Monday, December 5, 2016

Pilate An Evangelist?

John 19:19-22
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

In chapter 19, we read of Jesus' sentencing, death and burial. There are lots of interesting details in this chapter, and different characters who play a part in this last scene of Jesus life. You have Pilate, the soldiers, the two criminals crucified next to him, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and finally, Jesus' mother and her sister Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Notably absent are his disciples. During the sentencing it is clear that Pilate had his reservations. The charge the Jews were trying to convict Jesus with was that he claimed to be a "king". When the leaders added, "He even claimed to be the Son of God", this made Pilate even more nervous.

At the end of the day when Jesus is crucified on the cross, Pilate had a notice prepared that read, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews". Ironically it was written in all three major languages of the day, Aramaic, Latin and Greek. It is almost as if Pilate was the first evangelist proclaiming in all languages that Jesus was the King of the Jews. The Jews were furious with this, but Pilate remained steadfast saying, "What I written I have written." It is almost as though through Pilate's hand, the final Word of God was established. What irony that the Roman governor acknowledged Jesus as the King, the Messiah, and the Jews, his own people, wanted him crucified.

Throughout this chapter we also see Jesus fulfilling many prophecies, mainly from the Psalms.

1. "They divided his clothes and cast lots for his undergarment". This is an odd story in of itself. Why would these soldiers do this? See Psalm 22:18

2. "Not one of his bones was broken." When people were crucified, if they didn't die fast enough, they broke their shins so they could not push themselves up to breath. How cruel is that? See Psalm 34:20

3. "They will look upon the one they pierced." Zechariah 12:10

So at the end of the day although there were many human actors in the story of Jesus' death and burial including: the Jews who rejected him, his disciples who abandoned him, and the Romans who finally crucified him, God was in control the whole time. Nothing happened outside of His will and plan. The fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies showed that this event had been planned in God's time and sovereignty way before the actual events happened.

Sometimes we struggle to see how all the details of our lives fit together, the good ones and bad ones. But God is in charge of all of our days. Nothing happens in our world outside of His sovereign will. Most importantly, Jesus' life and death show that God has planned for our salvation from the beginning of time. Just as God used many people in bringing salvation through Christ, he uses us to continue to share the Good News of His love in His Son Jesus.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

How Easy is it To Deny Jesus?

Peter’s Second and Third Denials
John 18:25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” 26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

As Jesus heads to the cross and is brought by the Jewish leaders to the Roman governor, we see up close and personal Jesus' disciple Peter. Peter has many good qualities and loves Jesus dearly, but he always seems to put his foot in his mouth. When Jesus went to wash the disciple's feet Peter said, "Jesus you will never wash my feet". He was unaware of the purpose of Jesus taking the role of a servant, and the example he was setting for him and the rest of the disciples. In today's passage when the soldiers come to detain Jesus, Peter strikes off the right ear of one of the men with his sword. Jesus rebukes Peter and tells him to put his sword away.

Then, as things are looking worse for Jesus, Peter denies him not once, not twice but three times. In another gospel it says Peter "wept bitterly" after his threefold denial. You can only imagine what is going on in Peter's mind, as he goes back and forth from rising up in defense of Jesus, to denying him fervently. Remember too that Peter expected Jesus to be an earthly king, who would restore the nation of Israel. Peter has still not understood the nature of Jesus' mission and what kind of King he was. Even when Jesus came into the world, King Herod made a search for the one they call the "King of the Jews". Now Pilate asks Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus doesn't answer him directly but says, "My kingdom is not of this world, if so my followers would fight to prevent my arrest. But now my kingdom is from another place."

Peter's was looking forward to an earthly kingdom. He had hoped by being one of Jesus' disciples, he would reign with Jesus when he came into power. When Peter learned that this was not Jesus' plan, and that all of sudden his life was in jeopardy, he denied even knowing Jesus. After Jesus' resurrection, he will reinstate Peter as one of the chief leaders of the movement he started. Jesus knew all along this would happen, but he allowed Peter to experience his denial and then later to restore him.

Have you ever denied Jesus? I know I have. It is easy to follow Jesus when things are going well, but when they are not it is more difficult. When following Jesus causes us to go against the prevailing culture and make difficult choices, it is easier to go with the flow. If I were facing imminent persecution would I deny Jesus? Fortunately after the resurrection, Jesus sent Peter the Holy Spirit which gave him the courage, according to tradition, to defend the name of Jesus even unto his death.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Jesus' Last Prayer!

