Monthly Archives: May 2015

Today’s Scripture – May 31, 2015

John 1:47-51 (NIV):  When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Jesus knew everything about everybody.  Nothing in a heart could be hidden from Him (and still can’t be!).  In His spirit He had watched the interplay between Philip and Nathanael.  He had heard Nathanael scoff at the idea that He was the Messiah (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”).  And He had seen his reluctant willingness to “come and see.”

Now, when He saw Nathanael approach, Jesus made the first move.  “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”  By using the term “Israelite,” Jesus was point to Nathan being a “child of Israel,” or a man like Jacob, whom God had renamed Israel after wrestling with and defeating him.  (Even though He told Jacob at the time that he, Jacob, had been the overcomer in his wrestlings with God and with man, Jacob was the one who had walked away with a limp!  See Genesis 32:22-32.)  Like Jacob, Nathanael was a wrestler.  He resisted change, and adapted to new ideas slowly.  Unlike Jacob, there was nothing false in Nathanael.  He was an honest and devout man who was eagerly waiting for the appearance of the Messiah.

When he heard that description of himself, Nathanael realized that Jesus knew him inside and out, and was amazed.  But when Jesus described Nathanael’s circumstances just before Philip had come to him, that convinced him that the man standing before him was in fact the Messiah, the very Son of God.  How else could He have known these things?  How else could He have seen what was going on without being there physically?

Jesus was amused by Nathanael’s quick turn-around.  The wrestling match was over with a single pin, and Nathanael’s heart was transformed.  But Jesus had amazing news for Nathanael:  he hadn’t seen anything yet!  Like Jacob, he would be treated to seeing a ladder linking heaven and earth with angels ascending and descending on it.  Only in this case, Jesus Himself would be revealed as the ladder, providing a glorious bridge that would bring sinful mankind into the presence of the holy God.

Father, thank You for helping me to understand more of Nathanael’s journey.  Even though he was looking for the Messiah, he knew enough to not just leap at the first person who claimed the title.  He needed to see proof first.  Some have pointed at Nathanael as impetuous for being so quickly swayed, but this shows the opposite.  He was swayed, not by feelings or desire, but by the fact that Jesus knew him intimately without ever meeting him.  And that powerful proof blew away every doubt.  Thank You for reminding me that Jesus knows us all that intimately.  And He is still THE Bridge between earth and heaven – the bridge through whom I myself was enabled to come into Your holy presence to be saved.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 29, 2015

John 1:43-46 (NIV):  The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

Notice how naturally the invitation is passed among those who know each other.  Andrew finds Jesus to be the Savior, the Messiah, so he immediately finds his brother, Simon, and tells him, “We have found the Messiah!” and brings him to meet Jesus.  Philip is called by Jesus, “Follow Me,” and the first thing he does is to find Nathanael and tell him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about…Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

None of these men had received training in evangelism.  None of them had been given a pile of tracts to hand out.  None of them had been given a list of Scriptures or “difficult questions” to memorize.  They had simply found in Jesus their Savior, their Messiah, and they invited those they knew and cared about close to Jesus so they could experience Him for themselves.

By the way, this is the same powerful and effective method being used all over the world today to bring whole families, whole communities into the kingdom.  Immediately after receiving new life in Jesus, these new followers rush out to tell their families and friends, “We have found the Savior – let me introduce you to Him.”  And they simply show these loved ones the Jesus who saved them, the same way that they found Him.  And, far from producing disciples that are inferior to those produced by the more “programmed” methods of the west, the disciples produced by “contagion” are powerful and steadfast, holding firm to their faith even when persecution follows soon after they enter the way of discipleship.

Philip was immediately challenged by Nathanael about his declaration that Jesus was the Messiah.  He didn’t believe it.  It didn’t fit his mental template of who and what the Messiah should be.  But Philip knew who Jesus was – he had experienced His presence and His power, and no doubt cast on Jesus by others could shake his faith.  Notice that Philip did not engage in a long list of intellectual “proofs” of Jesus’ Messiahship.  He simply invited Nathanael to “Come and see.”  He knew that no arguments would do as much for Nathanael as a simple personal encounter with the One who had changed his own life.  No hours of reasoning could do as much as a single moment in the presence of Jesus Himself.

Father, this is all so simple; much simpler than we usually try to make it.  And our more complex, more studied, more sophisticated methods don’t produce this good a fruit!  Help us, Lord, to shed the programs we have burdened ourselves with, the lists and techniques that we have learned, and get back to YOUR method of simply telling those we care about, those we meet, “We have found the Savior!  Come and see!”  And then bringing them to You for the transformation that only You can give.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 26, 2015

John 1:40-42 (NIV):  Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

Andrew’s actions are typical of people all over the world, all through the ages as well as today.  When they have had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, the first thing that they want to do is to share it with someone they care about:  “We have found the Messiah!”

And the enthusiasm of these converts is infectious.  Notice that when this message was brought to Simon by his brother there was no pushback from him, no resistance.  Andrew was so clearly and so profoundly affected by his encounter with Jesus that Simon’s curiosity was piqued.  He wanted to meet this person who had had such an impact on his brother.

