What He Said Week 11

Study Eleven: HE DIDN’T SAY IT WOULD BE EASY.

 

TAKING IT IN:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you.    John 15:18 – 16:4

 

GETTING AT IT:

There is a misguided assumption, sometimes fueled by preachers of a “happiness gospel,” that believing in Jesus should mean an easier life.  To be sure, faith in Jesus means a better life – every spiritual blessing that accompanies forgiveness and eternal life; but Jesus didn’t promise health, wealth and an easier life.  More than once he told his followers to deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow him.  Identifying with Jesus will bring the world’s hatred.  The Christian’s moral life stands in judgment of the world’s immorality; and people apart from Jesus hate that.  The Christian’s certainty about absolute truth stands in sharp contrast with the world’s claim that truth is somewhere between unknowable and purely subjective; and no one wants to be told that he is wrong.  The Christian’s witness to Jesus as the only way to God and everlasting life with him challenges the illogical argument that there are many ways to perceive of God and many roads to him despite these “many” being mutually contradictory.

Like the disillusioned followers who abandoned Jesus in John 6, some people walk away from the Savior when they realize that faith in Jesus may separate them from friends and family and put them at odds with the conventional wisdom of their culture.  Others drift away from the Savior when hardship impacts their life, contrary to the easy life they expected.

Ridicule, the loss of friends, maybe even the loss of a job are possible consequences of confessing Christ in the western world.  Elsewhere, imprisonment and even execution await those who take up the cross and follow Jesus.  Jesus warned us; the world hates.

 

DIGGING INTO IT:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.”

The term “world” refers to everything that the fall into sin brought about in opposition to God – belief systems, institutions, and powerful people.  In Ephesians 2 St. Paul described the condition before faith in Jesus as “when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air.”  That ruler, Satan, Jesus referred to as “the prince of this world.”  There are only two camps – falling in line with the world or belonging to Jesus. Hebrews 11:3 says of those who died in faith: “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”  Inside the world’s camp you are loved by those who share a worldview opposed to Jesus.  Outside the world’s camp you will be hated by the world.  In contrast, neither Jesus nor his followers hate people who belong to the world.  They are loved by God and sought out by Christians who want to share the joy of the Gospel. 

The world’s hatred is a response to Jesus first, then to those who own him as their Master.  It’s not about you.  To openly identify with Jesus is to draw persecution from those who reject Jesus and welcoming agreement from those who confess Jesus.  Again, there are only two camps; there are no “free agents.”  These words of Jesus aren’t a popular recruitment poster; but then faith isn’t exactly “signing up.”  Jesus tells us that he has chosen us out of the world.  He reached out to us, not the other way around.  His Gospel warmed and won our hearts as the Holy Spirit drew us to Jesus. And in knowing Jesus, we know God the Father. People may think they know God in some other belief system, but apart from Jesus they cannot know God.  Jesus says so.

 

 

22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

Jesus isn’t suggesting the possibility that some people are not guilty of sin.  Romans 3:23 places every human being under the curse of sin when it says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  The apostle continues in verse 24: “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  All people’s sins have been paid for by Jesus’ death, and God freely forgives; but to reject Jesus is to reject that forgiveness and remain accountable for sin. That is what the Jewish leaders who hated Jesus did.  Their accountability and guilt is far greater because they saw the Son of God, heard his words from the Father, witnessed the miracles that testified to who he is.  In John 3 Jesus said: “Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”  In John 12 Jesus said: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”

Jesus points to the hatred of those who rejected him as fulfillment of prophecy. “In their law,” Jesus says, indicting them from the Scripture they claimed.  That prophecy is in Psalm 69:4.  We might miss the prophetic nature of David’s words in the psalm if Jesus didn’t make the connection.  Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament unveil from the Old Testament the countless passages that point to the Messiah and salvation in him.

 

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

Three times in chapters 14-16 of John Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit, who would “teach and remind” “testify about Jesus,” “convict the world of guilt,” and “guide into all truth.”  He is called the “Advocate” because the Greek word is a legal term referring to someone who takes your side and pleads your case.  The word has also been translated as “Counselor” and “Comforter,” for it literally describes someone who stands at your side.  The Holy Spirit’s work is everything that pertains to our life of faith.  Jesus here calls him the Spirit of truth, for he inspired the Holy Scriptures and convinces us by those Scriptures of the truth God has revealed about himself and our relationship with him.  His role, Jesus says, is to testify to the Savior.  Everything about Christianity centers on Christ, and the Spirit’s work is to keep us focused on Christ.

