Monthly Archives: April 2015

Today’s Scripture – April 29, 2015

John 1:10-13 (NIV): He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The first two verses of this section are among the saddest in the Bible.  Jesus came into the world that He Himself had created, but the world and the people in it didn’t recognize Him as their creator.  The Messiah for whom the Jewish people had been waiting for centuries finally came to them, but they rejected Him, even to the point of crucifying Him.  Even after everything Jesus did, mighty miracles, casting out demons, healing the sick, making the damaged whole, and even raising the dead, the vast majority of the people He came into contact with would not accept Him for who He claimed to be:  God in the flesh.

Admittedly, the world’s acceptance of Jesus as the Creator who had come to earth was hampered by a lack of historical precedent.  God had appeared to His people on many occasions, and in many different forms, all of them different than a mere man.  But the fact that He would come as a man was prophesied all through the Scriptures. Even the things that Jesus would do when He came were outlined clearly in places like Isaiah 61:1-3 (claimed by Jesus in Luke 4:17-21 and the basis for Jesus’ reply to John’s messengers in Matthew 11:2-6, “Go back and report to John what you see and hear…”), and in Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which predicted His suffering, death, burial and resurrection in exquisite detail.  So even without a historical precedent, the Jewish people who knew the Scriptures well should have recognized Him easily for who He was.

The good news in verses 12 and 13 is that not everyone rejected Jesus.  There were some who received Him, who believed in His name, and who, in exchange, received eternal life and the right to become God’s children.  Many teach today that all people everywhere in the world are God’s children, but that is not what the Bible teaches.  All people in the world are God’s creations and He loves us all and wants the ultimate good for us.  But a person can only become one of God’s children through receiving Jesus, by believing in His name, that is, by believing that He is who He said He was, God’s one and only Son (cf. John 3:16), and that He did what He said He came to do: to die to pay the price for the sins of all humanity, and rise again to defeat death forever.  If they do those things, and only if they do them, they receive the right to become children of God.

And, as someone said, God has no grandchildren.  Being the child of one of God’s children does not give us any status with God.  Each one who becomes one of God’s children must do so in exactly the same way:  by receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior, and by believing in His name.

Father, this could not be any clearer in Your word.  It is sad that more people have not believed and become Your children.  That means that we, who are Your children, still have a lot of work to do, helping people to understand who Jesus really is, what He has done, and what each of them must do to become Your children, too.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 20, 2015

John 1:6-9 (NIV): There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

Just as God had foretold, He sent a messenger in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for Jesus (cf. Malachi 4:5-6).  John’s job, made clear to his parents before his birth (Luke 1:17) and to him in his youth, was to point people to the Messiah, and to help to prepare people for His appearing by convicting them of their sins, and by baptizing them, so that they would receive Him when He arrived.

People were so eagerly anticipating the Messiah, and John was such a flamboyant personality, that many believed that he himself was the One.  But John the apostle goes to some length to tell us that John the Baptist was NOT the light (vv7-8), but that he had only come as a witness to the light.

To John’s credit, he himself clearly told those around him that he was not the Messiah that they were waiting for (Matthew 4:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; Luke 3:15-17; John 1:19-27).  And when Jesus did appear, he unhesitatingly pointed his own followers to Him, intending that they would now turn and follow Him (cf. John 1:29-36).  John was not into building his own “ministry;” he was into doing his part to build the kingdom of God.  He was not into amassing a large group of followers for himself; he was preparing as many followers as possible for the Messiah.  He was not trying to make himself large in the eyes of the world; he was using every opportunity to magnify the One who would come after him.

Joh’s role was unique, for a unique time.  But what John did is what followers of Jesus are still supposed to be doing today.  The temptation is strong, especially among Christian leaders who succeed in gathering sizeable followings, to become the center of attention.  There is something very satisfying to see hundreds and thousands of people who have come to hear you preach; to have people asking you to autograph your latest book about Jesus.  But ALL Christians, whether pastors, or authors, or evangelists, or theologians, or just every-day Christians, need to realize that, as followers of Jesus, they all have one and the same job to do – a job very closely related to the job that John had been given.

