Friday, May 22, 2020

Before Abraham was, I Am


Read John 8

What do you do when Jesus tells you that your father is the Devil?

You fire back that he is a demon.  He is a Samaritan.  He’s a Longhorn.  He’s from California.  He does drink Dr. Pepper.

The problem was that Jesus spoke the truth and the Jews were grasping at straws.  The Jews wanted to claim God as their Father but Jesus had called them out.  He said that God sent him, he did the Father’s will, and you dishonored him.

I will give you the same theological term as before:  Ouch!

Jesus told them again that life—eternal life—was in him.  Believe and you will not die.  He did not come to condemn the world but to save it.

That set them off.  Everybody has died.  All the patriarchs died.  Are you greater than them?

Jesus told them that Abraham rejoiced at seeing his day.

That set the sparks a flyin’. Now we know that you are possessed by a demon.  You are not even 50 years old.  Abraham lived a long, long time ago.  You are saying things that you can’t possibly know. We gotcha now!


There is no subtlety here.  This is not the non-confrontation approach we saw at the beginning of the chapter with the woman brought before Jesus.  This is in your face:  I Am!

Now they were ready to kill Jesus for sure.  He could not say this unless he was indeed the Son of God and they were not going to believe that.

Jesus slipped away before anyone could do anything.  We know from our other reading that his time had not yet come.

Think on these words:  Before Abraham was, I am.

We often think of the 7 I Am statements in John, but there are many more.  The 7 statements are metaphors that Jesus used, but he used the words egō eimi or I Am more than within those 7 statements.  Each time they speak the words that God spoke to Moses. 

Jesus is proclaiming his divinity.  He is affirming he is of the Father and sent by the Father.  The truth that could set these men free from sin stood before them as the promised Anointed One, but their hearts had already been hardened and all they wanted to do was kill him.

What should we receive from this pericope?  It should give us a great perspective on Philippians 2 for one thing.  Jesus has always been.  He stepped out of heaven to live as a man, even from birth, to fulfill the law and the prophets, and go to the cross as the unblemished Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.

Later in John’s gospel, Jesus confided in his disciples that he is in the Father and the Father in him.  If you know Jesus, then you know the Father.  They speak the same language:  I Am.  They go by the same name:  I Am.

The Jews were so wanting to claim God and Abraham as their Fathers.  They wanted to be counted righteous because of their efforts to follow the law that came through Moses, yet they were blind to the truth and he was standing right in front of them.

Jesus gave them the name that his Father sent with Moses to deliver the slaves from Egypt.  It did not resonate with the Jews because they were not seeking after God.

For some time, the Jews had been asking:  Just who is this man?

Is he prophet?  Is he demon?

Does he come in the name of God?  Does he come only on his own behalf?

Is he the Christ?  Is he an imposter?

How can one from Galilee be who he says 
he is?

He is the carpenter’s kid, right?

Why have we not been able to trap him with our questions?

Can he be from God and be at work on the Sabbath?

Just who is this man?

In two words, egō eimi, know that Jesus is exactly who he said he is.

In two words, I Am, know that he was, is, and forever will be God.  He is the God who made us.  He is the God who has and always will love us.  He is the God who has redeemed us from our sin and has made a place with him for ever and ever.

Amen.


Facts or Purpose?



Read John 8

Because it’s about John 3:17...

Jesus was teaching and the religious leaders brought before him a woman caught in the act of adultery.  She was caught in the act!  There is no way he is going to get out of this without losing some credibility.

We could have hauled her before the Sanhedrin, but you were in the neighborhood and some are saying you are the Son of God, so we will just leave her with you.  What are you going to do?

We have 1 count of #7 of the Decalogue, Second Printing.  OK, Son of God, how do you find?

Among those who brought the woman, were the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.  These were the lawyers for the prosecution asking Jesus to stand in judgment.

It could have gone this way:

So, this woman was caught in the act?

Yes sir!

And you bring her before me based upon the seventh commandment?

Yes sir!  Moses would demand that she be stoned.

So, you want this judgment in accordance with the law that you received from Moses?

Yes sir!

Then where is her partner?


Are we doing this according to the law that you received from Moses?
Absolutely!

Then where is her partner?  As directed in Leviticus 20:10, both partners are to receive the death sentence.

Leviticus?

OK.  You call it V'yakra and you don’t have any number references for citations, but they are coming.

How do you know that?

