It’s so warm!” She extended her hands and sighed as her chill began to pass. “Come everyone! Feel the warmth,” she invited. “Silence woman!” cried one of the cave dwellers. “Dare you lead us into your folly? Leave us. Leave us and take your light with you.” She turned to the stranger. “Why won’t they come?” “They choose the chill, for though it’s cold, it’s what they know. They’d rather be cold than to change.” “And live in the dark?” she asked. “And live in the dark,” he replied.

Now we return to our opening… we who are called to Jesus are called to be LOSERS. We LOSE our own vision, and grab the hand of the Master of light. We lose self-determination of our life’s course, and we allow Jesus to take the lead. We do it because He is our KING. We do it because He is our CREATOR. We do it because HE UNDERSTANDS what life here is all about. We do it because the record concerning Him is the TRUTH!

The world persists with the claim that we follow “cleverly devised myths”. Jesus was a fake and there is no God. When we die, there is nothing else. God is a creation of the human mind. A hapless accident caused the world you see, the heavens in their expanse. Planets spin and whirl according to no particular design. The delicate web of cells that make the flowers of the field such a wondrous beauty are a cosmic fluke. There is no plan. There is no future. Man is an animal among the evolved DNA strands of the universe… yet you should behave and try to find meaning. You should do things to benefit others. You should care about how poor and suffering people live. You should try to keep the planet green. We should advance the knowledge of the species. We should live well and seek a meaningful life where – we essentially agree – there is none. Why?

The unbeliever offers a sad picture, but without a personal experience with God it is not hard to understand. One cannot see God by looking at RELIGION. In fact, religion more illustrates man’s hard heart and ego filled soul than the goodness of God. In the name of religion wars rage across the planet. One cannot see God by looking at MORALITY and CONSCIENCE for these change with the tide of public opinion in the age. No, to really understand God, you must MEET Him and have His eyes pierce your heart.

I titled this message “Jesus is for Losers” and I meant just that. We who follow Jesus are called to “lose our life” to Him. We are called to recognize that this Jesus was shared with a clear purpose, with clear implications concerning His holy work. We possess a clear portrait – but none of that makes any difference unless it transforms who we are. Mental assent acknowledging the existence of God won’t change my destiny – deliberate surrender of my life choices to Jesus will. Why? Because…

Christianity isn’t merely a belief system, it is a movement. It requires more than mental assent to a list of facts; it requires deliberate opening of my heart to God’s transformation of my life.

The God of Silence – Resurrection Morning

reflections on Christ - crucifixionDid you ever feel like God was watching as injustice raged some place – but He was just sitting on the sidelines?

As we sit here today:

• Central Africa is still raging with waves of savagery, where innocent men, women and children are being killed – some in the name of a religious faith.
• Syria is still divided as many families have lost loved ones and others are clinging to fading hope – their life now in shambles. Churches have been targeted, and believers have been killed.
• In the Ukraine, people are living nervously, particularly Jews who have seen the return of terrible pamphlets that warn them to register as Jews, in anticipation of the return of Moscow’s power to the now independent country.

Those are just the political realities where evil seems to be having its day and its way. We could pile on top the literally millions of homes where children are neglected, and then add in the many who are today in elder care that has become a scandal in our times – and in all God seems like He is doing little or nothing to fix the problems we face on this little planet. Haven’t you been tempted, at least once, to wonder why God doesn’t step in? The truth is, He did, and He will – but even that didn’t look like a victory…yet.

Nowhere is that sentiment that God is sitting more close to the surface than your initial reading of the story of the last hours of Jesus’ life, as told by the Gospel writers. Jesus was being delivered from one bad situation to another, as men literally tortured Him without cause, and yet nothing bad happened to the torturers in the story. When you are a young believer, or new to the text of Scripture, you almost cannot help but feel like God was “sitting on high on the Holy Throne” with little engagement in the evil dances of defiled men and their demonic helpers… but you would be WRONG. God was doing something…He was winning. He was conquering sin – making a way of escape for man while beginning the war against death itself – that will one day be won as well. It just didn’t look like it at the time.

Key Principle: God isn’t being forced out of our country, nor is He losing His grip on our world – even when it looks like He is being shown the door. He is writing the next chapter of a story that ends in His victory!

Let me explain:

Long before George Foreman was the name of an electric grill – the man George (whose name is on the grill) was a top-tier world championship boxer. On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman squared off in the boxing ring in Zaire. Ali had dubbed it “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali had a catchy name for everything he ever did, and was never afraid to use a microphone to let you know what it was! Foreman was heavily favored, and considered the hardest puncher in heavyweight history. Ali did something in that fight that no other fighter had ever dared to try. He held up his arms against his face and leaned back against the ropes allowing Foreman to punch away at him for eight rounds. Ali barely scored a single point for landing a punch. The strongest boxer in history beat on Ali until he could punch no more. When the right moment came, Ali bounced off the ropes and knocked out Foreman, sending him into retirement. Ali called his technique “rope-a-dope.” Even though it looked like he was losing the fight, and losing badly, he was in control the whole time. He took all those punches because he knew he would deliver the final blow. (Adapted from Sermon Central illustrations).

That is the story of the last week of Jesus’ ministry. That is the story of the Passion Week, and that is the story of the Cross. It is a story about hard-hearted men, clueless disciples, a pounded Savior – and an unlikely but unmistakable victory… first over SIN at the Cross of Calvary… eventually over DEATH ITSELF beginning at a grave nearby.

It is worth your time to look at the story again. Not everyone sees it. Not everyone understands. The story isn’t over yet. For some in this room, the story may just have found its beginning. Some are still distracted by the punches that were landed by the enemy – blow by blow in the story – and they have missed that Jesus took the punishment, because He knew He could and would deliver the final blows that would mean victory…

Go back in the story… Remember three chapters of John’s Gospel outline the major events of the last hours of Jesus’ ministry – John 18, 19 and 20. We don’t have the time to dig deeply into any part of the story, but rather we are going to “skip a stone across the top” of these ending chapters of John’s Gospel. Start by picking up the story in the three settings of John 18, where an emotional drama unfolded:

John 18 begins with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, moves to the house of Joseph Caiaphas – the High Priest, and ends with the Roman Governor’s meeting (Pontius Pilate) at a building called the Praetorium of Jerusalem.

First, Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 18:1-12. Look at who and what you observe there. If you listen closely to the words of the text, you will observe the worst attitudes of lost mankind. John wrote:

Macho Men

John 18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples…3 Judas then, having received the [Roman] cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?”

• You can see a heavy dose of male macho “mojo” as the soldiers march into the dark grove beside the Kidron Valley in John 18:1-4. The rattling of swords, buckler shields and armor smacking against the lanterns as the men walked with power and aggression would have easily gotten your attention. These were men on a mission, and they were all about the power and domination – but they forgot love and care.

Dark Deceiver

In John 18:5 it continued: They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am [He].” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them.

• Stepping from the shadows was an unarmed tunic-clad Jewish man. He was nothing special to look at, but he had a sheepish look in John 18:5. Another Gospel writer tells us that Judas broke from the crowd and kissed the Master, but the gesture was unsure. Deception and betrayal is never comfortable.

Self-Righteous Religionists

John 18:6 So when He said to them, “I am [He],” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am [He]; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,” 9 to fulfill the word which He spoke, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.”

• Jesus spoke. He asked the men who they were searching for. When they indicated they wanted Him in John 18:6-9, He turned and uttered words that rippled through the universe – “I Am” – a holy title… a name of the Most High. In obligatory reverence, they fell back. While Jesus spoke with the confidence of TRUTH, the men of the Temple guard fell back in the duty of their man-made religious fervor – just as they were about to assault the very One to Whom they claimed to give worship.

Misguided Followers

John 18:10 Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus. 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath… 12 So the [Roman] cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him,

• My flesh cries out in a “moment of victory” in John 18:10-12 when I read that Peter lunged out of the pack to attack with his sword, but I can’t help but notice he didn’t aim at one of the important men, or even a trained soldier – he took his shot at a mere slave – and then he missed his head! All he got was an ear! There is nothing worse than throwing an uncertain punch on a lesser man, and then elegantly missing in the process! So impressive was Peter’s display that they didn’t even bother to arrest him. If that was the level of the resistance – Rome was certainly secure of this sudden uprising among armed “flailing fishermen of Galilee”. How humiliating, he couldn’t even get himself arrested for the cause. Sadly, that was a “high water mark” for Pete’s night – things were about to get much, much worse.

