Monthly Archives: June 2015

Today’s Scripture – June 25, 2015

John 3:9-13:  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.”

Even after Jesus carefully explained to Nicodemus that the new birth He was talking about was a spiritual rebirth, Nicodemus still didn’t get it.  The door to his mind was closed, stuck in a paradigm from which he couldn’t break free.

Jesus found Nicodemus’ spiritual dullness not only incredible, but deeply troubling.  Here was a man, a leader of God’s people, someone that others respected and looked to for instruction in the things of God, who couldn’t seem to grasp even this simple argument that, since God’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, a person must be spiritually born again to enter it!

But even though this was frustrating to Jesus, it was not altogether surprising.  For a long time the faith of the Jewish people had been degrading from one of relationship with the living Creator God, to one of relationship to written words.  As God spoke through Isaiah (and was quoted by Jesus), These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8-9)  Nicodemus loved the Law, and he loved all that had been written about the Law by the rabbis and scribes and sages that had come before him.  But the Law (and his love for it) had become so much of a focus of his life that he could not see beyond it to the living God, the one who had designed it to lead people to a deeper relationship with Himself.

In fact, Nicodemus couldn’t see beyond the Law to the one who was sitting directly across from him.  He had heard Jesus’ teachings, and recognized in them a deep truth that resonated in his soul.  He saw the miracles that Jesus was doing, and reasoned from them that Jesus must have come from God (John 3:2).  But his mind was closed to where this train of thought should reasonably lead:  that Jesus was the Son of God, God in the flesh, sitting right in front of him!

Jesus expressed His consternation with this state of affairs.  He had come from heaven to speak to God’s people about heavenly things.  But God’s people, even the most devout of them, were so trapped in their worldview that they couldn’t even understand Him when He spoke to them about earthly things.  The revelation of God’s great salvation was dawning; the kingdom of God was at that moment breaking into the material world.  And the very people who should have been ready for it, whose study of God’s word should have prepared them for its ultimate expression, were deaf and blind to what was happening.  It was a great tragedy!

The hope that still remained was that people like Nicodemus really did love God, even though their minds were not yet open to what He was doing through Jesus.  He still had three years, and in that time SOME of these leaders, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, would begin to believe.  It wasn’t all that He had hoped for, but it would be a start.

Father, how many of us, even today, are in love with a concept of You, even in love with Your word, but have lost track of You Yourself?  How often do we come to You for what You can give us, what You have promised in Your word, but not consider that, instead, we should be falling at Your feet, surrendering your lives, our agendas, and even our desires, to what YOU want?  Lord, open our eyes to Your glory, Your majesty, so that we can truly see You.  In Your light, help us to see ourselves, so that we can keep our world and our priorities in the right order.  Help us to hear Your voice clearly, so that we can obey You in every particular.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 23, 2015

John 3:3-8 (NIV):  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Jesus responded to Nicodemus’ statement that he knew that Jesus had “come from God” by telling him that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  Nicodemus believed that, because of his education and experience, he knew a lot about God and His ways.  But Jesus was pointing out to him that his knowledge was actually very deficient.  His was the position of someone on the outside of God’s kingdom looking in, not that of an actual insider.

Jesus’ statement stunned Nicodemus.  Jesus had said it so calmly, so matter-of-factly, that Nicodemus interpreted it materially instead of spiritually.  How could a person be born a second time.  Could he crawl back into his mother’s womb to be born again?  He had nothing in his background, nothing in all of his education or experience that could help him make sense of this cryptic statement.

Jesus’ answer is clear:  the only way to enter the kingdom of God is by being born again spiritually, what Paul refers to as a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Flesh gives birth to flesh.  If the only birth we have had is a physical birth, there is nothing in us that can belong to God’s kingdom, because His kingdom is a kingdom of the Spirit.  But the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  When we are born again, born of the Spirit, made into a completely new creation, we becomes a spiritually alive being that can inhabit God’s spiritual kingdom, even while we live in this world.

Jesus continued, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  This simply means that to those who are not born of the Spirit, those who have only had a physical birth, the things of the Spirit (and the people of the Spirit) are a great mystery.  The Spirit says and does things that make no sense to the physical, earthly mind.  But merely trying harder to understand will never make the workings of the Sprit, or of the people controlled by the Spirit, comprehensible to the natural mind.  Only a new birth, a new creation into the kingdom of God, will make these things intelligible.  (The fact that Nicodemus didn’t grasp what Jesus was saying at all was proof that he had not, in fact, been born of the Spirit yet.)

