Monthly Archives: September 2015

Today’s Scripture – September 26, 2015

John 5:16-20 (NIV):  So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.  Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”  For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.

The Jewish leaders were so focused on the fact that Jesus had broken their rules about the Sabbath that they completely missed the big picture.  Instead of rejoicing over the fact that God had miraculously healed a man through Jesus, a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, they were incensed because the healing at taken place at the wrong time.

Jesus tried to help them to understand what they were missing.  Jesus was not a lone wolf, an independent agent.  As a member of the Trinity, He always acted in unity with God the Father.  If He healed a person, it was not just His idea; He was working in concert with the Father.  If He did that healing on the Sabbath, it was because the Father had decided that the Sabbath was the right time for the healing to take place.  And if Jesus was obeying the Father, then His actions in no way broke the Sabbath laws as the Father prescribed them, and was in no way sin.

God’s focus for the Sabbath was not simply to avoid any and all activity, but to change the focus of a person’s activities to Him and His agenda.  Every one of God’s people was to cease their normal work for one full day every week, entrusting their livelihoods to Him.  They were to leave their businesses in His care, and even leave their crops in His care for a full day, even during the plowing and harvest seasons (cf. Exodus 34:21), entrusting even their food supply to Him.  For a full day they were to put aside the concerns of their lives, and focus entirely on God and His agenda.

Admittedly, it is simpler for people to simply “outlaw” all activities on the Sabbath.  But even on the Sabbath God is still speaking, still working to save people, to draw people closer to Himself.  Instead of merely being a day of inactivity, Jesus properly understood the Sabbath as a day set aside completely to God, to focus wholeheartedly on His agenda, His will, unclouded by the day-to-day concerns of life.

It is this focus which leads to what some might see as contradictions.  The same devotion to God and His Sabbath that would cause a person to close His business on that day would also cause him or her to obey God’s call to heal a person, or make time to take them to the hospital.  The same devotion that would cause them to not mow their law on the Sabbath would also cause them to obey God’s call to mow the lawn of a sick or disabled neighbor.

The key point of the Sabbath is not to count the number of steps that we walk, but to take the steps that God directs us to take.  It is not about how heavy a load we should carry, but about carrying the load that God directs us to carry.  If the Father Himself had not directed Jesus to the pool of Bethesda to heal this long-disabled man, the man would not have been healed.

As always, to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention better than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22b).  The rules which the Jewish leaders had erected around God’s Sabbath actually had the effect of blinding them to God’s leading and making them deaf to God’s voice for one full day each week – a malady that did NOT afflict Jesus.

Father, this points out that You are still present and active in our world today, guiding and directing Your people seven days a week.  We know that You will not contradict today what You said in Your word – You are the same yesterday, today, and forever.  But, as Jesus understood, as He experienced and lived out in His obedience to Your voice, obeying Your direction to minister to others, to heal, to evangelize, and to help someone to grow in their knowledge and experience of You will never violate Your commandments – even on the Sabbath.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – September 22, 2015

John 5:9-15 (NIV):  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.'” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”  The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

Jesus broke many man-made Sabbath “rules,” but He never broke God’s Sabbath law.  The law that God gave the people through Moses says basically that a person should work at their livelihood for six days, but that on the Sabbath, one day every week, they must rest from their labor and focus on God.  God forbade things like making fires, gathering firewood and cooking on the Sabbath because those things could all be done the day before with some planning, leaving the day free to rest and to focus on Him.

But the teachers of the law had taken this way further than God intended.  They had surrounded this simple command with hundreds, thousands of extra rules, which had made the Sabbath a burden instead of the blessing that it was meant to be.  They had mandated how far a person could walk on the Sabbath before it became “work;” how heavy a load they could carry; and they even forbade healing anyone, or even treating an injury in such a way that it might promote healing.  And then they enforced these additional rules as if they were laws that God had commanded.

When Jesus told this once-disabled man to pick up his mat and walk, neither picking up his mat nor walking actually violated God’s Sabbath law.  (If they did, Jesus would not have told him to do it!)  But the Jewish leaders were incensed that someone would engage in what they considered flagrant law-breaking in this manner.  So they questioned the man.

The man gave them more than they expected.  Not only had someone told the man to pick up his mat (strike 1) and walk (strike 2), this man had also supposedly healed him on the Sabbath (strike 3)!  This man who had done this had to be found and punished!