In the face of bumbling disciples, self-righteous and pompous religious types, dark deceivers and stone-faced warriors God didn’t raise a finger to help His Son…

Move on to the second setting, where events at the House of the High Priest are recorded in John 18:13-27:

Three more emotional outbursts appear in the home of Annas and Caiaphas – the family called in Hebrew “Beth Hanan” or “household of Hanan”. If it helps, Eleazar ben Ananus was the Jewish High Priest in the years 16-17 CE, under Roman Governor Gratus, and Emperor Tiberius. By the time of our gospel text, Annas was old and retired… living in the family estate and still an “emeritus” of the office. His son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas did not succeed him directly, but became High Priest after Simon ben Camith. Caiaphas continued in office from 26 to 37 CE, until the proconsul of Syria named Vitellius (father of the Vitellius that became Roman Emperor for a short time in 69 CE) deposed him. His prestigious family villa on the western hill of Jerusalem was the backdrop of John 18:13-27:

Cruel Political Leaders

John 18:13 [they] led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people.

• John 18:13-14 Who can miss the obvious story of the “Conniving Caiphas”? This was a man who was to intercede and represent his people as a priest, but our story reveals a leader who calculated that “sometimes you have to break an egg to make an omelet” – an echo of a cold heart that lacked full sensitivity. “One could die – even if innocent – for the others to have better lives?” Really?

Fear-driven followers

John 18:15 Simon Peter was following Jesus, and … 16 … Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. 17 Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also [one] of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the officers were standing [there], having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself…25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also [one] of His disciples, are you?” He denied [it], and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” 27 Peter then denied [it] again, and immediately a rooster crowed.

• John 18:15-18; 25-27 What would the story be if we missed the embarrassed and fearful Peter – lying about his associations but trying to keep his toes near to the action inside the High Priest’s judgment chamber? Fear is often the worst motivator for good action. Pete had a panic attack that made him shake in his sandals. Obviously the first place the fear hit was his tongue. All he seemed to be able to say is “I am not”. One little three letter word… NOT… that is all he had to keep inside. He could have said, “I am” – but he was too afraid. As troubles rose against Jesus, disciples were tempted to defect with their mouths. They stopped telling the truth. In our day – it happens again. When the message is not popular, some will chase the foolhearty errand of trying to make the message more palatable. The problem is they will change the message to something different – and it isn’t their message to change.

Belligerent and Arrogant Career Officers

John 18:19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. … 21 “Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” 22 When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” 24 So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

• John 18:19-24 On the first reading, we can barely contain ourselves when facing the belligerent guard – stepped forward and slapped Jesus. I guarantee you that is an action that will be remembered in the judgment if this man didn’t come to Christ. The was a man who thought himself of the appropriate rank to slap the Creator of the stars across the face! Yet, many in our day deem themselves of sufficient standing to shake a fist in God’s face.

All this was happening as the fate of Jesus hung in the balances – and yet GOD DID NOTHING…

A third scene emerges, as we read, we are quickly pulled from the house of Caiaphas to the Roman Praetorium in Jerusalem in John 18:28-40.

It might help to know that the Latin term praetorium originally meant a general’s tent within a Roman encampment (castrum). It was taken from the name of one of the chief Roman magistrates – a “praetor”- which simply means in Latin “leader” – but in this case denoted a rank just below a consul (one of Rome’s highest positions). By the time of Jesus, these buildings that took the name “Praetorium” simply meant the official center where Roman officials could conduct business in the name of the Emperor. Everyone engaged in significant business of the day would surely know where the local Praetorium was located in the city. Archaeologists have found the remains of a number of them in places around the Roman world. The buildings were profoundly important in Roman society, for on the outside they would normally display information regarding the sportulae (singular sportulus from the word for a “woven basket”; these were schedules of official gifts of benevolence (i.e. donatives), as well as fees and taxes) of its region carved directly onto tablets and placed on the walls of this important public building. This was the setting for John 18:28-40. Here we meet…

Shadowy Leaders

John 18:28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early … 29 Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.”….

John 18:28-32 It gets under your collar when you read of deflecting leaders that won’t offer a straight answer to a very simple question. Pilate noted the early hour of the day, and the fact that the men wouldn’t enter the Gentile quarters and thought there must be something very urgent for him to attend to. He asked a simple question: “What is the charge?” The response he got was this: “He did bad stuff! Trust us!”

Close-eared Power Broker

John 18:33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” … 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say [correctly] that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.

In John 18:33 we meet the classic “close-hearted, close-eared politician” – notice he TALKED, but he didn’t LISTEN. He asked about truth, but he didn’t stay there long enough to get an answer. He walked away and kept on about his important tasks of the day. If only he had actually engaged the TRUTH of what was going on that day. His life would have been changed. Sadly, he thought HE was the one with power. He did not know Who he was standing in front of. One day he will.

As chapter 18 closed and chapter 19 began, Pilate struggled to gain control over the situation. He tried to release Jesus – but the crowd insisted he surrender a criminal named Barabbas. When he argued that he “found no guilt in Jesus” the crowd insisted on punishment, and even made noise that they would get Pilate in trouble with Rome if he didn’t deliver Jesus for crucifixion. Finally, Pilate just “washed his hands of the whole affair. We pick up the story in John 19:16…

Finally, Jesus was nailed to the Cross.

John 19:16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified. 17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. … 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. … 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

In all this, God sat in Heaven and did NOTHING!

How can you NOT be outraged. When you check even the most ardent critics of Jesus, no one called him guilty OF ANY CRIME.

• He was arrested without proper cause.
• He was chained like an animal, though he showed no resistance, and assisted one hurt by another of His followers.
• He was blindfolded, smacked, jeered and beaten.
• He was lashed, lacerated and mocked.
• Blood matted his hair, bruises covered his face and body… and He did NOTHING WRONG!
• The Roman official who questioned Him knew there was no reason to suggest guilt there…
• Yet, a Son’s life was forcibly taken by the state right in front of his mother’s weeping eyes.

Round after round of pounding, and not a single punch thrown back… but VICTORY was already in sight. Jesus cried: “It is finished!” because He was working a bigger plan! The work that would provide a path back to God that was severed in the earlier mutiny of man. His death would break the absolute power of sin over mankind, and eventually even abolish death itself. His plan was slowly dripping out, with each drop of blood, and each pang of pain. Jesus was taking MY PLACE, and paying MY PENALTY on that Cross. As Isaiah had long before foretold: Isaiah 53:5 “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being [fell] upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” The prophet knew the plan.

As a Christian, my past ended at the Cross of Calvary. My guilt, despair and mutiny was destroyed there, crushed and eliminated in the body of a substitute. My stains were purged with each blow of the hammer, in the eyes of the only Judge Who eternally matters. Yet, I was not gone. I was being transformed. In dying with Him, I would find life. My future began when His stone rolled away, and my new life saw its first dawn, and felt its first morning dew. He was Risen, His sacrifice accepted. My new life came with assurance that all was completed well…. It is a true saying: In His death my past was done; from His tomb emerged my new life.

empty-tombGod wasn’t ignoring His Son’s pain – He was using the “rope-a-dope” technique on the world of evil… watching His Son take back what was lost. Paul made the situation clear in his treatise on salvation in Romans…

Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous..”

Demons may have danced at Calvary, and mocked their angelic cousins from the outside of the tomb – but that only went on for a short time. Jesus lay crushed in the ground, broken. Yet God wasn’t done the fight.


Evil’s power WAS EMPTIED. It became a smoke screen – broken at the Cross. Satan’s credentials as lone prince of the world were made counterfeit. Jesus broke the curse, cancelled the choke hold of sin, and soon will rescind the very power of death itself. Don’t miss it, because even today evil just wants to empty the message of its victory and discredit the work of God. Consider this story:

One lady wrote in to a question and answer forum. “Dear Sirs, Our preacher said on Easter, that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely, Bewildered.”

The forum writer replied: “Dear Bewildered, Beat your preacher with a series of heavy blows. Place a barbed wire crown on his head. Keep him up all night. Strap him to a post and remove his skin with a leather lash embedded with glass and lead using some 39 times with heavy strokes. Give him lumber to carry up a hill. Nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear thru his side…put him in an air-tight tomb for 36 hours and see what happens. Sincerely, Charles.” (Sermon central illustrations).

His death was no surprise, nor was it His end. Jesus testified death and the grave would not be His end. He said: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31; see also Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22). He offered the people of His day the “sign of Jonah”—three days in the heart of the earth.”

Jesus PROMISED He would throw the last punch – even when no one would believe He could. But He was right! The first disciples saw the Risen Jesus walk among them, even after that awful Crucifixion experience – and they were forever changed. The clueless and fearful men from the Passion Week were suddenly transformed by the Spirit into bold witnesses of the Resurrection (Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:2).

Don’t stop at the tomb. Keep walking…

That is the symbol of the payment for all that was broken. Wait until you see the stone rolled back. Watch Jesus throw the final blows…

Every year, thousands of people climb a mountain in the Italian Alps, passing the “stations of the cross” to stand at an outdoor crucifix. One tourist noticed a little trail that led beyond the cross. He fought through the rough thicket and, to his surprise, came upon another shrine, a shrine that symbolized the empty tomb. It was neglected. The brush had grown up around it. Almost everyone had gone as far as the cross, but there they stopped. Far too many have gotten to the cross and have known the despair and the heart break. Far too few have moved beyond the cross to find the real message of Easter. That is the message of the empty tomb. (Lavonn Brown, The Other Half of the Rainbow.)