That job is to make disciples of Jesus from the people of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).  Like John, we must never fall into the trap of building our own “ministry,” but must focus on building God’s kingdom.  We must never amass large groups of followers for ourselves, but must be completely focused on preparing as many as possible to follow Jesus, continually pointing them toward Him.  And we must never try to make ourselves large in the eyes of the world, but must always magnify Jesus, the true light that gives light to every person.

Father, help me to do all that You have shown me today.  Help me to make my life, today and every day, like John’s life; a life completely committee to pointing people to Jesus, the true light.  Help me to never push myself forward, but to always lift Him up.  Help me to never think about how to build my own reputation, or my own following, but to spend my whole life glorifying Him.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 18, 2015

John 1:4-5 (NIV): In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

John understood that Jesus was more than a person who merely “lived.”  In the first three verses, John told us clearly that Jesus is and was God in the flesh.  But John realized that when Jesus came, He actually carried life in Himself.  Every person is alive, but Jesus had life in Him in a completely different way.  That was why Jesus could restore health and wholeness to people – His touch and His word imparted wholeness of life where damage and disease had allowed death to gain a foothold.  It was how He could raise people from the dead – the life that was in Him overflowed into the bodies of those who had died, restoring the life that had gone from them.  And it was how He could rise from the dead Himself – the real life that was in Him could never be extinguished.

Jesus brought light and life back into a world where sin had enabled the darkness of death to reign.  The coming of this light was a recurring theme is Isaiah’s many messianic prophesies.  “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1 NIV)  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”(Isaiah 9:2 NIV)  Isaiah could see the light of Jesus’ life shining from 700 years away!  And when John wrote “the light shines in the darkness” using the present tense verb, he indicated that the light of Jesus did not just shine in the darkness while He was on earth.  It was still shining decades later when John wrote his gospel.

The translation of the final phrase of verse 5 has been the subject of much debate.  Was the darkness not able to understand the light, or was it not able to overcome the light?  The answer is, both!

The darkness was not able to understand the light of Jesus at any level.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law who opposed Jesus believed that He was just a man like them that they could plot against, attack and bring down.  But they were never able to win a single argument with Him.  They were never able to succeed in a single trap that they laid for Him.  They couldn’t understand the way He thought, the way of light, because their minds were trapped in the darkness.

Even satan himself was not able to understand the light that was in Jesus.  He thought that Jesus could be tempted to put His own needs ahead of God’s agenda (the primal idolatry that we all tend to fall into!).  But the snares and temptations that he had used successfully on everyone from Eve through David, all the way down to the days of Jesus, failed to capture Him.  As the writer of Hebrews tell us, Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)  Even before and during the crucifixion, Jesus could not be tempted into using His power and authority to free Himself or to ease His own pain.  Instead, He followed the Father’s plan to the letter, regardless of the pain and suffering, and ultimately the death that it brought Him.

And, of course, the darkness was never able to overcome the light that was in Jesus.    Even the darkness of death could not extinguish the light of life that flowed through His entire being.  After the Jewish leaders had succeeded in putting Jesus to death, they were suddenly stymied by His resurrection.  And even after Jesus left the earth, these leaders were suddenly faced with hordes of disciples who now had this same inextinguishable light in them!  They had succeeded in killing Jesus’ body, but that death had been transformed into unconquerable, unending light and life that spread through His followers, and then out into the whole world.

Father, I especially love the understanding that, after Pentecost, when Your Holy Spirit blew through the upper room, the unconquerable light and life that was in Jesus was now in His followers, driving darkness from their hearts, and empowering them to spread light and life everywhere that they went.  Lord, we need a resurgence, a revival of that light and life among Your people today.  Blow through us again.  Shine Your light into our lives so strongly that darkness has no place to hide.  And then help us to purposefully spread that light and life into ever dark corner of our world.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 15, 2015

John 1:1-3 (NIV): In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

In all of the hubbub that surrounds human speculation and opinion of who Jesus was, amid all of the search for the “historical Jesus,” so many people overlook the fact of who Jesus is, as God has clearly communicated through His servant, John.  (And the correct verb is “is,” not “was.” Jesus is still today all that He ever was.  In fact, Jesus is, strictly speaking, not a “historical” personage at all.  He is as alive today as ever!)