But the once-disabled man couldn’t identify Jesus – he had never seen Him before, and He had never given His name.  So the manhunt was frustrated before it ever got started.

The man went to the temple to praise God for his healing, which was right and proper.  But when Jesus found him there, He saw that this man would quickly betray Him to the Jewish leaders if he had the chance – the man was more afraid of them than he was thankful to Jesus for healing him.  Jesus tried to warn him away from that betrayal, but as soon as Jesus had finished talking with him, he went to the leaders and identified Jesus as the one who had healed him.

Father, how often do we get so tied up in our man-made rules that we obey them scrupulously, while at the same time careless treating, or even completely disregarding your real commands – and blindly disregarding the evil that lies in our own hearts!  Lord, we must be made clean inside by You if we are going to be able to obey You in every way.  Our hearts must be made pure by Your Holy Spirit if we are going to be able to NOT betray You when the chips are down.  It is all so clearly a heart matter.  Lord, help us, cleanse us, purify us through and through, so that we can follow You and obey You with our whole being.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – September 21, 2015

John 5:8-9a (NIV):  Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

This man had been an invalid for 38 long years.  He had tried cure after cure, all to no avail.  He had only grown more discouraged and more hopeless, with each failure.  Finally, he had become a man resigned to being an invalid his whole life.  He still sought healing at the pool, but held out no hope of ever really receiving it.

But then came Jesus.  Jesus had listened as the man explained that he really did want to get well, but that, due to his condition, someone always beat him into the water, in effect “stealing” his healing.  But Jesus stopped his whining and excuse-making with a single, short command:  “Get up, pick up your mat and walk!”  The time for excuses and explanations was over.  The time for obedience was here.

The man believed Jesus, and he could feel strength flooding back into his long-unused muscles.  The stronger he felt, the more his faith grew.  Finally, in the space of just a few seconds, the man felt fine.  He stood up, rolled up the mat he had been laying on, and started walking home to share this amazing news with his family and friends.

Father, You make things so simple.  We tend to want to complicate things, to dress them up with rituals, and rote prayers.  But Jesus’ few words spoken into this man’s life, plus the man’s obedience to Jesus’ commands, worked a mighty miracle.  Father, help us to worry less about “technique,” and to focus more on simply obeying You, so that You can continue to do mighty miracles in our lives, and through our lives into the lives of others.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – September 17, 2015

John 5:1-7 (NIV):  Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.  Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  Here a great number of disabled people used to lie–the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Many people in Jesus’ day, just like many today, seek God “indirectly.”  That is, instead of merely coming to God in faith for healing (or whatever else they might need), they go to a shrine, or to some “high place,” or even to a person reputed to be a healer or miracle worker.

Sometimes the person receives the miracle that they need.  But often they don’t.  Then, instead of seeking God more directly, they spend time and energy trying to puzzle out the right “formula” that will facilitate the miracle – the correct combination of place, and posture, and phrase that will perform the magic.  Yes, magic, because that is what this degrades to:  man’s efforts to influence natural forces through their own actions or words.

That was where this man was.  He had been an invalid for 38 long years, and had been brought to the Pool of Bethesda day in and day out for a long time.  But he had never gotten the “magic” to work for him.  He had lacked a person who was willing to carry him into the pool when the waters were disturbed.  The “magic formula” only allowed healing to the first person in, and the man couldn’t drag himself into the water before someone else got in and “stole” his miracle.

But now here was Jesus, God in the flesh, visiting this man at the place where he was seeking a miracle.  And Jesus asked what sometimes seems like a ridiculous question.  “Do you want to get well?”  “Of course he does,” we say!  “He has been laying at this poolside for ages!”

But the question is legitimate.  The man had stopped seeking God for his healing long years before, and was now pursuing superstition and magic instead.  He had turned away from the One who could actually provide what he claimed to desire so strongly.  Now, in order to receive his healing, he would have to turn back to God, to Jesus; trust in Him, and do what He would tell him to do, no matter how improbably that might seem.

Father, it is shameful how many of Your people have actually turned away from You in their search for the miracles that they need.  Instead of asking, seeking, and knocking, and continuing to do so until we receive from You, we read books on how to make our prayers more effective by being in the right place at the right time, or by using the right words.  It is understandable that some might grow discouraged when You don’t answer immediately, (this man had been waiting 38 years for the answer!), or in the way we think You should.  But the correct response is not to focus on technique, but on You.  Not to try to find the words that will move You, but to stay so close to You during the waiting times that we begin to hear Your heart beat, begin to be transformed by Your presence as we wait for Your appearing.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – September 9, 2015

John 4:46-54 (NIV):  Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.  When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.  While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.  When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.” Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed. This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.