God sat back long enough for the payment to be made in full, but then He stepped in, and raised up His Son.


Even though the enemy has been so very strong and destroyed so many for so long, he will not win… the Lamb will win the fight and become the Lion that will again roar over His wayward Creation.

Remember: God isn’t being forced out – even when it looks like He is being shown the door. He is writing the next chapter of a story that ends in His victory!

Knowing Jesus: “Chain Reaction” – John 19:1-25

chain reactionDo you know what a “chain reaction” is? Three modern authors came together to write a story (Arne Schmidt, Rick Seaman and Josh Friedman) that became the basis for an American film in 1996 by that name. Both Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman played major characters in the movie. I did not see the movie, but I read an article on the plot and found the idea fascinating. The story offered a fictional account of the invention of a non-contaminating power source based on hydrogen. According to the story, the United States government was desperate to prevent the spread of this technology – because it would devastate US investors, and topple the oil-based economy- threatening American sovereignty among nations. The story goes that a University of Chicago student made a discovery that enabled him to obtain vast reservoirs of completely clean energy from water by efficiently splitting the hydrogen and oxygen molecules. After the kidnapping of his colleagues in the lab and the destruction of the campus laboratory, the key characters realized they were being set up by powerful people. Their discovery set off a “chain reaction” – not in the world of energy – but in the powerful political world. The story was based on the premise that this new free energy would be suppressed because it would be viewed as too disruptive to the way things work in our world.

That work was FICTION – nothing more than made up chase scenes and invented scenarios from the minds of the story’s three authors. The story for our lesson today is NOT. It is a TRUE account of real events. What they have in common is the ‘CHAIN REACTION’ set in motion by the introduction of a power source that was very disruptive. Jesus is the absolutely clean power source – but the political fallout was just as dirty as the story I just mentioned. We are back in the Gospel of John, closing in on the Cross in John 19, and there is a truth oozing from the story….

Key Principle: Jesus brings out the worst in us, to replace it with the best of Himself.

The story of John 19 is one of Jesus standing before men – and the record of how each reacted differently – even as we do today:

1: Guilty: Some look for a quick way to dispose of their guilt– but Jesus keeps coming back to stare at them (19:1,7-8).

John 19:1 Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him… John 19:7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out [to] [be] the Son of God.” 8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was [even] more afraid…”

Pilate, by most any reckoning, comes off as a pathetic excuse for Roman leadership in the narrative of John’s Gospel. He thrashed about in the text and shows up in a number of different categories of reaction on our list – because he is all over the place in responses. What is clear is that Pilate could not have believed that Jesus was both guiltless and deserving of the scourging he ordered – much less a cross and the horrid tortures of crucifixion. Pilate was going to have to dip deeply into the amphora of Roman wine to dull his guilt over what He was doing in regards to Jesus.

Pilate didn’t just FEEL GUILTY – he WAS guilty. An innocent man stood before his judgment seat looking for justice – and got NONE. Innocence stood in the shadow of corruption and contempt. Many who have stood in the presence of Jesus have felt that same twinge of guilt. Some may be feeling it right now.

Consider this: If Jesus is the One our Bible claims Him to be – you and I WILL stand in His presence after our earth journey is done – whether a believer and follower or not.

If we reject Jesus, we stand in an awful place when we look into His eyes after this life. He doesn’t want that to be the case – and that is why He has said it all clearly:

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

The Cross cries out to those who would try to earn their place with God – STOP! Know that even your righteousness is filthy before God. Accept life as a gift, and not as a religiously earned payment for doing good!

Yet, not only unbelievers must anticipate the gaze of Jesus. As believers and followers of Jesus, the Bible is clear:

Paul wrote to the Romans (14:9-11): “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 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.”

To the Corinthians he wrote (2 Corinthians 5:10): “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.”

Both of those letters – to the Romans and to the Corinthians were written to congregations of followers of Jesus. Paul wasn’t teaching that believers would need to be stand in front of Jesus to find out if He would let them into Heaven. The issue in both texts was that we as believers will stand before Jesus, having had our sin dealt with at the Cross, and face a judgment of our WORK in this life… this is a PERFORMANCE measure – not a RIGHTEOUSNESS measure. Believers are declared righteous based solely on the washing away of all of their sin by Jesus at the time of their submission to Him – the “born again” experience Jesus spoke of before Nicodemus in John 3. Sin isn’t the issue – life and walk as a believer is the issue.

As a believer, I must understand that someday Jesus will take all of my labor and place it between us. He and I will look at the number of hours I have labored to know and teach His Word. We will look at the way I communicated that Word to people. He will examine the time I have spent caring for people – and He will give the TRUE and PERFECT evaluation of me. If I have done well in His estimation – the trial of my work before His fiery eyes of scrutiny will survive. If I have not done well – that work will evaporate – with no opportunity to relive my life on earth.

I have said this before, but let me repeat it again: When I stand before Jesus – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years will evaporate into the smoke as the fire of His eyes burn through my life’s work. What is left after all the selfish, ego-driven, stubborn, hard-hearted, gossip-laden, flesh colored work is gone – is what Jesus can BEGIN to celebrate. Mature believers keep that day in their minds eye – and never lose sight of it. Guilt need not be our response to Jesus’ coming test of our work – we have today to surrender anew to Him!

2: Brash: Some revel in fallen man, and sing from the thrown of their own hearts, snubbing the true king before His face.

The soldiers openly mocked Jesus about the very thing that was at the core of His identity – He was and IS a King.

John 19:2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; 3 and they [began] to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps [in the face].

Is there reaction long ago really different than the modern reaction to Jesus? We live in a world that is increasingly bold about their disdain for even the notion of a personal God. Many have no hesitation holding them back from bold blasphemy. Some contemporary Comedy Channel stand-up routines would make Sodom and Gomorrah blush in the way they refer to Jesus. The words about Jesus and His church are both HARSH and RELENTLESS. I was going to illustrate this, but the sheer volume of gross insults against Jesus on YouTube makes my heart churn with pain for what could have happened in people’s lives that could make them do very angry and brash about mocking God.

The soldiers MADE A CROWN – they went out of the way to MOCK what Jesus said of Himself. They placed on his shoulders an expensive cloth – for men who feel empowered in their hatred of God will spare little expense to press their point. Drunk with a temporary sense of power – men sing songs of a rebellion – not identifying that they are perched on the deck of a sinking ship.

How we must show them authentic LOVE! How we must ceaselessly PRAY for them! How we must BE the church that will care and not bristle… for the daylight of all of our lives is quickly fading, and judgment awaits those who have in arrogance and ignorance. Remember, the words of Scripture are clear: “It is appointed to man once to die, and then the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

How awful, how painful, the sound of anguish in those who stand before the judge when they see Him face to face – knowing they have freely mocked Him in this life!

Beloved, do not be lulled into intellectual posturing of well know agnostics like the late Christopher Hitchens with his rants against God. In 2007 he wrote God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and in 2011, he died – his arguments against God absolutely ended. Just before he did, he said in an interview:

In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist,” Mr. Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair, for which he was a contributing editor. One author pointedly wrote: “He took pains to emphasize that he had not revised his position on atheism, articulated in his best-selling 2007 book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” although he did express amused appreciation at the hope, among some concerned Christians, that he might undergo a late-life conversion.”

Some may laugh at the notion, but I find nothing unloving about the hope many believers had for him. It wasn’t to win the argument – it was to see another man who God deeply loved come into the Father’s arms. Brash men will mock the notion of God – but that power lasts until their breathing stops… then they see the truth.

3: Clueless: Others judge Jesus as a benevolent and harmless man, and don’t seem to grasp why so many are bent on mocking Him.

John 19:4 Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” 5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. [Pilate] said to them, “Behold, the Man!

At the heart of the pronouncement of Pilate was the biggest mistake he ever made as a livin and breathing human being – he saw Jesus only as a MAN. He was CLUELESS concerning the true identity of the One who stood before him.

Let us be ever so clear now: Jesus is no harmless man. The Bible says that He is a King. The Bible shows Him in power and might. Don’t make the mistake… the “baby Jesus” of the Christmas play and the “lifeless shell” draped across Mary in the Pieta are NOT the final word about Jesus in the Bible. He is a powerful Sovereign. He is a Coming King. He is a Mighty Warrior. Look ahead in the Word, and behold the coming of Jesus in glory:

Revelation 19:11 “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”a He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords. “

Dear one, do not sit back and think that you can ignore Jesus because following Him would inconvenience you. You WILL face Him. Some, I know, look forward to it. Others will shrink away – and Scriptures says of them they will find no place to hide in that day.