The phrase in the Nicene Creed, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” is based on verse 26.

It is not only the Holy Spirit who testifies about Jesus.  The disciples (learners, followers) are to become apostles (those sent on a mission).  They who were eye-witnesses to what Jesus said and did are sent to bear witness to him.  Earlier, in Mark 13:11, Jesus tied together their witness, the Holy Spirit’s witness, and persecution for that witness.  He said: “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.  Just say what is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”  While the injunction to testify about Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit’s assistance were given to the first disciples, Christians today have the same mission and the same promise.

 

“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you.   

You’ve probably heard the maxim “forewarned is fore-armed.”  If persecution came as a sudden and violent surprise, followers could become disillusioned and fall away from faith.  Jesus prepared his disciples for what would come, so that they would be forewarned and fore-armed. To be put out of the synagogue meant not only excommunication from one’s religious community, but also ostracism from family and friends.  This was a threat to keep dissenters in line; and it was the experience of Jewish believers in Christ.  Misguided zealots would go further.  From Stephen to the Christians Saul (later named Paul) captured and condemned to death, following Jesus would mean execution.  The hatred Jesus spoke of in the verses earlier would be acted out by people who convinced themselves that they were doing God’s work.  Such extremism was the result of their refusal to believe who Jesus is and, therefore, who the Father is.  “Their time” would come, and tradition tells us that all the disciples except John died as martyrs (the word means “witness”).

Till this point, the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus hadn’t needed to so bluntly prepare his disciples for the cost of discipleship.  He hints at his ascension to heaven as he informs them of what lay ahead.  May we be forewarned and fore-armed for the opposition that our faith may meet.

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:

We live in a world of gray, moral positions muddied and religious convictions blurred.  So-called postmodernism makes truth indistinct, whatever one believes to be true.  Into this gray world Jesus speaks black-and-white truth.  What contradicts his word is falsehood.  There are choices to be made.  One cannot have one foot in the world and the other in the kingdom of God.  Think about some of the choices God is calling you to make, and the impact those choices have on who you are.

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT:

Read John 17:14-18, where in his prayer to the Father Jesus identifies his followers as IN but not OF the world.  What does that mean in practical terms?  What happens if Christians withdraw from the world?  What happens if they adopt some of the worldview of the world and appear to be OF the world?  How do we live out the delicate balance of IN but not OF the world?

 

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT:

There are Christians living under the threat of death for their faith, especially in areas of the world where radical Islam is in control.  Pray that these brothers and sisters in faith will have the courage to face persecution and the peace in knowing that they are by that persecution identified with their Savior.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT:

One way that Christians testify about Jesus is with letters, emails, text messages, and social media posts.  Choose one such means and at least one person to whom you can testify for Jesus.  Many have found that quoting a Christian author, attaching an article, or suggesting a book is an effective way to testify to someone who is uncertain about what to believe.

To learn more about the persecution of Christians around the globe, look on-line at the website for “Voice of the Martyrs.”

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Read 1 Peter 4:12-19 where this apostle, soon to be martyred, talks as Jesus did about the suffering for the faith that a Christian can expect.


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What He Said Week 10

Study Ten:  LOVE IS A VERB

 

TAKING IT IN:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

 

GETTING AT IT:

Of course, love is a noun describing an emotion. . . better yet, a commitment.  But love needs an object, and that makes it a verb.  And love must express itself in action.  John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.”  The world is the object of God’s love.  The gift of Jesus to save the world is God acting out his love.  And that is commitment. 

Similarly, a disciple’s love is focused on the Savior, the object of our love; and that love must express itself.  Worship is one way in which we express our love for Jesus. Shortly before his capture in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus patterned a disciple’s love on the love he has for his Father.  Two dimensions of that love are emphasized.  The first is to stay so close to the One we love that we are inseparable from him.  The second is obedience, voluntarily choosing to be and do what the Savior asks of us.  And Jesus characterizes that obedience, above all, as loving each other. This is a disciple’s commitment.

God’s love for us is at the heart of the Gospel.  Our love for him is the motive and nature of the Christian life.  And love for each other is how that Christian life expresses itself for the world to see. 

 

DIGGING INTO IT:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 

Here is another of the “I AM” metaphors Jesus used to describe himself and his mission.  A vineyard was a common object lesson in Scripture.  Psalm 80:8-16 and Isaiah 5:1-7 are examples, where the vineyard is God’s chosen people.  Jesus used the vineyard illustration as an indictment of his unfaithful people (Matthew 21:33-45).  When he calls himself here the true vine, he may be contrasting himself with Israel, for he is faithful.  If these words were spoken in the upper room, his reference might be to the “fruit of the vine” with which he instituted the Lord’s Supper.  And if he spoke these words on the way to his capture in the garden, he and his disciples may have passed the gate of the temple which was adorned with a golden vine.  He, not the temple, is the true vine that connects people with their God.

