In our last lesson, we talked about the complexity that has replaced the church’s once simple message on finding God. The church is not the cause. In fact, stressful complexity appears to be a common characteristic of modernity. With all of our modern conveniences, I don’t think I am being dramatic when I say that the streets of our cities and towns are filled with tired people. How did it happen? We are the most technologically advanced people ever to inhabit the planet – but that hasn’t translated to a less stressed people. Perhaps our technologies are part of our problem. In an effort to save time, we may have unwittingly enslaved ourselves to the time saving and efficiency promising gadgets of modern life – and lost the simplicity that we once knew in the process. Consider the evidence. In her book, Alone Together: “Why we expect more from technology and less from one another”, Sherry Turkle offered some compelling, and yet careful studies about modern life. She wrote (p.279):
“In the fall of 1978, Michael Dertouzos, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science, held a two-day retreat at MIT’s Endicott House on the future of personal computers, at the time widely called “home computers.” It was clear that “everyday people” …would soon be able to have their own computers…But what could people DO with them? …Some of the most brilliant computer scientists in the world…were asked to brainstorm on the question…tax preparation…teaching children to program…a calendar….games [all were mentioned].
She continued: “Now we know that once computers connected us to each other, once we became tethered to the network, we didn’t need to keep computers busy. They keep US busy. It is as though we have become the killer app…”We don’t do our emails; our email does US. We talk about spending hours on email, but we, too, are being spent.”
Many of us complain that the simplicity of spending time together has been overtaken by a wave of unending, but commonly accepted interruptions.
• We don’t pull up in a “drive thru” and expect a greeting from the server – because he or she is busy speaking to the person behind us who is just giving their order. We will get a hand out for the money, and a bag for the food – often with little or no human interaction apart from the almost indiscernible voice from the loud speaker when we ordered.
• Many of us have come to prefer TEXTING over talking, since we can control the whole length of the conversation – and stay away from the time saving greetings and “niceties”. We can ask what we want, and get what we need – no extras.
• We may enjoy contacting people all over the world via SKYPE, but we find ourselves checking our email in the background where the other party cannot see what we are doing. Look in the airport. Half the people talking to a small face in a window on their laptop are also playing cards or checking emails in another window.
• The current generation has learned to “build themselves” in avatars and profiles, and wrestles with how to say enough to be included and interesting – but not enough to give up all privacy. Often the people lurking like spiders on the web are not the people we were intentionally addressing.
• We have accepted that everything we watch, buy or show interest in can and is tracked – because we see the value of the convenience – even if the ads are numerous and distracting. At least they tailored to our interests!
• Our children do homework with Facebook, IM, online games and the net constantly in the background – surrendering concentration to the gods of “multitasking” and unending connectivity.
• Our email leaves work with us and comes home. The lines are ever blurred. WIFI is now in the skies with us, so that the office can always reach us. In spite of that, our inbox becomes a stress of “always feeling behind.”
• Vacations are now a change of location, but often not a change of responsibility – because our instant connection goes with us. Technology speeds up expectations in our boss and our co-workers. Clients expect faster response time, and it is hard to maintain a true sense of what really matters – over what seems urgent.
• Adolescents grow up with a constant attachment to their parents, not learning to make a plan, but recognizing the parachute of mom or dad is always lurking one text away.
• We rush off to the grocery store, and then call our spouse to get an accurate list of what we went there to shop for. Fewer and fewer people walk through a grocery store without a cell phone at their ear.
This is not an anti-technology rant – just a set of observations that we seem to be willing to become an enslaved population of stressed, tired, and complicated people.
We don’t talk to the people in front of us, but always feel the need to be in touch with someone who may want to reach out to us. We favor the possible over the actual – the distant over the present. Young and old, we are surrendering both privacy and simplicity to a new lifestyle. Life is getting more complex with each device that promises to make us more efficient and more productive. We seem to know what we want, and we don’t seem to be getting it in what we have. The constant blaring light of technology has fed our need for constant adrenaline or a reaction of immediate boredom. We KNOW life isn’t supposed to run non-stop, but we feel “out of the loop” if it doesn’t. As a result, along with being the most technologically advanced – we are also the most exhausted and most easily bored generation of human beings ever on the planet.