Yesterday, today, tomorrow, forever… Hey, I know.  Where’s the partner?

We don’t have the man.

I thought she was caught in the act?

Well, err, it’s just that…

Case dismissed!

It could have gone that way, but it didn’t.  Jesus could have played the lawyer game and won.

My facts are better than your facts.  My facts are better than yours.  My facts are better…

He could have beaten them at their own game, but he didn’t.  Why?


Jesus didn’t come to win arguments but to win souls.  He did not come to prove himself right and others wrong.  His purpose was to bring life to the lifeless.

He came to help people cross over from death to life.

He was qualified to shred the arguments of the Pharisees, Teachers, and Sadducees.  Sometimes he did.  Here we see Jesus focusing on salvation not condemnation.

We know the story.  Let he who is without sin cast out the first stone.  Slowly from oldest to youngest, the rocks hit the ground and not the woman.

When it’s just Jesus and the woman, he asked her:  Who is left to condemn you?

She replied:  No one sir.

Jesus said that neither did he.  Now go live your life the way God has commanded.

Jesus came to save and not condemn.

Here’s another example where Jesus did not let the factual ineptitude get in the way of his mission, even though the Jews seemed ignorant of their own history.  Some people believed in Jesus and were ready to follow him.  To them he said:

If you abide in my words, you are my disciples indeed,
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.

The Jews who did not believe were offended that someone, especially this someone, would think that they needed to be set free.
We have never been slaves!

It could have gone this way.

Never been slaves, really?
Really.  We are Abraham’s children.

Do you remember what God told Abraham would happen to his children?

They would be more than we could number.  Father Abraham had many sons.  Many sons had Father…

Yes, that’s what my Father told Abraham.  I witnessed it.  We will get into that later, but for now think to the part where he said that for 400 years you would be slaves.

Yeah, ok, well there’s that.

And did it happen just as God told Abraham?

Yes, but Moses delivered us.  We crossed the Red Sea and the Jordan on dry land!

And did that fix everything?

We received the law!

Yes, you did but you neither understood it nor did you obey it.  You sought other gods and despite multiple warnings, you were exiled to slavery in Babylon.  Some of the northern tribes were taken by the Assyrians.   

Jesus could have handed these know-it-alls a heavy dose of humility.  He could have crushed them with the facts that they knew so well.  They had crossed over out of slavery into freedom once before, but Jesus came so they could cross over from death to life.

Jesus came to set them free from their sin.  He did not come to condemn but to save.

The people were slaves to sin.  Jesus came to liberate them, not to condemn them.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Jesus didn’t come to win arguments—which he surely could have done.  He came to save lives.  He came to rescue us from death and bring us to life, life abundant, and life eternal.

Why?

This is one that you know so very well.  For God so loved…

Thanks be to God that Jesus came to save and not condemn.

Amen.



Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Truth Shall Set You Free


Read John 8

This part of this chapter contains some of my favorite words from our Master.  Many had rejected him.  Many challenged him.  Many were just blind to the truth, but some believed and wanted to follow him.  So, to them he said.

If you abide in my words, you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set your free.

If you believe in Jesus, that he is the Son of God, and comes with the authority of the Father, and your sound mind tells you to follow him and do what he says, then you are his disciple. It’s not just knowing the words.  It’s knowing their author and committing to being his disciple.  You follow him by following what he taught you.

Then, you shall know the truth.  What truth?  Truth, as we know it from falsehood, is certainly within this promise, but you also get to know Truth with a capital T.  You know God through Jesus Christ.  In that intimate relationship, you are free from sin and free from death.

You will live eternally, but most of all, you are free to live as God designed you to live.  It’s the most important thing that you will do.


Many of the Jews were not up to this commitment.  They were Abraham’s children.  That checked the box as far as they were concerned.  When they heard the words set free, they countered, who are we that we need to be set free.  We were never slaves!

Had Jesus been inclined to dispute facts instead of bringing life, he might have pointed out the more than 400 years of slavery in Egypt to the people claiming to be Abraham’s children and followers of the Law of Moses.

It seems that four centuries slipped their minds.  They had also been captive in Babylon for a good stretch.  Slaves, captives, prisoners, and other terms of subjugation fit this group extremely well, but the real condition from which they needed emancipation was sin.

Jesus confronted them boldly about their predicament. 

I am from above.  You are from below.

My Father is in heaven.  Yours is the Devil!  