Jesus is the living Word of God.  That means that He is the most direct form of communication that God ever had with humanity.  In Jesus, God didn’t just speak, as He did frequently through the prophets and writers of Scripture.  In Jesus, God actually came to His people and spoke with them directly, without an intermediary, without a translator, without a prophet.

Because Jesus spoke God’s words directly to the people who should have been prepared to hear them through their careful study of the Scriptures, He was often amazed that these people didn’t seem to be able to understand Him.  “Why is my language not clear to you?” (John 8:43a NIV)

But Jesus was not just a messenger; He was more than a prophet.  As John says clearly, Jesus is God, and has been God since the beginning.  This is confusing to some.  They wonder, if Jesus was God, and He was here on earth, who was minding the store?  But such questions completely misunderstand the nature of God.  God is everywhere at the same time, in all places, in all dimensions.  He fills the universe.  Even though Jesus, through the incarnation, limited Himself to a human body, God was still present everywhere, in addition to being fully present in that human body.  He was “minding the store,” even while Jesus slept.

The concept of the Trinity is a difficult one for human minds to grasp, sometimes even more so when people try to invent illustrations and analogies to try to make it understandable!  The fact is, Jesus is God; God the Father is God; the Holy Spirit is God.  Yet they are not three Gods; they are God.  And they are One.  So where any one is, all are.  Where any one acts, they are all acting.  Nothing in the created world can illustrate who God is, or how He works as a tri-unity – the reality must simply be accepted.

John had come to understand that the man he knew as Jesus was more than He seemed.  By the time John wrote his gospel, he grasped that Jesus was God in the flesh.  This was confirmed to him when he saw Jesus as He truly is in his vision on Patmos (Revelation 1:12-18).  As God, John realized that Jesus did not come into existence when Mary first conceived Him.  Instead, He had always been, from all eternity.  The incarnation was merely the method used to introduce Him into the world.

John also could see that, as God, Jesus was not just someone who knew about the universe – He was the Creator of it all.  Some have tried to parse out which Person of the Trinity was responsible for which aspects of creation.  But that is unnecessary.  God is One.  When one planned, all planned in unison.  When one spoke, all were speaking.  When one exerted power, it was the power of the whole Godhead together.  “Through Jesus all things were made, without Him nothing was made that has been made” John was not crediting a specific creation task to Jesus.  It was one more way of him trying to communicate as clearly as he could that Jesus was no “avatar,” or phantom.  He was not a prophet, or even an angel.  Jesus was and is God Himself – the same God who spoke everything into existence.

When people listen to Jesus, they are listening to God.  When people worship Jesus, they are worshiping God.  When they obey Jesus’ commands, they are obeying God.  And when they reject Him, they are rejecting God Himself. (cf. Matthew 10:40)  This is the opening message of John’s gospel.

Father, I can see very clearly that, even if we can’t completely understand it, the truth is that Jesus is God.  The mystery of the incarnation, how the fullness of the God of the universe could inhabit a human body, is still a mystery.  But even more mysterious to my mind is the fact that You were fully present in Jesus, yet completely filled the universe at the same time.  But no definitive understanding of all of that is necessary for me to understand and accept what John is saying in these first verses of his gospel:  Jesus was God, is God, and always will be God.   Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 11, 2015

Mark 16:15-20 (NIV):  He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

This is a summary of Jesus’ commands and promises, drawn from several different places in the gospels and the Acts.