4: Angry: Some see Jesus as a threat to their self-made religious and ethical standards. He would not fit their mold, so they discard Him completely.

John 19:6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out [to] [be] the Son of God.” 13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 So they cried out, “Away with [Him], away with [Him], crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.

The chief priests and officers had little real interest in maintaining the illusion of a love for Roman domination – their subsequent history bears that out. What they DID care about, was their own sense of control, and Jesus’ apparent ambivalence to it.

Jesus doesn’t respect religion – because it is man’s attempt to build a system of favor with God. Jesus wants us to have a relationship with the Father through His work. That is why He made clear His goal:

John 14:5 “ Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well….”

Here is the problem: If Jesus is the way, then religious rulers have no power to control others. If they cannot open and close the door to eternal life through their religious rituals – their power is diminished. No wonder they have grown to hate the relationship Jesus offers men, women and children. They need no other intercessor with such a priest as Jesus. The Scriptures clearly teach:

1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, [and] one mediator also between God and men, [the] man Christ Jesus, 6who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony [given] at the proper time.”

Religious leaders want to be the door, the controller, the mediator for God. The truth is – they simply can’t. Jesus already fills that role, and that makes people that want to control others very angry.

5: Trapped: Caught between the clear truth that Jesus was not the evil one and the “power play” of angry men – some hope to pass by the responsibility of explaining Who Jesus is.

John 19:9 “…and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has [the] greater sin.” 12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out [to be] a king opposes Caesar.”

Pilate didn’t think Jesus is evil – but he could not grasp why the men were so anxious to have Jesus executed. He WANTED to see Jesus released in His beaten and diminished state – to die quietly in a bed of some dark room. He didn’t want to have a public role in Jesus’ death. He didn’t want to openly declare Jesus as EVIL. He was like many today who want to argue that Jesus was GOOD, and self-sacrificing – a lover of men who was merely misunderstood. They are trapped in their view of Jesus, between the Gospels and their own sense of bland moral tolerance.

Listen to these words very carefully, by a man who died in 1946, but is still quoted the world over as a deep and spiritual man, Mahatma Gandhi:

“…my Christian friends have told me, on more than a few occasions, that for the very reason I am not a Christian and that (I shall quote their words exactly) “I do not accept Christ in the bottom of my heart as the only Son of God,” it is impossible for me to understand the profound significance of his teachings, or to know and interpret the greatest source of spiritual strength that man has ever known. Although this may or may not be true in my case, I have reasons to believe that it is an erroneous point of view. I believe that such an estimate is incompatible with the message that Jesus Christ gave to the world. For, he was certainly the highest example of one who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient…” Compare what Gandhi said to the words of Jesus as they are recorded in the Gospels

John 12:44 “And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 “He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. 46 “I have come [as] Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. 47 “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.

If you stop reading right there, you may agree with Gandhi’s assessment. Jesus seemed to be saying that He would not judge one who did not believe and follow His teachings. He didn’t seem to care if you professed another creed that was in direct disagreement with Him. The problem is that isn’t the end of the passage. Jesus continued:

John 12:48 “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day…

In other words, Gandhi thought it didn’t matter to Jesus if you followed his teachings specifically or not – he didn’t think that was Jesus’ message. The problem is he was just WRONG. Jesus DID care about the judgment – and it would be based on the WORD that God spoke. The standard of judgment, according to Jesus, is the Word of God.

If Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life – then those opposed to His message have not found the way, are not walking in the truth and are not living in the life that He provides. Let me encourage you: “Get off the fence!” This isn’t a philosophy class where what is imperiled is your grade point average. What is imperiled is your eternal destiny! Get off the fence. If He is Lord – we must treat Him as such.

6: Showy: Some are willing to write “John 3:16” on their head band, but live like they know nothing of Jesus and what He taught. They are unwilling to publicly yield to Jesus – but they will appear in some small way to honor Him.

John 19:17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18 There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 20 Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin [and] in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, The King of the Jews; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.'” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

Unwilling to take a public position and exonerate Jesus, Pilate settled with a showman’s “celebrity Christianity”. This was perhaps the first example of using Jesus to help aid a politician before his constituency! Many others would follow.

They would sing about Jesus is a rap song while moving sensuously about with scantily clad women. They would proclaim themselves “Christians” in their political speeches while launching platforms that stood in opposition to many of the most fundamental Biblical ideals.

Have you ever listed how many celebrities have done Christmas specials, made Christmas albums and offered stirring versions of Christian hymns – when their public persona is clearly not one that values the message and lifestyle of a Christ follower? How we long to have those who not only speak of Jesus- but LIVE Jesus. When they come onto a football team or hold a public place of high regard in the media – we begin praying they won’t let Jesus down and dirty His name. Keep looking up! Some believers have run their race well. Some young women and some young men are about to step out and do it for this generation. How welcome they will be!

7: Selfish: Some take from Jesus what they feel they can, with no sense of His person or place.

John 19:23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and [also] the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, [to decide] whose it shall be”; [this was] to fulfill the Scripture: “THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS.” 25 Therefore the soldiers did these things

The soldiers parted the garments of Jesus – each taking a piece. Kneeling beneath the crucified King, they cast lots for His clothing – but they would not find in that meager pile the thing that would truly satisfy them. The satisfaction wouldn’t come because of their proximity to the King, nor the scraps they would be able to grab from His estate. The real satisfaction would only come if they could truly grasp within the words of the centurion who uttered: “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Even now, some come to hear about Jesus, because they have some need they hope Jesus will meet. Some draw near because they are hurting financially, and they hope that Jesus will smile on them if they go to a church meeting. Others come because their treasured relationships are falling apart, or perhaps illness has begun to ravage someone they love – and they are seeking the help of a compassionate one. Whatever the reason they come, they will do best if they simply put aside what they thought they came to get. It isn’t what they really need. Good health will eventually fail for all of us. Piles of money will be eaten away by time and economic change. They will do best to simply put the tunic of Jesus down. Drop the sandals. They aren’t what we truly need!

Jesus is what we need. The one who suffered the cruelty and torture of a cross to offer us a connection to God is what we need. A personal relationship with the God that created us through the work of Jesus will fill the hole of our true longings. Jesus said when talking about all the STUFF we seem to qualify as our “need”: (Matthew 6:33) “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What did He mean?

Seeking first the Kingdom of God is making my highest desire the honor of my King. Following and trusting in His kindness and wisdom, I will find His provision all I need. To seek a Kingdom, we must kneel to a King. To seek His righteousness, we must surrender to His choices. To do less is to seek His benefits without truly swearing our allegiance to Him. He is what we need – and we dare not place something else in the hole in our hearts.

I want to end this with a celebration of the Love of Christ. It is fitting since our victory is only in His loss, His suffering, His blood.

It was February 1941, Auschwitz, Poland. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan priest put in the infamous death camp for helping Jews escape Nazi terrorism. Months went by and in desperation an escape took place. The camp rule was enforced. Ten people would be rounded up randomly and herded into a cell where they would die of starvation and exposure as a lesson against future escape attempts. Names were called. A Polish Jew Frandishek Gasovnachek was called. He cried, “Wait, I have a wife and children!” Kolbe stepped forward and said, “I will take his place.” Kolbe was marched into the cell with nine others where he managed to live until August 14. This story was chronicled on an NBC news special several years ago. Gasovnachek, by this time 82, was shown telling this story while tears streamed down his cheeks. A mobile camera followed him around his little white house to a marble monument carefully tended with flowers. The inscription read: IN MEMORY OF MAXIMILIAN KOLBE. HE DIED IN MY PLACE. (from sermon central illustrations).

Why would Kolbe have given his life for another inmate? Because he did what his what his Savior did for him! He showed the kind of love Jesus showed. He acted out the command to be like Jesus. In Maximilian Kolbe’s life…he responded with surrender. Was he born that way? No. He was in his earlier life just as selfish as any other man. But…Jesus brings out the worst in us, to replace it with the best of Him.

Knowing Jesus: “Response – able” – John 18

responseHow many ideas, proposals and sales pitches do you suppose you are called upon to respond to in a day? It might be literally thousands of times a day. My responses start with the alarm on my phone every morning. Within an hour, I have had my espresso, showered, dressed and looked over the schedule of the day and prayed about things to come. I have checked my email in boxes, and ordered the most priority items for response. I have checked the news in five sources, and then made a quick sweep of Facebook to catch up on any prayer requests and issues that have been sent my way. All this is the first hour. Those responses don’t even take into consideration the choice of colors of clothing or responding to questions on the cereal box – they are just the basic choices of early morning. As the day progresses, I will respond to text messages, phone calls and all kinds of conversation – and so do you. There is little unique about my startup sequence for a modern American who is mid-career. At the same time, I think we all know that how we respond makes a big difference.