When Simon met Jesus, one of the first things that Jesus did was to rename him.  Jesus didn’t do this with everyone He met, or even with all of His disciples.  But naming something (or even someone) symbolizes authority over them, even ownership, as when Adam was given the privilege of naming the animals in Genesis 2:19-20, as a symbol of his God-given authority over them.  By placing a new name on Simon son of John, Jesus was putting dibs on him, staking him out as His own territory.  Even though it would be a while before Simon left his fishing nets and became a full-time follower of Jesus, His claim on his life had already been staked.

In renaming Simon “Peter,” “Rock,” Jesus was looking past who and what Simon currently was, to what he would become.  Simon could be rash and opinionated, but he was also cautious, pulling back from obvious danger.  But Jesus could see past his current character, past his three-fold denial of Jesus in His time of greatest trial, all the way to what the Holy Spirit would make of him on the day of Pentecost.  From that moment forward, when the Holy Spirit would fill him to overflowing, Simon would begin to actually live as Peter, the Rock, whose faith in Jesus could not be shaken; whose testimony about Jesus could not be silenced, even by suffering, or the threat of immanent death.

Father, I am struck by parallels between my story and that of Peter.  When I was 9 years old, you put your claim on me at camp.  I pulled back from your initial call on my life.  Unlike Peter, it wasn’t just a short time until I left all to follow you.  It took me years to finally respond.  It wasn’t until I was 28 years old that I finally fell at Your feet, crying out for Your mercy, receiving Your salvation, and the transformation of my whole life.  And, in the process of that transformation, You made me into what You had shown me that I would become all of those years before.  Thank You, Lord, that You kept after me until I came; that You continued to work in my life until You finally orchestrated the life-changing encounter, when I heard You call out, “Follow me,” acknowledging that initial claim on my life, and making it real.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 23, 2015

John 1:35-39 (NIV): The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

From the beginning, Jesus’ ministry as the Messiah was one of invitation. The operative verbs in all of His interactions with prospective disciples were “Come” and “Follow Me.”

John seemed to know this, whether by instinct or revelation. When he saw Jesus passing by while he was with Andrew and John, he didn’t tell them to go and follow Jesus, pushing them after Him. “Go” was not the way to get someone to become a follower of Jesus. Instead, John merely pointed out Jesus, and told those followers of his who He was: the Lamb of God. The rest was their own decision. This also explains why John still had disciples even when he was in prison (cf. Matthew 11:1-3). John never told his disciples to “go” and follow Jesus. If it wasn’t their own idea to follow Him, it would never stick when the going got tough.

Andrew and John followed Jesus on their own initiative. But when they got close to Him, He asked them what they wanted. Their answer, while not a direct application to be adopted by Jesus as disciples, showed enough serious interest for Him to go ahead and issue His invitation: “Come.”

Over and over again, Jesus issued the invitations, “Come’ and “Follow Me.” And over and over again, people took Him up on it. And some did not. (For example, the Rich Young Man in Matthew 19:16-22, and the man who wanted to bury his father first in Luke 9:59-60.) But in any case, the invitation came from Jesus.

While these invitations were specifically given to individuals, after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the invitation became worldwide in its scope: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:32) Today Jesus’ “Come, follow Me” is an invitation extended to all mankind, so that whoever says “yes” by believing in Him “shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Father, this shifts the whole idea of the way we do evangelism. So often we spend a lot of time trying to drive people to Jesus, trying to persuade them to “go.” But in the book of Acts, the emphasis is different. It is more about “Come.” The disciples seem mostly focused on helping people to clearly see their sinfulness and their condemned and hopeless position. When they realize that, they become desperate for the solution: “Brothers, what shall we do?” Then the disciples pointed them to Jesus, not to argue them into accepting Him, but to show them that He has solution to their condemnation, that He is their Savior. The invitation is to “Come, and follow Him.” And when they do, when they aren’t “argued or pushed into the kingdom,” but invited to “come and follow Jesus,” the impact on their lives is profound. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 21, 2015

John 1:29-34 (NIV):  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

John’s mission was not only to prepare the hearts of the people for the Messiah.  He was also to identify the Messiah when He came.

John baptized, not because this was a “normal” thing for prophets to do, but because the One who had sent him (God) had told him to baptize.  And God had also told him that He would use the baptizing of the people as the way in which He would point out to him who the Messiah was.  And when he knew who He was, his job was then to point out this man to all the rest.

John had seen the sign that God had given him, immediately after he baptized Jesus.  As Jesus went up out of the water, John saw heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove and remained on Him.  Then God’s voice was heard saying, “This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

All of that fulfilled everything that God had told John, and proved to Him that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, and the very Son of God.  And, of course, once he knew, he couldn’t help testifying about Him.  It was what he had been born to do.

