Sunday, April 25, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - Jn 6:16-24

"When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus." (John 6:16-24)

From Mark’s gospel, we have a little more information than what John records. Specifically, we know that Jesus urges the disciples to go across the Sea of Galilee without Him. It is important to Jesus, having just cared for a very large crowd, to take some time to be alone. It is necessary for Jesus to step away from all the activity and pray. This was His pattern.
Somewhat reluctantly, the disciples head out in a boat to cross the large body of water on their way to Capernaum. The Sea of Galilee is known for its sudden storms. In the blink of an eye, they can roll in without warning. Nobody knew this more than the disciples. Many of them were fisherman, and this lake was very familiar to them.
The total distance of the trip was about 5 miles. However, the story tells us that the disciples had been rowing against a growing storm and they had only travelled 3 miles in about 6-7 hours. At this point in the account, they are literally in the middle of the lake and undoubtedly exhausted. Even for an experienced fisherman, this was a dangerous place to be.
It was about 3am and the night was very dark. The sea continues to grow angry and the disciples had been rowing for hours with very little progress. They were frightened for their lives, but they soon became terrified when the unimaginable occurred. Someone was coming toward them while walking on the water.
Jesus understood their fear and he answered their cry. “Don’t be afraid…I am.”
I am? I am what? What does Jesus intend to communicate with this announcement?
Well, to us, this is an interesting statement. “I am”. But throughout His ministry, Jesus explained this in many different ways. He says “I am the bread of Life”, “I am the light of the world”, “I am the door”, “I am the good shepherd”, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, “I am He”. On many occasions, in many different ways, Jesus declared His identity as Messiah and Savior. He is the God of all creation who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. Make no mistake. Jesus proclaimed this truth very clearly and quite often.
From this account, we are reminded that He is God and we are not. Like the disciples, we live in a dangerous and desperate world. It is dark and the sea of sin that surrounds us threatens our soul. We can row as hard as we would like, but we will only become exhausted and frustrated with the lack of progress we are able to make on our own. Like he did with the disciples, Jesus appears in our life to make Himself known. If you are reading this devotional, you should know this is just one of many ways He has revealed Himself to you in order to explain, “This is who I am…”
In response we can either let Him in the boat and give Him the wheel so that by his power, you can make it to the other side. Or we can continue to navigate life on our own without Him. He has made Himself known – the choice of faith is ours. Who is directing the wind of the sails in your boat?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - Jn 6:1-15

"Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Feast was near. When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." (John 6:1-15)

It is a rhetorical question. Jesus stares out into the crowd of thousands of people who had gathered, and he asks, “How will we buy enough food for all these people.” In order to understand the magnitude of the dilemma, we must understand the condition of the people in the crowd.
The verse begins by explaining why the crowd had assembled. It says. “the people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.” Not only does this describe why the crowd had formed, but it also describes who is in the crowd – those who are sick! This is not a crowd of nobles who could each donate enough to feed the crowd if an offering was taken. No, these are the outcasts - the sick and needy.
So look again. You are with Jesus on the top of a hill and you see a valley full of people. They are sick, impoverished and hungry. Jesus turns to you and says, “How will be buy enough to feed all these desperate people?”
It’s impossible! And that is what Jesus wants you to understand! The crowd of people has no means to provide for their greatest need. The disciples are helpless to do anything to solve the crisis. The question Jesus asks is intended to make this point as they stare at the crowd: “This is our responsibility. These people are looking to us for help. And yet, in and of ourselves, we cannot meet the needs of all those looking to us for our care. We must do something. But the need is greater than we can meet on our own. We need a miracle!”
So they turn to Jesus. This is what He wanted in the first place. Apart from Him, they could do nothing. Because of Him, they can do more than they could ever ask or imagine. The people are fed until their empty stomachs were full and there was food left over for later.
The people in the crowd decided together: “This is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
They were oppressed and He understood their need. No one else with such authority paid any attention to people of such low and despised social status. “If Jesus was King,” they concluded, “we could have bread every day. He is the answer to our social bondage. Let’s make Jesus King so that we can break free from this life of poverty and live in prosperity by His miraculous rule!”

It was the height of Jesus’ popularity. Could He have the kingdom without the cross? May it never be! Jesus slips away knowing that the crowd would crown Him as King for all the wrong reasons. They wanted Jesus to make their life better by meeting external needs – food, health and prosperity. Jesus came for a different reason. He came to restore spiritual health, to feed our hungry souls and to help us realize that although we may be poor in the eyes of the world, we are rich in Him… if we believe. Jesus did not come to reign from the throne of a castle…he came to reign on the throne of our heart.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - Jn 5:31-47

"“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. “I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”" (John 5:31-47)

