Sunday, July 25, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - John 10:22-11:1

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp. Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus. (John 10:22–11:1, NIV)
John continues in His gospel now recording events which occur 2 months after the previous verses. The Feast of Dedication is what is known today as Hanukah. Once again, people are gathered to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem and Jesus uses this opportunity to address the crowd.
But notice that there is a cumulative effect that is occurring. The people have heard what Jesus has said, they have seen the miracles He has performed and they have observed His character in the midst of both admiration and accusation. Their conclusion: “This is no ordinary man! In fact, He is so extraordinary, it just might be possible that He is the Christ!”
The suspense was too great. We don’t know who it was but some brave soul had the courage to ask what was on everyone’s mind: “Are you the promised Messiah?”
Jesus responds by saying, “I have already answered the question by what I have said and what I have done. The evidence is sufficient, but you do not believe.”
Jesus then draws their attention back to the analogy He spoke to them just 2 months earlier. “Faith must precede understanding. You do not understand who I am and what I have done because you refuse to believe. Those who believe know my voice and they follow me. God is in control and whatever is true of God is true of Me.”
Well...they got their answer! But they didn’t like what they heard. This exposes the fact that those who asked the question had already made up their minds about Jesus. More accurately, they should have asked, “Since we know who you are not the Messiah…then who are you?”
It is clear from their response that they understood what Jesus said. He claimed to be God (because He is) and so they did what the law prescribed: “Kill anyone who makes a false claim about God.” (Ex 24:15-16)
Don’t miss this! Jesus has now openly declared, “I am God with skin on.”
The people responded with blinded eyes, “No you are not. We do not believe you.”
And so their confusion turned into frustration and their frustration into anger. Their anger would eventually lead to the unforgivable sin – denying the person and work of Jesus the Christ.
But on that day, the scripture says, “Many believed”. Did they believe because they understood? Did it all make perfect sense to them? In a word, “No”.
The difference between the two groups was this: One chose to lean on their own understanding and refused to trust in someone who had given them every reason to believe. Their understanding prevented their faith.
The other chose to believe even though they didn’t fully understand. There was no good reason to deny what Jesus had said to be true. Their faith preceded their understanding.
Where are you? Are you walking in faith with the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen? (Heb 11:1)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - John 10:1-21

“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter. ” (John 10:1–22, NIV)
As Jesus continues His ministry, the revelation of who He is becomes increasingly clear. He has just performed a miracle (healing a man born blind) that could only be done by the promised Messiah. This “Messianic Miracle” was anticipated by all the religious leaders but not accepted once it was performed. Instead, they found every reason not to believe.
Now Jesus explains who He is with an illustration. It was a story to help them understand what is difficult for their minds to comprehend. To do this, He takes a very familiar scene from their everyday lives. The shepherd was a common figure in this society and everything Jesus describes would have been well known to His audience. In the story, 3 main characters are identified – a thief, a hired hand and a shepherd. Each of these characters has a specific motivation toward the sheep.
The intention of the thief is clear. His goal is to steal and kill and destroy. He is does not enter in through the gate but climbs the wall in order to deceptively lure the unsuspecting sheep into his hands. The story does not explain his tactics but the people would know that a stranger among the sheep would cause some alarm unless he was able to entice them with a promise to satisfy a need. Maybe it was food or water but whatever it was, the goal was to separate the sheep and isolate them so that they could be removed. Once in his hands, the thief had a single minded goal of destroying his prey. He is more cunning than the wolf that boldly attacks and scatters the sheep. The thief is most successful because of his stealth and his deceptive promise of something good.
The hired hand is just doing his job. He is watching the sheep. He does not know the sheep and they don’t know him. He’s really not that interested. Remember…its just a job. And as long as he gets a paycheck, he’ll make sure everyone stays happy. But as soon as it costs him something, his commitment comes to an end. As long as everything is peaceful and calm, he is dedicated. But his loyalty ends when he is asked to sacrifice something for the well being of the sheep. His life is more important than those he protects.
But this is not the case with the good shepherd. He considers the needs of those under His care as more important than His own. His motivation is pure - He desires what is best for the sheep. He protects and nourishes them, not just so they can exist, but so they can live life to the fullest. To do this, the Good Shepherd leads them to places that the sheep have no ability to find on their own. In fact, they will not leave the safety of the protected pasture, unless he guides them to new places of green fields and still water. His loyalty is of such depth that He willingly sacrifices His own life in order to save His sheep.
The audience must have been listening and picturing in their mind the reality of the story Jesus just told. They could see the image He had painted, but they did not have eyes to see the truth within this masterpiece. And so Jesus explains, “I am the Good Shepherd. I have come that you might have an abundant life. I lead you beside still waters. And in the end, my life must be sacrificed so that your life can be saved.”
But what good is a dead shepherd? If this was the end, the sheep are destined to die at the hands of the thief. Therefore, Jesus goes on to explain, “No one can take my life without my willing submission to the plan of God. What you intend for evil, He will use for good. My death is temporary because my life is eternal. I will rise again.”
The reaction of the crowd would indicate they understood the magnitude of this statement. Some called Jesus a devil or a lunatic. Others are beginning to see that the miracles He has performed and the words He now speaks lead to an obvious conclusion. He must be the promised Messiah.
As you read these words and consider the life of Jesus up to this point, one cannot overlook the sincere effort of Jesus to explain who He is and why He came. Our reaction should be just as dramatic as what is witnessed in the crowd that day.
As C.S. Lewis writes,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him (Jesus): "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus came to give us life and to give it abundantly. His death is what gives us this life. As the Good Shepherd, He cares for you in the tenderest way and He fights for you with His arms spread wide.
Rest in His care. Trust in His love. Follow His lead.
Know today that you are the object of His deepest affection.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - John 9:20-41

