Tuesday, November 17, 2020

John 18

Key verse: John 18:36

Big idea: The Son of God's Kingdom is not of this world. 

Today's reading centers on the trial of Jesus. Pilate is trying to determine if Jesus is a threat to his own power (about the only thing Pilate cares about) and is inquiring about the charge that He is the King of the Jews. Jesus does not answer His question directly, because Pilate would not understand it. Instead, He explains that His Kingdom is not of this world. It is a different kind of kingdom, with a different origin, a different scope, and a different methodology. If Jesus were a King like Caesar, His followers would have taken up arms to fight. But His followers stood back at His request, as He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. His Kingdom is not a Kingdom that grows by killing but by dying. The kingdoms of this world are all about what they can take, but our King is looking to give. 

He is a threat to Pilate. Just not in the way that the prefect imagines. Jesus is undermining the whole system of greed and violence on which Pilate has built His life. The Son of God is establishing a Kingdom which shall not pass away. On the tail end of another election, this should stop us in our tracks. Jesus is not ever going to be represented in the US or even there modern state of Israel. In this era, He is building a different kind of Kingdom, with people of every tribe, tongue, and nation. If His kingdom were of this world, we might try to create a nation that would enforce church attendance, ban blasphemy, and collect offerings by taxation. But His Kingdom is not of this world! If it were His servants would fight instead of praying and coerce instead of testifying. Buy we are called to serve Him in His way, for His glory. 

Discussion idea: From relatively early in history, Christians have regularly tried to fuse church and state. Why is this temptation so powerful? Why does it misunderstand what Jesus is doing?

Prayer focus: Identify some areas in your life -specifically - where you are operating in a worldly way instead of following the pattern Jesus has laid out. Pray for God to change your point of view and help you to live for His kingdom not of this world. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

John 17

 Key verse: John 17:23

Big idea: We share in the unity of the Son of God.

Thanksgiving is coming up, and maybe your spouse is already telling you how to keep the peace. No one needs to be upset over pie, so certain subjects are off-limits. Stick to how fast the weather changes and hating the Yankees so everyone can get along. Is that what Jesus meant when He prayed that His people would be one in John 17? Perhaps we should just ignore our differences, focus on what we can agree on, and all live happily ever after. Hardly. 

The prayer itself shows something deeper. Verse 21 is startling: "May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you." Somehow, believers are supposed to be one as the Father and the Son are one? But the Father and the Son really are one. There is one God, who is three persons, and so they are united in their very being. If that is the kind of unity Jesus was praying for, it is not something as simple as wallpapering over our differences. No, our unity must be in the very person of the God of holiness and truth. When we are saved, because Jesus died for us and rose again, we share in His glory. He lives within us, and we are "in Christ." If I am in Christ and Christ is in me, and you are in Christ and Christ is in you, we are brought together in a supernatural way that we simply cannot pretend to understand. Our unity is not an external convention, but a spiritual reality which we need to live out.

When we do live it out, not by meeting in the middle but by all drawing closer to the Son, it is the most powerful defense of the gospel (called an apologetic) that there can possibly be. If I tell someone that they can be reconciled to God while my life shows that I am reconciled to God's other children, then "the world may know [the Father has] sent [the Son] and [has] loved [us] as [He] has loved [Jesus]." God's love for us is revealed in our love for each other, because we have been invited to partake of the blessed harmony of God Himself. What a blessing! What a responsibility!

Discussion idea: How can we put our unifying love into action?

Prayer focus: Lord, make me what I already am. Help me to realize that since I am in You and am loved by You, that the others you love are worthy of my love as well. Help me to unify people around Your truth. Make us one, so others will see and join this sweet fellowship.

Monday, November 9, 2020

John 12

 Key verse: John 12:43

Big idea: The sign of a hard heart is loving people's praise.

People-pleasing is the kind of vice that sounds like a virtue. Wouldn't it be a good thing to want to make people happy? No one wants to disappoint people. But the issue is one of priority. If our prime directive is to avoid upsetting people, we are likely to frequently disappoint God. That is what happened to the people in this chapter, who believed Jesus' claims but refused to confess Him because they were worried about how the religious leaders would react. The threat of being shamefully excommunicated from the synagogue and polite society was more than they were willing to risk, so they smothered the truth (Romans 1:18). 

The reason it is so easy to become a people-pleaser is that we are so sensitive to the attitudes people have toward us. A little bit of praise or an angry complaint touches our hearts sharply and push us in one direction or the other. But our hearts are much harder when it comes to God. We do not notice His conviction when we are doing the wrong thing or His encouragement when we do the right. So the praise of people, which is really worth little, seems to be worth a lot. And the praise of God, which is worth everything, becomes neglected and ultimately ignored. These people, for fear of being rejected by people in life, risked being rejected by God in death. What about you?

