Saturday, February 27, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - Jn 3:22-36

"After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”" (John 3:22-36)

For a brief period of time, the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus overlapped. In this scene the disciples of both John and Jesus are baptizing people in different parts of the country but for the same reason at the same time. Baptism, for these disciples, was performed for those who repented of their sin in preparation for the coming Messiah. It was a promise made for hundreds of years and now, both John and Jesus were announcing that the time had come…repent and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Baptism was simply the action taken by the people saying, “I am not worthy, but I am ready.”
Some recognized the need to be humble, while others questioned the need to do anything different than usual. “Why would I need to wash again?” one asks. “As a Jew, I take purifying baths all the time.” And to press the issue even further, “Even if I did want to be baptized, which is better – the one performed by John’s disciples or the one performed by Jesus’s disciples?”
John the Baptist steps in and explains that this poor man has missed the point all together. The reason his traditional baths were not acceptable is because this man, like most all the Jews, had formed a ritual habit with no meaning. They performed the act but they did not know why. For if he truly understood, he would not be comparing baptisms. For it was not the baptism that mattered…it was the humility and repentance one’s heart. The water was simply and outward sign of the inward motivation of a person’s heart. IF the heart was not humble before God, the baptism had no meaning.
John then explains how his life reflected this humility. He tells both the questioning man as well as his disciples that he had come to serve a purpose. The purpose of announcing the coming of the promised Messiah. Now that Jesus was here, John recognized that he must decrease in popularity so that he would not distract from the attention given to Jesus. They were not in competition (as John’s disciples had begun to believe). Instead, John willingly steps aside so that full attention can be given to the one whom he had come to announce.
Truth be known, most people did not understand that Jesus was the Messiah. To them, he was just another man like John. But John knew this was not so. He tells his followers that Jesus is “not like us”. He is from above and the words He speaks are the words of truth. The one who believes in Jesus, believes in truth. The one who does not believe in Jesus, believes a lie. “And remember,” John might say. “Not everyone who is washed with water is really clean. Only those who are humble and believe what is true. In the same way, anyone can say they believe in Jesus, but if their heart is not humble and their life is not obedient, their words betray them and they do what has become ritual but not what they believe to be true.”
The choice is simple. We either trust in Jesus or we reject him. Jesus’s life and ministry has the single purpose of declaring the truth of who He is and his love for you so that you will chose the first.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - Jn 3:1-21

"Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”" (John 3:1-21)

Nicodemus was a man just like you and me. A man who heard of Jesus and knew He was someone special. A man who was curious and interested in learning more.
And Nicodemus was an intelligent man. He was a teacher, a religious ruler and a member of the Sanhedrin (similar to the Supreme Court of the United States). He knew enough to know that Jesus was unique - someone special - perhaps even sent by God. But his curiosity was not satisfied with just a passing knowledge. He needed to know more.
And so he went to meet Jesus at night. Perhaps he desired to go unnoticed by the cloak of darkness. We do not know. But the point should not be missed - while everyone else remained at home and created their own opinion of who Jesus was, Nicodemus left the safety of his surroundings to meet the great teacher in person. He did what we wish we could do and he asked the question most of us are asking as well: “Jesus, who are you?”
The answer Jesus gave may seem odd. “You must be born again,” he said.
That didn’t answer the question…or did it. It was as if Jesus was helping Nicodemus understand that who he was could not be understood like one who learns physics. Jesus is not a subject to be studied, He is a person to be known. If you want to understand physics, study the principles of physics. If you want to know God, then come to know Jesus.
Unlike the mystery and uncertainty of much in the world of physics, Jesus has gone to great lengths to reveal the mystery of his redeeming love for all the world to see. His death on the cross has been lifted high so that whoever believes, will not be punished for their sin but will be forgiven by the grace of God.
“It’s as simple as being born of water and Spirit,” Jesus tells Nicodemus.
Nicodemus knew well the water of baptism. John the Baptist had made that clear. “Repent,” he said, “Admit that you need a Savior. For you cannot be saved by some other god, you cannot be saved by your own efforts and you cannot claim ignorance because the truth has been revealed in Jesus. Choose today whom you shall follow. As for me and my house, we will follow Jesus.”
The repentance of John’s baptism is the beginning. One cannot believe in Jesus if they do not need a Savior. But once they admit a need, the way is made to be born of the Spirit. Born again!
As humans, we produce other humans. But only God, can give new life through freedom found in the Spirit. A Spirit that gives us eyes to see and ears to hear. A Spirit that releases us from the bondage of sin and gives us the power to follow Jesus with all our heart and soul. It is a light that reveals our path to knowing God. And without the Light, we cannot see truth.
But Jesus is a light we often avoid because the darkness of ignorance and disregard is much easier to accept. Ignorance is bliss…so they say. Darkness excuses our sin. But the light of Jesus exposes our need for a Savior. And once His light is revealed, every man is without excuse.
Be like Nicodemus. Don’t hide behind your accomplishments, influence and success. Do not be satisfied with ignorance. Seek to find Jesus and in your prayers, ask Him yourself, “Who are you?”
Read these verses again and again. For in them, he answers your question.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - Jn 2:12-25