If I stay in bed – no work gets done. Since my work involves study and preparation, it is necessary to be self-disciplined, or I will cut corners and cheat you and the Lord in my work. If I decided to shop the internet for a message, rather than carefully take apart the passage and build out what I believe God said in it – you may not know – but Jesus would. If I decided to allow my mind to wander to lust or laziness, it may not be apparent to you, but my Master would know where I have been.

A classic study on response was that performed by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, called the “marshmallow experiment”. This test was a study of human response in the area of delayed gratification performed in the late 1960s through the 1970s. Wikipedia explained the study this way:

“…In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward (sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel, etc.) provided immediately or two small rewards if he or she waited until the experimenter returned (after an absence of approximately 15 minutes) [with a marshmallow, cookie or pretzel in front of them]. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index and other life measures.”

The point of the study was clear – the ability to reason later rewards and delay immediate gratification was a major key to life success. In other words – the ability to control response to stimuli was a key indicator of the heart within.

As Pastor Chuck Swindoll once said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% of how I react to it.” Those are true words. They should be pondered carefully.

Dear ones, life comes at the modern man or woman very fast. Advertisers cry out a song of constant discontent, designed to show you flaws you may not even have – to entice you buy their product and solve a problem in your life they may have completely made up. This is life today – from the false “free gift” I won in the phone call, to the new drug that will completely solve skin issues I don’t even have – but whose claims have not been verified by the FDA. My life, your life… is about our choices. In an ever more aggressive world – it is about responses. I mention this truth because our lesson today is taken from a text about how people respond.

Just as our response to daily issues shape our days on earth, so our response to Jesus shapes life after this one – our eternity. That is a core truth of God’s Word. We can say it this way…

Key Principle: Your destiny is determined by how you respond to Jesus.

Three Settings

Instead of simply reading the whole passage, let’s read it with the three settings included in the record of the chapter. They are incomplete to the whole story, but are the essential parts of the story expressing the point that John wanted to make. John includes the things that we need to know in order to believe (cp. Jn. 20:30-31).

The first setting is the Garden of Gethsemane – a grove of olive trees at the base of the Kidron Valley on the east side of Jerusalem – where a public olive press poked from the escarpment of the Mt. of Olives. There were camps sites there, and Jesus came to pray with His disciples the night in which He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. That is the setting of John 18:1-12:

In the Garden:

John 18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. 2 Now Judas also, who was betraying Him, knew the place, for Jesus had often met there with His disciples. 3 Judas then, having received the [Roman] cohort and officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 So Jesus, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered Him, “Jesus the Nazarene.” He said to them, “I am [He].” And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. 6 So when He said to them, “I am [He],” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 Therefore He again asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am [He]; so if you seek Me, let these go their way,” 9 to fulfill the word which He spoke, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.” 10 Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus. 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” 12 So the [Roman] cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him,

If you continue reading in John 18, a second setting in the backdrop of the events is that of the home of Annas and Caiaphas – the family called in Hebrew “Beth Hanan” or the household of Hanan. Eleazar ben Ananus was the Jewish High Priest, 16-17 CE, under under Roman Governor Gratus, and Emperor Tiberius. His son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas did not succeed him directly, but became High Priest after another. Caiaphas continued in office from 26 to 37 CE, until the proconsul Vitellus deposed him. His prestigious family villa was the backdrop of John 18:13-27:

At the Hanan house:

John 18:13 and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people. 15 Simon Peter was following Jesus, and [so] [was] another disciple. Now that disciple was known to the high priest, and entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, 16 but Peter was standing at the door outside. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in. 17 Then the slave-girl who kept the door said to Peter, “You are not also [one] of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the slaves and the officers were standing [there], having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself. 19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about His disciples, and about His teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. 21 “Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” 22 When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?” 24 So Annas sent Him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also [one] of His disciples, are you?” He denied [it], and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” 27 Peter then denied [it] again, and immediately a rooster crowed.

At the Praetorium:

The third setting of the chapter is found at the Roman Praetorium in Jerusalem. The Latin term praetorium originally meant a general’s tent within a Roman encampment (castrum). It was taken from the name of one of the chief Roman magistrates – a “praetor”- which simply means in Latin “leader” – but in this case denoted a rank just below a consul (one of Rome’s highest positions).

The later buildings that took the name “Praetorium” simply meant the official place where Roman officials could conduct business in the name of the Emperor. Everyone would have been expected to know where the local Praetorium was located in the city. Archaeologists have found the remains of a number of them in places around the Roman world. The buildings were profoundly important in Roman society, for on the outside they would normally display information regarding the sportulae (a schedule of official gifts of benevolence, as well as fees and taxes) of its region carved directly onto tablets and placed on the walls of this important public building. This was the setting for John 18:28-40:

John 18:28 Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. 29 Therefore Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” 30 They answered and said to him, “If this Man were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him to you.” 31 So Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.” The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death,” 32 to fulfill the word of Jesus which He spoke, signifying by what kind of death He was about to die. 33 Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say [correctly] that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. 39 “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.

That may satisfy the WHERE of the STORY, but that isn’t the point of the narrative.

As we have read the story, you may have noticed that there were six named individuals in the text, and two groups that linger in the background. Here is where the real story is told. The people reflect the truth we mentioned before – that response to Jesus determines the destiny of each person – then – as now.

Break the list of people down, and you will find they respond to Jesus the same way people do today. There are two responses:

First, there are the Floundering Cynics:

We all have friends like these. Perhaps they even represent some who took the time to listen to this message. If you are one of them – thank you for giving our message a few minutes of your time! I don’t mean to be rude, but it could be that some of us will see ourselves in these five portraits:

First, there is Judas:

His life reflects a startling truth: “You can be close to the message of Jesus, but reject the Person of Jesus – and you will betray His mastery over your life” (18:2-3).

How many times have we seen this truth clearly? Some of those most deeply critical of the church were those raised in it. They heard, over and over, the message about Jesus – but for some reason did not bring themselves to the position of surrender to Jesus. The fact is that being next to the message doesn’t count if the message does not go within. One can agree in theory that Jesus is Lord of the universe while entirely missing the point that we are PART of the universe that He is Lord over. We can THINK that His claim seems reasonable for a time, without subverting our will to His.

Judas had every opportunity to see Jesus up close. He had the display of confidence that came from being given the purse. He had the constant affirmation of being considered a confidant of Jesus in a ministry that prized that above all else. He had sincerity enough to take time off to walk with the Master for three years, listening, observing, and hearing. He was not unlike that child of a solid Christian home who heard the Word, but also saw it in action. How could he not believe that Jesus was EXACTLY Who He claimed to be? How could he turn his heart to such coldness, when Jesus had helped him put life together?

The answer is both simple and horrifying. Judas didn’t surrender to Jesus the only thing Jesus wanted him to give. Judas stayed on the throne of his own heart, while learning the outward behaviors, the expressions, the songs and the actions of godliness. He had a “form of godliness” – an external etching over a hardened heart. He didn’t have Jesus, because He didn’t want Jesus – he wanted something else.

Behind Judas, the story continues with some more famous players – the elderly Annas, Caiaphas and their surrounding entourage of Jewish leadership.

These men formed a collective model of another truth: ‘You can build your own understanding of God, and reject Jesus because He doesn’t affirm your model’ (18:27). Years of study in the Torah and the Prophets were tucked into the men’s hearts of which we are speaking. They carefully constructed a theology based on their best understanding of texts and arguments of the sages. They were characterized as serious men who sought the truth. Sadly, the Truth stood before them, and they smacked it around without reverence or fear. The Bible says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” They sought to KNOW without the requisite REVERENCE for the Holy One of Israel – who stood now before them.

It is possible to so construct your theology, that you miss God. I have seen it many times. Some construct a theology in which God only does things that make their lives easier. They evaluate GOOD as that which makes their lives more materially prosperous and physically easy. They identify BENEVOLENCE is what makes their lives more enjoyable here on earth. Armed with this false view of God – the genie of Heaven – they miss some of the richest experiences of God that are found in times of trouble that God has deliberately orchestrated for them. They cannot understand the God of Joseph of Nazareth – the God that deliberately planned their road to blessing to pass through the shadow of uncertainty and betrayal. That God makes no sense to them. When they meet Him at the crossroads, they offer Him no reverent bow, because He isn’t the God they expected.

Next, long with the Leadership, we find the Soldiers of the Temple Guard.

They have learned religion, and they do what they are told. They offer us the lesson: ‘You can follow the leaders and the pack, and even learn the religious expressions but never really consider the claims of Jesus’ (18:3-6). These men gave orders to Jesus, but they never listened to Him. Their idea of religion was about control – as it is for so many. They wanted to keep a position. They wanted to preserve a way of life. They wanted to keep others from ruining the status quo. They knew how to fall before a blasphemer, and then get up and slap Him around. They knew by rank and insignia the hierarchy of the important, but they missed God standing in front of them, as they tied Him up and led Him away.

