Category Archives: John

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

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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

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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

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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]

 

Proof!

John15:25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ [ESV]

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The reference to “is written in their Law” without a footnoted citation left me searching commentaries to unravel the obscurity of that phrase.  Here are some notes I made searching for clarity that became my food for thought.
• Jesus as command-giver vs mankind as command-keepers
• fulfilling the law through merit or mercy
• divine destiny
• finally this quote from an obscure commentary by Philip Schaff “The very law of which the Jews boasted, and into which, from imagined reverence for it, they were continually searching,—in that very law they might see themselves. In such a connection of thought might it not he [Jesus] be called ‘their law’?”

√ The first note I checked off without question was, of course, the divine destiny of Jesus.  That is a foundational tenet of our faith as Christians.
√ Then I went on to considering the difficulty of yielding to a command-giver when you’re a command-keeper living in a highly merit-based system.  That is a foundational dilemma of human nature.
√ Finally the quote from Schaff reminded me of this foundational truth from Jesus himself in Matthew 5:17
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” [NLT]
Proof: ‘They hated [Jesus] without a cause.’

aPhilip Schaff (January 1, 1819 – October 20, 1893) a Swiss-born, German-educated Protestant theologian and a Church historian who spent most of his adult life teaching in America.  He also served as president of the committee that translated the American Standard Version of the Bible, though he died before it was published in 1901

One of a Kind Mirror

John 15:24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.

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The  relationship of mankind to Jesus is a mirrored reflection of it’s relationship to God.  Jesus life and works were, and still are, a one-of-a-kind mirror for all mankind to see that sin is a reality BUT that intimacy with God can also be a reality.   “Accepting and acting in accordance [abiding] with Jesus is the divine solution that allows Jesus’s intimacy with God to become the shared experience for mankind that can overcome sin.

Without that abiding all that’s left is the human solution for the wide chasm between mankind and God.   “…They have seen and hated both me and my Father.” 

 

Prism

John 15:23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 

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The Word doesn’t get any more plain-spoken than Jesus having to speak such a dark truth about himself.  It’s stunning.  Jesus was the perfect re-creation of God on earth.  He was the prism that would bring the light of renewal to our relationship with…well…Himself.  Light is the only way to combat hatred.

The word “prism” reminded me of this photo I’d taken. I had several small prisms placed in windows and throughout the day as sunlight would pass through them their rainbows of color would catch my eye around the house.  I’d found this empty nest, filled it with pretend eggs and set it on the mantle window sill.  I had no idea of how dramatic that ordinary nest could be until the sunlight through the prism lit it.

The primary message of my photo is pretty obvious.  When Jesus is the prism that light is filtered through there’s a dramatic change that brings to mind God’s promise of the rainbow as a sign of His covenant.  There’s an equally effective message for the dark half of the photo.  Jesus came into the world “as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”