Jesus Prays for All Believers
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

In chapter 17 Jesus prays on behalf on himself, his disciples, and finally the world. In this prayer we see Jesus' heart for those God has given him, and all they would reach for his name. Jesus knows that he has showed his disciples everything they need to know about his Father, and now he is leaving them and entrusting him with the mission he was given. The mission was to make God known and to draw all people to Him through his own life, death and resurrection. To believe in Jesus was to know God and participate in the fellowship that God has within the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Now that Jesus is going back to heaven where he came from, his prayer is that the believers would be one. Jesus realizes that the world is going to hate them, just as they hated him. So he prays that God would protect them from unbelief and discouragement. And key to this protection is that they would "be one". Jesus lifts up the unity he has with the Father, and prays that this would be a sign to the world that He is in them and they are in Him. As John has taught all along, Jesus wants to know us and he wants us to know him in a personal and intimate. This unity protects the church from the evil one, whose primary tactic is to cause division and strife in the body of Christ.

As we look at the church today, we see a lot of diversity. There are hundreds of denominations of all kinds of "stripes" and "flavors". While there is nothing necessarily wrong with that as long as Jesus is still at the center, I think it does sometimes isolate us from each other. What is especially harmful is when there is "infighting" in denominations, or a lot of time is spent judging each other on doctrine, practice or whatever. Doctrine is of course important, as we need to guard against false teaching but it can also lead to pride and a sense of religious superiority. This is very much like the Pharisees acted in Jesus' day.

I find it more helpful to focus on what we have in common. What unites us is that Jesus Christ came into the world to show us God's love. He proved God's love for us by dying on a cross, and then being raised from the dead. It we start there, we have complete unity. When we argue and divide on theological issues such as "infant baptism" vs. "believer's baptism". or the "social gospel" vs. "the evangelical gospel" it can take our eyes off of the mission of reaching all people for Christ. If we focused more on what we have in common, we will spend more time working together to reach those who don't know Jesus. Jesus spent his time here on earth showing the world God's love through what he taught, how he lived, and who he loved and showed grace to all those he met.

How can you work to keep the unity we have in Christ? How can you keep an open mind with those who may not see things exactly as you do? Can you reach out to someone with a different theological stripe than you and work together for the sake of the Gospel, The one thing that is crystal clear is that Jesus wants us to be one, as he and the Father are one. By this the world will know that we are of Him if we love one another.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

How Can We Know the Truth?

John 16
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

More than any other gospel, John describes the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because one of the first false teachings at the end of the first century was called "Gnosticism". The word means "knowledge". This heresy denied the material world as evil, and the divine essence could only be accessed by a spiritual experience or enlightenment. Therefore a Gnostic could never acknowledge that God came as a human being, because the body represents the evil material world. So it was "antithetical" to the Gospel of Jesus.

On the contrary, Jesus teaches the disciples that when He leaves He will send the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a person and part of the Triune God. The Spirit is every bit as much God as the Father and the Son are. Therefore, while Jesus was a single, human person limited by space and time, the Holy Spirit would be given to all people as a gift from God who was God.

Jesus describes what this gift would do in their lives and by application ours.

1. The Spirit will guide us into all truth. Truth about who God is. Truth about who we are. Truth about who Jesus is and why we need him to be our Savior and reconcile us back to God. The Spirit will not only guide you into the truth about who Jesus is but also is a reliable guide for all of our lives.

2. The Spirit will tell us what is to come. Just as the Spirit worked through prophets in the Old Testament to predict Israel's future, he will give gifts of prophesy to those in the body of Christ that will help the body of Christ discern God's will.

3. The Spirit will always glorify Jesus. Just as Jesus always acted in concert with His Father's will and always glorified Him, the Spirit will take from Jesus and make it known to us.

If Jesus knew how much the disciples needed the Holy Spirit to carry on His work, doesn't it make sense that we would need the same help and guidance as well. Many people today misunderstand the Holy Spirit, which is a big problem. Why? Because it is the Holy Spirit who leads, guides and empowers us to continue Jesus' work and mission. Without the Holy Spirit we have no power to do the things Jesus did and promised us we would do as well. We all have been given gifts of the Holy Spirit to build the church so it can fulfill the Great Commission. No one gift is better than the others and there is no one gift who proves that anyone has the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God's gift to assure us that we are His children and works in us to make us holy and pleasing to Him. The Holy Spirit creates faith in us and the Holy Spirit will keep us in the one true faith until Jesus returns.

Give thanks for the power of the Holy Spirit. Learn to listen to His voice and obey His leading. Simply said, the Holy Spirit is the means through which we live out the Christian life and follow Jesus. Without him we can do nothing in and of our will and power.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Maximum Fruit Bearing!

John 15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 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. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 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. 5 “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."

There is not a better description of the Christian life than in John 15. Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine and its branches to illustrate the relationship he has with his followers. Branches cannot grow without being connected to the Vine, just as believers cannot grow without being connected to Christ. The natural outcome of the branch being connected to the Vine is bearing fruit. If there is no fruit, the branch is not connected with the vine and will eventually fall off. Whereas, if the branch is fruitful, it is pruned back to be even more fruitful.

