Minding my own business
John 21: Master, what’s going to happen to him?
John finishes his story of Jesus with the account of an early morning, and private, encounter with the resurrected Savior. Our Lord and his disciples have breakfast together and then Jesus and Peter go for a walk. Peter, who denied the Lord three times, is now asked three times if he loves Jesus. Each time, as a result of his declaration of love, he’s given responsibility in the Kingdom. By the third time, though, Peter is burdened with the repeated question. Jesus responds by explaining to Peter that his love will be his source of strength in difficult days ahead. He’ll be a prisoner and will be led to places he doesn’t want to go. In the midst of such a trial, Peter will find strength in his love for the Lord. Meanwhile, following along is the disciple John. Everyone knows John is Jesus’ favorite and Peter wants to know what’s coming for him. Jesus, though, isn’t going there with Peter. Peter needs to worry about Peter and not about the beloved disciple. I think we tend to concern ourselves with what God is doing in the lives of others too much. We forget that we aren’t called to make Christian clones of ourselves but are to “feed the sheep” and let the Master handle the rest of it. That doesn’t mean I’m not concerned when I see someone struggling or has even lost their way. Of course I’m concerned. Still, I need to be careful to love them and encourage them to follow Jesus and not be too focused on exactly how the Lord might want that to happen in their life.
Take Away: I love others and want to see them allow the Lord to lead their lives, but my main concern is to keep things clear between myself and the Lord.
John 20: He took a deep breath and breathed into them.
The story of the resurrection rightfully dominates the passage. If we don’t quite grasp some of the other things here it’s okay as long as we get that. Still, it’s worthwhile to slow down and, once we’ve freshly soaked in the power of the resurrection and look around a bit. Here we are, still in that first Easter and Jesus arrives inside a locked room where the disciples are gathered. On his agenda is this “breathing into them” event. He connects it to their receiving the Holy Spirit, using the word that we translate “breath” or “Spirit” to describe the event. In this they’re being invited breathe the breath of God. This is obviously related to the opening pages of our Bibles in which the Lord God makes human beings and then breathes into them the breath of life. Now, following the resurrection, Jesus symbolically breaths into his disciples the spiritual Breath of Life, the Holy Spirit. As we know, in the not too distant future, the disciples, likely in this same room, will be filled with “Holy Breath” as the Spirit dramatically comes upon them. One of the results of the resurrection is the potential of God’s people being filled with the new spiritual empowerment of “Holy Breath.”
Take Away: “Breathe on me, Breath of God.”
John 19: He sat down at the judgment seat.
Pilate doesn’t want to crucify Jesus. In fact, he wants nothing to do with him. His brief encounter with Jesus has been disturbing and dissatisfying. He senses that this isn’t just another internal squabble among the Jews. Something more is going on here. The accused man has self-confidence and something even more that Pilate can’t quite put his finger on. This business of his being “King of the Jews” somehow resonates. The Jews are using this to force his hand. After all, no Roman governor wants it reported to Caesar that he tolerates locals claiming to be kings. Finally he has Jesus brought to Gabbatha, and takes his place on the seat of judgment. He wants to get this distasteful business over with and to get on with his morning’s responsibilities. Pilate sits on the judgment seat and Jesus stands before him. He condemns Jesus to death. It’s the world turned upside down and it’s a situation that will be rectified on Judgment Day. On that day it will be King Jesus sitting on the judgment seat and it will be Pilate who will stand before him. No doubt, his part in the injustice of this distant day will be very much in play at that time. Of course, this scene doesn’t only concern Pilate. I too will have my turn at Gabbatha. My only hope is to right now make the Judge also my Savior.
Take Away: Now is the time to prepare for my Day of Judgment.
With friends like us….
John 18: Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?