Then we stop for an hour on Sunday morning and come into church and talk about God. We explore the Word and seek truth. We feel the guilt of being bored with a time to reflect, pray, and hopefully even think. The tendency of our lifestyle leads even worship planners to CRAM church meetings with sound, thought, and challenge. We struggle to find new ways to keep people engaged. Constant hunger for connection has both severed connection and brought us to a stress fracture. Constant stimulation has made us hunger for more constant stimulation.
Here is the heart of our problem – we were designed for CONSTANT CONNECTION – but not to our fellow man. We were designed to get affirmation and connection from our Creator – and His network is ALWAYS ON. In short, what we NEED isn’t what we think we WANT, and what we WANT isn’t what will WORK. We think we want ACTION and CONNECTION to EACH OTHER to feel important and affirmed. The truth is, that WILL NEVER SATISFY. The truth lies in an intimate and constant connection to the Creator –and only Jesus can give us that!
Key Principle: Jesus offers us a complete “always on” connection to His Father. His clear demonstrations help us see both HOW to know God and WHY we need to walk in intimacy with Him!
In our last lesson that introduced the Gospel of John, and suggested the church’s foundational message was this: You can have a relationship with God through the Person and Work of Jesus. I want to go back to that place, and remind us what we saw:
• First, we saw that John was intentional about what he chose to include in his teaching biography. He included only the things that would show Who Jesus Is – and then showed how believing them, and surrendering to Him, brings new life. We saw in John 20:30-31 that “these are written that you might believe.”
• Second, we noted that John’s audience was not one community, but two. The church at Ephesus contained a large component of “former pig eating pagans” that came to Jesus. They were Greek speakers and Gentile born. They were educated to believe that a man could be best known by the “philosophy that fell from his lips”. What they wanted to know about Jesus centered on knowing His WORDS – and last time we looked at SEVEN I AM SAYINGS to embrace what John included from the words of Messiah.
• Third, we also noted that another group joined the church at Ephesus. We called them the “kosher kids” – people that grew up in synagogue instruction and chose to live near kosher delis. They were Jews, and as such they were interested in what Jesus DID – because they believed in the SIGNS more than the WORDS of an individual.
“Seven Works that Show Who Jesus Is”
John opened his Gospel account with a statement of the Divine nature of Jesus – an announcement that Jesus is the Word that He created all that is. From the opening lines, John was pointed as he led the reader to recognize the essential nature of knowing Jesus. The rest of the first chapter was dedicated to following the movement of the first disciples from the “John the Baptizer Evangelistic campaign, Inc.” to “part-time” followers of Jesus. John, Jesus’ cousin, was a popular preacher before anyone knew Jesus’ name in the public lecture circuit. John had regulars – followers and students. He baptized Jesus one afternoon, and told everyone present that his younger cousin was the very Lamb of God that would take away the world’s sin. Five men found Jesus there, and began their relationship with Him. They would eventually become disciples.
Water into Wine (2:1-11). He transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary!
By John 2, these first five followers joined Jesus for a wedding, where He arrived on the last day of a seven day wedding feast. The account reminds “On Tuesday, there had been a wedding…” The Cana family apparently had insufficient wine for the later arrivals, and were deeply embarrassed. Jesus’ mother was in some way related to the planning or perhaps was responsible for the party – so she ordered Jesus to take care of the problem. She told the servants to “do whatever Jesus tells you” – and she walked off. They filled jars with water and dipped out EXCELLENT WINE!
The first work of Jesus in the Gospel record was TRANSFORMATION! Jesus took something as common as water, and transformed it into an exceptional quality wine for the wedding guests. Right out front in the story is this truth: Jesus makes the ordinary into the extraordinary! Ask any believer what happened when they surrendered to Christ. When they experienced the power and peace of God – their lives were forever changed. Their purpose changed. Their tone changed. Their direction changed. I have seen it time and time again- God performing incredible transformation on a life that was, by all accounts, ORDINARY up to that point…Consider what Peter and his mouth would have been if it weren’t for Jesus! What about Matthew the tax collector? Can you guess at Simon the Zealot’s life expectancy apart from meeting and following Jesus? These were just the FIRST – millions of transformed lives followed.
Long Distance Healing (John 4:46-54) – He requires my trust.
The end of John two and the beginning of John chapter three are set at a Passover feast in Jerusalem. Jesus left the first disciples for a time and wrestled alone with the Devil in the wilderness. He later met up with the men again at the feast in Jerusalem. John chapter three has since become a well-known chapter because it includes an important interview by a religious leader named Nicodemus – who snuck over to see Jesus one night and learn about a real walk with God in the face of his empty religiosity. Jesus told Nick that the only way to God was being “born again” – as John shows how the transformation theme was intended for PEOPLE – not just wedding beverages!
