John 12:20-33 Seek and You Will Find…Great Expectatioms

John 12:20-33 marks the beginning of a change in Jesus’ ministry. The coming of the Greeks is seen as anticipating the coming of the Gentiles into the community of believers. While it is true that before the events in our Gospel reading Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and healed a woman’s daughter, the primary focus of Jesus’ ministry until this point in time was the people of Israel-the Jews. The visit of the Greeks reflected the Pharisee’s statement in verse 19 that the whole world has gone after Jesus. Their arrival prompted Jesus to acknowledge that the hour had come for him to be crucified, and by his death and resurrection, he will draw all people to him, including the Gentiles.

The drawing of all people to Jesus might seem to be ironic given that those who shouted “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday shouted “Crucify him” on Good Friday. Part of the reason is because of the nature of the Messiah that the people were seeking. They were seeking a Messiah who would create an army, drive out the Romans and restore Israel to the glory days of King David. They had no such expectations of the Son of Man. In fact, the title “Son of Man” has none of the militaristic connotations or meanings associated with the title of Messiah.

Jesus sought to downplay those expectations in favour of the expectations of a suffering servant. He has the same expectations of us. He expected the people of his day to be focused on serving others and in return God would bless them. In fact, he served others by healing, teaching and washing the disciples’ feet just before he celebrated the Last Supper with them. During Jesus’ time it was the custom for guests who arrived at a home to have their feet washed by household servants.

Jesus is the new covenant that God promised to his people in Jeremiah 31:31-34. In Jesus, God united us to him with bonds that can never be broken, and through this new covenant, we and Jesus can look death in the eye and see victory. The new covenant is represented by the replacement of the Ten Commandments with Jesus’ two Great Commandments-“Love God and love people”. If we love God and love people, our desire to serve God and others will naturally flow out of this love.

Jesus’ expectations of service are emphasized in Matthew 25:31-46. We are expected to be faithful even to death and trust that God will glorify us. In order to be glorified by God, we must be prepared to experience suffering first and serve others, just like Jesus served others and suffered on the cross for our sins.

God glorified Jesus when he spoke from heaven. When Jesus became glorified on the cross, Satan was defeated. The forces of opposition were defeated. The barriers that kept people from joining with God were defeated-and that was proven when the temple’s curtain, which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple, was torn in two.

The people with Jesus did not recognize God’s voice, largely because it had been years since anyone heard God speak. They did come to understand after Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are the same. When we are on our Christian walk, we encounter things we can’t understand right away. Some things will become clear as we mature spiritually, while other things will become clear when we meet Jesus.

If there is no sowing of seeds, there can be no harvest. We can’t have a harvest of souls for God if we do not sow seeds for God. We must not let the things of this life interfere with our obedience to God’s will. We have been given a message of hope and transformation that the world desperately needs to hear and embrace. If we spread this message, we will draw others to Christ. It involves sacrifice. When we see a rich harvest-in a family, church, mission field or business-we can be sure that there have been people who have given of themselves in their service. The kingdom sprouts out of our daily choices to “die to ourselves and live for Christ’. In other words, the kingdom will grow when we live a life of serving others and loving others like Christ loved others and served others. We will have eternal life and things to do. We will feel better about ourselves because we will be transformed.

Jesus mentions in verse 27 that “My soul is troubled”. No doubt it was troubled by his coming death on the cross. It parallels his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some scholars believe that the Greeks knew about the plot to kill Jesus and came to spirit him away to safety. While Jesus’ human side might have welcomed this rescue plan, his godly side knew that this rescue plan would have defeated God’s plan to rescue us from a life of sin and eternal damnation. He gave up his human desire to live in favour of God’s plan for salvation. In other words, Jesus died to his human self so that he could live out God’s plan for his life and our eternal lives.

During Lent, we as Christians are supposed to “give up” something as an outward expression of an inward transformation. To give up something is to relinquish it, to renounce it, to forfeit or lose it, or as Jesus says, to die to it. Jesus hints at the ultimate ‘loss’ anyone might experience, to give up life as normally lived in the world in order to gain a newly enriched life. On the other hand, to try to control every variable in life is the way to death and loss.

It is often hard for us to do the same thing. It is hard for us to say no to self and yes to God. In fact, we often do exactly the opposite-we pray “yes” to self and “no” to God. We tell God what we want him to do for us, what we want his plans for us to be, and how we are willing to serve him. It usually takes a crisis of significant proportions for most of us to give up control of our lives. It means we come to the end of ourselves and our struggle to control the events of our lives and we finally come to the place where we can say, “I surrender, God! Please take full control of my life”.

It reminds me of the song “Jesus Take the Wheel”, which was recorded by country music singer Carrie Underwood. The song tells the story of a mother who lives a hectic life. On a late-night Christmas Eve drive on a snow-covered road, the woman begins sorting out her emotions and bemoans not having enough time to do the things that really matter. Then, her car hits a patch of black ice, causing the woman to lose control of her car. She panics, takes her hands off the steering wheel and cries out to Jesus; shortly thereafter, the car stops spinning and safely stops on the shoulder. After taking stock of the situation (and seeing that her baby has remained fast asleep in the rear seat), the woman decides to let “Jesus take the Wheel” of her life.

Jesus was facing an overwhelming situation and struggle in his earthly life. He came to this hour in his life to be the answer to the overwhelming situations in all of our lives. He was raised up to draw all of us to him. This was done so that in Jesus each of us will find the answer to our problems, the courage for the trials we face, and the victory over Satan who brought all of these problems upon us through his temptation. God recalibrated our internal compass so that it would point to Jesus. He is the leader whose directions we listen for and with whose plan for our lives we choose to align ourselves. If we want to serve Christ, we must be a follower. To do as Jesus did is the best way to bring honour to his name. He will give us the resources we need to meet the spiritual needs of others. He has given himself and he has given us his word.

When a martyr is created, it is like lighting a fuse or throwing a lit match into a can of gasoline. It begins the process of change. Jesus’ martyrdom/crucifixion began the process of change from the Law of Moses to God’s grace. Would Jesus’ ministry have been as effective if he had not been martyred? The answer is a resounding “NO!” Had he not been crucified, he would have been seen as just a prophet or a faith healer or both.  His death and resurrection, during which he paid the price for our sins, opened the door to the restoration of our relationship with God. His death was necessary for the salvation of many lives.

Jesus looked ahead to his upcoming death and resurrection. Like a single seed, he was buried in the earth. He died to his oneness, his solitariness and was raised up not only in his own glorified body, but in the lives and the bodies of his followers. His enemies thought he was dead, but he was raised to a life more abundant than before. He became the Christ of countless places and countless people.

When Jesus referred to being “lifted up” in verse 32, he drew a parallel between his crucifixion and Moses’ placing of the serpent on the pole in Numbers 24:4-9. Just like those who were bitten by the snakes could look at the snake on the pole and live, those who look at the crucified and risen Christ in faith will be healed of their sinful nature and have eternal life. The key words are “in faith”. We look at the risen Christ in faith when our words and deeds are in alignment with his plans for our lives. When we show concern and help for our fellow man, we show that we are looking at the risen Christ in faith. Jesus is the signpost pointing us to God and to a life of self-surrender in love and service to others.