When they come to arrest Jesus Peter takes matters in his own hands, attempting to defend Jesus with a sword. However, being a fisherman and not a swordsman, Peter takes a swing at the wrong person (a mere servant) and tries to take his head off (but misses). He ends up cutting off his ear instead. Luke tells us that Jesus performs a miracle, reattaching the ear. He also tells Peter that in his Kingdom sword play isn’t allowed. Now, as Jesus is being tried Peter warms himself by the fire in the courtyard but people keep suggesting that he might be one of the disciples of Jesus. Peter denies it, but one man is quite sure. In fact, he’s a relative of poor Malchus who, just a short time earlier, was on the receiving end of Peter’s sword. Obviously, it’s in Peter’s best interest for this man to not know he’s the “ear-cutter-off-er”! I don’t know whether or not this man knows the rest of the story, what Jesus did for Malchus and what he told Peter, but I can’t help but think his opinion of Jesus and his followers isn’t all that high right now. “Oh yeah, I know about followers of Jesus, they pretend to be all spiritual and holy but I had one try to cut off my head one time.” Sad to say there are a lot of Christian sword swingers out there. They go about saying and doing mean things, hurting feelings, and acting downright hateful; all in the “Name of Jesus.” They think they’re doing something good for the Lord but all they’re doing is alienating people and slandering the Name of the One they think they’re serving.
Take Away: Sword play isn’t allowed in the Kingdom of God.
Listening to Jesus pray
John 17: Father, it’s time.
This great prayer of Jesus has three parts. The first section concerns our Lord’s relationship with his Father. All that has happened and will happen is done for the purpose of displaying the glory of God, a glory shared by Father and Son; a glory that has existed since before the world began. Second, Jesus prays for his disciples. He’s going to depart, but they’re going to stay. His purpose of bringing glory to the Father will now be their purpose. Jesus prays that everything about his disciples will accomplish that purpose and that they’ll be protected from all that might distract from their mission. Third, Jesus prays for future believers. Again, there’s a prayer for unity of heart and purpose. Our Lord prays that the believers will give evidence that Jesus is the one sent from God because of his love for us. Jesus concludes his prayer by asking the Father to gather all believers to himself, where they can bask in the glory of the Lord, united in love for God and for one another. This passage, my friend, is holy ground. We’re allowed to listen in to a conversation within the Godhead. We witness the Son’s communion with the Father and then, we’re invited into the conversation. It’s humbling to be allowed in this place today.
Take Away: God’s people are considered “insiders.” What an honor!
Loved by God
John 16: The Father loves you directly.
Jesus has prayed for his disciples and he’s going to pray for them again. In fact, his great High Priestly prayer is about to begin. Still, he encourages his disciples to “make your requests directly to him” promising that the Father is ready and willing to hear and answer their prayers. The reason for this is because of their relationship with Jesus. Three years earlier they met Jesus. Some were out in the wilderness where John was baptizing; others were in Galilee as they went about their daily activities. They’ve now followed him for three years and during that time they’ve come to believe Jesus is the Son of God. In these final hours before everything changes, Jesus tells his disciples that the Father is quite pleased with them for believing in his Son. They’ve left all to follow him and they’ve loved Jesus and trusted in him and, because of that, their relationship with the Heavenly Father has changed in a wonderful way. From now on, when they pray to the Father, they’re authorized by the Father, himself, to pray in the Name of Jesus. They’ve loved Jesus, and now, the Father loves them all the more for it and they’re about to reap the benefits of being people who please the Father. I’m nothing close to equal to Peter or James or John, but I have this in common with them: I too love, trust, and follow Jesus. Because of that, in spite of my unworthiness and failure to really understand all that it means to me, I have the assurance that the Father “loves me directly.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I’ve had just a taste of it and what I’ve tasted is very good.
Take Away: It’s a powerful thing to be a person with whom the Father is pleased.
Love and hate
John 15: Make yourselves at home in my love.
On this night prior to the crucifixion Jesus talks to his disciples in terms of love and hate. He warns them that the same people who hate him will hate them. That hate won’t be about them as much as it will be about Jesus. His disciples will be so much like their Lord that those who hated him without cause will hate them without cause. Jesus also encourages them to be “at home” in his love. What an interesting phrase. To be at home is to feel secure and comfortable. It’s to be with family and friends, giving support and receiving the same. Jesus tells his followers to enjoy that kind of comfort in his love. He’s committed to love us even though he already knows our weaknesses and failings. While it’s true that I stand amazed in his love it’s also true that I have every reason to depend on it and to relax in it. So, there you have it. Out in the world we’re strangers, treated unfairly by people who don’t even know why it is that they don’t like us. On the other hand, we’re upheld by the undeserved, beyond-understanding love of Christ. All in all, it’s a pretty good situation.