The branch needs to be pruned because with its current branches it cannot bear anymore fruit due to its weight. Without pruning the fruit bearing capacity is limited to the one branch, and eventually that branch will droop and eventually break. But, as it is pruned, new branches can come forth to bear even more fruit than before.

What might this mean for us? First, we cannot bear fruit on our own. Without being connected to Christ, we cannot do anything that has eternal value. It is humbling to think that we can do nothing apart from Christ. We'd like to think that we can create our own fruit, and it is often not until we fall flat on our face that we realize we are totally disconnected from Christ. Though pruning is not always pleasant, after all who likes being cut, it leads to more productivity. Sometimes our lives get so full of so many different things that we can become vulnerable. We might have to cut back activities in our lives in order to be more fruitful.

Where does God need to prune in your life in order to be more fruitful? Are you connected to the Vine, or out on a limb trying to do things on your own? How would you know? Is there fruit being produced in your life that will last, or is it only temporary?

Stay in the Vine! Remain in Jesus and He will remain in You!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Real Peace!

John 14:25-27 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Chapter 14 is one of the richest chapters in all of scripture. It is hard to pick one set of verses, because there are so many classic ones. But I picked these verses above, because we often teach so little about the Holy Spirit. In John 14-17, we see a ton of valuable teaching on the role and work of the Holy Spirit.

As you know Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure, so he is giving them many comforting words of assurance. He tells them in verses 1-3, "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God trust also in me." Then, in 14:6 he says, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me." This is widely misunderstood as a narrow and exclusive teaching. When in fact, though Jesus is the only Way, this Way is open and intended for all people. Jesus paved the way for all people to come to the Father through Him. This was his mission to show how much God loved the "whole world" not just the Jews. John 3:16

But in this passage, Jesus teaches about the promised Holy Spirit that the Father would send to them when he left. He taught that the Spirit will do several things in the life of the believer. He will teach and remind them of everything He has taught them. The Holy Spirit guides us and reminds us of what Jesus taught and how to use it in our everyday l
ife. He is our guide for real life. But we need to listen to His voice. One of the ways the Holy Spirit guides us is when we read the bible, which is God's inspired Word. God's Word will never lead us astray and the Holy Spirit will call to mind its teaching. However, the Holy Spirit will never make us do anything. We still need to obey the Holy Spirit in its power.

Second, Jesus promises that He will leave them with His peace. This peace is not a worldly peace, but a peace that passes understanding because it is the peace of God. Again it is the Holy Spirit that gives us God's peace. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is "peace". Therefore, when we are walking in the Spirit, we experience the peace of God. And when we choose to walk away from God, we don't experience as much peace.

The last thing Jesus says in this verse is, "Don't let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." The opposite of peace is fear and anxiety. Many of us lose that sense of peace on a regular basis. Why? Because we let the things of the world become more important to us, or we are focused on our own ability rather than trusting in God. When we feel fear anxiety, it is a good reminder for us to return to God in prayer and surrender these things that have a hold of us. May you experience the peace of God tonight. It is Jesus' reminder that he is with us always and it is His promise and gift to us.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Are You Going to Wash My Feet?

John 13:3-8
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet. Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me. 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!

As Jesus is getting ready to go the cross the verse says, "Jesus had loved his own and was going back to his Father." So he chooses this occasion to show them the full extent of his love. Interestingly it says that God had put everything under his power. Jesus uses one of his last teachable moments to show his true identity, that of a servant. Part of what a servant would do was to wash the feet of the people at the dinner table. Being on the dusty road all day in the heat one can only imagine how nice it felt to have your feet washed. It was part of the hospitality offered by the host of the meal.

Jesus shows us today that he uses his power to humble himself and become a servant even unto death on a cross. When he goes to wash Peter's feet, he can't believe it and tries to prevent Jesus from doing so. Jesus rebukes him saying, "Unless I wash your feet you have no part of me." What did Jesus mean by this? I think he meant that unless Peter accepted the fact that Jesus would be a different Messiah than Peter had in mind, he could not be used by Jesus. Jesus was teaching Peter that the heart of the movement he had started was not using power to wield it over people, but to serve them. Jesus was teaching servant leadership.

We like to say in our churches, "Leadership has its privileges, we get to serve." It is tempting for those in power and authority to use it control people for their own ends. But Jesus' mission is to point people to His Father in heaven. This is why Jesus was so "counter cultural"! The Jews who were looking for a different kind of a Messiah had a hard time accepting this type of Messiah.

And if Jesus washed his disciple's feet, what did he expect them to do as his first followers? If their Lord and Master could wash their feet, they certainly could do likewise. Do you have the heart of a servant? Do you think of how can you serve others that you have influence with? Or do you think of how they can meet your needs? Do you serve God looking to get credit, or are you okay with God getting all the credit? Jesus taught this lesson by washing his disciple's feet. Whose feet can you wash this week?