We are to represent Jesus as well as we can in our thoughts, words and deeds and allow him to live through us. We can never convert anyone. That is Christ’s job, not ours. We are to effectively communicate God’s love to a world dying for love. To tell people about the whole counsel of God, we also need to tell people about the stark spiritual reality of a life without him in this world and the next. If we trust Jesus we are united to him and his death is our death according to Galatians 2:20 and his condemnation is our condemnation according to Romans 8:3. If we never trust Jesus, we stand condemned by our sin, and by our rejection of the offer of forgiveness.

We and the Greeks who came to see Jesus are the same. They and we are attracted by the one who, in his hour of suffering, is a completely faithful servant to God; who shows total generosity; willing to give up everything for us, without holding back anything in reserve; who shows us that defeat and death open up new possibilities, when we would see only endings and lose trust; who offers us hope, even when the doors are shut and when we would throw our hands up in despair and prepare to accompany one more body to the tomb. In return, we are to present the love of God in real ways and present Jesus as a human friend, companion and guide in both word and deed.

To complete the process, though, now requires a battle with our petty selfishness in what is a form of death. That is why Jesus speaks of losing our life in order to find life. It is a form of death, because, as Hebrews 5:5-10 suggests, after the learning of hard truths about ourselves, we must sacrifice wrongful pleasures, habitual injustices, false gods. And it hurts to surrender those ways of living. It hurts both when we first start to serve others and when we seek to deepen that service.

Whatever our age, we can’t say that we’ve finally cracked it, that there’s nothing left to tackle, that we are immune from these growing pains. But as the soul of Jesus was troubled, and as Jesus offered up his anguish in prayer, so, too, we must experience the anguish of discipleship, and hope to find his resolve as that anguish is lifted up to God in prayer.

Bibliography

  1. Exegesis for John 12:20-33. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  2. Dr. Tony Evans, “Reaping What You Sow”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  3. Gary Brumbelow, “Harvest Hang-up”. Retrieved from www.christianitytoday.com
  4. Dr. Jack Graham, “Lift Christ Up”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  5. Gerritt J. Bomhoff, “Wheat”. Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
  6. Notes from Peter Anthony’s Bible Study on the Gospel of John
  7. Rick James, “Plant a Rolex…” Retrieved from www.christianitytoday.com
  8. Dr. Bill Bright, “Lift Him Up!” Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  9. Rev. Paul DeVries, “Praying in Alignment with God”. Retrieved from www.backtogod.net
  10. Dr. Jack Graham, “The Victory You Have in Christ”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  11. Stanley Mast, “The Wisdom of God”. Retrieved from www.thisistoday.net
  12. Online Devotional-Day 72. Retrieved from www.leadlikejesus.com
  13. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 5th Sunday of Lent (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  14. C.H. Spurgeon, “Following Leads to Honour”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  15. Anne Graham Lotz, “Jesus Meets Our Needs”. Retrieved from www.angelministries.org
  16. John Piper, “For This Purpose I Have Come to This Hour”. Retrieved from www.desiringgod.org
  17. Os Hillman, “God is Not about YOUR Success”. Retrieved from www.christianity.com
  18. Leslie Snyder, “Follow the Leader’. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  19. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Brokenness-The Plan”. Retrieved from www.crosswalkmail.com
  20. Rev. Ken Klaus, “Consequences”. Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  21. Rev. Ken Klaus, “Lifting Others Up”. Retrieved from www.lhm.org
  22. Frederikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27:John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985)
  23. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  24. MacArthur, J.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers: 2006; 2008)
  25. “Jesus Take the Wheel” Retrieved from www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Take_the_Wheel
  26. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch Bible software package.
  27. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Wordsearch Bible software package
  28. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Year B, Fifth Sunday in Lent. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod.org.archives/year-b-fifth-sunday-in-lent
  29. Daniel B. Clendenin, Ph.D., “The Backward Life of a Lenten Spring”. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net/index.shtml?view=print
  30. The Rev. Dr. James B. Lemler, “Seeking, Searching, Seeing”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  31. The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “The Sprouting of the Unexpected Good Seed”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  32. Dr. Randy L. Hyde, “The New in the Old”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  33. Richard Finn, O.P., “Poison and Antidote”. Retrieved from http://torch.op.org/preaching_sermon_item.php?sermon=5672

Hebrews 5:5-10 How to be a Priest

Each and every one of us can be a priest!

Does that statement make sense to you? After all, when we hear the word “priest” we often think of the ordained clergy who preside at weddings, funerals, baptisms or weekly worship services. The truth is, we are all priests. Let me explain by talking about the role of a priest as outlined in Hebrews 5:5-10.

In Genesis 14:18-21, Abraham gave a tithe of the spoils of war to Melchizedek. He was the king of Salem, which was the ancient name for Jerusalem, and he was a priest of the true God. He lived many centuries before Aaron and is described in Hebrews 7:3 as “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God.” In other words, his ancestry is unknown.

Jesus is also a priest in the order of Melchizedek. Jesus was morally perfect, but he was further perfected by the discipline of suffering, where he completed his qualification course for becoming the eternal High Priest. Jesus did what no Old Testament priest could do-not even Melchizedek. The Old Testament priests had to atone for the sins of the people and their own sins as well. Jesus provided eternal salvation by being the sinless author of salvation.

Jesus was a high priest for everyone. He reconciled us to God, thereby healing any and all divisions. In return, we are to be ministers to everyone in that we are to show God’s love to everyone, regardless of race, colour, creed or ethnicity.

Jesus was never shielded from suffering. His sufferings were real and intense and included every human woe. That’s the difference between innocence and virtue. Innocence is life untested, virtue is innocence tested and triumphant. Jesus was tested and triumphant, and in the testing he learned obedience. Jesus took on human flesh and came to earth to die for our sins and to identify with every area of our lives except for sin but including suffering. Jesus suffered pain on the cross so we can have eternal life.

The community of the baptized, the church and its members, is supposed to follow Jesus’ example. We are supposed to show up when people need us. We are to share others’ suffering, pain and joy, even when we are suffering. Even when our pain is not by our own choice, God can use our pain for good if we let him. For example, Jesus ministered to the repentant thief on the cross even while he (that is, Jesus) was in agony on the cross. Christians find in suffering an opportunity to learn discipline, obedience, grace and faith, just like Jesus did.

When we suffer, we must not complain, especially if our suffering is caused by something we can’t control-for example, harsh winter conditions. Accepting the things that we can’t change when we suffer is the first step toward overcoming them in a Christian way. Times of suffering aren’t times for us to withdraw and engage in self-pity. They are precisely the times when we need to offer ourselves to others, because they are the second step toward overcoming life’s trials and hardships.

Christ and Aaron were divinely called to serve as High Priests. High priests do not grasp at this position for its honour and glory. Those who seize the office in arrogance are disqualified. Aaron and those who followed him as high priest came to their position because God called and appointed them. The High Priest must be able to deal with the ignorant and the errant because he is beset by human weakness.                               

Christ was mentioned as both God’s Son and as a priest of the order of Melchizedek. His calling as a priest was natural given that as God’s son he sits and rules at God’s right hand.  Jesus was faithful to God, even to the point of death on the cross. Jesus aligned his will with God’s plan for his life. As Christians we are called on to make sure that our lives are in line with God’s plans for our lives. In other words, our plans for our lives must be the same as God’s plans for our lives. We are to place our lives in God’s hands.

As our High Priest, Jesus stands between us and God. Consequently, we have the right to approach the throne of God. Jesus has experienced all of our human weaknesses and identifies with them because he was tempted like all of us. He isn’t scared of our sin. He has felt all of our human emotions. The only difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus is without sin. We don’t have to ask twice for forgiveness. We don’t have to be afraid of approaching God’s throne.