Jesus’ words to this distraught father seem harsh to modern ears.  Here is a man pleading for the life of his desperately ill son, a son who may, in fact, be dying.  And Jesus chastises him as needing to see a miracle before he will really believe in Him.

But the context of Jesus’ statement is important.  First of all, Jesus was in Galilee, where the people actually were flocking around Him, not because they sincerely believed that He was the Messiah, but because they knew that He could do miracles, and hoped to see one or receive one. (John 4:45).

Secondly, Jesus knew what was in a person (John 2:25).  Even though this man had come to Jesus, he had not come because of who Jesus was, but simply because of what He could reportedly do.

All of that being said, Jesus’ compassion for the man moved Him to act, regardless of the man’s motive.  He didn’t go with the man clear back to Capernaum.  He didn’t have to.  He merely spoke the word and the miracle was accomplished.  Taking Jesus at His word, the man headed for home.

It was nearly 20 hilly miles back to Capernaum, and the man didn’t get back until the next day.  Before he reached town, he was met by his servants coming after him, bearing the good news that the boy had instantly recovered the day before, at the exact time that Jesus had said that the man could go, that his son would live.  It was only then that the man, along with his whole household started to really believe in Jesus.

Father, it is easy to be critical of this man for not really believing in Jesus until after He had done this mighty miracle, but simply coming because He had a need, something He wanted from Him.  But how many of us do the same thing?  All too often we come to You with our prayer lists, but at the same time we fret and stew about the things that are going on in the world, not really believing that You are the great God Almighty who can actually fix the things that we are fretting about.  We end up ourselves being people who don’t really believe unless we “see signs and wonders.”  Help us, Lord, to seek You first for who You are, to believe in what You have said, so that we can then seek You for what we need (cf. Matthew 6:33).  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Today’s Scripture – September 7, 2015

John 4:43-45 (NIV):  After the two days he left for Galilee.  (Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.)  When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.

Jesus had made the statement about a prophet having no honor in His own country/hometown (Mark 6:4) when the people of Nazareth had become offended at His wisdom and His ability to do miracles, instead of simply receiving what He had come to offer them.  It had been so bad that He had been prevented from doing any miracles outside of healing a few people.

Now Jesus was back in Galilee, His home region, after His rousing success among the people of Samaria.  And the contrast was stunning.  In Samaria, Jesus had done no miracles, but the people there had still flocked to Him to hear His words.  And His words alone had been enough to persuade them (John 4:41-42).

The people of Galilee, however, welcomed Jesus, not because of the wisdom that He had, not because of the words of God that He spoke, but because of the miracles that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast (cf., John 2:23).  They were more interested in the amazing things that Jesus could do than they were in hearing the amazing things that He wanted to teach them.

This difference was both surprising and troubling.  After all, the people of Galilee were among those that God had been working for centuries to prepare for His long-awaited Messiah.  But in some ways, they were less prepared to really receive Him than some who had lacked God’s more direct influence, like the Samaritans!  They were very impressed by Jesus’ miracles, of course, but many of them strongly resisted, or even resented, His teachings about God and His kingdom.

Thankfully, many did respond to Jesus’ teachings.  For them, the miracles were not the thing – they were merely the icing on the cake.  These people became His faithful followers, and ultimately became the core group from which the gospel spread out to the very ends of the earth.

Father, I can see in these words an indictment against our own times as well.  Far too few of the people today, even many who go by Your Name, are willing to simply receive Your words and to meditate on the teachings of Jesus.  We have degenerated into a very visual culture, with patience only for sound-bites and pithy bumper-sticker sayings.  But, at the same time, we are overawed by demonstrations of power, even pseudo-power, like street magic!  But these are weaknesses, and even things that the enemy can use to delude us and pull us aside from the truth!  (Matthew 24:24-25 contains a terrifying warning to people like us!)  Lord, we need Your help, we need Your power to reshape our hearts.  Mold us again into a people who love You and Your word more than we crave signs and wonders.  Help us to say with the Psalmist, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105)  Help us to delight in Your every word, and not insist that You prove Yourself or Your love for us by doing some miracle that we crave.  Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations