To Believe Him or Not

John 10:17-21

[19] There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. [20] Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” [21] Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Whenever anyone makes a statement, we have two choices.  Either we believe them or we do not.  Whether it’s me telling you I can fly or Jesus saying He is the Good Shepherd, our options are that simple.

The Jews in John 10 are sharply divided.  After Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd some do not believe Him.  His claims are so incredible they call Him demon-possessed and crazy.  Others are not so sure.

We may be tempted to scoff at their unbelief but are we so different?  God consistently declares things that are difficult to understand, hard to believe, or outright outrageous.

Is Matthew 6:33 “reasonable” advice in the midst of financial crisis?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Is Luke 9:24 true when we face physical, not only metaphorical danger?

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

Is the life Jesus offers us in John 10:10 actually possible or just a pipe dream?

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Is Romans 8:28 true all the time?

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Jesus’s opponents were proud, selfish, and greedy, but they understood that Jesus meant what He said.  At times, we find ourselves rationalizing or spiritualizing to make it seem like Jesus did not mean what He said.  Fear, doubt, and selfishness can drive us to this.  Of course there are extenuating circumstances and gray areas, but often we are given two simple options – to believe Him or not.

May He give us the grace of faith that we might believe Him, the grace of forgiveness when we do not, and the grace of perseverance to continue to fight despite our stumbling.

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In Need of a Physician

Luke 5:31-32

And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Often we feel as if no one will understand if we are not perfect.  That there is something deeply wrong with us if we struggle.  But that’s not true.  It simply means we are the people that Jesus came for.  Christ died because we have a great need.

He Threw Himself Into the Sea

John 21:1-8

[1] After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. [2] Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. [3] Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

[4] Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. [5] Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” [6] He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. [7] That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. [8] The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

In John 21, the disciples decide to go fishing, and they catch nothing.  Jesus tells them to let down their nets again, and there is a miraculous catch of fish.  It must have been eerily familiar because the same thing pretty much happened when Jesus initially called the disciples to become fishers of men (see Luke 5).  The events of Luke 5 and John 21 are very similar, yet also different.

In both Luke 5 and John 21, the disciples had been fishing all night.  In Luke they are fishing because this is their career and identity.  They are fishermen.  Fishing is at the center of their lives, and they are taking a break to listen to Jesus teach.

In John, the disciples are fishing to kill time.  Some suggest they are abandoning their calling as apostles to go back to fishing, but this is very unlikely given the Lord has just risen from the dead.  At the very least, they want to see what will happen next, so the disciples are just waiting for Jesus.  Fishing is no longer at the center.  It has become a hobby.  Their first priority in this moment is to wait for Jesus and listen to Him.

Is Christian faith a break from real life for us?  Is real life work or school or family?  Is waiting on the Lord, hearing and obeying Him, a hobby or is it at the center?

Another similarity.  In both Luke and John, the disciples catch nothing and Jesus tells them to cast their nets again.  In Luke, Peter agrees to do it, saying, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Peter is obedient, but thinks he knows better.  He is saying, “Rabbi stay in your lane.  You know the Bible, but I know fishing.”  We, too, are tempted to say to God, “You know religion, but I know money, or family, or what I need, etc., etc.”  Amazingly, in John 21, the disciples just listen.  They do not even know it is Jesus yet, but instinctively, the sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice and cast the nets.  They hear and they obey.

Two final similarities.  In both Luke and John, it is the miraculous catch of fish that opens the disciples’ eyes.  Also in both, Peter’s reaction to the miracle is extreme.  In Luke, Peter falls before Jesus and cries out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

In John, when the apostle John recognizes Jesus, Peter ignores the fish, jumps out of the boat, and swims to shore.  In John 21, Peter is not less aware of his sinfulness.  Very recently, he had denied his Lord three times.  He knows his sin, but regardless, He is desperate to be with His Savior.  Usually if we go swimming, we take clothes off.  Peter, instead, puts his outer garment on.  He sees Jesus and He is going after him.  Peter does not intend to go back for anything.

God is a speaking God, and He consistently speaks to us.  The question is, when He speaks, will we weigh our options or will we jump out of the boat?

Two of the most important things in the Christian life are very simple – hearing God and obeying Him.  Not surprisingly, these are things we struggle with most.  For Peter, too, this does not come naturally, yet he still jumps out of the boat.

Peter does not jump because he is so courageous.  Peter is a coward.  Peter does not jump because he is so righteous.  His sin is clear and ugly.  He does not jump because He knows what will happen next.  He is not in control, even of tomorrow.  Peter jumps because he is convinced that Jesus is the Son of God and the Good Shepherd.  Peter simply desires to be with Him.

Dead to the Law

Divine Double-Talk and the Parable of the Good Samaritan
William M. Cwirla

[30] Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. [31] Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. [32] So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. [33] But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. [34] He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.

– Luke 10:30-34

Who fails to help the man in the ditch? The religious clergy-the priest and the Levite, whom the synagogue lawyer would hold up as examples of blue-ribbon righteousness. Why didn’t they help the man in the ditch? Not because they were wicked, or indifferent, or bad, or uncaring, but because their religion based on keeping the law would not permit them. If the man in the ditch were as dead as he appeared, the priest and Levite would have become ceremonially unclean simply by touching him (Lev. 19:11-13). Rabbinic interpretation drew a four-cubit radius safety zone around the corpse. Step inside and you’re automatically unclean. Even if the priest and Levite were heading home for the holidays, the last thing they would want is to come home in a state of impurity. In addition to the humiliation, there would be the time-consuming and costly process of restoration. Most people would have approved the priest’s and Levite’s decision not to help the man in the ditch.