Father, when someone doesn’t seem to grasp spiritual realities, even the simplest ones, we often try to educate them, or encourage them, or finally just tell them to keep going and they’ll get it someday.  But we seldom seem to realize that the real problem is most likely not a lack of education or maturity; it may simply be that they have never really been born again.  Give us eyes like Jesus had, so that we can see beyond appearances to the spiritual realities behind them, so that we can help people to find the real solution.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 19, 2015

John 3:1-2 (NIV):  Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Nicodemus was a good man who feared God and obeyed Him scrupulously, without the self-righteous attitude that was characteristic of so many Pharisees.  He came to Jesus, not to cross-examine Him, or accuse Him, but to simply find out who He really was, and what He had to say about Himself.

Some believe that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because He was afraid to be seen with Him.  But this event happened very early in Jesus’ ministry, and no strong opposition to Him had yet coalesced.  Admittedly, some of the Jewish leaders were angry at Jesus for His “impertinent” clearing of the temple a few days earlier.  But many more were merely curious about this man who had suddenly burst onto the scene, and who was now astonishing the people with His teachings and with the miracles that He was doing.  Nicodemus was one of those.

He came to Jesus at night because Jesus would not then have been surrounded by the crowds that were thronging Him in the temple every day.  He found out where Jesus was staying, and went to Him on behalf of some of the others who were just as curious about Jesus as he was.

In his opening statement, Nicodemus tells us three things:

  • He calls Jesus “rabbi,” a title of respect normally reserved for those who had received formal education in the law.  Nicodemus had no way of knowing whether or not Jesus had been trained, but he had heard His teachings, and was obviously impressed.
  • He calls Jesus a “teacher who has come from God.”  This title is very close to calling Jesus a prophet.  At this juncture in history, true prophets were very scarce and had been for some time. But Jesus’ authoritative actions that He claimed were on God’s behalf, His profound teachings that were deeply affecting people and that obviously had God’s power behind them, and the miracles that He was doing, all pointed to the distinct possibility that He might be the real thing.
  • He knew about the miracles that Jesus was doing.  Again, miracles had been very scarce over the last few centuries.  Apart from the miracle of the oil that had occurred during the rededication of the temple after it had been defiled by the tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes (memorialized in the celebration of Hanukkah), there really hadn’t been anything in the way of real certifiable miracles since the return from the Exile.  But now here was Jesus, healing diseases and infirmities in plain sight, and effortlessly casting out demons.

All of these pieces of evidence had led Nicodemus and some of his fellow Pharisees to one conclusion:  whether Jesus was a prophet, the Prophet, or the Messiah Himself, He had clearly been sent by God, and God Himself was powerfully present in Him and working through Him.

Father, I wish that more people had the kind of openness that Nicodemus had.  So many, even in the face of incontrovertible miracles, pull away from a supernatural explanation, resorting to the safe havens of “chance,” or “luck,” or “sometimes things like that just happen.”  (As in, “Sometimes cancer just disappears and nobody knows why!”)  Lord, continue to pour out mighty miracles through Your people all over the place.  Confront those who will not be persuaded with such miracles that they must at least entertain the notion that it is only by Your hand that such things are happening.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 17, 2015

John 2:23-25 (NIV): Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

The Jewish leaders wanted to see Jesus do a miracle as proof of His authority to clear the temple.  But He would not do a miracle to meet their demands.  For those who needed a miracle but did not demand one, however, Jesus gave freely.

The miracles were all that many people needed to believe in Jesus.  As the newly healed blind man would later say, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” (John 9:33)  Nobody had been able to do miracles for a very long time.  But now here was a man who could not just do a miracle now and then, but one who could do one right after the other: healing sicknesses, casting out demons, whatever was needed.  They weren’t completely sure who Jesus was, but they knew that He had to be someone who had come from God.

Even though the people trusted Jesus, He would not entrust Himself to them.  Jesus, the creator of mankind, knew people from the ground up.  He knew the evil that was in the twisted hearts of people, as well as how fickle they could be.  He knew that as long as the people got from Him what they wanted, they would be solidly on His side.  But if the miracles stopped, or if they somehow got disillusioned, they would turn against Him with the same fervor that they were scrambling to be near Him now.