  • The commission to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” is Mark’s version of Matthew 28:18—20, the Great Commission, and Acts 1:8.  Jesus’ ultimate emphasis was on reaching the whole world with the good news (the “gospel”), not just “the lost sheep of Israel,” (Matthew 15:24), although His mission while on earth was predominantly to the Jewish people, because they had been prepared more than anyone else to receive Him.  But after He had accomplished His work on the cross, the mission for God’s people, the church, was to “preach the good news to all creation,” to “make disciples of all nations.”
  • The criteria for salvation was (and is) very simple:  believe and be baptized.  Believing was both belief in who Jesus was (sometimes called “believing in His name – cf. John 1:12-13), and believing that His death and resurrection paid for our sins, and grants us eternal life.  This belief is what Jesus was referring to in John 14:6, when He told His disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That sounds too narrow and exclusive to many today, but Jesus proved by His resurrection (something no other “religious leader” was able to do) that He was, and is, unique.
  • The list of signs is taken from the list of things that Jesus and the apostles did, both in Scripture, and in tradition.  Jesus Himself promised that those who believed in Him “will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things that these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)  And the early apostles fulfilled that promise:
  • They drove out demons (cf. Acts 5:16, 16:16-18).
  • They spoke in new tongues that enabled them to preach the good news across language barriers (cf. Acts 2:4-12).
  • They were saved from the bites of poisonous snakes (cf. Acts 28:3-6).
  • They placed their hands on sick people and made them well (cf. Acts 2:43, 3:1-8, 5:16, 8:6-7, 9:33-34, and many others).
  • And they did many other miracles, which lent huge credibility to their message.
  • The sign of not being affected by drinking poison is not attested to specifically in the book of Acts, but is referred to in the traditions of the Church.

Jesus’ ascension into heaven to the right hand of the Father is witnessed to in Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-11, as well as in Stephen’s vision of Jesus in Acts 7:55-56.  And, of course, the rapid expansion of the gospel, empowered by God’s presence and the Holy Spirit, is chronicled throughout the book of Acts and the epistles.

Father, it grieves me that there is so little of this power demonstrated among your people today.  As a rule, at least in most places in the west, Your good news is losing ground relative to population growth.  We don’t see many Christians doing signs and wonders, healing, casting out demons, and doing “even greater things” than Jesus.  Instead, most of Your people seem to be powerless, unable to do what You promised that “anyone who has faith in (Jesus)” would be able to do (John 14:12). Some have taught that miracles like that don’t happen anymore; that thy were just for New Testament times.  But I don’t draw any comfort from that, because I don’t see it in Your word.  And the truth is that we need Your power, Your presence, Your mighty acts working though us today to help us to reach the millions in our own nations who don’t know You, Lord.  I’m not asking this for my glory, but for Yours; not for my own comfort, but so that I can move Your agenda forward in Your power.  Lord, visit Your people again with power.  Refresh and renew us by the presence and power of Your Holy Spirit flowing through our lives.  Help us to do what Jesus did, and even greater things today, so that we can reverse the slide of our cities, our nations, into darkness, and so that we can once again be empowered to bring thousands into Your light.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 9, 2015

Mark 16:9-14 (NIV): When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.

Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.  These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.

Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

Even though this final section is not part of Mark’s original gospel, it provides a summary of information condensed from the other gospels and Acts, bringing this gospel to a “neater” finish than it had before.

Some have wondered why it was to Mary Magdalene that Jesus chose to appear first.  The simple answer is that she was the first one who hung around the tomb long enough for Him to make contact.  The other women (and Mary) ran to tell the disciples about the open tomb, the missing body, and the angels, immediately after they heard the news.  No opportunity there.  Peter and John ran into the tomb, followed by Mary, but after they had verified that the body was missing, they immediately walked away (John 20:3-11).  But Mary stayed at the tomb until she became aware of a man standing nearby who she thought was a gardener, and then realized was Jesus (John 20:14-16).  If the others had stayed at the tomb for a while, they would have seen Him, too.  A lot of the time people miss out on huge blessings because they are far too anxious to move on to the next thing.  Their minds and hearts are focused somewhere down the line, and they miss out on what is right next to them, waiting to be revealed.

When Mary reported to the gathered disciples that she had actually seen and spoken to Jesus Himself, they thought that she was crazy, or at best hallucinating.  With no frame of reference, no prior similar event in biblical history to point to, they would not believe such an outrageous thing (even though their hearts really wanted to).

Next recalled is Jesus’ appearance to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (cf. Luke 14:13-35).  Even though Jesus walked with them for some time, talking with them and teaching them, they had no idea it was Him.  They didn’t believe that He had risen, even though they had heard the testimony of Mary, and they had no expectation that He would suddenly show up next to them on the road, so their eyes were closed to who He really was.  It was only when He broke and blessed the bread that their eyes were opened, and they suddenly recognized Him.  And then He simply vanished, leaving them with even more questions.