After the Passover feast, Jesus went back to the Galilee, in the north of the country. He passed through Samaria, and had a fascinating dialogue with an abused and neglected woman who was devastated by being passed from one man to another in a string of failed marriages. She was married and divorced five times, and was now with a man out of wedlock who showed that he didn’t care enough to have her accompanied to the well. Jesus tenderly showed her how to find the love she desperately craved – by opening her life to Him. Finally, He arrived back in the area of his youth, the ridges of western lower Galilee.
Returning to Cana, Jesus was known as “wine man” – the guy you wanted to invite to your party to keep the costs down. He was well known by now as a miracle worker – and people as far away as Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee were enticed to come to see Him to solve the intractable problems. One such man was a “Basilikos” or local ruler, who heard Jesus was back in Cana. His son was dying, and hope was slipping away – apart from a miracle. He left early in the morning to see the Master, and was told about 1 PM that the boy was made well. As Jesus healed the boy “long distance” –the man showed incredible belief in Jesus’ word. He didn’t depart until the following day – completely trusting what Jesus told him. In belief, there was no need to charge down the hill to verify the claim of Jesus.
John reminded his readers that Jesus DEMANDS trust from people to do His work in and through them. He is not content to have a half-belief and a half-surrender. Jesus wants us to “play all in” and take His Word at face value. What He declares is wrong – is wrong. What He directs us to do – we do. We trust His Word because of WHO He is – not because we always know how it will work.
Lame man healed at Bethesda (John 5:1) – He helps the abandoned.
Back to Jerusalem for yet another Jewish feast, Jesus visited the area north of the Temple Mount, at the area of the sheep pool and market. The Beth Zatha quarter may have been the area where Mary, His mother, grew up as a girl. The pools attracted the shepherds, the poor, and the feeble. As Jesus passed by a man who was thirty-eight years lame, He asked the man a critical question: “Do you want to be made whole?” The man’s reply is telling. He said: “Sir, I have NO ONE to help me!” Like the woman at the well in John 4 – this man was living life alone and hurt.
There he lay beside the large double pool, atop a pile of blankets and makeshift bedding. The people believed the pool was periodically stirred by an angel – signaling the opportunity for healing if one reached the water first after the stirring. The man stayed by the pools, ostensible to lunge in when he saw the water stir. Looking day after day at the deep pool – the lame man saw the distance down to the water, and the impossibility of getting out safely if he was not healed – and he hesitated at each opportunity. Without help, the man felt not only HELPLESS but HOPELESS. He felt forgotten. Jesus told him to “Get up, clean up his bedding, and walk home.” Healed, the former lonely lame man found himself in the middle of a controversy about getting up and cleaning up on Sabbath. He followed Jesus’ commands, but Jesus didn’t follow the rabbi’s versions of the Sabbath Law. The Pharisees, therefore, took the man to task, and then turned their anger on Jesus for performing the miracle on Sabbath. When they questioned Jesus and accused Him – He turned to them directly and identified Himself as the One they truly needed. He reminded them that John the Baptizer had testified of Jesus, and that the very WORDS of the Law were written of Him.
The Jerusalem leaders seemed far more interested in managing the timing of healings over seeing men who felt alone and abandoned HEALED AT ALL! Jesus made clear that the purpose of the Law was not to exclude men – but to help them understand God – seek God – and FIND God! Jesus saw a man who needed a helper and restored hope – and the Master gave Him both that Sabbath afternoon.
Loaves and Fishes (6:6-13) – His resources are inexhaustible.
The following spring, Jesus was back up north beside the Sea of Galilee, now in the prime of His “teaching and healing ministry” before the Galilean crowds. He had twelve disciples with Him now – and they were “full time” companions and students – living together and journeying as a group from village to village.
With Passover’s requirement of unleavened bread – the hungry crowds following Jesus found themselves on the Gentile side of the Sea without an accessible kosher bakery. Jesus took pity on the hungry hoards and decided this was a good time to teach His disciples an important truth. Before He performed a miracle, (just for fun) He asked Philip, one of His disciples, “Where can we buy bread for all these?” Philip made a crack about the amount of money it was take to feed this huge crowd, and Jesus took the five loaves and two tiny salt fish, and divided them for the whole crowd. Phil’s sarcastic comment became the platform for teaching.
Sadly, Jesus still had a distance to go to get the men who followed Him closely to understand His POWER – and this “problem” offered Him an opportunity to illustrate that to them. Problems that were insurmountable to them were mere inconveniences to Him. He made it clear… All the many people of the crowd ate and were filled. The disciples had to “clean up” – to walk around and collect all the leftovers in twelve baskets of scraps – one basket for each of them. Jesus made His point: You don’t need MONEY to follow Me, Phil – you need TRUST and you need UNDERSTANDING. When I see a need, I already have the necessary resources to care for the need. “My followers,” taught Jesus, “Can get what they need by listening to ME and following MY commands. Jesus has resources at His disposal that may be hard to spot at first – but Jesus knows how to DO what He sets out to do. His resources are truly inexhaustible. He started everything by creating “ex nihilo” – Latin for “out of nothing”.
Calming the Storm (6:16-21) – His power is unbounded to those who open themselves to Him.
Jesus fed the crowd to teach His disciples – but He could feel the crowd getting restless – wanting to crown Him King and pose that He lead them against the Roman occupiers. Jesus withdrew when He sensed the mood of the well fed crowd, and sent His disciples into the boat. He told them he would meet them on the Capernaum side, and they shoved off. Mark recorded the same story, and added an interesting single sentence that makes me smile- because Jesus has done this to ME a number of times.
You see, once the disciples got out of the water, the sun set. The wind picked up, and the small vessel was taking on some water. They began rowing to get back to Capernaum, but the wind was fighting them – pushing them out to the center of the Sea. Struggling, one of them looked up to see Jesus taking a stroll on the water. He must have chuckled under His voice when He called out to them: “Don’t worry! It is just ME!” I cannot see how that would have allayed their fears or reduced their shock. Sometimes to make a point, Jesus does the “knock you off your feet” thing. John picked up the fact that people ASKED how Jesus got with them since they left before Him and left Him no boat. As a follower of Jesus, though, my mind wanders to the one detail I want to know. WHY rock the disciples in the boat!?! Why not make the trip back after their lesson with the feeding of the crowds a SMOOTH SAIL? Mark helps out with this one line: (Mark 6:52) “…for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened.”
Jesus took the stability out from under the disciples because they FORGOT what it meant to be vulnerable- like the crowd they were just serving. They were hanging out with Jesus so much they were getting uppity and believing all the affirming things people said about THEM. They were lost reading their own good press. Jesus rocked their boat and reminded them – it is HIS POWER that we work in. His power is UNBOUNDED when we trust Him, follow Him, and CREDIT HIM.
Healing the Blind Man at Siloam (9:1-7) – He proves He WANTS to include me.
The next three chapters, seven through the first half of ten, are about a trip Jesus took in the Autumn of the year to the Feast of Sukkot, or Tabernacles. It is a great time of year. The grapes are all in full harvest. The country smells like wine. The bees are happy. The hottest part of the summer is beginning to show cracks of cold in the evenings.
Last time we mentioned in the “I Am” sayings the story of the man born blind. Jesus spit on the ground and told him to go wash off the mud and spittle in the pool of Siloam at the southeast end of town. When the man was kicked out for being healed on Sabbath – Jesus was there to tell him that a TRUE SHEPHERD isn’t looking for ways to HURT or REJECT the sheep – but to bring them in, huddle them close and protect them. Jesus WANTED to help the former blind man – not to exclude him. Christianity is, at its core, a message about RESCUE. The people that need it are often broken, and not the most desired of the world. Yet, Jesus grabs us and holds us close – because He LOVES to LOVE US.
Raising of Lazarus (11:1-45) – Even death is no barrier for Him.
A few months before the arrest of Jesus, the death of His dear friend Lazarus gave Him an opportunity to break through the barrier that terrifies many of us…the grave. Jesus is the answer to the six foot hole.
One day a man was talking to his grandson right after he had graduated from high school. And he asked, “My boy, what are your plans? What are you going to do with your life?” The grandson said, “I plan to go to college & then graduate from college. His grandfather said, “Great, what then?” “After I get out of college I plan to start my career.” “Fine,” said grandpa, “what then?” “Well, I guess I’ll get married & settle down & have a family.” “Fine,” said the grandpa, “what then?” “To be honest with you, I really want to make a lot of money, & have enough to save for a rainy day.” “All right,” said the grandpa, “what then?” “Well,” he said, “If I can, I plan to retire early & sit back & enjoy life. We’ll travel & see the world.” “All right,” said the grandpa, “What then?” “Well,” said the boy, “I guess like everybody else, someday I’ll grow old & die.” “All right,” said the granddad. “But what then?” Jesus is essential because it is the only thing that answers the question, “What then?” (sermon central illustrations).
