He measures up
John 10: Everything he said about this man has come true.
The situation with the religious leaders in Jerusalem is about to come to a full boil so Jesus withdraws, out of their reach before making one last trip to that city. He returns to where his ministry began, out in the wilderness along River Jordan. It was here that John the Baptizer introduced Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior of the world. In ways similar to what happened in his earlier ministry in Galilee, people are drawn to Jesus and now they come in droves. In this setting the crowds can’t help but remember John’s glowing predictions concerning Jesus, made right here just a few years earlier. They conclude that John nailed it. Jesus is everything John said he would be. There’s something powerful about telling people about Jesus. Even as we make our pitifully inadequate effort to tell the story it’s Spirit-powered. Then, the moment our hearer looks toward Jesus something begins to happen in their lives. As it was with John, our role instantly begins to shrink and the role of Jesus begins to expand in their lives. Still, it’s deeply gratifying, yet humbling at the same time, when someone takes a moment to glance back our way and comment, “That’s the person who first told me about Jesus.” I want to do a better job of pointing the way to all who will listen.
Take away: There’s something powerful about telling people about Jesus.
Journey to sight
John 9: “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.
His journey to physical sight contained multiple steps. He began the day blind, listening to a conversation between Jesus and his disciples about himself and his pitiful condition. Then, Jesus turns his full attention to himself. The Lord takes common dirt, spits in it to make a sort of mud plaster, and sends him to “Sent Pool” to wash. He obeys and he sees! Now, he finds himself at the heart of an inquiry being conducted by the religious leaders. In amazing callousness they’re more interested in the fact that the healing took place on the Sabbath than they are in the healing itself. When the once blind man is asked about his healer, he says he is a man named Jesus. Later on, he’s had time to think about what has happened, and when he’s asked a second time about his healer, he upgrades him from merely being a man who made mud to proclaiming him to be a prophet of God. Then, when he’s pressed on the issue yet again, he decides his healer ought to have disciples, that he’s a man from God. Finally, when he literally sees Jesus for the first time at their second meeting, he worships him. His journey to spiritual sight has taken multiple steps and he’s now ready to worship. Obviously, this spiritual journey is extraordinary. Still, in this story we’re reminded that people come to the Lord step by step. Who knows? My part in someone’s journey might simply be to direct them down the block to “Sent Pool.” Someone else will help them at other key points of their spiritual journey.
Take Away: Clearly, there is a crisis point in which people declare Jesus as “Master” in their life, but there are also plenty of other less dramatic points in that journey too.
The power of the cross
John 8: When he put it in these terms, many people decided to believe.
The debate concerns the relationship of Jesus to his Father. His enemies listen for any misstatement, any slip of the tongue of our Lord, that they might pounce and score some debate points. Jesus tells them that they need to open their minds and stop thinking in such a small, earthly scale. Meanwhile, others are listening, considering and trying to decide for themselves about Jesus. Finally, Jesus says to his enemies, “When you raise me up, then you’ll know who I am.” The “raise me up” phrase is crystal clear to his listeners. Jesus is talking about crucifixion. In this culture, to be “raised up” is a very bad thing. Even as his enemies prepare for more debate and the crowd tries to digest what Jesus is saying, he continues. When he is “raised up,” as bad as that is, his Father won’t abandon him. Even to crucifixion Jesus will take joy in pleasing his Father. At this point, many in the crowd are convinced. If Jesus is willing to obey his Father even to a cross, and if he believes that even at such a terrible moment the Father will be faithful to him, they will believe in him. Such confidence and such a level of commitment is compelling. Once in a while I happen upon some profane, blasphemous use of the cross. The enemies of Christ are still among us and they think that the cross is silly or proof of weakness and defeat. For many, though, it’s convincing and compelling. In this passage, even before Jesus actually goes to the cross, it’s the cross that convinces them to follow. Never question the power of the cross.
Take Away: The cross convinces us of Christ and his ability to transform our lives.
John 7: If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
One of the big events in Jewish life in this day is the feast of the Tabernacles. Everyone moves outdoors for the event, camping out, and there are special worship activities at the Temple each day. Jesus is here, teaching at the Temple and many believe he’s the Messiah. On this last day, as the priest pours water mixed with wine on the altar Jesus shouts out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Jesus offers to all who will come what’s being symbolized at the altar. What an offer it is. To the weary one who has been worn down by their journey in life he offers himself as the Living Water. To the bruised one who has tried other things that promised satisfaction only to be disappointed and scarred by their effort Jesus calls out “Come to me.” To those hurting, confused, and broken Jesus offers healing, understanding, and wholeness. To you and me Jesus extends the invitation to come and be satisfied.
Take Away: The only one who can really satisfy our lives invites us to come and receive what only he can give us.
John 6: He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
Those living around the Sea of Galilee are going crazy for Jesus. They follow him from place to place and when he isn’t around he’s the topic of conversation. Jesus is a celebrity. When Jesus sets up shop on a grassy hillside near the lake, the crowd swells to thousands. It’s at this point that Jesus calls Philip over to ask him where they can buy food to feed this huge number of people. Philip, practical to the core, quickly does the math, responding to Jesus that even if there was a bakery nearby that there’s no way that they can buy enough bread for this crowd. In an aside, the gospel writer tells us that the Lord already has a plan and that they only reason he asks this question to Philip is for Philip’s own benefit. Philip, though, at least at first, misses the lesson altogether. He quickly estimates the size of the crowd, considers the cost of bread, and comes up with a figure of 200 silver pieces which, rather being enough to pay the cost of actually feeding the people, would at least give them a bite to eat before going home. Apparently, Philip is a fine bean counter. He’d probably have been a better choice for treasurer than Judas! Still, Jesus knows what he’s doing. He knows that Philip is a practical person and that he needs to learn to trust the Lord to meet needs beyond his resources. Know what? I think I’m Philip and maybe you are too. I’ve sat in church board meetings in which the first response to everything wasn’t “Do you think this is what the Lord wants us to do?” but, instead was, “Can we afford it?” Philip needed to have his faith stretched. We practical people do too.