Late that same evening, after Cleopas and the other disciple returned to Jerusalem with their story of seeing Jesus, He suddenly appeared in the midst of their gathering (Luke 24:36-49).  Even with Him standing right there, they still had a hard time believing that the resurrection was real.  They though He was a ghost, and it took a while to convince them otherwise.

Jesus rebuked the disciples for not believing those who had already seen Him.  No matter how strange His resurrection might have been, no matter how far outside of “normal” experience it was, He had told them clearly that it was going to happen, and that should have been enough for them to be waiting for it, expecting it, and rejoicing greatly when they heard that it had happened.

Father, we are still so much like those early disciples today.  You have made us so many amazing and excellent promises, but we are shocked, and in some cases disbelieving, when You actually make them happen.  Father, help us to read and to hear Your promises with new eyes and ears, and with hearts that believe and look for their fulfillment.  Help our first response to be faith every time You speak, so that we don’t waste time doubting or trying to explain things away when You act.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 3, 2015

Mark 16:1-8 (NIV)

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

The women had brought with them precious spices and ointments to apply to Jesus’ body. These did not “embalm” or preserve the body – that was not their purpose. Their fragrance merely helped to offset the odor of decay. But even more, they hoped to show honor to this man who had meant so much to them. Jesus’ body had not been washed and anointed, as was traditional, because the Sabbath had been quickly approaching. They intended to do now what had been left undone two days before.

The biggest issue they believed that they would face was the large stone that had been rolled in front of the tomb’s door to seal it. They had no idea how they would be able to move it so that they could get in.

But that quickly became a moot issue when they got to the tomb and found the stone already pushed to the side. Their first thought was that someone had broken in and had abused or stolen the body.       When they went in, they didn’t see Jesus. Their attention was immediately arrested by the young man dressed in white who was sitting where the body should have been.

The angel’s message was short and clear:

  • “Don’t be afraid” – You can almost hear an echo of Christmas in this: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10 NIV)
  • “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.” – There was no mistake. They had come to the right tomb.
  • “He has risen!” – The most earthshaking declaration ever pronounced to human ears. The One who was beaten, crucified, and pierced had risen from the dead. He who was certified dead was now alive again!
  • “He is not here. Se the place where they laid Him.” – With one elegant gesture, the angel pointed to the empty slab as proof that his words were true. Jesus’ body that had been laid out right there was gone.
  • “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” – The plans that Jesus had laid out before He had been crucified were still in effect. The disciples didn’t understand those plans at first, and figured that, since Jesus was dead, they were all useless anyway.       But they were actually planned to be carried out after Jesus rose. (The disciples delayed in going to Galilee while they tried to figure out what had “really” happened. So before Jesus met the disciples in Galilee, He appeared to many of them in and around Jerusalem.)

The women went away trembling with fear and bewilderment. They had heard the words of the angel – clear, concise words. They had seen the empty stone slab where Jesus’ body had been laid out. But they couldn’t seem to put all of the pieces together in their minds.       It was all so far outside of their normal experiences. Sure, Jesus had raised several people from the dead. But who had raised Him?

They didn’t speak a word to anyone they met on their way to the upper room where the disciples were gathered. They were not about to sound forth this amazing news until they had time to think it through!

Father, it strikes me that Jesus had told all of His followers, presumably including these women, that He would rise on the third day, but His words sounded so alien, so out of touch, that they found no place to rest in their minds. The disciples were not preparing for the resurrection; they were hiding out in fear that the Jews would come and arrest them, too. (John 20:19) The women weren’t preparing for Jesus’ resurrection; they had spent their time preparing the spices, and then waiting out the Sabbath so that they could better prepare Jesus’ body for the decay that they saw as inevitable. But all of that planning, strategizing, and preparing turned out to be worthless, because Jesus kept His promise and rose from the dead on the third day.

Lord, how many of our plans, strategies, and preparations ultimately turn out to be useless, because we have ignored or failed to grasp the amazing promises You have made to us? How much wasted time and energy do we engage in, when all we really have to do is to obey You, and wait for the miracles You have promised?       Sometimes Your promises are too amazing for us to believe. Help us to believe them anyway, so that we can see Your power at work in and through our lives. Amen.

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