 

These are the roles in Jesus’ metaphor.  God the Father is the gardener, whose role is to prune branches in order to make them more productive and to cut off unproductive branches that are in reality dead.  Jesus is the vine, which creates and keeps the branches, providing the nourishment that enables them to bear fruit.  Disciples are the branches, who are to cling to the vine and produce increasing fruit. In Scripture, “fruit” means both acts of love and service (Matthew 7:16-20) and the virtues of Christian character (Galatians 5:22-23).  Fruit is the result of being saved by Jesus.  Hebrews 6:9 uses the expression “things that accompany salvation.”  It is worth thinking about the fact that branches simply express what they are in bearing grapes.  It is in the nature of Jesus’ followers to bear Christian fruit.

 

Here are the lessons in Jesus’ metaphor:

  • There is no such thing as a fruitless Christian. In whatever form and to whatever degree, Christians serve God and others.  No fruit at all means no Christian.  (verse 2)
  • Pruning may hurt, but it is necessary to our purpose in life. Pruning includes the hard lessons of repentance, the trials that are a part of life in a fallen world, and the hardships that may come as a result of confessing Christ.  We become more godly and more effective in our witness as a result of such pruning.  (verse 2)
  • The sins that would separate us from Jesus the Vine have been cleansed away by the Gospel of his perfect life and redeeming death for us. (The word translated “prune” is also translated “clean.”)  (verse 3)
  • While we don’t choose or decide to be a branch connected to Jesus by faith, remaining with Jesus is a choice. (verse 4)
  • On our own, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing that pleases God. Good works, acts that honor God, are a fruit of faith.  (verses 4-5)
  • Becoming more fruitful, growing in our faith and its expression, is Jesus’ intent and our goal in life. (verse 5)
  • The decision not to remain connected to Jesus by faith and not to bear fruit ends in flames, eternal flames. (verse 6)
  • When we remain with Jesus in faith and know his Word, our prayers are answered according to Jesus’ will – which is for us to grow and serve. (verse 7)
  • The Christian life has two chief goals – to give glory to God and to witness to Jesus. (verse 8)

 

 

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”

 

Jesus now helps his first disciples and us to understand what the commitment of discipleship means.  Again, bullet points may be the best way to apply his words.

  • Knowing that Jesus and his Father love you is essential to the Christian life. Insecurity and doubt rob us of the will and power to live as disciples.  We remain in the love of Jesus as we are continually reminded by his Word of all that his love means.  (verse 9)
  • Loving obedience to Jesus’ words, not slavish obedience, keeps the love connection to Jesus strong. The loving obedience of Jesus on earth to his Father in heaven is the pattern for our relationship with Jesus.  (verse 10)
  • Loving obedience brings ever-increasing joy, the kind of joy that Jesus experienced in his obedience to his Father. When we see life the way Jesus’ does, we find joy in living life Jesus’ way.  (verse 11)
  • Selfless love for other Christians, like the self-sacrificing love of Jesus, is the most apparent obedience to Jesus. (verse 12)
  • Jesus’ love was epitomized in his death for his followers. In times of persecution Christians may similarly choose death rather than betray their brothers and sisters in faith.  In 1 John 3:16 the apostle described love with these words: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  (verse 13)
  • Disciples are more than servants; they are Jesus’ friends, because he has revealed to them the whole of God’s mission on earth. They are insiders who “get it.”  They have bought into the Savior’s mission and are involved in its completion.  (verses 14-15)
  • While common practice in the first century was for a young person to choose a mentor and ask to follow him, Jesus chose his disciples. All who follow Jesus in faith are chosen by God.  We don’t choose him.  Like every other aspect of God’s grace, coming to faith is God’s doing in us, God’s gift to us.  (Ephesians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5)  (verse 16)
  • The Savior’s purpose in choosing us, calling us to faith, is that we produce the fruit of faith – “life product” that has eternal significance. (verse 16)
  • When we understand our purpose and buy in, our prayers reflect this and are answered. (verse 16)
  • Boiled down, the will and command of Jesus is that Christians love one another. In John 13: 34-35, Jesus put it this way: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”   (verse 17)

 

 SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:

What does it mean to be loved by God?  How does that truth impact your self-image?  How does it answer your anxieties?  How does God’s love free you from the fear that you’ll look foolish or be criticized for living out your faith?  How does it affect your prayer life? 