Ouch! Just Ouch!

Who is your daddy? 

He continued this discourse on the ignorance of many of God’s Chosen People.  The reason that you don’t believe is that you belong to the Devil.  Here is your chance to remedy that situation, that incarceration, that condemnation that subjugates you, but you won’t recognize the Illumination before you.

Here is the dichotomy.  You follow God or you follow the Devil.  There is no middle ground, no sitting on the fence, and no procrastination. There is no undecided category!  You are dead or you are alive.

Jesus is the light of the world.  In him is life.  He is our Lord.  Let this never be a question in our lives.  Let it always be an affirmation.

Jesus is light.
Jesus is life.
Jesus is Lord.

Amen!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Light of the World


Read John 8

Jesus continued to teach.  Earlier he declared himself to be the Bread of Life.  He lost a lot of followers after that discourse.  In this chapter he said:  I am the light of the world.

Whoever follows him walks in light, not in darkness.  Think back to chapter 1 where this light and darkness discourse began.

Light came into the world.  The darkness could not overcome it, but the world did not recognize it.  Chapter 8 picks up on that introduction with Jesus stating that he is the Light of the World.

The religious leaders and many lay persons had too much of an investment in this dark world to want to hear what Jesus told them.  He was from the Father.  His testimony was enough on its own but if you needed more, the Father testified to the same things.

Jesus told them that he was from above and they were from below.  Without his light—without believing he was of God and from God—they would remain in darkness.  They would exist without life. They were already dead.

Discord reigned among the Jewish leaders.  Who is this guy?  Where is he going that we can’t go?  Why should we believe what he has to say?

This discussion was consistent with those before as was the answer Jesus gave them.  I am who I said I am all along.  You don’t need more information.  You need to believe.

I love the short quote that makes the rounds via various memes these days.  It says something along the lines of:

We are overwhelmed with information but have a dearth of wisdom.

Everyone seems to want more information but few seek wisdom.  Our craving for information causes us to rubberneck when there is an accident scene with flashing lights all around.  Wisdom guides us to keep our eyes on the road so as not to become accident site number two at the same mile marker.

People crave more information.  Consider the 24-hour news cycle.  On any given day, there is probably enough news to fill an hour’s worth of broadcasting, but you are going to get 24 hours and so many people watch for that little tidbit that seems new.

I can only roll my eyes when the Breaking News logo scrolls across my screen.  I would kick myself if I could when it reads:  What we told you 20 minutes ago remains unchanged.

So many were asking for more information not so they could believe but so they could come up with new questions in an effort to delay having to process the information they had already been given.  Jesus had given them enough to believe in him, especially the leaders who knew the scriptures well and should have been expecting him.

In spite of the hard-heartedness of the leaders, many did come to believe.
To those who had not yet believed, Jesus told them they would get another chance.  When the Son of Man is lifted up then you will know that I am who I claim to be.  The question was, would they believe?

We know the story from prophecies to birth and to death and to resurrection.  We did not hear any parts first hand, but if it is information that drives us, we have all the information that we need.  But receiving Jesus as Lord is not about information.

So it really comes down to faith.  Do we believe?  We are told at this point in John’s account, many did come to believe in the One who called himself the Light of the World.

We say that we also believe.  Information will come and go and remain constant or be changed, but our belief—our faith in what is not seen—must not waiver.  God is our constant, our Rock and our Redeemer.  We believe.

Jesus is Light.
Jesus is Life.
Jesus is Lord.

Amen.

We are that woman!


Read John 8

The religious leaders wanted to get rid of Jesus.  He was messing up their well-ordered world, but the leaders needed at least a pretext or pretense of legitimacy.  If you were going to kill a prominent person, you needed to at least have something to go on, even if you had to go to great lengths.

So, the Scribes and the Pharisee brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus who had begun teaching at the temple courts once again.  They wanted to see if Jesus would direct or consent to killing her because that’s what Moses said to do.  If Jesus refused, then they could claim he was a goody two shoes who disobeyed the law.

This was not a woman accused of committing adultery.  She was caught in the act.  The folks that dragged the woman before Jesus probably thought this was surely an open and shut case, except that the very law that required her death also required the death of the man who was her partner.

It takes two to tango and the law required both to be put to death.

Jesus could have legitimately called these religious lawyers on their miscarriage of justice.  He could have said, bring the second party to the crime to stand with this woman.  He did not.