Discussion idea: Are you a people-pleaser? What are some areas where you are tempted to be 'nice' rather than holy? Is it possible to satisfy people for long?

Prayer focus: Ask God to soften your heart so you are led by His priorities, not those of people. 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

John 10

 Key verse: John 10:4

Big idea: The sign of a sheep is recognizing the voice of the Shepherd. 

When our first child was born, I was fascinated with the fact that my daughter seemed to recognize my voice. For months, I had sung to her and talked to her, and now without being insulated by the womb, she still seemed to pick my voice out above that of strangers. She knew, in some sense, who her Daddy was. She knew my voice, and she knew Colleen's. Eventually, she would learn the voices of many other people and fall in love with them too (one of the first people to come see us in the hospital, Brother Paul Cleveland, is someone she talks about often and then clams up whenever he is actually around). But immediately, she knew our voices and not the voice of a stranger.

Now, when Jesus says "my sheep know my voice," He obviously does not mean it in a literal sense. The "voice" is no more literal than the "sheep." But the idea is clear: when He calls, His sheep can discern His voice. False teachers may claim to be prophets or even the true Messiah, but those who know Him are not fooled. This is a startling claim of Christian exclusivism. Others may claim to be God's people, but if they do not recognize the voice of Jesus, they do not know the Father. If they accept some substitute, they do not know the Father. Responding to Jesus as our shepherd is the sign that we are one of His sheep.

Discussion idea: What are some ways we experience the "voice" of Jesus?

Prayer focus: Thank God that, although we could not ever earn our way to Him, He came to us to call us out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

John 8

Key verse: John 8:34

Big idea: The sign of slavery is sin. 

Today is election day (join me on Facebook.com/alvinmbc or Youtube.com/alvinmbc from 6-6:30 PM Central for a special time of prayer for our nation). People around the country are using their freedom to make choices, from who they support for President down to the local school board. The candidates generally claim to offer freedom, although what they mean by that can radically differ. Even more, their definitions differ substantially from the biblical idea of freedom. When Jesus spoke to a Jewish crowd, He told them that if the Son made them free, they would be truly free. They were outraged: who was He to claim that He could make them free? They were freeborn sons of Abraham! They were not anyone's slaves! It sounds similar to how modern Americans might react. "I am free already! No one is the boss of me." 

But the biblical understanding of freedom entails much more. We are slaves to whatever we serve. If we say that we are free but have no control over our appetites, then we are truly slaves to the tyrant Sin. We might have the ability on paper to choose what we want to do, but truly be slaves. It might be sobering to look at your life and see how free you really are. Maybe we look at our sin and tell the addict's lie: "I can quit whenever I want." Maybe we do things that look good, but know that we are slaves to reputation and pride. The chains are invisible but they are heavy.

Jesus offers something better. A slave in ancient Israel was not a permanent resident of the household: they would serve their term of service to pay off their debt and then be freed. But a child remained part of the family forever. So the one set free by the Son - to become a child in the family - is truly free! Free not to rip the wallpaper and stain the carpet, but free to live with the responsibilities and privileges of the family. Jesus offers us freedom from the pettiest tyrant of all: ourselves.

Discussion idea: What is a sin that threatens to enslave you? How does committing that isn once deepen its hold on you?

Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for setting me free by the cross, so that I never must sin. Help me to live in that freedom and to offer my life for You.

Monday, November 2, 2020

John 7

 Key verse:  John 7:38

Big idea: The sign of new life is the Holy Spirit flowing within us.

We recently got some new branded church cups. They are both very nice and quite large, so I can put them in my Keurig and hit the travel mug size and "strong" to get a decent quantity of coffee. Yet, if I live through tomorrow, I have not yet had my last cup of coffee. No matter how much I drink, I will never be set for life; I just get thirsty again. This is really the way that everything is in this life. It entices, we partake, but we are never really satisfied no matter how much we get. But Jesus offers a something greater.

He stands in the streets at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, like Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and tells anyone who is thirsty to come and drink. But those who bring their parches souls to Jesus do not find they need more tomorrow. Instead, they have the water of life bubbling up inside them, satisfying them and leaving them with an abundance to share with others. John explains that this "water" is the Holy Spirit within us, giving us life and both the ability and urgency to share it with others. 

One of the clearest signs of a true believer is a heart for evangelism. Do we want to share the satisfaction Jesus has given to us with others? Do we recognize that everything we have is free, and that we can never exhaust the supply of grace we have been given? There is no need to ration it! We can take freely and share freely. 

Discussion idea: Why is thirst a good metaphor for a spiritual need? What other metaphors capture different aspects of salvation?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to be a well where others can find your Spirit readily available to satiate their thirsty hearts.