Take Away: I want to be comfortable in the love of Christ.
Don’t leave home without it
John 14: Whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it.
Some of the most empowering words ever spoken are those of our Lord as he prepares his disciples for the soon coming events in these closing days of his earthly ministry. The clock is ticking and soon their world will be rocked in ways they can’t imagine. Still, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. As a result of all that’s coming they’ll do even greater things than what they’ve seen Jesus do. I think Jesus is speaking to them as a cooperate group and not as individuals. They won’t all go out and be messiahs in the world, but together, as the Church, they’ll transform the world in the Name of Jesus. They won’t be alone in their task. Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit, his Spirit, who’ll not only be with them but will be in them, empowering them to do his work. When they run up against impossible situations that threaten to stop them from carrying on his work, all they’ll need to do is call out to him and he’ll make the impossible possible for them. This “asking in Jesus’ Name” isn’t an open credit card that they can use for doing anything they want. Rather, this is all about ministry empowerment. Jesus wants them to carry on his work in this world, bringing the Good News of the Gospel to every nation. He promises them power for the task and he tells them that he’ll never be more than a prayer away. This may not be an all-purpose “credit card” but it is, I think, a mighty fine “Master’s Card” that I need to use more often.
Take Away: Jesus has provided us exactly what we need to do his work in this world.
Peter, stop arguing!
John 13: Why can’t I follow now?
It’s Thursday night before Jesus is arrested. He and his disciples are in the Upper Room and Jesus is in the role of servant, washing their feet. He comes to Peter, but Peter resists, declaring “You’re not going to wash my feet – ever!” Jesus, though, persists telling Peter that if he won’t allow this that he’ll have no part in what Jesus has come to do. Peter decides to give in, but if that’s how it is, he has a better idea. He wants Jesus to wash his hands and head as well. Once again, our Lord holds steady, explaining that it’s foot washing that Peter needs and it’s foot washing that he’s going to get. Then, the meal ended, Jesus tenderly commands his disciples to love one another. This, he says, will be their primary, distinguishing characteristic. As Jesus is stating these words, Peter’s focus is on what Jesus said earlier. He ignores the teaching concerning mutual love and wants to know where Jesus is going. The Lord patiently responds, telling Peter that someday he’ll follow but not right now. Peter is having none of that. “Why later? Why not now?” he demands. Then he adds, “I’ll lay down my life for you.” At this point, Jesus has had enough of Peter’s approach. Even as he declares his allegiance to the Lord his responses are always that he knows better than Jesus. At this point Jesus tells him that big time failure is coming to him, and soon. I don’t know whether to smile at Peter’s “Lord, I love you but I know better than you” approach or if I should wince and remember the times I’ve blundered ahead of the Lord thinking I knew what to do without asking him. How often do my actions betray the truth that I think I know better than God?
Take Away: A part of following Jesus is admitting that he’s smarter than we are.
The slam of the door of the Ark
John 12: First they wouldn’t believe, then they couldn’t.
John begins his countdown to crucifixion with a summary of Jesus’ relationship with the religious leaders of the day. Our Lord has spent considerable time with them and while those exchanges weren’t necessarily friendly, they were convincing. These men thrive on debate and Jesus gives them more debate than they want: winning the argument each time. He also proves his words by his deeds. On this very day Jesus is dining with Lazarus, the man Jesus called forth from the grave. At first, the leaders investigated Jesus and his miracles. At some point they saw the truth: that the miracles were real, confirming his identity. The problem is that Jesus isn’t one of them. In fact, he’s a nobody from an unimportant place. Surely, the Messiah will be an “insider” and not an “outsider” as is Jesus. They held back, at first, sure that they’d find a flaw in all this that would prove them right. When that flaw wasn’t found they hardened their position. Now, we find that they’re locked in to it. God has allowed them to be the unbelievers they choose to be all along. In this, the Lord didn’t have to shut them out. Rather, he let them be where they wanted to be all along. As I think about this, I hear the slam of the door of the Ark way back in the book of Genesis. I see the thousands of Israelites being marched off into captivity. I fear I see a future Day of Judgment in which people who would not believe are allowed to spend an eternity in that unbelief, apart from God and hope. It’s serious business to refuse to believe.
Take Away: Belief is a matter of the will.