Category Archives: Gospel of John

Good Life

Yet another good friend has been told she has just a few months to live. Cancer is such nasty business, even if they can fix it. Doctors use chemo and radiation to blast and kill the disease, killing many healthy cells in the process.

But, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a therapy that would cause the healthy cells to become so robust that the cancerous ones wouldn’t have a chance? I’ve heard the best way to get rid of weeds in a lawn is to get the grass growing very vigorously. I wish they could do that for cancer. Or, for many of the other terrible problems that exist in this world.

When Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come,” He wanted us to ask God to send such life-giving power to the world that it would overpower sin. The goal, He said, is for life on Earth to be in perfect harmony with God’s will, just as it is in Heaven.

Jesus, Himself, is the answer to that urgent prayer. As John wrote, “In Him was life and that life was the light of men.” In the same way that we yell, “Go!,” as a halfback breaks free and heads for the goal line, we are also to join together and cry, “Come!” as God’s perfect Kingdom inevitably approaches.

Yours

Bewildered and distressed, standing beside the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene did not recognize Jesus.  But when she did, He spoke these words:

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”   (John 20:17)

I got curious about His wording, the “my Father and your Father and to my God and your God” business.  Why did He say it like that?  Looking back through John’s Gospel, I discovered he never quoted Jesus talking about God in that inclusive way.  Matthew quotes Jesus saying “our Father’ and “your Father,” but, for John, Jesus always said, “my Father” or “the Father.”  That is, until after He had been resurrected.  Then, He said His Father is theirs, too.  His God is oursYours.  Jesus’ work on the cross opened the way for that connection to be established solidly and eternally for all who believe Him and receive it.  As John wrote in his first chapter,

“Yet to all who did receive Him [Jesus], to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God…”   (John 1:12)

By his wording, I think John is aware we cannot truly become children of God until Jesus’ work of atonement for sin was done.  And now, after the resurrection of Jesus, God is able to receive us as His own, as children in His family.

Think about those possessive pronouns.  He is your Father, your God.  Consider how much it means to have the Creator and All-Powerful God of the universe declare Himself to be yours.  Your Father.  Fathers are fathers forever.   Good fathers love, protect, provide, guide and nurture.  Almighty God is the perfect father.

And, if you will receive Him through faith in Jesus, He is yours.

Not Cut

“Coach wants to see you in his office…”  Those words can strike fear in anyone who has been struggling to make the team.  Getting cut can be devastating.  Getting cut from God’s team is worse.  Jesus describes it metaphorically:

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,…  (John 15:2a)

And:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  (John 15:5-6)

Getting cut from Jesus’ team is what happens if you don’t “bear fruit.”  But, bearing fruit is what happens, Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you…”  So then, as a newby to the faith, not wanting to get cut from the team, I looked to see what I had to do to “remain in Him.”  

And read this:

Now remain in my love.  If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  (John 15:9b-10)

“Aha!” I thought, and set about making a list of Jesus’ commands so I could keep them.  I came up with quite a lengthy list, but completely missed the point of what He said.  Jesus said keeping His commands should be done in the same way He kept His Father’s commands.  Jesus never checked off the boxes from a list of commands.  That’s not how He did it.  Instead, He said these things:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, 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. (John 5:19)

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  (John 14:10)

The way Jesus kept His Father’s commands was by staying so close to Him He naturally kept in step with what the Father was doing.  He was “in the Father” and the Father was “in Him.”   Now, compare that with Jesus’ teaching in John 15:5, quoted above, where He said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  It is in that close, “you in Me and I in you” relationship we are able to keep His commands and bear “His fruit.”

And not get cut.

The Psalm about Jesus

Have you wandered too far from God to be rescued?  Are your troubles too difficult for Him?  Psalm 107 reflects on the many different times and ways Israel turned away from God, got themselves in deep trouble and how, by His enduring love, He brought them back.  In a curious way, it also foreshadows how the rescue of Jesus meets us in our particular circumstances, no matter how we have wandered away.  The psalm is too long to be quoted here, but read it for yourself to see all the similarities.

For example, Psalm 107 says:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:4-6)

If you have wandered and found yourself hungry and thirsty for God, craving inner peace and nourishment, Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:35)

Psalm 107 says:

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
and broke away their chains. (Psalm 107:10-14)

Jesus said:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)

See what I mean?  You’ll see many parallels.  Jesus told a parable about the shepherd who searches far and wide for the lost sheep.  If we are willing, He’ll find us and rescue us, no matter what.  God’s enduring love comes to us through Jesus.  Take some time to ponder how each of the scenarios in Psalm 107 may have been (or may currently be) symbolic of your life circumstances.  Then, note how, in each one, there is repeated something like this:

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.  (Psalm 107:6)

God is not unaware of our troubles.  He does not force help upon us but waits for us to ask.  Jesus refers to those who “come to Me” and those who “follow Me” for the same reason.  If you need His help, cry out for it, turn to Him.

The Psalm also repeats this important reminder:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love  (Psalm 107:8)

 

 

Sticking the Landing

You can’t land a stealth bomber.  A computer has to do it.  Or, so I’ve been told.  If you have done it successfully, please don’t respond; this is just an illustration of another impossible task: pleasing God by following His law.

7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

Paul’s phrase, “governed by the flesh” simply means a human being trying to land himself manually, without the control of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible to perfectly  follow God’s law under your own control.   If you are thinking, “Oh yeah?  I can do it,” can you always live up to just your own standards of right and wrong?  No?  Me either.  And God’s are tougher.

That’s why religions don’t work.  Religions, as I’m using the term here, systems of do’s and don’t’s  to make you good enough for God.  God’s own Word says those who try to live like that will fail:

13 So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured. (Isaiah 28:13)

If you don’t want to crash land, you need God’s Spirit.  Happily, Jesus gives this promise to those who will trust Him:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

With the Spirit, even a guy like me can stick the landing.

Finished

It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.

Think for Yourself

You never hear about a “lynch person;” it’s always a mob.  There’s a reason for that.  Mobs do things individuals would think twice about.  Even the individual driver in the recent assault in Charlottesville was motivated by the mob.  When Jesus confronted a mob about to stone a woman caught in adultery, he broke it up by speaking to individuals, not the whole group.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”   (John 8:7)

Conversely, when the priests wanted to get rid of Jesus, they did it by inciting the mob.

Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
“Crucify him!” they shouted.   (Mark 15:9-13)

It would have been interesting to interview people who shouted those words, individually, after a couple of weeks had passed.  My guess is it would have been hard to find anyone who admitted being there.  Because mobs do things individuals wouldn’t.

Be careful.  Back then, the mobs gathered in response to a bunch of loud-mouths.  These days you can gather a mob with a Tweet, a TV news story, or a post online.  As a result, we have way too much angry shouting.  Not enough listening.  Don’t join a mob if they are doing something you would not do on your own.