He was totally nonconfrontational.  In fact, he wasn’t even making eye contact.  He was looking down writing something in the sand.  Speculate to your heart’s content as to what it was.

When he stood, he announced:  Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

While the religious leaders and the law-abiding Jews were self-righteous; they were not without self-awareness.  They were not ignorant.  All had sinned.

Jesus had given the crowd permission to follow the law given by Moses.  His only stipulation was that whoever was going to kick off this rock-throwing extravaganza, needed to obey all of the law as well.

You know the rest.  Slowly, from oldest to youngest, stones started dropping and people left.  Everyone who arrived with a rock in hand was gone.  This had not gone as they expected. 

Jesus asked the woman:  Is there no one left to condemn you?

She answered in the negative, probably shocked that she was still alive.

Jesus told her to take hold of the life that she had just be given and leave her life of sin behind.  That was truly an impossible charge, at least until Jesus himself fulfilled all the law and the prophecy required and die for our sins on the cross.

But his charge, his command to her was to go and sin no more.  Change your life.  You have just been given your life back.  Now live it for the glory of God.

This is our story.  We may have not been doing the deed with our neighbor’s spouse, but we all have fallen short of the glory of God and through Christ, we have been given our life back.  He wants us to live for the glory of God.
He wants us to turn away from sin and our sinful nature and seek him and his nature.

Consider two things as we continue in chapter 8.  First, know that the Jewish leaders will stop at nothing to kill Jesus.  Second, know that Jesus stopped at nothing to save us from sin and death.  We are this woman.  Jesus gave us life anew.

How will we live?

Amen!

Friday, May 15, 2020

No one has ever spoken like this man


Read John 7

I hope that you read chapter 7 every day this week.  Don’t become complacent.  This study produces a return on investment for you and your families.  You are the beneficiaries of your own study.

I also hope that you read or watched the messages for the first part of this chapter.  These are meant to challenge you and send you back into the scriptures.  For every message that you receive, get Berean.  Search the scriptures using the messages as a challenge.

This morning’s pericope is something of a preface to the next two chapters.  You might think that the last part of the chapter should bring that chapter to conclusion, but remember the gospel authors wrote accounts without chapter numbers or headings.  What we talk about this morning gets you ready for the next two weeks.

So, let’s finish chapter 7.

The temple guards were sent to arrest Jesus and came back empty handed.  The Pharisees and priests were enraged.  They were ready to convict him in absentia. 

We know that they could not arrest Jesus because his time had not yet come.  It seems that maybe Mary, mother of Jesus, somehow managed to get his ministry kicked off a little earlier that he planned, but nothing was going to send him to the cross until it was the right time.  He had more to accomplish before then.

The guards gave their accounts.  No one has ever spoken the way this man did.

Angry that Jesus had not been brought before them and unwilling to give any credence to the account given by the guards, these religious leaders started ranting about how the guards had been deceived and the crowd was under a curse.

Has anyone of any status believed in this man?  The question was rhetorical as far as the leaders were concerned.  No one who counted for anything had believed in this man!

You have to wonder why these leaders wanted Jesus brought before them if they had already made up their minds.  Nicodemus, the Pharisee that you should remember from chapter 3 interjected that their own rules required a hearing before condemnation.

Instead of taking a breath, considering the counsel of this pharisee, and then proceeding according to the well-established procedures, the other leaders became angry with Nicodemus.

They countered the course of action presented by Nicodemus with accusations instead of reason and established regulation.  Are you from Galilee too?  No prophet comes out of Galilee.  Why are you being a stick in the mud?

So the religious hierarchy wanted to condemn a man for not following the rules—he healed on the Sabbath—but they were not willing to abide by their own rules and offer him a hearing.  You would think that the that dog don’t hunt rule would apply.

When reminded of the fact that this too would be transgression, they attacked the person instead of addressing the thoughts offered.  This foreshadows the kangaroo court that would follow later shortly before Jesus went to the cross.  Facts would be irrelevant.

This is also a glimpse into our time.  Someone proffers a statement and then instead of accepting, rejecting, or offering statements contrary to the view, so many will attack the author.

Once upon a time I wrote an editorial for The Oklahoman with the main line of thinking that I did not want the Bible taught in public schools.  I said that it would be sanitized to fit some government standard. 

