Category Archives: John

Avoid Ceremonial Uncleanness

John 18 NIV
28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” 30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”  31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 

>§§§>

This is the story of a power struggle between legalism and truth.  The thing that shocked me most in this passage was the phrase “to avoid ceremonial uncleanness.” The goal of the Jewish leaders was the execution of Jesus through manipulating the power systems in place, not justice or truth.  The grim reality of their legalism is their shockingly clear response to Pilate’s question – “What charges are you bringing against this man?” – “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”  Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.”  The proof of their legalism was Pilate could achieve their goal to get rid of Jesus so they could avoid ceremonial uncleanness.   It was their choice to justify hearts that had found a way to work around God’s truth; “Thou shall not kill.”

I admit it, I have rules! The whole purpose of rules is to regulate behavior and exert influence. Neither of those is necessarily bad…until…they replace the truth that life with Jesus is how we are justified, not rules.  Have you even thought about “ceremonial uncleanness” in terms of your own behavior?  I certainly hadn’t, but I know I’m guilty of having used rules to justify my motivations and behaviors.  Legalism is believing rules or personal motivations can help you avoid ceremonial uncleanness. The truth of the Grace of God in Jesus is that the “the life I now lived in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”a  

a Part of Galatians 2:20 

Misplaced and Misspoken

John 18:15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door.  So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. 19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. ESV

>§§§>

One of the first words of Jesus’s ministry was “repent.”  Jesus told his best friends at their inner circle supper just a few chapters earlier that one of them would betray him.  “Simon Peter motioned to this disciple [Jesus loved] and said, ask him which one he means.”a  All but one man in that small group probably heaved a sigh of misplaced relief when Jesus revealed the identity of the betrayer; it’s Judas – it’s not me!   

Later when Peter stood outside the courtyard where Jesus had been taken, the other disciple “known to the high priest,” used his credentials to bring him into another inner circle place where his misplaced relief of innocence became his misspoken words of denial – “I am not.”  Peter surely heard those words of betrayal from his own mouth and realized they belied the innocence he’d been so sure of  earlier…because it was him!  

Judas is the one we usually condemn as the guilty betrayer.  He betrayed Jesus to the guards and Pharisees.  That’s Gospel truth.  Peter’s denial of Jesus was for a different reason and to a different crowd but it was betrayal too.  That is also Gospel truth.  Judas and Peter both came to recognize any relief they might have felt about their innocence was misplaced.  Both felt the anguish of the guilt of their betrayal, but only Peter had the courage to face Jesus, confront his denial, repent and accept forgiveness.  God has chosen those startling similarities and that one big difference between the experiences of Judas and Peter to remind me this Lenten season of something important about innocence and repentance.  

We are human. We cannot escape the results of that brokenness. It’s easy to accept misplaced relief as the standard of innocence when it’s clear someone else is guilty.  We excuse misspoken words as something other than betrayal because judging intent is easier than admitting guilt.  I think the comparison of Judas and Peter has revealed another Gospel truth; repentance is not about relying on innocence, it’s about seeking purity.  Jesus offers so much more than innocence.  We have a Savior who promises to receive the pitiful offerings of misplaced relief and misspoken words into His own heart as an act of repentance from a human heart that longs for true purity.

aJohn 13:24

Three Little Words – John 1:2-8

John 18:2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he…” ESV

>§§§>

Today is the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday.  The observance of Lent is considered a time of repentance observed through personal denial.  It’s so easy to see in this passage how Judas’s betrayal has separated him from God. I ask you to consider two things to remember about observing Lent: 1) Betrayal is what separates US from God and 2) repentance requires acknowledging OUR betrayal. 

Jesus has provided us a simple example of three little words with so much power they knocked his betrayers to the ground; “I am he.”  Don’t miss the power of those three little words when recognizing your sins have been a part of that betrayal too.  “I am He” acknowledges the reality that our identity with Jesus is what turns a simple act of personal denial into an act of repentance with the power to change us.

The Third Chapter – John

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”…16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ESV

>§§§>

Nicodemus is our mirror for today.  He’s aware of Jesus.  He’s heard the stories.  He’s an inner-circle part of a well-established religious organization that desires to assure people of their position with God.  But Nicodemus realizes desire isn’t the same as reality.  He wants to make personal contact with Jesus because he sees Jesus is able to reveal the power of God in the lives of people that makes assurance more than just a possibility.  He’s curious about that.  Can you see yourself in Nicodemus’s story?  I can.

Curiosity and contact with Jesus are the essence of the assurance of being “born of the Spirit.”  God still uses them both to convert desire into possibility and then finally into reality…For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Recipe of Reality

“Am I then really that which other men tell of? Or am I only what I myself know of myself? Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness, tossing in expectation of great events, powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint, and ready to say farewell to it all…Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!” [written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his prison cell.]

The last sentence of Bonhoeffer’s poetic words touched an emotional reality in my own life that could be true for your life too.  I couldn’t resist tying it to this Scripture that reveals a truth about Jesus.  “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.[John 2:23]  

Our hearts are broken by that Biblical truth because it reveals a reality we can barely acknowledge about our own reliability. We think we know ourselves but we wonder, do we, really?  We know, in our hearts, the words we use to describe our faith are sometimes more desire than truth.  We know, in our hearts, there is a restless longing that the best of those things will be true, but are they?  We know the emptiness of prayers that search for words our hearts can’t find until we admit we are only beginning to recognize our need.

I was going to end that last paragraph with “Jesus gave Himself for us!” Then I realized that was just a comfortable cliche.  Jesus knows us more completely than we will ever know ourself.  He didn’t give Himself to us!  He entrusted Himself to His Father, on our behalf, to complete His love despite the truth He knows about us.  Get emotional about it!  That is the recipe of reality that sustains us when all we can say is  “Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!”

Chastened to Pray

John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me…” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

I can’t escape associating coronavirus and John 14.  These are times when watching the news can result in tears escaping from a heart troubled by reality it sees.   My tears are my longing for their victory: “overcoming an enemy or antagonist, achievement of mastery or success in a struggle or endeavor against odds or difficulties.”  That’s what I want for those who are dreadfully ill without their families at their side and for the safety of those who pursue victory for them over covid-19 despite putting themselves at risk.  And yes for you and I.

I’ve found I’m left feeling pretty chastened by this passage. Our eyes can see the unholy turmoil Coronavirus has created for our world and that certainly needs prayer.  Jesus doesn’t get the same media coverage but through those heartfelt tears and this passage I’ve found a solution.  I’ve been chastened to pray differently.   Jesus’s own words are the most important words of prayer for those who are ill, those who care for them and all the rest of us too: “Let not your hearts be troubled…I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Remember?

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. [Psalm 118:24 ESV]

Remember that chorus?  I needed to sing it out loud in my own living room this morning.  I needed it’s reminder!  I needed to re-read this quote from a sermon by C.S. Lewis in 1942 and be reminded that in Jesus own plan it’s more than OK to rejoice; it’s critical for “this” day.  I think you may need all those things too.

“If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. 

I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. 

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are far too easily pleased.” [C.S. Lewis – Weight of Glory]

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:9-11 [ESV]

THIS is the day….REMEMBER?

Comfort

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  [NIV]

This is the middle of the week between Palm Sunday and Easter for us.  The memory of that first “Palm” Sunday crowd raising their Hosannas for the Messiah of their own imagination along with this quote from John Piper is my reminder for today.  “Many of Jesus’s followers [in AD33] thought Jesus came to rescue and reign now. They anticipated a physical and political freedom from the oppressive Roman rule. For them, the Christ was the key to their immediate, this-world issues.” [Your Sorrow will Turn to Joy]  

Re-read that quote from Piper and replace “Roman rule” with coronavirus. As believers in Christ we are confronted today with the same challenge of that long ago crowd – choosing imagination or reality.  We can’t imagine how Jesus will rescue us from the deadly coronavirus but we can find comfort in the reality of His own words “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Choosing to let Jesus’s Word be the reality of comfort for us is better than letting our imagination for this-world confront us in the midst of this coronavirus week between Palm Sunday and Easter [2020].

The Whole Point

15:27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. ESV

>§§§>

You, who “have been with me from the beginning” will also bear witness.   You’re probably familiar with the triangle illustration of the Godhead where each point represents one of the three persons, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, that make up the whole.  The lines between those points are what I’m calling life lines.  Together they represent a continuous cycle of life for those who by accepting and acting in accordance with Jesus have placed their lives securely within that perfect triangle.

Look what happens to that perfect triangle when you factor in your own experience as an image bearer living as a triangle within a triangle.  It was fascinating to play around with fitting the odd shaped, imperfect triangles that represent our lives into that perfect triangle.  The life lines are all different but each of them are all anchored by the same three points, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  They’re the anchor points that connect our uphill climbs, precipitous slopes and blessed straight paths that shape our life in Christ.

I hope my illustration represents those three points are the constants and the variables are those life lines.  Those variables change the witness of our life and are the reality that “will also bear witness” to those anchors.  That’s what  completes our witness and makes us fit perfectly within that perfect triangle.  That’s the whole point!

Bedrock

John 15:26 “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. ESV

>§§§>

The titles the Bible uses for the Holy Spirit range from Advocate to Intercessor and Companion to Friend.  All titles have the same implied message;  Jesus has provided 24/7 personal support for those who abide with Him. Your commitment is involved and your mind is involved but the bedrock of your personal faith is formed by what the Holy Spirit reveals to God about you, and to you about God.

The Advocate recognizes, and targets, our needs through the transformative stories we read and hear as part of our personal devotion.  Those stories become the seeds of His purpose – to direct our personal growth.  The Advocate is the Intercessor between all involved parties – God, Himself, Jesus and you.  He is the one Companion you have that can speak absolute truth to God on your behalf, fully aware of your needs.  Only a Friend with the absolute knowledge of God’s truth is able to testify this encouragement back to you: “Christ’s anointing teaches you the truth on everything you need to know about yourself and him, uncontaminated by a single lie. Live deeply in what you were taught.”a 

The bedrock of personal faith, devotion and growth is the testimony of the Holy Spirit that teaches you to “live deeply” in what you are still being  taught.

a I John 2:27 [MSG]