Even at this point in His ministry, Jesus could see ahead to the welcoming crowds that would line the streets during His triumphal entry; the same people who would, just a few days later, be calling for His crucifixion.  But even knowing that for a certainty, Jesus still loved those people.  He understood that He had come to die for them BECAUSE they were depraved and fickle.  He knew that only through His death and resurrection could the brokenness of their hearts be made whole.  Only through His sacrifice could their relationship with God be restored so that they could be made genuinely holy.

Father, one of the greatest mysteries to me is how You can love us when we are so unlovable.  Because You don’t just love the “nice” people, You love the whole world.  You loved me when I was unlovable, and pursued me when I was in rebellion against You.  Thank You for Your love and Your grace, so freely given to us all.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 16, 2015

John 2:18-22 (NIV):  Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

At the time that He spoke to them, Jesus’ words in answer to the Jews made no sense, even to His disciples.

The Jews were furious at Jesus for disrupting the temple and its commerce.  Even the high priest and the scribes had no problem with the animal stalls and the money changers.  It made things easier for the worshipers, and it was way over in the Court of the Gentiles, close enough for the people to get to it, but, in their minds, far enough out of the main stream of the temple traffic that it wouldn’t bother anybody.

They figured that if Jesus had a problem with something that even the high priest was okay with, He must think He was somebody pretty special, putting Himself in the place of God.  So they asked for a miraculous sign that would prove that He had authority from God Himself to clear the place out.

They didn’t actually expect Jesus (or anybody else for that matter) to be able to do a miracle.  They believed that the days of miracles was long gone.  Their goal was to shut Jesus down publicly before He could do any more mischief.  But Jesus would not be shut down.  With eyes ablaze and locked onto His challengers, He spread His arms wide and declared, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

His answer completely blew away His inquisitors.  It was incredible to them that anyone could destroy this massive complex in the first place.  But for someone to claim that, if that happened, He could build it again in only three days was insanity!  This temple had stood since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, right after the exiles returned from Babylon.  Herod had begun a remodeling project on it, massively expanding the courts and beautifying the whole temple area.  And the project had been going on for the past 46 years.  How could this itinerate preacher possibly believe that He could rebuild such a magnificent structure, even if he had years to do it in?

After Jesus rose from the dead, the light came on for the disciples.  The temple Jesus had been talking about wasn’t the building; it was His body!  The Jews had indeed torn it down all the way to the ground.  And Jesus had indeed rebuilt it in only 3 days.  The miraculous sign had been asked for, and it had been performed, proving that Jesus had all of the authority He needed to clear the temple and refocus the people back to God’s agenda.

Father, even today many demand a miracle or a sign to show that Jesus is really who we claim that He is.  But the truth is, the most amazing sign ever has already been given.  And if people refuse to accept a self-orchestrated resurrection from the dead as a good enough sign, nothing will be good enough.  Help us, Lord, to keep this miracle in front of the people around us, including the reason why it was so important – what it proved.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 15, 2015

John 2:12-17 (NIV):  After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Jesus was completely observant of the law.  He went up to Jerusalem three times each year for the three required feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), and this was the case even during His public ministry.  Being “busy” with His ministry never led Him to shirk the requirements of the law.

This was His first trip to Jerusalem since He had begun His ministry.  The livestock sellers and money changers were a fixture in the temple, and had been for many years.  They set up their booths and tables in the Court of the Gentiles, an outer court that was the only place that the gentiles could come to seek the one true God and pray.  The area was spacious, and away from the Jewish worshipers.  So it seemed like the perfect place for the sheep and cow stalls, the bird cages, and the tables of shekels that God would accept as offerings instead of the idol-embossed denarii.

But Jesus saw this for what it really was:  open disrespect for God and for His agenda.  By placing the noisy, smelly marketplace in the only part of the temple where outreach could happen, these merchants were turning away from their commission as God’s people to be a light to the gentiles.  So they were contaminating the temple area with something more offensive than animal dung; they were contaminating it with outright contempt for God Himself.

Jesus knew that no subtle sermon would break through the hardened hearts of these traders, or help them to see that their turning God’s home into a market was rebellion.  What was needed was action – a dash of cold water in their faces that would make them gasp at its audacity, and perhaps cause them to turn their attention away from their money long enough to hear God’s voice.

So He overturned the tables, sending the coins rattling across the stone pavement.  He opened the animal pens and bird cages, and drove the animals away with a cord whip.  It was all over before anyone could figure out what to do about it.  And then His stern words of challenge while His eyes blazed with passion:  “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!””