What does it mean to be a “friend” of Jesus?  Think about the things that a human friendship adds to your life and ramp those up to what it means to have the Son of God as your friend.  The hymn “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” can help your devotional thinking.

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT:

Ephesians 2:10 says: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  As you discover the talents with which you were created and the spiritual gifts God has invested in you, talk about how that may inform the “fruit of faith” God designed you uniquely to accomplish in your life.  How does who you are direct what you do in the service of your Lord?

Discuss the connection between loving obedience to Jesus and joy in your life.  We become unhappy people when we disregard or disobey God’s will for us.  Think about the Ten Commandments as directions for joy.  Sin is the ultimate joy-robber.

 

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT:

Ask God to show you how he may be glorified in and through your life this week.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT:

Choose one act of love for another Christian that may be unexpected and that can cause that person to think about Jesus.

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Spend time with 1 John 4:7-21 as you go deeper into an understanding of love.
 

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What He Said Week 9

TO THE COMMITTED

 

Study Nine: WHERE YOU’RE GOING AND HOW TO GET THERE

 

TAKING IT IN:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

GETTING AT IT:

When were Jesus’ disciples “all in?”  Was it when they left their jobs to follow him, not sure exactly what that would mean?  How about when in John 6 many walked away disillusioned and Jesus said to the twelve: “You do not want to leave too, do you?”  Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Then there was that time, as they were about to travel into harm’s way in Judea, that Thomas said: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  Still, on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, there was confusion, uncertainty, cracks in their commitment.  Their faith was confirmed after Jesus’ resurrection, of course, but maybe “all in” best describes the disciples on Pentecost with the Holy Spirit’s coming.

The fact is that discipleship is a growing thing, with spiritual pratfalls and leaps forward, as the Spirit through the Word increases our understanding and matures our faith.  God isn’t finished with us yet.  The important issue isn’t when the twelve were all in, whatever that means.  What is important is that Jesus was all in on his disciples, and for you and me.  As the ultimate expression of Jesus’ commitment approaches, his death for sinners, he speaks to the committed words of comfort and encouragement, truth and love. 

What commitment means probably has as many definitions as there are Christians, with each of us facing our own doubts and challenges as well as times of spiritual awe and lucidity.  Help us, Lord, to follow you.

 

DIGGING INTO IT:

In 1 Corinthians 15:19, the apostle Paul wrote: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”  Jesus’ disciples had been promised persecution, not prosperity.  Like their Master, they would face hardships and trials in the pursuit of his mission.  Yes, there are countless blessings in this life that accompany faith in Jesus: peace with God and the loving fellowship of other Christians.  But the real “win” for a follower of Jesus is in the next life, when being with him is forever. In the Upper Room before his capture in the garden, Jesus lifted the sights of his disciples, past the anxiety and uncertainty of the next three days to the everlasting life he would earn for them at the cross.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Of course the disciples’ hearts were “troubled.”  Jesus had informed them that his death was imminent.  He’d spoken of betrayal and denial in their midst.  Their anxiety was ramped up when he told them he’d be with them only a little while longer and that they couldn’t come where he was going. Because they couldn’t understand what was coming, he urged them to believe, to trust the God who governs the universe and his Son whom they had come to know so well. That is the fall-back position of the committed.  When we don’t understand what is and fear what’s coming, we trust the God who loved us so much that he watched his Son suffer so we wouldn’t and the Savior who took on our guilt so we could share his glory.  The cross would cement their commitment, and ours.

Rooms, homes, dwelling places, mansions – the translations are varied, but the point is clear.  There is a place for us with our God in eternity, plenty of room for the many who believe.  Like the perfect host, Jesus would ascend to make everything perfect for our arrival.  In his timing, he will take us to be with him.  On the last day, he will raise buried bodies and reunite them with the souls who are with him.  He will come back.  Jesus didn’t provide details about what and where heaven is.  The important message is that followers will be with him.  To be with Jesus is everything.  So that they would be sure, he made a statement that was almost a question: “You know the way to the place where I am going, right?