"After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." (John 2:12-25)

After the wedding at Cana, Jesus would travel (along with thousands of other Jewish people) to the capital city of the Holy Land – Jerusalem. The pilgrimage took place every year in celebration of Passover. This important festival event was significant for the Jews because it served as a memorial to their exodus out of Egypt. This exodus took place many years earlier as God miraculously delivered the Jews from oppressive slavery and led them to a new land of freedom. The Passover was a celebration of God’s faithful redemption. Jerusalem would serve as the center for worship and celebration of this most important occasion.
Like any big celebration where people travel from far off places, this must have been a festive occasion. So many people and such a blessing to remember God’s faithful protection. For most, it was probably one of the few times they were able to see each other. What a reunion and exciting festival this must have been!
But it was to be more than just a big party. At least it should have been.
In order to preserve the intent of the celebration, God instructed the people to bring a sacrifice. And not just any sacrifice. It must be an animal from their own flock that was without blemish. In other words, the people were supposed to give their very best to God.
The sacrifice had a number of purposes, but one of the simple reasons was that it helped the people remember what they were celebrating. When they had to give up something of such value within their culture, it caused them to ask the question, “Why am I doing this?” The sacrifice was God’s way of helping them remember His faithful blessing and avoid getting lost in a big party atmosphere.
Yet, over time, the original intent of this sacrifice was missed. Instead of worrying about the hassle of bringing your own animal, the people could travel in and buy one at the temple when they arrived. It was a great opportunity for the religious leaders to make lots of money and people could avoid the personal sacrifice of using their own animal.
When Jesus witnessed what had evolved over time, he became angry. He was angry because the people had missed the point. Instead of celebrating God, they simply showed up to party. Instead of redirecting the people, the religious leaders actually made it worse by promoting the indulgence and made money from the ignorance of the people. Their own satisfaction and pleasure became more important than God. Jesus knew this was not right. He turned over the money tables and said, “You will not make God’s holy place a market place!”
It’s important to understand that religious activity is meaningless in and of itself. God cannot be appeased by simply going through the motions. He deserves our very best and anything less is an unworthy sacrifice. He would soon demonstrate the most worthy sacrifice of all – His own life for you!

Life of Christ Devotional - Jn 2:1-11

"On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him." (John 2:1-11)

In these verses John records the first known miracle of Jesus. It takes place at a wedding in the city of Cana. And it’s important to know that weddings in this culture were a very special event. In fact, they usually lasted an entire week and the celebration was a significant social occasion. Even more so for the host, who had the responsibility to keep everyone well fed and entertained.
Jesus’ mother, Mary, must have shared this responsibility of hosting as she comes to Him with an urgent concern – they are out of wine! This is no small issue. It was the main drink of the meal and an insult for the host not to be able to provide for the guests. Not to mention, this family was not wealthy. Therefore, they couldn’t go out and just buy more wine. Mary knew they needed a miracle. Mary knew they needed Jesus.
But Jesus had a dilemma of his own. There was a specific time in his ministry where he would reveal his true identity to the world. A time where everyone could see that he is the promised Messiah - But this was not that time.
Yet, he loved Mary, and his desire was to help her in her time of need. And so He did. His newly chosen disciples watched Jesus take 6 stone jars used for ceremonial washing. These are large jars kept at the house of the host, so that as the guests come in with dirty feet from walking in sandals all day, they could use this water to wash as they entered the house.
Now, the instructions Jesus gave the servants of the house was not abnormal. He simply told them to fill the jars with water. But then he told them to dip into the jar… and when they did, the servants did not find water, they found wine. And not just any wine, but the very finest wine. The servants could not explain what they saw, but they knew it was a miracle.
Nothing Jesus ever did was random. He always had a purpose. Perhaps this miracle was used to build faith in his disciples, because when they witnessed what he did, John says, “they put their faith in him”. And the use of ceremonial washing jars was no accident either. Jesus came to make people clean. The Jews believed the water cleansed not only their feet but made them right before God according to the Law of Moses. In this way, they believed they were purified – inside and out.
Now Jesus uses these same jars and gives them something, not to cleanse the outside of their body, but instead, something new. Something unexpected. Something no one else in that room could give them.
This miracle would be a sign of what is to come. A glimpse of the reality that the Savior of the world has come to purify us from our dirty, sinful lives in a miraculous way that no one expected or could ever do on their own. He sees our problem, he understands that we need a miracle and he provides a way that only he can provide. Jesus understands that we need a miracle and only he can give us what we need. Like his disciples, may we witness the miraculous life of Jesus and “put our faith in him.”