Priest and Levite are caught between a legal rock and a rabbinic hard place. The law says they must love their neighbor. Yet helping the man in the ditch puts them at risk of ritual impurity. And all the while they must also love God who makes these laws in the first place. Only the Samaritan, a half-breed heretical layman, is free enough to stoop down and help the man in the ditch.

He’s dead to the law, impure from the start. Ritual purity is the least of his concerns. He needs no commandment; he seeks no reward. He is free to help the man in the ditch for no other reason than the man needs help, and his help far exceeds what the law required precisely because he acts in freedom.

Link: Complete Article

What is love?

Luke 6:32-36

[32] “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. [33] And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. [34] And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. [35] But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. [36] Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

In popular culture, the pinnacle of love is seen in romance (think Titanic), family (think Frozen), or friendship (think The Sandlot). Jesus does describe His love for the church as the love between a bridegroom for his bride. When it comes to love, He also invokes the metaphors of family and friendship. But Jesus does not point to these pictures when He describes the greatest possible love. Rather, the greatest possible love is love for the ungrateful and the evil. It is not pretty (crucifixion was brutal). It is not romantic (sinners cause no one to swoon). It is not logical (enemies are to be hated, not loved). But there is no love in this world that is like this. There is no love that can compare.

The Beloved of the Father

Luke 3:21-22

[21] Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, [22] and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

In each of the four gospels, there are accounts of the baptism of Jesus with different emphases. The account in Matthew 3 explains why Jesus was baptized (to fulfill all righteousness). The account in John 1 explains how Jesus’s baptism was a sign for the Baptist to identify the Messiah.

In Mark 1 and Luke 3, the focus is on what God, the Father, says: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Greek text literally says, “You are my Son, my beloved.”

The love of the Father for the Son is well documented in the New Testament.

Matthew 17:5  This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

John 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.

John 5:20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.

John 15:9 As the Father has loved me [Jesus], so have I loved you.

Col 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son

This beloved Son is the one that the Father gave up to be tortured and killed. This beloved Son is the one on whom the Father poured out His wrath against sin. This beloved Son is the one the Father forsook that we might be saved.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

 

What then shall we do?

Luke 3:10-14

[10] And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” [11] And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” [12] Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” [13] And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” [14] Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

These verses give us a picture of what repentance looks like. The crowds hear John the Baptist preach and are anxious to know, “What then shall we do?” Wonderfully, tax collectors and soldiers have this change of heart. Tragically, the Pharisees and religious leaders do not. They have no conviction of sin. They feel no need to change.

Interestingly, John’s response has nothing to do with spiritual activities and everything to do with money and material goods. Those who have more are to share with those who have less. Tax collectors are not to abuse their power to take advantage of others. Soldiers are to be content with their wages.

There are many ways in which God calls us to change. In 2017 perhaps He most wants to change how we relate to money, for how we spend and handle money reveals our hearts.

I once heard that we have not started to give or to love until our giving forces us to change the way we live. If we are looking for a New Year’s resolution, perhaps this is a good place to start.

Where’s Jesus?

[41] Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. [42] And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. [43] And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, [44] but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, [45] and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. [46] After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. [47] And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. [48] And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” [49] And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

– Luke 2:41-49

Mary and Joseph lose their eldest son, Jesus, during a trip to Jerusalem. They proceed to look for him for three days (v. 46). Jerusalem is a large city and during the Passover Feast there wheres-jesuswould be tens of thousands of visitors so they have no idea where he might be.

When they finally find him, learning in the temple, they are astonished (v. 48). Jesus is somewhat surprised as well. Why would they look anywhere else other than the temple? Where else would He possibly be? (v. 49).

Sometimes the last place we expect to encounter God is at church. Perhaps he might show up at the Grand Canyon or a bar, but at church? We tend to expect to be bored to tears and so we are tempted to go looking everywhere else for God. But Jesus is at His Father’s house. He is not always doing miracles or putting on a show, but there is no other place that He would rather be.

A Day in History

[1] Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

– Luke 1:1-4

christopher-columbus-1492-boatTwo thousand years ago, Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead three days later. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Most people, whether Christian or not, do not seem to think that these are the same kinds of statements (i.e. statements of historical fact).

The statement regarding Jesus is often spoken of as a belief that will lead to a happier life or a means to cope with problems. If a Christian is asked, “why do you talk so much about this?”, a common answer might be, “because I love you and want the best for you.” Less often we might hear, “because it’s true.”

Luke did not intend to write an allegory, a myth, or an inspirational story but an accurate history. Christianity is unique in that it is an historical faith. It claims that an actual event happened in human history (the death and resurrection of the Son of God). The Christian Scriptures make clear that if this event did not happen, then Christian faith is completely useless (“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” 1 Corinthians 15:17).

There are plenty of other means (religious or otherwise) of obtaining psychological comfort.  To be perfectly honest, many of them are a lot less hassle than Christianity. But the Christian claim is that Jesus actually is the Son of God and He did die and rise from the dead, defeating sin and death. This is either true or it is not. If it’s not, it’s a cruel hoax on those who believe. If it is, then it’s the most important news in human history.

Teach Us to Pray

Does Prayer Change Things?
R. C. Sproul

[1] Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”

– Luke 11:1

I have always been amazed that the disciples didn’t ask Jesus how to walk on water, how to still the tempest, or how to do any of His other miracles. They did, however, ask Jesus to teach them about prayer. Note that they did not ask Jesus to teach them how to pray; instead they begged, “Teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).