Through long years of living and working in the shadow of God’s dwelling place, these men had lost sight of God’s presence there.  To them, the temple had become merely a place where they went to work each day, worrying more about their profit margin than the holiness of their hearts.  Worrying more about who would trade with them than about the one in whose sight they were trading.

Father, how easy it is to grow stale in our perception of Your presence.  How easy to grow so accustomed to the idea that You are nearby that we are no longer struck by the wonder of it, and to live as if our livelihoods, our families, and even our church duties are the most vital things in our lives.  Lord, shake up our hearts today as Jesus shook up the Court of the Gentiles.  Drive from us anything that has taken Your place in our hearts, anything that has dulled our senses to Your presence and Your call on our lives.  Purify us and refill us with all the wonder that is due You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 10, 2015

John 2:6-11 (NIV):  Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

Once Jesus was sure that it was the Father’s will that He solve the wine problem at the wedding, He did so quickly and effectively.  There were a few servants standing by, waiting for His orders.  Even though He could have produced wine from nothing, He decided to use the servants’ help.

Filling these large stone jars took several trips to the local well – a total of about 150 gallons had to be carried back to the house.  And, of course, Jesus did not have to engage in any hocus-pocus.  He did not spend minutes or hours pouring out pleading prayers to the Father.  He knew that the Father’s will was to turn the water into wine (cf. John 5:19-20) in order to increase the faith of His followers.  So He simply obeyed the Father’s will, while His handful of disciples watched in silent amazement.

At the moment the jars were filled with water the miracle was done.  They were instantly filled with the finest quality wine, which was taken to the master of the banquet for his approval, which he gave to the completely mystified bridegroom.

Some people get hung up on the fact that wine was created in this first miracle, and fine wine at that.  But that misses the point.  This miracle is not a rebuttal to scriptural injunctions against over-indulging in wine.  Nor is it a divine approval of the modern wine industry.  It was simply a concrete demonstration of who Jesus really was:  the Creator God in bodily form, performed to foster deeper faith in His disciples.  And that’s exactly what it did.

Father, it is so easy for us to hang ourselves up on the details of an event, and completely miss the main point of why you included that event in the historical record of your Scriptures in the first place.  In this case, like the disciples, we need to come away from this miraculous event more convinced than ever that Jesus really was the eternal Word made flesh, seeing in it a demonstration of His glory as they did.  Help us, Lord, to have eyes that truly see all that You want to show us in Your word.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – June 2, 2015

John 2:1-5 (NIV):  On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Many questions have been asked about the wedding at Cana, and many conjectures put forth.  But the details, as much as people crave them, are not important. As is true everywhere in the gospels, Jesus, His words, and His actions are the vital things.  In this case, the wedding merely serves as the scene, the backdrop for His first sign – the place where He pulled the curtain back just a bit so that His glory could be revealed to His disciples.

Up to this time, Jesus had not performed any miracles or done any large-scale public preaching.  He had left His home in Nazareth at the direction of the Father, aware that the time had come for Him to start down the path that had been laid out for Him.  He was baptized by John in precise obedience to God’s will, and the Holy Spirit had descended on Him and remained (cf. Matthew 3:13-17).  He was then led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He successfully withstood the testing of the enemy (Matthew 4:1-11).  Then He came back to the Jordan for a few days, where He gathered His first few disciples from among those who had been prepared by John.  Now He was at a wedding, waiting for the Father’s go-ahead to start preaching, teaching, and doing the miracles that would attest to the reality of God’s kingdom.

When Mary, His mother, came to inform Him that the wine for the wedding had run out, she clearly expected Him to do something about it.  She had always known that He would one day begin the work that she had been told about at the time of His conception.  And then one day He had told her that the time had come, and had left.  Then, a couple months later, He had come to the wedding with a little band of followers.  In Her eyes, He had begun.

Jesus knew that the time for Him to “go public” was still on the near horizon.  But He heard in His mother’s instructions to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you,” the Father’s guidance to fill this need in order to build the faith of those few that He had chosen to follow Him.  And so He began a small “private” ministry before His “public” ministry officially started.

Father, even Jesus had to stay flexible and responsive to Your instructions.  I know that it is really easy for me to get so fixated on the big goals that You have pointed me to that I can miss the opportunities that You want to help me to see and respond to along the way.  Help me, Lord, to keep an open ear to Your voice, and an open eye to the margins of my way, just like Jesus did, so that I can respond to your slightest leading, and reveal Your glory along my way.  Amen.

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