There was a contemporary public conversation ongoing for several months about teaching the biblical creation story and evolution.  My contribution to this discussion was that instead of teaching the Bible in schools, we should teach thinking skills and tools so that our students could discern what they believed in faith, what was theory, and the standards that we used for finding something to be a fact.  I think I referenced the theory of evolution.

My print version received good reviews, so I published the exact same exposition online.  Never before had I received so many comments.  Over half of them began with the word “moron.”  These people didn’t read the 225 words that I had written.  They honed in on the phrase theory of evolution.

That prompted the comments: “Moron.  Evolution is fact.”
When you write something for public discussion, you expect some back and forth discourse.  I enjoy civil discourse more than most, but now the norm seems to be to attack the person instead of counter the argument. 

I can’t say that I was happy with all of the hateful comments, but I did think they proved my point that we should teach thinking skills and tools in school, instead of hoping students learn them indirectly in math, science, composition, or debating.

I have other examples that I won’t address now.  Many a coward is emboldened online but retreats when addressed in person.

All of that said to say, I think I know how Nicodemus felt.  You want to condemn this man for breaking our laws but you won’t abide by our laws to do it.  Instead you attack me.

Normally the Pharisees get lumped together as a group, but there are two Pharisees that we get some insight into in the gospels and Acts.  One is Nicodemus.  We don’t know if he ever was born of the Spirit but we know he sought to do the right thing according to his Hebrew faith, which included helping with the burial preparation and entombment. The other is Gamaliel, who offered sound counsel to the Sanhedrin when they wanted to put the apostles to death after the resurrection of the Christ. 

There is a third Pharisee that we know by name and are introduced to in Acts.  Saul of Tarsus studied under Gamaliel and gave us much of our New Testament.

Usually, I give you something to take home and chew on from the day’s scripture.  Today, I ask you to consider the mindset of most of the ruling council and about half of the Jews.  Half the people didn’t care what Jesus had to say.  They just wanted to trap him, trick him, or somehow do away with him by any means necessary.

Jesus was a threat to established religion and the existing way of life.  Jesus brought love and told his followers to believe, have faith and love one another.  Those directives fell on deaf ears among the religious leaders.  They could only think about getting him out of the way and getting back to the way things were.

The leaders of that day had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear, only hearts to condemn.

This short pericope at the end of chapter 7 will help you to understand much of what transpired in chapters 8 and 9.

If you need a nugget to chew on, try to be civil in your conversation, but mostly be ready for what is to come in the next two chapters.
Jesus is life.  Jesus is Lord.


Amen.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Just who is this Jesus?

Read John 7
Just who is this Jesus?

It was still the festival.  Jesus was still teaching in the temple courts and he told the crowd, he would not be around much longer.  Many questions circulated.

How can he be the Messiah?  The Christ must come from Bethlehem.  He did but they did not know that and Jesus did not feel obligated to participate in an interrogation.

Is this the man they want to kill?  Well why don’t they do something if they have the goods on him?  The infamous they was at work even long ago.

Surely the Messiah will perform more miracles than this man has, or will he?  What more should we expect?  Remember, most of the miracles of Jesus took place in Galilee, but word traveled throughout the area.

Jesus told the crowd that he was doing the will of the one who sent him.  God sent him.  This did not sit well with some.  He said that those who came to him would receive living water, that is the Spirit of God.

Jesus said he would only be with them for a short time and then would go where they could not come.  Speculation abounded.  Greece?  Other places where the Jews had been scattered over the centuries?  Where could he go where they could not?

Some believed and some wanted him arrested.  Some wondered why the religious leaders didn’t do something.  Eventually, they tried.

We are told that both the crowd and the religious leaders wanted to seize him but could not for a single reason.  His time had not yet come.

The people were divided.  Some came to him believing him to be prophet or Messiah.  Some wanted him arrested, but that would not happen on this day.  His time had not yet come.

Who was this Jesus?

This scripture in John’s seventh chapter is an opportunity to share something that many of you have heard before.  It’s C.S. Lewis’s Liar, Lunatic, or Lord exposition.  It’s worth hearing once more.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
The people were divided.  Jesus had yet to go to the cross.  The Spirit had yet to be given.  We should cut these folks a little slack.

But what about us?  We have the whole story?  Do we believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again?  Was he the Son of God?  Have we received salvation and life from him?

If the answer is yes, then Jesus is our Lord.

Jesus is life.  Jesus is Lord.

Amen!