Father, the thing that strikes me most strongly about John was his obedience.  He never got full of himself; he never tried to build his own kingdom.  He simply bided his time out of the public eye in the wilderness (Luke 1:80) until You called him (Luke 3:1-3).  And then he went and did all that You called him to do.  When Jesus showed up, there was no resentment, no trying to protect his own turf.  There was only excitement and joy as he realized that his purpose in life had now been accomplished.  Father, may I have that same passion for your calling on my own life; that same single-minded devotion to You and to Your calling, so that all else falls away until it is accomplished.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 19, 2015

John 1:24-28 (NIV):  Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

It was inconceivable to the Pharisees to think that their view of the Scriptures and of God’s plan was in any way deficient. They had tried to pigeon-hole John into the plan as they had worked it out, but he didn’t fit into any of their convenient categories.  He wasn’t the Messiah (Greek:  “The Christ”), he wasn’t Elijah, he wasn’t even the Prophet.  So their next question to him was, “If you aren’t any of these people, what are you doing baptizing people?”

John’s answer was clear and concise:  “I am baptizing with water, but I am merely preparing the way for the One who will come after me.  He is already here, but He hasn’t revealed Himself yet.  But that time is coming soon.  He is majestic, and mighty, and holy.  I am not worthy to even be His lowliest slave – the one who unties His sandals for Him.”  Luke adds an important element to John’s declaration that was spoken to a crowd at a different time:  “I baptize you with water, but the One who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (cf. Luke 3:16)

The Pharisees understood baptism to be a sacramental act associated with other forms of ritual washing.  For example, new converts to Judaism were often baptized, symbolically washing away the uncleanness of the gentile world from them.  But John’s baptism puzzled them.  These were Jewish people that he was baptizing.  According to the belief system of the Pharisees, they didn’t need to be baptized.

But John tried to get them to see that his baptism was a merely step of preparation, a way to prepare the hearts of the people for the One who was to come.  It symbolized a turning away from sins committed in the past (repentance), and a fresh, clean, open heart, ready to welcome in the Messiah when He came.  John understood that Jesus would bring a better, more complete baptism than he was doing.  Jesus’ baptism would carry with it the promise of the Holy Spirit and fire that would purge the heart of every sin, and make mere human beings into genuine saints.  (cf. Acts 2:38-39)

Father, the Pharisees had already made up their minds about what You were doing, and how You would go about it, so the majority of them completely missed it when You did act – it didn’t fit into their predesigned template.  But You clearly revealed Your plan to those with ears tuned to Your voice, and they passed the word to others who were ready to hear (cf. Luke 3:2-3).  Father, help me to keep my ears tuned to Your voice at all times so that I can hear every syllable that you speak to me.  The free up my tongue so that I can clearly tell others.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 9, 2015

John 1:19-23 (NIV):  Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'”

John knew exactly who he was and precisely what his calling was.  The religious leaders had heard about a powerful preacher whose preaching was causing the repentance of many, and that he was baptizing hundreds of people.  So they sent a delegation to check him out.

There were three important personages that were closely related in the minds of the devout at the time:  The Messiah, Elijah, and the Prophet.  The Messiah, the anointed Deliverer (in Greek “the Christ”) had been expected for some time, so they wanted to find out if John was finally Him.  The popular image of Messiah had grown into a religious, military, and civic leader who would overthrow the Romans and take over the throne in Jerusalem, ushering in a new golden age for the Jewish people.  The Jewish leaders asked John if he was the Messiah they had all been waiting for.  And, of course, he said no.  He knew that he was merely the forerunner, the preparer of the people for the coming of the true Messiah (cf. Luke 1:16-17, 76-77).  The Messiah Himself would be coming later.

They next asked John if he was Elijah, the great prophet who had overthrown the priests of Baal and Asherah, turning the hearts of a rebellious people back to the Lord (cf. 1 Kings 18:20-40).  Based on Malachi 4:5-6 the religious leaders understood that Elijah was going to come to prepare the way for the Messiah.  But they interpreted the words of the prophecy too literally.  John was not a reappearance or reincarnation of Elijah.  Instead, he was a unique messenger cast in the mold of Elijah, and with a similar calling.  Jesus Himself identified John as the one who had fulfilled Elijah’s role as the forerunner, the preparer of the people (Matthew 17:10-13).

Failing to identify John with either of these, the leaders asked him if he was the Prophet.  The Prophet (with a capital P) was less clearly defined in most people’s minds than the Messiah or Elijah, but he was predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.  But even though John was a genuine prophet, bringing the word of the Lord to the people, he had not come to fulfill the expectations that the people had for “THE Prophet.”

Instead of any of those predetermined roles, each loaded with implications and assumptions, John knew exactly who he was and what he had been sent to do.  He was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'” His role was to proclaim the soon coming of the Messiah and to urge people to get ready – to repent and to prepare their hearts to receive Him when He did show up.  That was his role, and not only was he actively and conscientiously working the job he had been given, he steadfastly refused to be turned aside from it by the expectations of anyone else.

Father, You have given each one of us a job to do, just like You did with John – a job just as clearly defined, and just as vital:  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a NIV)  Help us to be just as faithful in fulfilling our calling as John was in fulfilling his, and just as unwilling to be turned aside or distracted from it by anything or anyone.  Amen.

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