God’s love outlines boundaries. Without these boundaries we would be easy targets for every kind of harmful influence. Our obedience to God’s will ushers in God’s protection and blessings. Obedience comes from our relationship with God. That relationship is built not by our own efforts, but by grace through faith.

As part of being a High Priest, Jesus made prayer and supplication part of his daily life. He was wholly dependent on his Father and obeyed him even when he wrestled with temptation. In his humanity, Jesus served with a broken heart. He was heartbroken over the condition of the people. His ministry was a tearful ministry. In Hebrews 5:7 we are told that “while Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with loud cries and tears, to the one who could deliver him.” Jesus learned obedience when he suffered. Jesus’ passionate prayers must be our guide to prayer. Our prayers must be as passionate as his were. 

In his humanity, Christ struggled with the assignment God gave him: death on the cross. Even though God heard his cries, the plan was not changed. Jesus walked through all of it in complete submission, just like he had done with every assignment God gave him throughout his earthly life. When we suffer in faith, when we suffer for being God’s love in the world, when we move through an unbelieving world and pay the price for our faith, we show God’s values. These values reflect Jesus and result in a way and a model for salvation.

As we travel life’s road, we are constantly tempted to sin just like Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. If we sin, we are lost. The only hope we have is to throw ourselves on Christ’s mercy and ask for his help. He can meet our needs. He is willing to represent us before God because he has gone before us as the perfect Son of God.

When we become Christians, God enrolls us in the same school of “hard knocks” that Jesus was enrolled in. The problem is that we have to choose between our earthly lives and our heavenly lives. We have to choose which one we want to live in, because we can’t live in both. God helps us to make that choice by getting our minds off of the things of this world and teaching us obedience in preparation for life in the next world.

When we pray to God, we must be obedient to God. Obedience is necessary for our salvation. We can’t earn our salvation by good deeds. The only deeds that can save us are those by which we receive God’s unmerited gift of salvation. Our zeal for completing the mission God gives each and every one of us to do involves moving our lives and the life of the church toward a model of priesthood according to the order of both Melchizedek and Jesus. It also involves caring for the deep physical and spiritual needs that we have in our daily lives.

So how are we like priests? We are appointed by God. We sacrifice ourselves and our desires to God. We continually pray to God about the human condition. We offer prayers and supplication with genuine care and concern. Finally, we ask others to join with us to do God’s work in our world-just like any priest would do.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Joni Eareckson Tada, “The School of Obedience.” Retrieved from www.joniandfriends.org
  3. Ron Moore, “Source of Eternal Salvation.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  4. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Learning Obedience through Suffering.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  5. Rick Ezell, “Let Your Heart Be Broken.” Retrieved from www.greerfbc.org
  6. The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel, “Christ the Center.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org.
  7. Mark J. Moldrem, “Prayer Clothes.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  8. Erskine White, “How to Deal with Suffering.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  9. The Rev. Eugenia Gamble, “Suffering for Faith.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  10. Thomas G. Long, “What God Wants.” Retrieved from www.religion-online.org./showarticle.asp?title=3336
  11. Stephen Paul Bouman, “Parking Lot Palms.” Retrieved from www.religion-online.org./showarticle.asp?title=2913
  12. Bryan J. Whitefield, “Commentary on Hebrews 5:1-10.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=423

John 12:20-33 Following Jesus-The Hardest Thing to Do

Hello boys and girls!

How many of you have had to do something that wasn’t easy to do?

What do you think is the hardest thing we would ever have to do? Well, one of the hardest things we have to do is to be a follower of Jesus. Following him is one of the best things we can do because when we die we will go to heaven to be with him. It’s also one of the hardest things we can do because we might have problems when we follow him. What problems might we have? Jesus said that we would have trouble because we follow him, and that trouble might include dying for him, but if we die because we believe Jesus we will live with him in heaven. He talks about this in John 12:20-33.

Jesus claimed that his death would draw people to God because he made the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life for us, and that’s a powerful truth. There are times when someone will put his life on the line for his country, his family or his friends, but Jesus gave up his life for everyone. He died on the cross to pay the price for our sin. His love for us is so great that we are drawn to him and trust him. When we trust him, we become children of God. Our parents don’t stop loving us when we do something wrong, and neither does Jesus. His love is so strong that when we sin, he draws us back into what he wants us to do.

Let’s bow our heads for a moment of prayer. Dear God, thank you for your love. Thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Draw us close to you with your love and keep loving us as much as we love you. Please keep loving us even when we are in trouble because we love you. In Jesus’ Name we pray, AMEN.

Bibliography

  1. The Real-Life Devotional Bible, NIV (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2008)
  2. “The Power of His Love.” Retrieved from www.sermons4kids.com
  3. “My Soul is Troubles.” Retrieved from www.sermons4kids.com
  4. “Martyrs.” Retrieved from keys@lists.cbhministries.org
  5. “Minutemen.” Retrieved from keys@lists.cbhministries.org
  6. Daniel Darling, “Expecting Crosses.” Retrieved from www.danieldarling.com

John 12:20-33 Helping Others

Boys and girls, can you tell me about occasions when you’ve had to help other people, especially when you didn’t want to or when you’ve been in a bad mood?Well, that’s what Jesus expects us to do. He expects us to help others even when we don’t want to help them. He expects us to love others just like he loves us.

I’m going to tell you a little story about one little boy who learned that lesson. This story is about a little boy named Eddie. He was mad at Jesus. He grabbed a crayon from his baby sister and she started crying. His mother went up to him, took the crayon away and said, “Eddie, Jesus wouldn’t treat his baby sister like that.”

Eddie went out into the backyard and kicked the dog. His father saw him do it and said, “Eddie, Jesus wouldn’t treat animals like that.”

Eddie went into his room and started playing with his toys. Pretty soon his mother came into his room and said, “It’s time to put the toys away. We’re leaving for church to learn about Jesus”. But Eddie said, “I’m not going. I’m mad at Jesus”.

That afternoon Eddie was in the backyard with his father, and his father said, “Eddie, I want to show you something,” and he pointed to a little, harmless ant. The ant was all by himself. He was going as fast as he could across a brick, but when he got to the end, he would turn around and go back. The lonely ant finally came to the edge of the brick and went up a blade of grass. Then he came back down the blade of grass. The ant ran as fast as he could, and then he came back to where he started. Eddie’s father asked him what he thought about the ant.

Eddie replied, “I think that ant is lost”. “And what do you think is going to happen to that ant?” said his father. “Well, I guess he’ll die, especially if I smash him”.

His father said, “I want to show you something else”, and he showed Eddie a little clearing in the garden where there was a tiny hole. Around the tiny hole were lines of busy ants going in the hole and coming out. The ants were running around, bumping heads, back and forth down the hole and out. “Eddie, what do you think?” said his father.

“Well, I think that when the sun goes down and it gets cold, all of these ants will go down in their home and they will be safe tonight”.

His father continued, “You know that looks a lot like church this morning with all of your friends and all of the people coming from different directions, coming into church where they could all be together and be safe.” His father stopped and walked back to the brick where the lone little ant had been and asked, “Now what do you think about this ant over here?”