Take Away: We need to be people of faith first.
Bible studies and prayer meetings
John 5: These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you.
It all starts when Jesus heals a lame man with the order to pick up his bed roll and walk. The wonderful miracle is lost on the religious leaders because it takes place on the Sabbath. Never mind the miracle, they insist, what’s this about telling people to carry things on the Sabbath? Pitiful, isn’t it. When these leaders angrily challenge Jesus he does nothing to calm them down. Rather, he identifies himself with his Heavenly Father and claims his support and direction in all he does. How in the world do they think they can win an argument with the man who just worked a miracle? Jesus moves on to point out that they, Bible scholars that they are, know all about what the Scriptures say about the Messiah. He tells them it’s time to get their heads out of their Bibles and look in the eye the one testified about by those very Scriptures. Silly religious leaders! They’ve given their lives to knowing God’s Word and have now missed the Living Word of God standing right in front of them. How could they ever think that Bible study is better than fellowship with the Lord who is right there with them? I’m glad we Christians today know better. We’d rather spend five minutes in the literal presence of the Lord than an hour of debating some obscure term from the Bible. Right? I know, I know, there’s a place for both. Still, I can’t help but note that Bible studies are generally better attended than prayer meetings.
Take Away: It’s better, if one must decide between the two, to know Jesus than to know the Bible. Happily, we don’t have to decide.
Rubbing shoulders with the “untouchables”
John 4: Open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you.
The disciples go into Sychar to buy some lunch. As good Jews they’re uncomfortable dealing with the Samaritans, but they steel themselves for the task, do what has to be done as quickly as possible and return to Jesus who, in their opinion, has wisely waited outside of town. To their surprise, they find him in conversation with one of “them” and a woman at that! Shortly (at least in my imagination) these disciples will squirm and nearly run away as the whole town of Samaritans surrounds them, pressing in on every side. This will be the first small break in their separatist views that will be broken wide open by Paul’s ministry some years later. Jesus describes this Samaritan village, not as a necessary evil, but instead, as a field ready for the Kingdom harvest. In the church we often pray that the Lord will help us find spiritually hungry people to whom we can minister the Good News of the gospel. Is there a chance that we’re like the disciples at this point? Are we overlooking the possibilities right next door? Are there people we carefully avoid who Jesus views as “fields white unto harvest?” Would the Lord have us (me) rub shoulders with some of these “untouchables?” I need to spend more time in this passage.
Take Away: If I’ll just open my eyes I might see some surprising spiritual realities.
Yielding center stage to Jesus
John 3: This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.
John the Baptist blazed to prominence in the land like a shooting star that, seemingly out of nowhere, lights the sky and draws the attention of everyone. Now, like a shooting star, he’s just as quickly fading from the scene as all attention is focused on a new “Sun” rising, shedding light, not just for a passing moment but for all time. John’s disciples are defensive about this. They believe in and support him and they don’t like it that his role is diminishing as Jesus is drawing more and more attention. For John, though, this is exactly how it should be. As he said when he introduced Jesus, Jesus is vastly superior to himself. As Jesus moves into the limelight John happily stands off on the sidelines cheering him on. I think there’s a spiritual parallel to this in the lives of those on the Christian journey. Once I acknowledge Jesus as the Savior of the world and as my personal Savior, it quickly becomes apparent that this Savior is also King of kings and Lord of lords. I understand that I need to stop being the center of my universe so that he can move to his rightful place as Lord of my life. I must decrease that he might increase.
Take Away: The only proper place for Jesus is sitting on the throne of my life.
Awe, Mom, not yet!
John 2: This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.
Jesus begins his public ministry, calling disciples and preparing for all that’s to come. However, there are also some family concerns. For one thing, there’s a wedding invitation for him and his new disciples. Apparently, the groom is a relative of Jesus and not only is Jesus there but so is his mother. The banquet is a big deal and when the wine starts to run low the groom and his family are in jeopardy of losing face because of it. It’s their job to provide the refreshments and to run out of wine is unthinkable. Mary, the mother of Jesus, realizes what’s going on and turns to her son, telling him to take care of it. Jesus declines to help, saying, “Mother, this really isn’t any of our business and I need to keep a low profile right now.” His response flows off his Jewish mother like water off a duck’s back. In fact, she doesn’t even respond to her Son. Instead, she looks to the nearby servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you to do.” With that, she walks off, returning to the wedding party. Jesus is, of course Lord: King of kings. He’s also his mother’s Son. If there’s a passage that illustrates the humanity of this God-man I think it’s this one. He’s not ready to start working miracles, but if that’s what his mom wants, well, he’ll do it for her. Aside from this being the inspiration for a Mother’s Day sermon that’s bound to get rave reviews from all the moms in attendance I don’t know what to do with this observation. Still, I think it adds a whole new dimension to the story.
Take Away: It’s important to remember the humanity of Jesus.