 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Leave it to Thomas to say what the others were, no doubt, thinking.  His blunt honesty when he missed Jesus’ Easter appearance to the other disciples further captures his personality.  The resurrection and ascension would clear all this up, but in the moment it was confusion expressed. Jesus patiently answers Thomas’ question, and ours, with the most explicit and exclusive statement defining Christianity.  Jesus is the way to eternal life with God.  Not one of many different religious paths, but the only way to know and be with God.  Jesus is the truth, truth about God and about us and about life and about eternity.  Not a truth, as though different people can have different and contradictory truths; Jesus is and teaches absolute truth.  Jesus is the life, the creating source of all life and the one who renews life for people dead in their sin and ignorance.  All this is true because Jesus is one with God the Father.  He is God in human flesh; so when you see Jesus, you see God. . . not physical characteristics, but who and what God is.  At the beginning of John’s Gospel we’re told: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

 

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

The cynical challenge of every atheist and the deep longing of every Christian is to see God.  Philip gets it, and yet he missed the point.  He added one plus one plus one and got three; but the Trinity isn’t math.  One God in three persons; and Philip was looking at the second person of the Trinity.  (Jesus adds the Holy Spirit just a few verses later in John 14.)  The three persons of the Trinity speak the same truth.  They work together to accomplish one and the same will and plan. 

What the Greek word for “in” conveys is immense.  That Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in his Son means intimate oneness, inseparable unity.  The Trinity is not irrational, it is supra-rational, above and beyond the mere rational.  You’d expect no less from your God.  So significant is this that in John 17 Jesus repeats this oneness theme.  “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (verse 11) “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” (verse 22)   The oneness of the persons of the Trinity is the pattern for the oneness of Christians; and oneness with God is the goal of every Christian’s faith.

Admittedly, this is deep stuff.  We won’t plumb the depths of truth about our God and his will until we are with him, one with him.  But this isn’t some “leap” of faith.  Jesus points Philip to the fact that he knows Jesus.  He has been with Jesus and experienced the evidence of his deity.  Philip has heard the words of Jesus, words that are self-authenticating truth resonating with his soul.  Philip has witnessed the miracles which testify to divine power and authority.  Now, through Holy Scripture, we also have known and heard and seen.

 

12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Discipleship is imitating Jesus, doing what he did.  His mission has become ours, his words our words.  But how believers “will do even greater things” is difficult to comprehend.  Jesus connects this “greater things” with his ascension, and that’s the key.  The ascended Jesus governs our world for his church, and he sends the Holy Spirit to work in and through believers.  Jesus accomplished everything necessary for salvation, but he left to his church the completion of his mission – the conversion of countless people through the Gospel.  The great miracle is the rapid spread of the Gospel and the millions saved by that Gospel.

“In the name of Jesus” can become a mere prayer formula.  It is so much more.  It reminds us and our God that Jesus has made us God’s children and promised to hear and answer us.  It means that we have bought into the will and purpose of the Savior as we claim his name, Christian.  It means that our intent is what Jesus intended for our prayers – “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”  Jesus wasn’t making prayer akin to rubbing a bottle with a genie in it.  He’s not promising to give us whatever material blessings we’d like (see James 4:3) or even the health and well-being of those we love (see 1 John 5:14).  As ambassadors for Jesus, pursuing his purpose and trusting his will, we ask for what glorifies our God; and he grants it.  This is praying “in the name of Jesus.”

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT:

The popular Christian song “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me begins with the lyrics:  I can only imagine what it will be like When I walk by your side.  I can only imagine what my eyes will see When your face is before me.  I can only imagine.  Then the refrain: Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel?  Will I dance for you, Jesus, or in awe of you be still?  Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall?  Will I sing Hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?  I can only imagine.

 

So, imagine.  The Bible uses imagery for eternal life of a wedding banquet, a mansion, a countless worship by white-robed believers, and more.  There will be no tears, no hunger or thirst, no heat-stroke.  Above all, there will be Jesus.  Think about what you won’t have to deal with in eternal life.  Think about the promises and blessings of being in the presence of Jesus.  And as you imagine, experience peace, rejoice and be thankful to God.

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT:

 

What would your perception of God be without Jesus?  Recognize how your answer may describe other religions.

How does knowing Jesus clarify your understanding of God and make him relatable?

 

To know Jesus better, talk about what he reveals about himself with the seven “I am. . .” statements in the Gospel of John: John 6:35; John 8:12 (and 9:5); John 10:7; John 10:11; John 11:25; John 14:6; and John 15:1.

 

 

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT:

 

As you pray, “Thy kingdom come,” be specific about people and places where the Gospel is needed and God may be glorified.

 

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT:

 

If a disciple is someone who does what Jesus does, what can you do to imitate your Lord.  Pick one example of Jesus’ caring, meeting people’s needs, confronting error or teaching truth; and find a situation where you can do something similar.