You cannot get far into the story without seeing the *Prefect named Pontius Pilate:

[*The Gospels called Him a Procurator, and college professors in secular settings make a big deal that this indicates later date for the Gospels – into the second century, because this was a LATER TITLE for the office. Yet, Josephus, the best known historian of the end of the First Century used the term Procurator for Prefect (cp. Antiquities of the Jews Book XX, titled: “From Fadus The Procurator To Florus.” Josephus wrote this book before 90 CE at a time contemporary with the early Gospel circulations.]

Pilate clearly modeled another truth: “You can get caught up testing philosophies and theories, and never come to really grasp the truth (18:29-38).” How often I have seen young people twisted in knots by psychology and philosophy studies, or crushed by the questions of their unlearned explorations of the INTERNET, where they encounter millions of entries designed to question every detail of their faith. I read yesterday a “extimony” (a testimony) of an ex-born again Christian. It was thoughtful, well-written and warm. It was not harsh, but showed a young man who grew up with many questions that could not find Christians who would offer any more than “pray about it and God will show you”. He saw intelligence on one side, and blind belief on the other and couldn’t reconcile how he could know truth.

Our cynical modern educational system is designed to underscore the danger of certainty, and the truly educated nature of skepticism. There is value in it – but at the core it HATES any moral certainty derived from faith. In our day, faith is sentimental; science is fact – even if scientists must admit to very significant gaps in what science cannot yet explain. Remove the white lab coat cover and you will see the danger of our time: we have surrendered the very idea of education to those who find moral constraints inherently repugnant. Our society ahs not moved there with both feet, but we are well on our way. The halls of our universities are filled with men and women that are being trained in a vibrant humanism, with all truth being explained from the perspective of a physical world, and an underlying extreme aversion to any metaphysical explanation. When we have reached the goal of modern education, man will be a well-versed godless achiever – a pagan with a benevolent view of human behavior. The fatal flaw in this training will be its inability to accept the deeply broken heart of man. His fallen nature will again exert itself to gain control. The same system that accuses religion of being the “opiate of the masses” will use humanism to gain control of the same body.

Let me make this simple point: Our state university classrooms aren’t playing fair. Our children are being deliberately shaped by some who want to teach our children to apologize for a true faith life – a living relationship with the Jesus of Calvary. They are unashamed to proclaim our message untrue – so I return the favor by making it clear they have an agenda as well. Be careful: you can spend your life in intelligent circles that leave you an empty pagan – just like Pilate was.

Finally there was the criminal Barabbas.

He was saved the physical despair of facing a cross he deserved. When he heard of Yeshua – the name that means RESCUE – that is EXACTLY what happened to him. He got “saved” by Jesus from physical crushing – but passed by his Savior with nothing but a pitied look and a grin. Here is the truth: ‘You can be rescued physically by Jesus, but never listen to the spiritual truth of His message’ (18:39-40) – just like Barabbas did.

The story has some interesting unbelieving cynics, but it also has some pretty clueless believers. In fact, the disciples don’t come off particularly well in the text of the Passion of Christ…

The story also reveals two Failing Christians (with others in the background hiding!):

Like all good stories of the disciples, we must begin with Simon Peter:

As a follower, we can see how well he reveals several truths. One of them is profoundly demonstrated when Pete tried swinging a sword in the garden that night: “You can react to attacks on Jesus with zeal and anger – but not seek Jesus about the plan.” (18:10-11). Peter was the action figure that usually swung the wrong way. He was a danger to himself and others. In point of fact, the other disciples were in as much danger as the soldiers when Peter started flailing that sword. His ZEAL wasn’t his problem. His AIM wasn’t his real issue. The truth of his problem came down to this: Peter REACTED rather than seeking Jesus about what to do.

Too many believers today are doing the same. They are attacking with swords those who have come to shut down the work of Jesus. Let me get straight to the point: Prayer will help, punches will not. Practical love to people who are in the town will help, protesting Washington probably won’t. Grass roots action to keep values intact will help – obnoxious web posts probably won’t. We have to reserve our strength and fight from the tall position of our knees before we try any other strategy. Pete should have asked Jesus before he drew his sword.

Since Peter is always rich with lessons, look at another…He showed us that: “You can deny your association when endangered by it (18:17-28). One minute a fighter – the next minute a chicken… you have to love the lessons in extreme reaction. Watch Peter too closely and your neck will hurt from watching him switching sides so quickly…

Pete wasn’t alone. John was also there.

John got Peter into the house of the High Priest. He was KNOWN to the High Priest according to the Gospels. KNOWN? How much influence did he exert on the procedings against His Master? Exactly NONE. Here is another illustrated truth: “You can tag along, but try not to stand out for Jesus” (18:15-16) – and your career as an ineffective player will be secure.

Christianity has benches FULL of people who want Heaven when they die and ANONYMITY while they live. They don’t WANT people to know they belong to Jesus. That will imply a loyalty in their actions, and a morality in their lifestyle, They are like the lady who told me that she removed the bumper sticker about Jesus affixed to her bumper by her teen – because she thought the way she drives would bring derision on the name of Jesus. Rather than change her driving – she chooses to remain unknown. That would have made sense to John that night long ago.

What hope is found in studying hapless followers and hardened cynics? Alone, frankly, there is none. Yet they are not the only ones that can be observed with clarity in our story. There is One Who emerges, like bright light from a dark cave. He is none other than…

In the end, the story highlights the Faultless Christ

We didn’t come today to merely examine the dead end arguments of lost men and the weak and defeated actions of flawed brothers – we came to see something ABOVE ALL OF THIS. It would be wrong to leave us with only a picture of other men. When standing in the presence of the King of the Ages, we dare not glance by Him. Look closely at the account and you will see His character coming through…

It is a character that displayed Courage:

When He knew the pain ahead, He walked toward it – not away from it (18:1). Jesus had many opportunities of self preservation – but that wasn’t His purpose. His cousin John said it long before: He was the “Lamb of God that came to take away the sin of the world.”

The plague of sin separated God’s creation from His Father – so Jesus built the bridge back to God by dying in our place. The bridge to God is built on blood-stained wood of a first century devise of human torture – a simple cross.

He showed no fear for man-made religious authority (18:22-23). Religions are the best attempts of good men to reach a Holy God. They don’t work – because that isn’t what the Creator is looking for. In fact, in the face of His gift – religions are a slap of man’s belief in his own sufficiency – rather than the need to fall humbly before God’s Son. Jesus knew what many today do not – that life HERE isn’t real – it is fleeting. Real life is connection to the Living One of history! There is no need to fear the one who can hurt the body if one knows Him who saves man’s soul. We may fear PAIN in the dying –but we need not fear the end. It is that which gave Jesus courage – He knew death would be His elevation back to glory!

He was a man who showed Concern:

When facing His own pain – He thought of His follower’s freedom (18:8). “Let them go!” Jesus cried. My first instinct would be to run fast enough to outrun a sluggish and overweight disciple. Maybe if they caught THEM, we could get away. Remember the old proverb: “In the woods it is not necessary to outrun the bear – it is only necessary to outrun your companion!” Jesus (thankfully) had none of that view. He was fixed on OUR NEEDS – not His!

He was a teacher who offered Clarity:

When confronted with powerful, godless men – He used TRUTH to push them back (18:4-7). He simply said the Truth of Who He is – and that proclamation drew them back. They fell because they thought He was blaspheming – but He was telling the truth!

Whisked away to powerful me – He had no reason to tell them what they wanted to hear. When standing before men who presented themselves as strong – He played no political games with puppets (18:33-34).

He was not confused – but walked in the full Consciousness of His position :

He clearly represented Himself under duress as the King of Heaven (18:36-38). He knew He was a KING, but not of an earthly Kingdom. That part comes later. For now, He was to stand before men – full assured of His place before God.

C. S. Lewis, the late professor at Cambridge University and former agnostic, understood this issue of Jesus’ identity clearly. He wrote: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -‑ on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg ‑- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse.” He added: “…You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

The nineteenth century church historian Philip Schaff once offered these questions: “How, in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an imposter – that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man – have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could He have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed His own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of His people and age?

How indeed! Don’t forget the principle that under girds the entire chapter… Your destiny is determined by how you respond to Jesus.

Knowing Jesus: “Sounds of the Heart” – John 17

prayHow do you really get to someone’s heart? How can you REALLY know what they care about? One of the things I have discovered about people is that you get to know them much better by listening to their prayers. That probably sounds so “churchy” for a beginning, but think about it…

When I “chat” with people, a lot of the time is taken up by very surface things – the weather, our respective jobs, our families and how our kids are doing. That is great, and we need that kind of discourse, but that doesn’t really help you hear what is deeper. All of us face struggles, hurts, hurdles and hassles that we have learned to keep below the surface. When I sit alongside a sister or brother is Christ, and we spend some time below the Cross speaking to our Savior – other things come out…deeper things. Sometimes it is about fear – anxiety about the future, about relationships and where they are going, or deep concern about the life choices of their grown children. Other times it is about hope – longings for a better job or a more peaceful home life. In any case, when I pray with someone I hear more of their heart. One time that is especially true is when they know they will soon be with their Savior.