Yes, Jesus has what we need – and His works have clearly proven that!
• He can take your bland existence and turn your life into something ETERNALLY POWERFUL for His kingdom. He can grab your life and make you something useful to your Creator. He can thrill you with the feel of His gifts flowing through you to change the lives of those around you.
• He demands that you take His Word seriously, but will do wondrous things in and through you if you do!
• He won’t leave you alone! He will not abandon you when your closest friend does. He will be the One connection you can constantly count on to be there.
• He has unlimited resources! When you see too many problems and too few solutions – Jesus has options that you have never dreamed about!
• His power can shut down any storm, and His might can confront any foe.
• He WANTS people who have done wrong. He DESIRES people who are broken. He LONGS to have you see the struggle of life is TOO GREAT to do alone. Religions try to make walls to keep people out – Jesus is a door to access Heaven – and He wants you IN!
• Even the power of death cannot hold Him down. He alone has conquered death. He can stand at the grave and LOUDLY PROCLAIM that death holds no power over His own. He broke the grave’s strangle hold on man – and we will live because He conquered death!
This is the Jesus of the Bible. He is tough but true, fair to us and fierce to His enemy. He is powerful and yet tender. He is inviting and yet unbending in requirement of trust and surrender. The message of the church must return to the simplicity of KNOWING AND SURRENDERING TO JESUS.
Christianity is NOT a religion. It is the relationship of knowing, loving and obeying Jesus as a means to a dynamic relationship with His Father. HE is what we need. No other relationship will replace one with God… The truth is that people won’t find happiness in constant connection to their web friends – they will use that to plaster over the lack of intimacy in their heart with the God that created them. That is what EACH OF US TRULY NEEDS. We can have that – but only in Messiah Jesus – and that requires that they both SEE Him as He is and RECOGNIZE His mastery over the world, and their lives.
If you look closely at Jesus, you will see that HE IS TRULY WORTHY of the surrender He seeks and you desperately need….I am aware that I have used this before. In fact, I use it on tour in Israel a lot. I LOVE this writing about Jesus…
As Don Moen said: “My friend, you can trust God! He is good, and He is good all the time! But as you focus on His goodness, don’t forget His greatness!! He is unparalleled and unprecedented – He is the centerpiece of civilization! He is the superlative of all excellence – He is the sum of human greatness; He is the source of Divine grace! His name is the only one able to save, and His power is the only one able to cleanse. His ear is open to the sinner’s call, and His hand is quick to lift the fallen soul. He is the eternal lover of us all – every one – and you can trust Him!
He supplies mercy for the struggling soul. He sustains the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes with the wounded and the broken. He heals the sick and cleanses the leper. He delivers the captive and defends the helpless. He binds up the broken-hearted. He is FOR you, and you CAN trust Him!
Jesus is the key to all knowledge. He is the well-spring of wisdom. He is the doorway fo deliverance. He is the pathway to peace. He is the roadway to righteousness. He is the highway of holiness. He is the gateway to glory.. and YES, you can trust Him!
Jesus IS enough! He’s the all-sufficient king! He is the King of the Jews. He’s the King of Israel. He is the King of Righteousness and He’s the King of the Ages. He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of Glory! He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – and you can trust Him!
And rejoice in this my friend, He is a Sovereign King! There is no gauge to measure His limitless love. There is no barrier to block His blessings outpoured! He is enduringly strong and He is entirely Supreme. He is eternally steadfast. He is immortally faithful. He is imperially powerful and He is impartially merciful. He is Jesus – God’s Son -and YES, YOU CAN TRUST HIM!
I wish I could more accurately describe Him, but He’s “indescribable”! He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistable. You can’t outlive Him, and you cannot live without Him! The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they couldn’t stop Him! Pilate couldn’t fault Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t conquer Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him! My friend, He’s the Alpha and the Omega – the first and the last. He’s the God of our future, and the God of our past – and we rise to speak His name again and again… Jesus, Jesus, JESUS! He is FOR US, and WE CAN TRUST HIM!“