 

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY:

 

St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians is filled with the revelation of what has been called the “mystery” of Jesus.  Get to know Jesus better by studying Colossians 1:15-20, Colossians 1:27, Colossians 2:2-3, Colossians 2:9-10, and Colossians 3:1-4.


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What He Said Week 8

Study Eight: WORTH CRYING OVER
 
TAKING IT IN
 
26  As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the
country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27  A large number of people
followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28  Jesus turned and said to them,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29  For the
time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and
the breasts that never nursed!’ 30  Then “they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills,
“Cover us!” 31  For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32  Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33  When they came to the
place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on
his left. 34  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they
divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:26-34
 
GETTING AT IT
You can mourn the loss of your favorite team in the playoffs, but you’ll get over it. You can
mourn the loss of your youth in a mid-life crisis, but you’ll grow out of it. There is a deeper
mourning that can attach itself to your soul. To witness what human beings have done to God’s
world – from war and crime to corruption and environmental disasters, from injustice and
oppression to legitimizing immorality and rejecting God’s truth – that is a mourning renewed
with each newscast. To watch a loved one die of a horrible disease, while her children struggle
to go on with life, well, that is mourning that sticks to your soul. But there is a sadness each
Lenten season that summarizes everything worth crying over, a sadness that God the Father
shares with us as he watches his Son suffer and die for the sins of the world.
The processional from Pilate’s judgment seat to Calvary was marked by mourning. There were
Jesus’ followers, grief-stricken at their bloody Savior stumbling toward a horrific death. There
were residents and visitors to Jerusalem caught up in a story they couldn’t understand and crying
over the injustice of a good man executed by an occupying army. Jesus’ passion is worth
shedding tears over; and yet he redirects the mourning of the crowd toward the coming
consequence of rejecting him, their Messiah. That poses a question: what is worth crying over?
 
DIGGING INTO IT
Simon was a Jew living in the North African city of Cyrene who had come to Jerusalem for the
Passover. Cyrene, in what is today Libya, was home to a large settlement of ex-patriot Jews.
Mark’s Gospel identifies Simon as the father of Rufus and Alexander, probably because his sons
were known to many in the early Christian community. In Romans 16:13 St. Paul greets Rufus
and his mother as dear friends. Simon was staying outside Jerusalem and coming into the city
when he became an unwitting part of the Passion story. While Christian art depicts Jesus and
then Simon carrying a complete cross, it is likely that the upright portion of the cross remained at
the place of executions while the crossbar was carried by the condemned. That beam could
weigh 40 pounds; and depleted by exhaustion and blood-loss, Jesus could not carry it up the hill.
Simon is a poignant reminder of Jesus telling his followers that they must take up their cross and
follow him. Our cross is whatever suffering we endure because we confess the Savior who was
crucified.
 
Mourning was an element of Jewish culture. At the home of Jairus, Jesus encountered what
might be called “professional mourners” before he raised Jairus’ daughter to life. While the
large crowd following Jesus could not know the full significance of Jesus’ suffering and death,
they highlighted the tragic events that marred the Passover with their mourning. Should we
mourn for Jesus? He doesn’t ask us to mourn for him, rather to trust in him. He chose and
willingly carried out the suffering and death that were God’s plan for our salvation. Shed tears
on Good Friday, and every other day that your sins trouble you, because those sins are ultimately
responsible for Jesus’ suffering and death. But tears of gratitude are more appropriate, for Jesus
endured all this for us and our salvation.
 
There is an ominous warning in Jesus’ words to the mourners. Read Luke 19:41-44. Jesus wept
over Jerusalem because their rejection of the promised Messiah would mean unspeakable horrors
for the people of Jerusalem. In Matthew 23:37 – 24:2 Jesus again spoke of the coming
destruction of the city as Rome’s response to Jewish rebellion. These prophetic words would be
fulfilled in 70 AD by the Roman legions. People would starve in the besieged city. Children
would be killed. Many would hide in the caves of the central highlands, to no avail. Perhaps
some in Jerusalem would remember how the prophet Jeremiah foretold similar atrocities before
Nebuchadnezzar besieged and destroyed the city in 586 BC as God’s judgment on faithless
wickedness. (Jeremiah 16:1-4) Revelation 6:16 echoes the words of Jesus in a warning about the
terror of Judgment Day. Childlessness would be preferred in such times. A swift death would
be merciful. Some people in our day worry about having children in perilous times. Imagine
how much greater the anxiety when the world’s most powerful army is bent on your destruction.
“For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” This must
have been a proverbial saying at the time of Christ. Its meaning here may be: “If the Romans do
this to an innocent man (Jesus), what will they do when the nation is guilty of rebellion?” Or
perhaps it should be understood to say: “If you do this to your Messiah while he is with you,
what can you expect when he is gone?”
 