Eddie went over and looked, but the ant was gone. While he was watching the ant came back up on the brick. Eddie bent down and let the ant walk up on his hand. Then he went over to where all the other ants were by the hole in the ground. He put the ant down on the ground and watched him get in line. Then he looked up at his father and smiled.

“Do you think Jesus would have done that?” Eddie asked? His father bent down and picked Eddie up. He gave him a big hug and said, “Yes, I think Jesus would have done just that”. And they said a prayer right there in the back yard.

Boys and girls, let’s bow our heads, close our eyes and have a moment of prayer.

Thank you Jesus for watching out for us and for teaching us to watch out for others. Give us the wisdom and the strength to help others as you help us. We ask this in Jesus’ name, AMEN

Bibliography

  1. Children’s Sermon for Lent 5. Retrieved from www.mcgregorpage.org

John 3:14-21 For God So Loved the World…

A little girl once asked her grandmother, “Granny, do all fairytales begin with ‘Once Upon a Time’?”

“No darling,” said the grandmother, “There’s a whole series of them that begin ‘If elected, I promise’.”

All of us know what it is like to over promise and under deliver. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for us to believe that God sent Jesus to give us eternal life. To look at Jesus-He promised so little, but He delivered so much.

In the passage we heard from John’s Gospel, Jesus states the reason why He came into the world. Jesus recalled God’s remedy during the plague of poisonous serpents in Moses’ day-healing those who looked on the bronze serpent-to foretell His death on the cross, where He would be lifted. Anyone who looks on Him in faith receives eternal life.  

We are sinners. There is no human cure for the ills of the soul. As the people who were bitten looked on the image of the serpent and were healed in Numbers 21:4-9, so may sinners look to the Saviour and be cured of the sickness of our nature. Our destiny is not determined by our actions, thoughts or intentions, but by our nature. We start out as sinners, opposed to God. Jesus didn’t come for the good, but for those hopelessly lost without Him. Our most desperate need-salvation from our sins-can only be obtained by faith in Jesus as our substitute and Saviour according to God’s plan.

The power of the Christian is in the truth; the power of Satan is in the lie. To the Satanist, power is everything, but power is only effective in the darkness. The Christian is to pursue the truth because power and authority are already inherent in him.

God loves humankind as shown by these circumstances:

  1. The world was exposed to God’s wrath because of sin.
  2. Men were in a hopeless condition.
  3. God gave His Son as an undeserved gift.
  4. God gave Jesus up to extreme suffering.
  5. It was for the entire world.

Verse 16 tells more about God and His plan for this world than any other verse in the Bible. God gave the most extravagant thing He could to demonstrate His love for lost humankind, summoning and sending His Son to pay the debt for sin.

For Jesus to come that the world through Him might be saved is good news-except for those who do not believe. While God loves everyone, not everyone accepts that love. When a sinner believes in Jesus, he trusts Jesus as having died in his place. Since God accepted the offering which Christ made in our place, there is no further condemnation for the sinner.

The character of a sincere Christian loves truth. They love it, seek it and follow it. They come to the light. They don’t attempt to deceive themselves of this. They are willing to know themselves and the true state of their hearts before God.

In contrast, those who reject Jesus or who have not heard the Gospel are condemned. They love the darkness of sin and hate the light of Christ. They prefer sin, false doctrines and error to the truth. The light of the Gospel condemns their conduct, and their consciences would trouble them if they were enlightened.

Coming to Christ isn’t easy for us. We want to impress each other. Why would any of us want to open up and let other Christians see the dark secrets we keep hidden away? Like Nicodemus, there is a Pharisee deep inside every one of us. Jesus knows us inside and out. He knows our pride, our stubbornness and our judgmental heart. Jesus’ call to Nicodemus goes out to each of us.

When we are following God’s principles for living, when we seek purity and righteousness, when we act and speak with integrity, the world is going to resent us for it. We can’t expect a world in darkness to understand our desire to walk in the light. Regardless of the cynicism or ridicule we face, God calls us to His standard of obedience and righteousness. We don’t have to do this work alone. The Holy Spirit will guide us through the obstacles of worldly thinking. The Bible will show us the truth when we are confronted by lies.

Let’s not think that God only does the giving and that we do all the receiving. He now expects us to do the giving too. We have the wisdom to share what Jesus did for us. We have the wisdom to share our past mistakes, consequences, guilt, burdens and forgiveness in the hope that God is revealed to the people we talk to. We need to give mercy to others who are fallible and in need of forgiveness.

A light exposes what hides in the darkness. The most fundamental reason that people reject Jesus is not because they fail to understand the Gospel, but because they do not want to change. They love the darkness of sin instead of the Light of Christ. Jesus is the true Light that gives light to everyone. We can’t expect a world in darkness to understand our desire to walk in the light. Regardless of the persecution or ridicule we face, God calls us to His standard of obedience and righteousness.

When people put off deciding about Christ-or about moving forward to a deeper level or spiritual maturity-they have not remained neutral. The failure to say “Yes” to Christ is the same as saying “No.” Why? Because we are born into this world saying “No” to God because of our sinful human nature. We remain condemned by sin until the day we say “Yes” to Christ.

From this we learn:

  1. Jesus is the only way to salvation
  2. Salvation is full and free for everyone
  3. Salvation is easy.

Eternal life refers not only to eternal quantity but divine quality of life. This life for believers is experienced before believers reach heaven. It is nothing less than participation in the eternal life of the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

Love is central to the very nature of God. It reaches out to everyone who is ugly and sick. God comes to everyone in love. God’s invitation is as wide as God’s heart. It is open to everyone who believes. He won’t cheapen the terms, or He would not be true to Himself. We can only accept the invitation by trust, faith and submission. The issue was sharpened by His coming. Now we have a choice to make: accept Him and spend eternity in heaven or reject Him and spend eternity in hell.

The kind of love that God has for us is the kind of love that can change the world. It’s based on communications more than feelings. If love were based on feelings, it would not have the power that it does. Love has the power to change everything. That’s the kind of love that God wants us to show to the world around us.

God offers salvation on one simple and single condition-a wholehearted faith in Jesus Christ, trusting Him alone as Lord and Saviour, resting upon Him for complete salvation, renouncing all self-trust, admitting our sinfulness, confessing our need, and crying out to Jesus to save us from our sins.

The more time we spend in God’s Word, the more our hearts and minds align with His will. Choosing to do the right thing becomes easier when we begin to understand God’s ways. Standing for the truth becomes easier when we find encouragement and strength in Scripture. But apart from God, we will quickly become involved in the world’s ways of thinking.

To walk in the truth is to walk in the light, unashamed of how we live before both God and man. When we are walking in the truth, living out God’s Word in our everyday lives, there is no need to deceive. The truth needs to make no apologies or excuses for its deeds.