““We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:20–41, NIV)

The interrogation from the Pharisees continues and the consequences are stiff. The Pharisees go to the parents to confirm the man healed was in fact born blind from birth. This was critically important because no man born blind had ever been healed. This miracle could only be done by the promised Messiah.
The parents confirm two things: The man was definitely their son and he was, in fact, born blind. But they were reluctant to say more because the Jewish leaders who were doing the questioning had made it clear that whoever confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, would be put out of the synagogue (excommunicated). They must have known that Jesus was the healer, and what it meant for Him to heal a man born blind, and so they kept silent.
And so the Pharisees go back to the man who was healed for a second interrogation. This time they essentially tell him what to say. “We know Jesus is a sinner. Just affirm this to be true and you are free to go.”
The response of the man challenged the Pharisees, “I was born blind. You are the ones who taught me that only the Messiah was able to heal someone born blind. The man named Jesus healed me. You tell me who He is.”
Now he was getting testy. And the Pharisees did not like to be insulted. They belittled both Jesus and the man He healed and established their superior position of authority as disciples of Moses. In other words, “We make the rules around here…you and that ‘miracle man’ are nobodies compared to us!”
The man insists that the religious authority made the rule that He could only be healed by the Messiah. The Pharisees refuse to accept their own teaching. They are changing the rules because their position of control is threatened by Jesus. They have determined that He is a sinner and not the Son of God. If this is so, how did a sinner just do what the Pharisees have taught for decades that only the Messiah could do? Their pride has blinded their eyes. They are the ones in need of healing!
Pride blinds our eyes to the truth. Only humility will give us eyes to see. The man born blind demonstrates to only right response when faced with the Truth that brings life. He said, “Lord, I believe.” And He worshiped Him.
Jesus continues to heal the humble. Do you have eyes that see?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - John 9:1-21

“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided. Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. (John 9:1-21, NIV)

The reaction of the disciples to the man who was born blind should seem unusual to us as we read. Did you notice that they didn’t even ask Jesus if He would heal the man? Instead, they questioned Jesus about the sin that caused his blindness.
The concern that it could have been the sin of his parents was likely related to the Mosaic Law where the sins of the fathers were passed down from generation to generation. (Ex 34:6-7) But if the man was born blind, how could it be his own sin that caused his blindness?
The disciple’s question reflected a teaching of the Pharisees which suggested that a fetus inside the womb had two inclinations – one to do good and one to do evil. In the case of a man born blind, he had chosen the evil inclination and the blindness was a result of his rebellion in the womb.
The response of Jesus denied all possibilities given by the disciples. It was not a particular sin that caused his birth defect. Instead, it was God who allowed the blindness so that Jesus might be glorified in the healing.
And so Jesus makes mud and smears it on the man’s eyes. Now, chances are, it was at this moment that the man could see. The problem was that he didn’t know it because he couldn’t open his eyes. They were covered with mud! And so, the man born blind never saw the person who healed him. Instead, he was instructed to go down to the Pool of Siloam. Again, this is unusual because it was not the nearest pool of water. In fact, it was a good distance away and the path was steep and difficult. But Jesus knew that since this was the feast of Tabernacles, the priests of the Temple and others involved in the celebration would all be at the Pool of Siloam filling jars with water. It was here that the greatest number of Jewish people would be present to witness the miracle. And so while they are filling jars, in walks a man with mud on his face and all eyes are on him.
He removes the mud and his blindness was washed away. But instead of rejoicing, the religious leaders begin an interrogation. And when they didn’t get a satisfying answer, they steal the man away and present him to the Pharisees.
Did you notice the focused attention on the fact that the man was born blind? The Pharisees even went as far as to interrogate the man’s parents about this fact. “Are you sure this is your son? Can you validate that he was born blind?”
And here is the reason this was such a big deal…this was a Messianic miracle! There were those who became blind who regained their sight but never had a man born blind been healed. That miracle, as the religious leaders well knew, had been reserved for the Messiah. They must validate the miracle and then they had to find the one responsible for the healing. But they had a problem. The healing had occurred on the Sabbath and the Pharisees had determined that this was not allowed.
Thus the dilemma: If they accept the miracle, they must admit the falsehood of their manufactured law to do so. If they reject the miracle, they must find something to discredit the healer because their own teaching made it clear that only one man could do what Jesus had done. In either case, they would have to relinquish control and allow humility to replace pride in order to accept the truth about Jesus. That is no accident. Jesus knew what He was doing.
And for you and I, the choice is the same. We can only follow Christ when we relinquish our own control and allow humility to lead our way. Pride will always prevent us from seeing the miracle of His redemptive work.
“Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)