That Jesus was crucified between two unquestionably criminal men contrasts his innocence and
fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12, “He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with
the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.”
That the soldiers cast lots for his clothes was the norm at such executions, but more importantly,
it fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:18, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for
my clothing.” Read verses 39-43 of Luke 23 for Jesus’ words to the penitent criminal executed
beside him.
Golgotha in Hebrew means “place of the skull.” Calvary is the Latin word for skull. The name
may mean simply the place where executions take place, or it may suggest that the rocky
outcropping where Romans crucified looked from a distance like a skull. Visitors to the Old City
of Jerusalem can see from the city wall near the Damascus gate just such a quarried hill that
looks like a skull. (Tradition places Calvary inside today’s city walls.)
Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness can have a far wider significance, but in the moment he was
speaking about the Roman soldiers, who had no idea whom they were executing. Here is one
more suggestion that there are degrees of culpability before God. Ignorance is not an excuse for
sin, but it diminishes culpability. All are guilty of sin and deserving of eternal condemnation.
Those who knowingly reject God’s will and grace bear a greater degree of guilt. In the Lord’s
Prayer we ask God’s forgiveness “as we forgive those who sin against us.” Jesus here models
that prayer, as does the martyr Stephen in Acts 7:60.
 
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
In Matthew 5:4 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” What is
the place of mourning in the Christian’s life? What is worth crying over? While Christians have
reasons to rejoice and ought not be miserable, the reality of sin in this world and the longing for
our eternal home with Jesus are reasons to mourn. If you have lost a loved one to death, how do
you mourn?
 
SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT
It is amazing how many aspects of Jesus’ Passion were foretold in the Old Testament. How does
this confirm your faith in Jesus and his Word? While most of these prophecies are Gospel
promises, there are also prophetic warnings of God’s Law. The judgment Jesus’ pronounced on
Jerusalem has a greater realization in the judgment on the last day. In Matthew 24, Jesus links
these two judgments. How do Christians respond to the warnings of Judgment Day?
SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT
Ask God to relieve the suffering of those in the Middle East and North Africa who are innocents
in the midst of terror. Ask him especially for courage, faith and steadfastness in the lives of
Christians caught in such misery.
 
SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT
Go to Youtube on the internet and search for “Watch the Lamb” by Ray Boltz. You should be
able to watch a music video of a song depicting the experience of Simon from Cyrene at Calvary
with his two sons. It is a moving experience.
 
SOMETHING FOR FUTHER STUDY
Read Isaiah 53 and recognize how this “Old Testament Passion Story” explains the why as well
as the what of Jesus’ suffering and death.

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What He Said Week 7

Study Seven: THE PARADOX OF JESUS

TAKING IT IN

 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”     Mark 12:35-44

 

GETTING AT IT

A paradox is a seeming contradiction that is nonetheless true.  Two statements that seem to contradict each other are actually both true.  Here’s an example from Albert Einstein: “Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.”

There are many such paradoxes in Scripture.  Christian doctrine includes this paradox: there is but one God, yet that God exists in three persons.  Another example is that Christians are at the same time saints and sinners. One more: if one is damned eternally it is his own fault; and if he is saved eternally it is solely because of the grace of God.

The Bible presents paradoxes about the Christian life.  Jesus says that a person must lose his life to save it in Luke 9:24-25.  He teaches that the last shall be first and the first last in Matthew 20:16. St. Paul wrote that when he is weak he is strong in 2 Corinthians 12:10.

Human logic is inadequate to explain divine truth.  Through Isaiah (55:8) God said: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. . .  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Perhaps the most central paradox in Christianity is that Jesus is both true man and true God.  The Savior challenged the people in Jerusalem for the Passover with that paradox in Mark 12.  He followed that challenge with two more paradoxes, that the most visibly religious may be the least worthy and that the biggest gift may be the smallest amount of money.

DIGGING INTO IT

 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’  37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight.

Asking a question and making people think is usually more effective than just stating something.  Jesus used this approach often.  Every Jew understood that the Messiah was to be a descendant of David – David’s son.  2 Samuel 7:16 is a passage that led the people of Israel to anticipate a Messianic king who would occupy David’s throne. The politicizing of their Messianic hopes kept them from seeing the full picture of the Messiah that the Old Testament painted; and their self-righteous pride kept them from appreciating how much more they needed a deliverer from their sins than from the occupying forces of Rome. 