When we agree with God’s accurate view of our sinfulness, that is the repentance part of trusting Him. Believing in Him means we put our full weight down on His love for us. It’s choosing to believe with our whole hearts not just that God loves, but that He truly loves us as we are, with full knowledge of our shortcomings. Beyond an intellectual agreement, we have to embrace God’s love for us as our ultimate source of forgiveness, hope, direction for living and eternal life.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1445-1446)
  2. Barnes, Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  3. Fredrikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 78-86)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. Dr. Ray Pritchard, “Share the Gospel? What Gospel?” Retrieved from www.keepbelieving.org
  7. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “The Obstacles of Worldly Thinking.” Retrieved from my devotional@leadingtheway.org
  8. Paul Chappell, “According to the Plan.” Retrieved from daily@dailyintheword.org
  9. Pastor Ed Young, “Commit Your Feelings to Your Commitment.” Retrieved from www.edyoung.com
  10. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Victory Over Guilt.” Retrieved from www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/in-touch
  11. Dr. David Jeremiah, “Ship ahoy.” Retrieved from turningpoint@davidjeremiah.org
  12. Berni Dymet, “Once Upon a Time.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  13. Anne Graham Lotz, “The Light of the World.” Retrieved from www.angelministries.org
  14. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Let Truth be the Light.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  15. “The Heart (and Mind) of the Matter.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  16. Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for John 3:14-21.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  17. Rev. Wayne Palmer, “Darkness or Light?” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  18. Dr. David Jeremiah, “The Same as Saying, ‘No’”. Retrieved from turningpoint@davidjeremiah.org
  19. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “The Obstacles of Worldly Thinking.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org

John 2:13-22 Housecleaning of the Temple

What is the one thing many of you do at least once a year, especially in the spring? I bet most of you did some spring cleaning. Spring is a good time to give your house a good going over and clean everything up and get rid of a lot of junk that you don’t need.

Today I want to tell you about a time when Jesus did some spring cleaning. It was time for the annual Passover celebration, so Jesus traveled to Jerusalem. When He arrived, He went to the temple. He couldn’t believe his eyes. There in the temple area he saw people who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves for the people to use as sacrifices in the temple. There were tables set up for money changers so that people could change their money to pay their temple taxes. It looked more like a carnival than a house of worship.

Jesus did not like what he saw. He was so angry that he made a whip from some rope and he drove the cattle and sheep and those who were selling them from the temple. He went to the tables of the money changers and turned them over, scattering coins all over the temple floor. To the ones who were selling the doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market.” Yes, I would say that Jesus did some spring cleaning in the temple that day!

Jesus had a high regard for pure worship of His Father. He wanted to rid the temple of the abuses that had crept into that worship. The moneychangers and sellers obeyed Jesus for several reasons:

  1. They were punished by their consciences
  2. They thought Jesus was a prophet, and the Jews had respect for prophets.
  3. Jesus had a wide reputation among the people, and many of them thought He was the long-promised Messiah.
  4. He made people tremble in His presence.

God approves of anger at sin and wants His servants to take appropriate action against it. Jesus revealed the righteous anger God feels when what is good and intended to help people is infiltrated by human greed. Mercy is always available to those who seek it, but we can’t forget that Jesus gets angry when He meets injustice and any restrictions on those seeking God. Jesus acted as He did because of the moneychangers’ dishonesty and their disregard for the purpose of the temple-worship. Jesus would clean out the temple again near the end of His public ministry. Why? There are several possible reasons:

  1. The moneychangers and sellers forgot Jesus’ rebuke.
  2. Nothing that was sacred could guard them from their sin.
  3. Their love of money was stronger than their sin.

Jesus believed that the temple was a place that should be set aside for people to draw closer to God. It was not meant to be a place where a person’s sincere desire to worship God should be exploited for profit. He ended a way of life and thought. The normal practice of sacrificing animals for the sins of the people would not be needed now that He had come. He would be the new house in which God’s glory will break forth.

We are now in the season of Lent. It is the time in the church year when we focus on setting priorities in our spiritual lives, gaining some clarity and perspective on what really matters in our Christian faith. Just as driving while distracted can lead us into trouble, distracted discipleship can lead us into dangerous territory. We can be so busy and preoccupied with the church that what our faith and worship are about can become impossible for people to distinguish.

Today, Jesus is still challenged by the darkness in our lives. When we gather to worship, pray and listen to His Word, our minds are filled with earthly concerns. The light of Christ shines in the darkness and draws our thoughts back to Jesus.

Christ enters our lives, forgives our sins and cleanses us so that we can worship properly. We become a cleansed temple. Through Jesus, we have been given forgiveness and freedom. We don’t receive them because we follow detailed and perfect rituals, but through Christ’s gift to us.

As we think about Jesus cleansing the temple, we should also think about some other cleaning that needs to be done. Lent is a time to look inside ourselves and see if there is anything in us that needs to be changed. Are there some areas of your life where Jesus needs to do some ‘spring cleaning’?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1444-1445)
  2. “Spring Cleaning.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com
  3. Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  4. Fredrikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 69-74)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Pastor Bob Coy, “Principle Power.” Retrieved from www.activeword.org
  7. The Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, “Driven from Distraction.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  8. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 3rd Sunday in Lent (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  9. Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for John 2:13-22.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  10. Rev. Wayne Palmer, “The Light Blazes in Fury.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org

Psalm 22:22-30 Saving Our (Spiritual) Lives

“Hi, Mom!” Jared said as he slid the door of the minivan shut.

“How was your day? Anything interesting happen today?” Mom asked as she pulled away from the school.

“There’s a new kid in our class. His name is Tamim. He doesn’t speak English very well, and he had some weird food in his lunch. I kind of wanted to talk to him, but I thought Marcus and Tony would make fun of me.”

“Hmm . . . Tamim. Is his last name Youssef?” Mom asked.

“Yeah, it is,” Jared said. “How’d you know?”

“Well, I met his family today when I volunteered for the refugee outreach program at church. His parents are very nice, and he has a cute little baby sister. His dad told me their son was starting school today.”

“Oh. What’s a refugee again?” Jared asked.

“The Youssef family had to leave their country because their lives were in danger. Refugees come to other countries for many reasons–sometimes because of war, or famine, or natural disasters–but in their case, it was because they are Christians and most of their country is not.”

Jared looked at his mom in surprise. “Their lives are in danger just because they believe in Jesus?”

“Yes,” Mom answered. “Tamim and his family have chosen to follow Christ, just as you and I have. But for them, it has meant giving up their home and jobs and friends and even their country to keep their family safe. Tamim and his family have endured serious hardships. He’s a pretty brave kid!”

“Wow,” Jared said. “I didn’t know his family went through all that.”

Mom nodded. “Having the same faith makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, the Bible tells us that one day, when Jesus returns, we will worship God for all eternity along with people from every tribe and language and nation in the world! It’s possible we’ll be standing right next to the Youssef family in front of God’s throne. Isn’t that exciting?”

“It sure is!” Jared agreed. “I think Tamim is someone I’d like to get to know better. Could we invite his family over for dinner sometime?”

Mom smiled. “I think that’s an excellent idea.”

In Psalm 22, God has saved the sufferer who in return tells others about it. The sufferer foresaw more than his own good fortune. He foresaw deliverance spilling over into the whole world. He predicted that the story of God’s help would be told to future generations. The entire world will worship God.

Jesus had this psalm on His lips when He was dying on the cross. When the disciples wanted to explain Jesus’ life and sufferings, they turned to this psalm and others like it. The disciples saw a pattern and a foreshadowing. The pattern is one of redemptive suffering. This suffering led to victory and power and the salvation of the world. This pattern helps Christians appreciate why Jesus and His followers had to suffer.

The basis for the psalmist’s worship is that God answers prayer. God’s silence was over. God does not turn away from the psalmist. The psalmist’s enemies were silenced by God’s actions. God hears the cries of the poor, the oppressed and the forgotten. He gives us hope in responding to the evils of our day. How do we think about all our relations (past, present and future) when making daily decisions to ensure that we are answering the pleas of the afflicted? How do we fashion our lives to reflect God’s plan to satisfy the poor? As we proclaim God’s deliverance to the people, we are also delivered. As we bless people with God’s abundance, we are also blessed.