It’s hard to accept the testimony of a person who self proclaims that he is God. Even if it is true, we naturally seek more “proof”. Jesus understands this need and so he reminds the people that there was a man who spoke about Him before most people even knew he was. Not only that, the people followed this messenger by the multitudes and many repented of their sins in preparation for the coming Messiah just as he asked them to. And yet, even though they accepted the testimony of John the Baptist, when what he spoke of finally arrived and made Himself known in the person and work of Jesus, they rejected Him.
Oh sure…it sounded great until He arrived and perhaps…well…he wasn’t exactly what they expected.
Jesus was a simple man from Nazareth, the small Galilean city of no special significance. His parents, Mary and Joseph, were everyday citizens of this small, nondescript city. He was not the royal king they anticipated who would make His introduction with pomp and circumstance – a sight to see - something no one would miss – a majestic ruler par excellence.
But it doesn’t stop there. John the Baptist was not the only witness. The ancient prophets, who spoke to the people of Israel, recorded their testimony in the sacred writings of the Old Testament. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time where scholars and they knew the scripture well and the words written by Moses. They were motivated by the assumption that in knowing the Bible, it would be credited to them for salvation. In other words, the more you know, the more likely it is that God will extend favor upon you and invite you into heaven based on the merit of your diligent pursuit of knowledge and religious duty.
Yet, despite their vast knowledge and religious ritual , they had missed the forest for the trees. Just as a person walks amidst a heavily wooded area surrounded by a multitude of trees, and even though he is able to describe every species and detail of the nature that surrounds him, but yet still scratches his head wondering why he cannot find the forest he has been searching for…so it is with the people Jesus is now speaking to. They knew all about Jesus…they just didn’t know Jesus.

Before we point a judgmental finger, we should realize how much we share the blindness of the audience to which Jesus speaks. In our current day, we have significantly more information and testimony about Jesus than they ever did. We too have the sacred scriptures of the ancient prophets like Moses. But we also have the New Testament testimony like those we are reading in the book of John. We can follow the formation of the early church through the letters of the apostle Paul to Christians in Corinth (1 and 2 Corinthians), Galatia (Galatians) and so many others. We have thousands of years of testimony of those whose lives have been changed, miracles of transformation, the validation of science and the created order of our universe. In other words, we have many more trees that surround us than they did. For us to miss the forest would be an even greater tragedy.
And yet what we also learn is that knowledge and miraculous signs are not the key to belief. Every decision to believe, no matter what facts may exist, is ultimately based on faith. One must exercise faith in evolution or politics. In fact, faith is even necessary to believe that there is no God. The question is not, “Are you a person of faith?” You most definitely are. The better question is, “Where have you placed your faith?”
Just as we seen in our verse today, Jesus knows our heart. He has paid the ultimate, most vivid, and public display of His love for us as He was crucified on the cross. The evidence is clear. The question is – Do we have the faith to believe? Pray for that faith today.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Life of Christ Devotional - Jn 5:16-30

"So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me." (John 5:16-30)

The religious leaders missed it. A miracle was walking right before their very eyes and all they could see was his mat. A lame man could now walk and instead of thanking Jesus or asking him how this could be, they persecuted him. They ridiculed him in order to discredit him in public. It seems to me that it would be an odd conversation to listen to.
“Jesus, how dare you, healing this man on the Sabbath. Now he walks and carries his mat. You have not healed him! You have caused him to sin by working on this most holy day,” said the religious leaders.
“This man has been lame for almost 40 years,” said Jesus. “Shouldn’t we all be rejoicing that he can walk at all?”
“Why would we?” argue the religious leaders. “You say he has been lame for almost 40 years. Why didn’t you wait one more day to avoid the Sabbath?”
“It would not matter,” Jesus said regretfully. “You would have found something wrong with that as well. You do not have eyes to see beyond your law, to observe the miracle and to seek the source of the one who has performed it. Do you not understand who I am? I am not a magician, or a criminal, or one who ignores the Law. I came that you may have life that only I can give. I am here for you! Everything I do is as my Father has instructed me. I do nothing outside of His perfect will. When you see me, you see God. And if you reject me, you reject God.”
The religious leaders understood what Jesus said and their anger raged. Jesus is claiming to be God in human form. This does not fit their expectation. They believed God would come as a powerful cosmic ruler from on high to restore peace on earth and give his people dominion over all the nations. Jesus is just a man. He did not meet their expectations and they left no room for faith.
They whispered to one another about what they could do to kill him in such a way that they could remain innocent in the eyes of the people. This was not going to be easy since Jesus was becoming so popular. All the more reason to do something quick before the loyalty of the people turned from the control of the religious leaders to the freedom found in the love of Jesus.
You and I can be guilty of the same mistake. Like the religious leaders, we can draw a conclusion in our own mind about how God should work. We can become so convinced in our own expectations that we leave no room for faith. This sinful pride and arrogance is an insurmountable barrier to believing and trusting God.
Instead, the one who is humble, who recognizes that he does not have all the answers and asks God to give him eyes to see and the faith to believe. This is the one who experiences the greatest miracle of all.
Today, put your expectations aside, humble yourself and ask God to give you eyes to see and the faith to believe.