The last time Pastor Ralph Wiley (after whom the main hall of Grace Church is named) and I were together we prayed about a few things. Ralph grabbed my hand and prayed for our church and the ministry of the school. He prayed that God would give me wise and helpful partners in ministry, and he prayed that I would eventually loosen up in the pulpit just a bit – something he poked me about the whole time we worked together. He always thought I was a bit too serious about everything. I loved that man – he was an encourager to the last breath! The last time Pastor Vince Lohnes (after whom the smaller hall across the way is named) sat together and talked we prayed together. He thoughtfully asked the Lord to continue to guide me and teach me, and he asked Jesus to make me ever sensitive to my wife. I have thought of both of these men and their prayers often.

Today we get a unique glimpse into the heart of Jesus. In this lesson we will “listen in” as Jesus prayed for His followers – including the ONE TIME you and I were specifically mentioned in the Bible. Jesus prayed for His Father to move on the last assignment – He prayed for Himself. Then He asked God to care for the Eleven that walked into the olive grove at Gethsemane with Him, and finally He prayed for the many that would find Him because of their testimony… and that includes many who are studying this passage today! Some of His words unveil deep truths about His burden, His love and His grace.

Key Principle: Jesus showed us what He viewed as essential in His ministry, and how real ministry should be measured.

Jesus Prayed for Himself (John 17:1-5)

The prayer of Jesus opens with the call for the Father to bring all things in the earth ministry to a close, and Jesus read the hour and completed the mission:

John 17:1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 2 even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. 3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

The opening of the prayer as recorded showed Jesus bringing to His Father a recognition that He understood the times about Him, and He was ready to complete the work ahead. It was offered in three parts:

Father, the hour has come” – I hear you, and I see what has happened. I recognize Your hand in the time. This was a RESPONSE, not an order. The Father ordered the time, the Son watched for the signs and responded (17:1a). In reference to the Second Coming, Jesus made the point that all the planning was in His Father’s hands – and that the Son did as the Father directed. He said: Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”

Glorify Your Son” – the timing brought a REQUEST not a demand. Because it is time, I have a need. Place the weight on me – and withdraw your protection from Me that the enemy may throw the attention on Me – for I must now do the work I was sent here to do (17:1b).

You gave Him authority over all people…” – the request was followed by a REMEMBRANCE – a little history to place the request in context (17:2-5). The remembrance reinforced that Jesus understood the signs properly, and the work ahead was annunciated and fully accepted by Him (17:2).

• First, the goal of the work was made plain – to offer men and women eternal life (a reconnection to the Father through the sent Messiah (17:3).
• Second, the acknowledgment of the completion was reiterated – Jesus knew the work was fulfilled as planned (17:4).
• Third, the desire of Jesus was laid bare – to pass through the necessary pain and be restored to the place He was before He agreed to come to earth and become the Sacrifice (17:5).

Essentially Jesus said: “Father, I see the times and I know it is time for you to let loose the enemy. You told Me what to do, and I completed it all. I want to come home and restore My place to where it was in the ions before time.

Part of the process of prayer can sound like we are informing the Father – but we are never sharing anything of which He is not fully aware. He knew it was time, but desired His Son to say out loud that it He understood the time, and was prepared to face the end. If we learn anything from this, it is that Jesus said out loud before the Father what He felt beneath the surface, and how He reasoned inside. Sometimes people mistake God’s desire to hear the words pour from our heart to our mouth. If He knows what we are all about, why should we tell Him? The answer is simple: He told us to tell Him.

The benefits of prayer probably go much farther than we will ever comprehend – but the simple truth is that we are doing what He told us to do when we pray. It is not unlike the desire of a spouse to hear the words “I love you” from the love of their life – years after they have made the commitment to be together for a lifetime. We dare not operate on the “they already know that I love them” ideology. They want to HEAR the words – and we need to say them. The same is true of exposing our heart in words of prayer – we need it and He desires it.

Jesus Prayed for His Eleven Disciples (John 17:6-19)

The whole prayer was not about the timing and the work. Jesus moved to praying for His followers – where most of the comments for the rest of the prayer are directed. As the lash and nails drew near, Jesus was not unaware of the pain – but chose rather to focus on the needs of His followers…

John 17:6 “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 “Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; 8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received [them] and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. 9 “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; 10 and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.

As we take apart the requests He made for the Disciples, a picture emerges from His heart:

• The fact is that Jesus saw in them something NONE of us would have picked out. Even AFTER His Crucifixion, could we HONESTLY say that we could see the potential in this motley band of misfit men to “turn the world upside down?” I doubt it.

Beloved, we are much more attuned to the FLAWS of our followers than their potential.

Many of us as parents have learned to see the PROBLEMS with our children perhaps a good bit more clearly than we see the their real potential. Jesus looked past the petty seating argument of the men walking into the Upper Room. He looked past Peter’s stupid exclamations of undying faithfulness, and John’s youthful misunderstanding of the days ahead. Jesus saw what God could and would do in the lives of the men He had disciple over those years. Can we not do the same? Should we not look with positive anticipation that the God that has been ever so patient with us will continue to work in them?

Paul reflected this as he wrote to the Philippians in 1:3 “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 [For I am] confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Was Paul delusional in thinking that they would grow up? After all, he wrote an entire letter to correct their thinking and behavior?

No. Paul knew that NO believer becomes mature in human hands. God is at work in our children. God is growing concerns in the hearts of our disciples. The process of spiritual growth is not primarily human – discipleship is a physical manifestation of God at work in a life. Rejoice! Our success rate just began to look much brighter, and our load for carrying the work is much lighter – when we understand that we aren’t at the center of all of their growth and change! Post a sign in your heart beside the disciple: ‘Caution: God at Work!’

• Jesus showed that at the core of His heart there was a desire to reflect the honor and glory to His Father – not to get it for Himself. I can see “they have really begun to see Your hand in all that I have done” – they are beginning to LOOK PAST ME to see You (17:7-8). Jesus came to restore a relationship to His Father – not (strictly speaking) for Himself. That issue is made clear numerous times in the Epistles, as the “other-person centered” nature of Jesus was highlighted (Philippians 2). It was not to fulfill His own desire, but rather to fulfill the desires of His Father that He came, that He died, that He reconciled.

Here is the great secret of Heaven – the Son hungers to have His Father lifted above all. The Father has desired to lift up the Son before all. Neither hungers self-affirmation – they desire to be fulfilled in watching THE OTHER lifted high! This is a picture of ideal relationship. The best marriages I know are the ones that have two people committed to EACH OTHER and each bent of the satisfaction of the other. Selfishness is the antithesis of godliness. The selfish person hoards while the godly gives. The selfish ever hungers; the godly are ever filled from above and overflow blessng to those around. Godliness is, at its very core, other-person centered.

• Jesus said: “It is for their benefit that I ask”. He came to and for the world, but He had a very profound love for those who trusted Him and followed Him – in light of the coming dangers. As Jesus had “waived off” personal protection from the Father in the beginning of the prayer – here He calls for its renewal over His followers (17:9-10). Jesus made His request on the basis of RELATIONSHIP with the Father.

Why is this important? The answer is found in the fact that the relationship is the basis for every request – as it is in our prayers. Our personal relationship with the Father, based on the work of His Son to clear our guilt and reconcile us to God is the basis upon which we are told to ask of the Father our requests. We CAN ask, because we have been granted audience through Jesus. That is the point of the writer to the Hebrews:

Hebrews 10:19 “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since [we have] a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…”

The central issue is this: God hears my desires and requests because Jesus built the bridge of relationship – restoring what Adam destroyed in rebellion. He made it possible, but I must open my heart to make it work. A bridge never crossed is of no value. I must ask. I must call upon Him. I must draw near over the provided bridge, and not gape endlessly at the chasm created by rebellion. Jesus built it, and I must cross it. I have Divine permission. I have Heaven’s call to come close…

Jesus wasn’t done. The eleven were still close to His side, and even closer to His heart. He said:

John 17:11 “I am no longer in the world; and [yet] they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, [the name] which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We [are]. 12 “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled. 13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [one]. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

• He said: “I am leaving but they aren’t – Father pull the protection over them!” Look closely at the call of Jesus for protection – and the need for it in John 17:11-12. How did He describe that call? He said “Guard them in YOUR NAME”. If He had said “Guard them in your TITLE” I would have shared how God’s title is a contraction of the term “GOOD” – and all that He does DEFINES what is good.