The theme of the resurrection is present even though the doctrine of the resurrection is not revealed. God heals, restores and answers. In His resurrection,  Jesus declared God’s mighty works to His people. As the word of God’s deeds spreads, everyone will bow down and worship Him.

The application of the psalm to the world can only be fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It points to Jesus and His heart as He hung on the cross. He endured God’s silence knowing that His cry would be answered and that His suffering would bless the world.

Jesus was forsaken on the cross so we would never be forsaken. He was alone on the cross so we would never have to be alone. He was judged guilty on the cross so we could be declared innocent in heaven. He stood in the gap for us. It was all about His love for us.

We tend to be swept away by problems we should have avoided. We have no defense against the devil. We get lost. We need a shepherd to care for us and to guide us. We have one who knows us by name. His name is Jesus. One of the tools He gives us to fight Satan is praise. Praise drives the enemy away. It ushers God’s authority into any situation. If we want to maintain our praise, we must begin our prayers with praise. First, we must praise Him for who He is. Then we must praise Him for something He has done for us.

As we praise God, we should consider His names and how each one applies to our lives. Understanding His names will have a major impact on our worship and devotion. Some of His names are:

  • Majestic Lord
  • Our banner
  • Our healer
  • Our shepherd
  • Our provider
  • Our master

God’s names reflect His attributes and nature.

The psalm gives us permission and the words to cry when we experience persecution. It also becomes our words of thanksgiving and praise when God saves us from anything that could destroy us. Our lives are filled with both dangerous moments and times when life is good and God is holding our hands. God is yearning for us to seek Him out. We may have called out with the psalmist for God’s help and thought that God was away, but He is always at hand. Where are we?

When we feast on the goodness of Jesus, we find our happiness in Him. We find that happiness in God’s Word. When we feed on His Word, it will become so precious to us that we will pity people who seek satisfaction in evil. We will have something so wonderful in Jesus.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 721)
  2. Karen McMillan, “Every Nation.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  3. “The Song of the Cross.” Retrieved from BibleGateway@e.BibleGateway.com
  4. Jamieson-Fawcett-Brown Commentary. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  5. Williams, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 13; Psalms 1-72 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1986; pp. 187-190)
  6. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  7. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  8. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
  9. Anne Graham Lotz, “Praise Defeats the Enemy.” Retrieved from info@angelministries.org
  10. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “In the Name of God.” Retrieved from web@ltw.org
  11. Pastor David McGee, “Ps. 22:30-31.” Retrieved from theword@aboutthebridge.com
  12. Franklin Lee, “Psalm 22:25-31.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu.
  13. Kristen D. Anderson, “Psalm 22:19-28.” Retrieved from communic@lutehrsem.edu
  14. Arian Rogers, “Are You Hanging Out with the Devil’s Billy Goat?” Retrieved from devotions@lwf.org
  15. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary, 2nd Sunday of Lent.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com
  16. David Scherer, “Psalm 22:22-30.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu.

Mark 8:31-38The Key to Happiness and Eternal Life

The scene in Mark 8:27-38 is the climax of the first half of Mark’s Gospel. This first half focuses on miracles and gradually reveals Jesus as the Messiah. The second half explains the nature of that Messiahship and has far more teaching and far fewer miracles.

Caesarea Philippi was located well into the heart of Gentile territory. Why would Jesus choose this location instead of Jerusalem to reveal himself as Israel’s Messiah? The most likely reason was to state that his followers were not to remain in Jerusalem but were to go to the ends of the earth and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel.

Jesus did not want the disciples to reveal his identity right away because they did not completely understand what that meant, as Peter demonstrated when he rebuked Jesus. Peter’s reasoning was demonic. He was influenced by Satan, hence Jesus’ demand to “Get behind me, Satan.”

Three times Jesus mentioned that his death and resurrection were part of God’s plan, and each time the disciples misunderstood his meaning. They thought that the kingdom meant Israel’s return to power and the end of Roman rule. Christ’s way meant suffering and sacrifice, not political maneuvering. Jesus knew that the freedom people need the most is spiritual freedom from sin and God’s wrath, not freedom from political oppression.

Christ’s death represents atonement for sin, and the beginning of God’s eternal, messianic rule. Nothing can make up for the loss of our soul, but there are many times when we exchange our souls and our lives for worldly things instead of spiritual things. Worldly things do not lead to eternal life. Those who give up their lives for the sake of Christ and the Gospel will find eternal life. This concept was very evident to the readers of Mark’s Gospel because they faced persecution and conflict. They saw this as a challenge to be faithful. We have the same challenge today. The world is still hateful to both Christians and the Good News of the Gospel.  

I read a news story some time ago about a group of young people who were arrested for trespassing and attempted burglary. They drove to a car lot late at night and removed a set of tires from one of the cars on the lot. Unfortunately for them, the lot’s owner saw them on closed-circuit television. While they were busy trying to steal his tires, he picked up their vehicle with his forklift and hid it inside a building. When they finished their dirty work and were ready to leave, they had no transportation.

Many people today are the same. They spend all of their time trying to get material goods that they think will make them happy, when what they really need for happiness is a personal relationship with God. That relationship will provide us with the transportation we need to get to heaven when we die.

We must not let anything or anyone worldly take control of our lives. Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit that the apostle Paul refers to in Galatians 5:22-23. When we have self-control, we can stand up to people and things who try to tell us what we should be and what we should do.

Jesus taught that being great in God’s kingdom means self-denial and sacrificial service. These values are opposite to the world’s values. Self-denial means letting go of self-determination and becoming obedient to and depending on Jesus. Happiness comes from service, and we need to practice service and generosity today. These two things will bring more happiness to our lives than anything else, and they also define what it means to be a Christian. Jesus is calling us to carry the cross of sacrificial living. Words come easy and living the life is more of a challenge, but in today’s world people need to see that sacrificial living leads to fulfillment and real life.

Sacrifice does not necessarily mean martyrdom. It also means doing small tasks such as giving food to a hungry person or a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty. It also means doing things in the church such as teaching a Sunday school class or singing in the choir. Our willingness to do the small tasks as they are needed is more important than our willingness to die for Christ when that is not needed.

We do not have to do this alone, and we can’t do this alone. We need strength, and Jesus will give us that strength. This strength will allow us to live a life that will bring us blessing and fulfillment beyond our wildest dreams.

If we become suffering servants like Christ was, there is a danger that we might assume that the saving work of Christ is automatic. Mark’s Gospel reminds us that this assumption is false. Christ’s suffering servanthood teaches us about the Incarnation, but the passion of his suffering teaches us about his redemption. Too much emphasis today is placed on the healing of human hurts, which reflects Christ loving care for us when we hurt. More emphasis needs to be placed on righting of human wrongs, also known as sin.

This might makes us uncomfortable in the short term. We like our worship to be comforting and uplifting, and while this is a necessary part of worship, it must not be the most important part. The main emphasis must be on redirecting our lives, our values and our priorities. This disruption in our lives is necessary if we truly believe that the heart of Jesus’s message is change or repentance. If we accept this, we have to let go of the lives we have now, no matter how painful the process will be.