That Jesus is true man and true God is foretold in the verse from Psalm 110 that Jesus quoted.  (This verse is the most frequently referenced Old Testament passage in the New Testament.)  It foretells Jesus’ ascension to rule not merely a nation but the world.  (Conquerors demonstrated their victory by stepping on the neck of a vanquished king.)  Jesus had declared himself the Son of God multiple times; and it was for this that the Sanhedrin condemned him to death.  This time he does so by asking the paradoxical question, how can the Messiah be both David’s son and David’s Lord?  That the name LORD is used of both God the Father and God the Son in Psalm 110 is just one of many ways in which Scripture teaches what the Nicene Creed confesses, that Jesus is true God and one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Notice that Jesus mentions the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, also in verse 36.  In Romans 1:2-4 the apostle Paul makes the case clearly: “The gospel God promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Notice how Jesus testifies to the inspiration of Scripture when he names the Holy Spirit as the source of David’s words in Psalm 110.  Because the Bible is God’s Word, no passage is unimportant; and every passage is worth studying.  Jesus often revealed more in Old Testament prophecy than one might understand in an initial reading.

Notice also that just a few days before shouts of “crucify him,” Jesus still enjoyed popularity with the crowds.

 

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

This is not the first time that Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.  Maybe he exposes some hypocrisy in us as well.  The desire for recognition, respect and privilege can make our “image” more important to us than our heart.  It’s easy to quote the proverb “Pride goes before a fall” and fail to apply it to ourselves.  The paradox here is that sometimes those who appear to be the most religious are in reality the least devout. Jesus points to long, florid prayers in public and eye-catching religious garb as examples of outward piety that can mask compassionless greed.  There have been enough stories in our time of the moral failing of priests and pastors to take Jesus’ warning to heart.  Making too much of religious leaders can set up both them and us for a fall. 

Once again, Jesus warns that there is greater accountability and guilt for those who claim to represent him as religious leaders but distort his truth and his moral will.

 

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”    

On the temple mount there were courtyards outside the temple, for the Gentiles, for women and for men.  Jesus was positioned to notice one or more of the 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles for offerings.  The paradox he points out is that the widow’s “mite” was a greater gift than the large offerings of the wealthy.  What is remarkable is that the widow trusted God enough to give to him the last money she had.

Jesus frequently used object lessons like this widow and her offering to teach his followers.  The lesson is that offerings are given freely, not out of compulsion, and quietly instead of with show.  The lesson is that the giver’s heart is more significant to God than the amount of the gift.  The lesson is that a gift to God is better measured as a proportion of one’s means than by how much is given.  The lesson is that a great gift is the response of a grateful faith, which trusts God’s promise to provide for our needs.  Jesus was not disparaging the large gifts of the wealthy.  God blesses some with the ability to provide magnanimous support for his work.  Jesus did not criticize extravagance.  In chapter 14 of Mark’s Gospel Jesus commended Mary of Bethany for anointing his feet with expensive perfume.

 

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

In John 7:24 Jesus said, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”  Are there people and situations that we may have misjudged?  In an era of social media and so-called “fake news,” it may be important to withhold judgment until facts are clear.  Keeping an open mind is conditioned by God’s truth, however.  We cannot be open-minded about what God calls sin or error.  Still, are there issues or acquaintances about which you need to be more open-minded?

 

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

Here’s another paradox.  In 1 Corinthians 15:25-26, like Psalm 110, we’re told that the ascended Lord Jesus “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  Ephesians 1:19-22 says that God “raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at this right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all authority, power and dominion. . . And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.”  So, are all things “under his feet” now or is that still to come?  Or, paradoxically, how are both statements true?

The paradox addresses the reality that the ascended Lord Jesus controls our world, and yet evil continues to raise its ugly head.  How do we “walk by faith” within that paradox?

    

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT

Ask God to make you truly humble in your piety and your giving, confident that he knows what you don’t need others to notice.

 

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT

Be bold and trust God enough to give more generously.  Ask him to lay on your heart the ministries and charities to which you will direct your giving.

 

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY

Philippians 2:1-16 contains a summary of Jesus’ coming to earth to save us and ascending to heaven to intercede for us.  It reads like a creed or a hymn.  Based on Jesus’ humble willingness to take our place, St. Paul directs Christians to a life of selfless humility.  Based on the salvation we have because of Jesus, the apostle directs us to a life of purpose, living out and sharing God’s grace.


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