That is not the case. God has many titles, but only ONE NAME – the Tetragrammaton: YHVH. It is a form of the “to be” verb and means: “I Am.” God is the ever-present One. The NIV translators made that point in their translation of Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

I love the way Judah Smith said it in that small viral You Tube clip. He said:

IF in fact it’s true that Jesus rose from the dead – He conquered the final enemy – death itself. And… everything has changed. If He rose again… life will never be the same as we know it… the Gospel is the Good News. The Good News about God sending His Son who came to TRIUMPH in this life… Who came to live a SINLESS LIFE… a PERFECT LIFE… a SELFLESS LIFE… that He would give His life as a sacrifice on the Cross. But He did not just DIE… He ROSE AGAIN on the third day. Resurrection is what makes the news GOOD!”

The singer gently sings: “Immanuel, You are here with us! You are here with us! Unfailing love, you have overcome! You have overcome!

Back the preacher comes to say: “We keep preaching the champion that our King Jesus really is… JESUS is the Resurrection and the LIFE. JESUS is the victorious King of Ages…

Graphics of the beating and crucifixion fill the screen as the singer plays gently of Immanuel. I love that clip because it reminds us of two things:

  • First, that the coming of Jesus, the death of Jesus in our place, and the Resurrection of Jesus – that proved His Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice – is GOOD NEWS. It is not a scourge that condemns mankind, but a GIFT to offer escape the one who recognizes that without Jesus their life will soon collapse.
  • Second, it emphasizes that Jesus IS Immanuel – God with us. He is not a God of yesterday, or a figure assigned a role in the ancient past. He is a LIVING, RESURRECTED and ALIVE God – with a Father Who acts as guardian of my current needs. His Father is the ever CURRENT REFUGE and help in times of trouble. Your BILLS, your ACHES, your TROUBLES – they are all known to the Father. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing.

The ENEMY has no power greater than the One within us. The Holy Spirit breathes out the truth that Jesus has OVERCOME the grave the former prince of the earth. Satan is losing his grip on the earth.

STOP for a moment. Don’t forget that. He is a ROARING LION. You don’t have the power of yourself to defeat Him. He desires to destroy you, to keep you defeated and demoralized. At the same time… Jesus HAS overcome. The darkness you see on the news is a temporary gasp of breath to one who is ALREADY DEFEATED!

Lift up your eyes to the heights of Heaven! Our God is not on the ropes wondering of our future. He IS our FUTURE. He IS our LIFE. He IS our DESTINY. He IS our RESURRECTION. He IS our only needed HOPE.

Did you see the end of the prayer for the eleven? It is very telling as to what Jesus’ intentions were for His followers!

John 17:13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [one]. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

• Their heart filled with Joy: Father, I want them to be FULL OF MY JOY! (17:13).

• Their Priorities based in the Word: I want them to experience that JOY based on the Word I have given them – not based on the affirmation of the world around them! (17:14).

• Their Protection from the Father: I don’t want them removed from the world, but rather walking through it, protected from the clutches of the wicked one! (17:15).

• Their Distinctiveness from the World: They are not to be a PART of the world’s system anymore, but to be distinct from it because of their firm hold on the truth of the Word (17:16-17).

• Their Feet moving on mission: They are to be pushed out, launched into the world with the distinctive marker that I will be known for – the Cross (17:18-19).

Jesus made known the cry of His heart for His followers – that they would be a JOYFUL lot – not burdened by the darkness of the fallen world – but by singing the songs of the coming victory! He wanted them to CLING to the Word, and not be troubled by the rejection of the world. He called on the Father to love and protect them as He did while He walked with them. He wanted the TRUTH they lived to make them stick out. All this, and He wanted them to LIVE IN THE WORLD. They were not to find an excuse to withdraw themselves in some monastery circle – but to be bold and on mission to show the grace of Jesus in their walk!

Jesus Prays for the Future Believers (John 17:20-26)

If all that is NOT ENOUGH to get you excited, here is the part of the prayer that has to do with the believers that are sharing Jesus with the world today… those who are all around you as we read this together…

John 17:20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, [are] in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. 24 “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; 26 and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus said: “I know my eleven will be effective, so now I want to turn to those who will be following Me in future generations (17:20). Here are my seven requests for them:

Unity: That they might be ONE, just like We are One in Essence, Father (17:21a).

Distinctiveness: That they may be walking distinctly in OUR WAY, so the people around them will see the difference (17:21b).

Attention: That they may garner the attention of the world by their behavior, so the world will consider My origin – sent from above (17:22).

Reflection: That they may be so like us in their unified deportment, that they would reflect your face, Father, and My face (17:23).

Evidence: That everyone would see the evidence of My true message in the love between all of us! (17:23b).

Destiny: That they may one day be gathered to Our place, and see what Our home is like above (17:24)!

Love: That they may grasp inside the love You gave to Me, and I give to them (17:25-26).

Jesus called on the Father and cried out that His people should be defended – and not be torn apart by the enemy. At the same time, He asked that they not be allowed to tear each other apart from within. He wanted them to stick out in a world that calls for individuality, but in actuality lives by a strict rule of tolerance that abhors anything but the moral consensus of the masses. He wanted the church to get the attention of the world, but to do so by our holiness, and our wholesome love for each other. He wanted His followers to be a reflection of His teachings, and look like Him in conduct. He wanted the changed lives of His followers to give powerful, irrefutable evidence of the truth of His message – that He brings LIFE and HOPE to those who felt DEAD and USELESS. He longed to have His followers eventually join Him in Heavenly places – to see all that the Father has to show! He yearned for a people that would, all along the journey, grasp the love of God – at least in some small measure.

Jesus held up both GRACE and TRUTH.

Randy Alcorn wrote an interesting article I read the other day, in which he made the point beautifully: “Truth-oriented Christians love studying Scripture and theology. But sometimes they’re quick to judge and slow to forgive. They may be strong on truth, weak on grace. Grace-oriented Christians love forgiveness and freedom. But sometimes they neglect biblical study and see moral standards as “legalism.” They’re strong on grace, weak on truth. Countless mistakes in marriage, parenting and ministry boil down to failures to balance grace and truth. Sometimes we neglect both. Often we choose one over the other. It reminds me of Moses, our Dalmatian. When one tennis ball is in his mouth, the other’s on the floor…The church I used to pastor (and still attend) was picketed by 30 pro-abortion protestors. Why? Some of our people go to abortion clinics and offer alternatives, passing out pro-life literature and sharing the gospel when they can. So one rainy Sunday morning, our church parking lot was invaded by Radical Women for Choice, Rock for Choice and the Lesbian Avengers. Hearing they were coming, we set out donuts and coffee. I spent an hour and a half with a protestor named Charles, who held a sign saying, “Keep Abortion Legal.” We talked a little about abortion and a lot about Christ. I explained the gospel. I liked Charles. But when you believe as I do — that abortion is killing children — it’s a bit awkward serving coffee and holding an umbrella for someone waving a pro-abortion sign. Yet because of the opportunity to share Christ’s grace, it seemed the right thing to do. It’s not just truth that puts us in awkward situations. Grace does also. On that morning we were picketed, some street preachers showed up to take on the abortion activists with signs shouting hell and damnation. Their message contained truth, but their approach lacked grace. One of the street preachers barged between my daughter and me and a few of the Lesbian Avengers, just as we finally had an opportunity to talk with them. The door of witnessing was slammed in our faces … by Christian brothers. We tried to reason with the street preachers. (By the way, I believe there’s definitely a place for street preaching.) After all, this was our church, and we didn’t want them screaming at our guests — even if they were screaming truth. Most cooperated, but a few decided we were waffling on truth, and it was an abomination for us to offer donuts to people who needed rebuke. The following Sunday, two street preachers picketed our church, scolding us for our “pathetic” attempts at donut and coffee evangelism. In twenty-five years, our church has only been picketed twice — two weeks in a row! — first by radically liberal nonbelievers for speaking truth, and second, by radically conservative believers for showing grace. That’s how it is on this tightrope walk between truth and grace. When you stand for truth, you’re held in contempt by some non-Christians (and even some Christians). When you offer grace, you’re held in contempt by some Christians (and even some non-Christians). When you try to live by grace and truth, in some eyes you’ll be too radical; in other eyes, not radical enough. Grace-only folk don’t understand why Jesus said, “Fear him who has the power to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5). Truth-only folk don’t understand why Jesus hung out with sinners, and why He hung on a cross for them. Attempts to “soften” the gospel by minimizing truth keep people from Jesus. Attempts to “toughen” the gospel by minimizing grace keep people from Jesus. Grace and truth are both necessary, but neither is sufficient.”

Listen to Jesus’ prayer. He wanted us to stand together, and to reflect His face. That’s going to require both grace and truth – and if you look at what the Master prayed, you can see what He valued. Jesus showed us what He viewed as essential in His ministry, and how real ministry should be measured.