Jesus’ message of self-sacrifice won’t always fit neatly into our earthly lives. Words like “Come die with us,” or “Follow Jesus no matter what the cost,” or “Called to sacrifice for the world” aren’t heard very often in churches today. These words are the heart of what Jesus taught. He wants us to follow him by giving of ourselves so that others may know his grace. Believers have resisted this call since it was first made over 2,000 years ago, so it isn’t surprising that the same call is resisted today. How do we as Christians see it?

Our attitude as children of God must centre on a life that is lived in him. In return for his sacrifice we need to make good use of the opportunities Christ sends our way. God wants to be an active presence in our lives, and it is because God has been an active part of the lives of men and women throughout history that the church has survived and thrived. If the church is to survive today, God needs to be active in our lives today. If more people made God an active part of their lives, the world would be a better place (and our churches and offering plates would be full to overflowing every Sunday!).

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  3. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006
  6. Paul Estabrooks, “The Cross-Choosing to Follow Jesus.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Rick Warren, “You’re Happiest when You Give Your Life Away.” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  8. Exegesis for Mark 8:24-38. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  9. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Let Us Follow Jesus.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  10. Steve Arterburn, “Will You Have a Ride?” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Pastor Dave Risendal, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” Retrieved from donotreply@wordpress.com

Romans 4:13-25 Justification by Faith

In Romans chapters 2 and three, Paul argued that through the Gospel, it is faith that brings humans into harmony with God. In Romans 4, Paul considers Abraham as an example. Abraham was blessed because he believed, had faith, that he would be father of a nation and a source of blessing for everyone. Abraham received the promises of God through faith, and not through the law.

The basis of Abraham’s relationship with God was faith, and faith is the primary basis of our relationship with God. Abraham’s faith was confidence in a person-God. The object of faith matters more than anything else. Abraham’s faith was exemplary, because his faith was in God. Abraham’s faith was related to his knowledge of God, the object of his faith. He had faith in the God who could breathe life into deadness, especially since God breathed life into Abraham and Sarah so they could have a child.

Abraham’s faith was conversant with the problems he faced. His faith was consistent in its progress. When he was faced with delay and discouragement with God’s plan, his faith didn’t waver. It was strengthened. He was also convinced that God’s promises would be fulfilled. Abraham knew that God never promises anything He can’t deliver. Do we believe that? If we do, then it only makes sense to put our complete trust in Him, regardless of how dark our circumstances might appear. All believers become heirs with Abraham of the promise. Abraham’s faith is a good example of the faith we as Christians should have. It led to Abraham’s justification. He had faith in a God what could provide the divine answer to the human problem.

When God’s people look to the law for justification instead of to God, failure to keep the law makes them guilty and they face death instead of life. God’s promise of the law is uncertain. His promise of faith is certain. The promise given to Abraham has not expired nor become the private possession of any one race. It permeates the entire world.

Abraham’s faith conquered impossibility, improbability, inadequacy, inconsistency, insecurity and infidelity. Abraham believed in the God of creation, who “calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” This is the essence of faith. The same God of Genesis 1-2 who brought forth life and the earth and sky out of nothing also brought forth Isaac, the son of promise, from the deadness of Sarah’s womb. Later, at the altar, standing over that same son with a knife in obedience to the Lord, Abraham again believed that God could give life to the dead. Hope that is centered in God is contrary to the world’s hope.

Abraham did not waver in his faith at the time of testing. God’s ability to perform His promises was the foundation of Abraham’s faith’s stability. Faith looks past the gift to the Giver and past the promise to the One who promises. Abraham’s faith was linked to God’s power and faithfulness. Abraham didn’t have great cause to expect God to fulfill His promise because of the circumstances Abraham was in. In spite of this, he believed God’s Word and looked forward to the time when his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

God can declare people who believe in Him to be righteous even though they aren’t. He can do this by giving His righteousness to them, just like He declared Jesus’ “Sin” and punished Him even though Jesus was not a sinner. If Abraham was justified by faith, then all of us are justified on the same basis. The proof is God’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice. God would be able to be just and yet justify the ungodly.

God considered Abraham a righteous man because Abraham looked beyond the limitations of his age. God considered Abraham to be someone who could accomplish His goals. Abraham accepted God by faith. Similarly, if we accept God by faith, God’s grace will be available to us. When we act in faith, we give God the glory for the outcome, like Abraham did. Abraham didn’t parade greatness or look for praise from others.

When his hope died, Abraham went on hoping in faith. Similarly, when we are at a dead end in our lives, we need faith, and we need to read and study the Bible. It gives us encouragement because even if something is out of our control, it isn’t out of God’s control. As we spend time reading and studying the Bible, God will show us how to live by faith. We do this by preparing well, speaking in a Christlike manner, sharing God’s love and understanding that God wants to change our lives.

Faith is something that is strengthened over time. Abraham and Sarah waited for years for God to fulfill His promise. Abraham considered and thought about God’s strength and ability. He thought about God’s faithfulness and gave praise and glory to God. Abraham’s faith allowed God to do mighty things in and through him.

God gives us great promises-the same promises made to Abraham-and invites us to come by faith and receive the grace of those promises and the fullness of life with God. God invites us to join Him in a bond of peace that nothing that can overthrow and that is richer, fuller and more durable than anything the world can offer.

Paul understands Jesus’ death as representative of all humanity. Jesus entered the death into which all humanity condemned by its sinfulness and then rose from the dead. His resurrection is representative of what can be true for all who accept what God has declared in the story of Jesus. There can be no discrimination based on race and religious tradition. All human beings need to enter a relationship of faith with God, and all human beings can enter that relationship. Paul argues that we shouldn’t think of Abraham in terms of being the patriarch of Israel, but rather as the model and mentor of all who believe.

So how do we lay hold of these promises so that we may enjoy the full and abundant life He plans for us?

  1. We need to make sure we understand the promises of God and that we see them as precious and great as they are.
  2. We must give glory to God for His promises-praising and thanking Him daily, taking the promises back to Him and exalting Him for such grace and mercy, rehearsing our plans and visions before Him with gratitude and praise.
  3. We must remember that we are called to be people of faith who are not misled by denominational traditions. The law has always been a means of pointing the way to God. It is an instrument that helps us know and do the divine will. As such the law is meant to free us, but when the law is mistaken for an end, the consequence can be a state of spiritual confusion in which all hope is obscured. The law can’t set us right with God and therefore give us access to God’s promised blessings. Any relationship with God that is grounded in and lives out of the law is not a right relationship.

When we praise God, we’re putting our faith in action. Just as putting our physical bodies into action so they will grow strong, putting our faith in action through prayer, worship and thanksgiving will make it grow strong too.

Faith is the determination to keep on walking with God no matter what happens, and that faith results in commitment. Faith demands dependence and we resist depending on God because of our stubborn independence. It’s hard for us to trust God more fully because of our willful pride and our sinful nature.

The world judges us by how much we can gather for ourselves, but there are no wages in heaven. In faith, God sets us free of needing to earn our way. We are freely showered with God’s mercy. When we see our lives from God’s viewpoint, we no longer have to worry about comparing ourselves to others. No one has to be worthy. God’s grace overturns all our economies. Abraham and Sarah trusted God, though His promise seemed to good to be true, and they received a son whom they nicknamed “Laughter.” We trust that the same God whose promise is good and true and receive abundant, eternal life in Jesus.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1291-1292)
  2. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 101-107)
  3. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Os Hillman, “Being Fully Persuaded.” Retrieved from tgif@marketplaceleaders.org
  6. connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com

John 1:43-51 Come and See

Come and see.

Think for a moment about the effect those words might have on you if you were to hear them in an everyday context. Would they generate a sense of excitement about whatever it might be you were being invited to witness? Perhaps they might ignite your curiosity. Perhaps you might be thankful that someone thought to include you.

Come and see.

The words are both simple and warm, issuing an invitation not only to see something, but also to join a community. To come along and be part of something.

Come and see.

Have you ever used those words to invite friends to come to church with you? Have you ever talked to your friends about Jesus and what He has done in your life? If some laugh and say you’re foolish to believe as you do, don’t argue with them. Be friendly and accept them as Jesus does. After a while, your friends may be curious and willing to “come and see” what church is all about. Best of all, they may come to know Jesus.

We see a good example of this in the passage we heard from John’s Gospel. Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see the long-promised Messiah. The law and the prophets were the two most important parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. Philip told Nathaniel that he found the one that the Scriptures had been telling them to anticipate. The Messiah was now in their midst, but He went beyond the prophets of the Old Testament. He was the Word-the one who most perfectly revealed God and God’s will.

Nathaniel couldn’t believe that the Messiah came from Nazareth. Nathaniel was prejudiced. He came from Cana, which was another town in Galilee. Galileans were hated by the Judaeans, and Galileans hated people who came from Nazareth. The reason might be because Nazareth was an insignificant village that didn’t have prophetic importance. Today, many people allow their minds to be filled with prejudice against religion, and they pronounce their prejudice without examining the subject. The invitation to come and see is an invitation to join Jesus as He walks in the footsteps of the poor and stands in solidarity with those who suffer from systems of injustice and prejudice.

The darkness of the sin called prejudice allows us to sit and judge everyone and everything around us. It allows us to jump to conclusions about people without knowing their full story. It’s too bad for the people who don’t fit into our nice, neat categories. It doesn’t matter if it’s a nerdy kid at school who doesn’t dress like we do or that estranged family member, the strange neighbour or a congregation full of hypocrites. We even do the same with God. We judge His holiness and faithfulness by the circumstance of our lives. We don’t give God the right to be God.

The world is prejudiced against Christianity today. The world asks if any good can come from the One who calls us to stake our whole existence on Himself, and who calls us out of our individual worlds to follow Him to His cross. Our culture finds that offensive and labels it as a need to bring punishment on ourselves. The person of Jesus is the great cleaving sword of humanity. He divides those who come to faith in Him from those who reject Him. He separates the sheep from the goats as written in Matthew 25.

People do not need to be argued into the kingdom of God. Philip simply told Nathaniel, “Come and see.” The role of believers is to introduce people to Jesus, share His story and their stories of what He has done. Philip didn’t try to reason with Nathaniel. He asked Nathaniel to go and examine things for himself, to see Jesus, to hear Him speak, to lay aside his prejudices and to judge after he made a fair and candid personal inquiry.

Similarly, we should encourage people to lay aside their prejudices against religion and Christianity. If people want to know what God is like, they can look to Jesus. If they want to know what Jesus is like, they should be able to look at His followers. Can people see Christ in us? Seeing Jesus is the most compelling argument that exists for Christianity.

The heart of Christian evangelism is inviting people to come and see Jesus, God’s gracious Word and flesh for themselves. To come and see those who are inspired by Jesus enough to follow Him. To come and see how God continues to work in the world and in our lives. The invitation to “come and see” is the only appropriate response to having seen the grace and mercy of God taking shape among us.

Despite the setbacks of being from Nazareth, Jesus had insight and intuition that the best family, geography and education can’t give. He knew people, their nature, their motivation and their desires. That’s what drew him to Nathaniel as He saw him sitting under the fig tree.

Jesus sought out Philip and went after Him. Philip was an ordinary man, but Jesus invited Philip not just to stand out, but to keep on following Him. This encourages those of us who are shy and feel that we have so little to offer, just like the little boy in the Christmas Carol, “The Little Drummer Boy.” These are the type of people He looks for most eagerly. Similarly, Philip sought out Nathaniel and invited him to come and follow Jesus.

Jesus saw Nathaniel for who he really was. Nathaniel lived up to everything he saw and did. He was sincere and upright. Jesus knows who people really are. He sees their hearts. He sees their true motives. Jesus is divine, so He sees what we do when we think we’re doing it in secret. He sees us even when we don’t think He sees us. He sees us in our private devotions, hears our prayers and sees our meditations. He judges our character chiefly by our private devotions. If we have faith in Jesus, it will always be strengthened. If we believe His Word, we will see proof that it is true. Jesus was under God’s protection, and His friends will also be protected. God will defend us and save us if we put our trust in Him.

When he addressed Jesus as the Son of God, Nathaniel didn’t understand the full meaning of that title, but he knew that Jesus had an unusual relationship with God. Nathaniel called Jesus the King of Israel, but since Jesus referred to Nathaniel as an Israelite, Nathaniel surrendered to Jesus as his own king. This should encourage all of us to surrender to Jesus as our own king.

Nathaniel will be given far deeper grounds for belief than Jesus’ perception of who he is. As Jesus’ ministry unfolds, Nathaniel will see mighty works, great and wondrous surprises that will reveal God. We will see the same things when we surrender our lives to Jesus. It’s only as we get real and courageously honest with ourselves and God that He can help us become the people He wants us to be. If we live up to all we know, we will know more. If we are all we can be, we will become more.

Nathaniel went on to become a disciple and friend of Jesus. He traveled across India, Armenia, Ethiopia and Southern Arabia, sharing the gospel and drawing people to Jesus. When he encountered Jesus, he stood under a fig tree minding his own business. As he trusted that Jesus knew him inside and out, it changed the direction of his life.

What gifts are inside of you? They may seem ordinary to you, but not to Jesus, He sees our gifts of hospitality, deep compassion, music or writing. He is happy that you are good with kids or a good planner, or that you have a natural ability to lead others. Jesus sees those gifts because He gave them to us. Are we using them to their fullest potential? Are we using them to do God’s work in the world?

What does it take for us to believe? God doesn’t need to prove He is God as much as we need to prove we believe He is God. Despite how we feel, what we see or how we think, in the words of Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” Faith goes beyond the senses to a deep understanding and knowing that He is God in the midst of a hassled day and the hurts from life’s circumstances. Faith is believing without seeing, as Jesus told the apostle Thomas.

The essence of discipleship is to follow Jesus. It’s what most of us want for ourselves, our family members and our friends. Life is much better for people when they follow Christ. To be a Christian is to realize that we have been called by God. Called to grace, called to life, called to move. Our proper response is to follow Jesus-slowly, perhaps not perfectly, but to try and follow nonetheless.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1443)
  2. “Come and See.” Retrieved from www.KeysforKids.org
  3. Barnes, Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package
  4. Fredrikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985; pp. 56-60)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010, pp. 1451-1453)
  7. Suzie Eller, “He Sees the Gift in You.” Retrieved from devotions@proverbs31.org
  8. Richard Innes, “Authenticity.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  9. Pastor Dick Woodward, “A Fig Tree Fellowship.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. “Just Believe.” Retrieved from www.dailydisciples.org
  11. Rev. Wayne Palmer, “The Darkness of Rash Judgment.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  12. Matthew A. Maus, “John 1:43-51.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  13. Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for John 1:43-51.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  14. David Lose, “Come and See.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org.
  15. Pastor Edward Markquart, “Come and See Gospel Analysis.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com