Archive for the ‘90 Days with Jesus’ Category

Friends,

I have been noticing for a while that a series of sermons I posted here, The Church in Exile: The Book of Daniel, has been getting a lot of hits and downloads at my box.net account. This inspired me to share with you a lengthy series of sermons I did (18 in total, but I’m missing one) that coincided with a series of devotionals I posted here (90 Days with Jesus: John). I have also posted the Bible school lessons that went with this series as well. Here, then, are the sermons linked to my box.net account and free for download. Thanks for stopping by. jerry

The Sermon Schedule: John’s Gospel

1. The Word Became Flesh, and Dwelt Among us, John 1:1-18

2. Behold Jesus, John 1:19-51

3. The One From Above, John 3:22-36

4. Difficulty of Believing in Jesus, John 6:1-71

5. From Whence Comes a Prophet?, John 7:1-52

6.  The Children of Abraham, John 8:31-59

7.  On Restoring and Taking Sight, John 9:1-41

8.   Jesus, the Good Shepherd, John 10:1-42

9. The Death of Jesus in His Own Words, John 12:20-36

10. A New Command He Gave Us, John 13:1-38

11. While We Anticipate His Return, John 14:1-31

12. Very Simply Put: Stay There, John 15:1-16:4

13. Resting in His Victory, John 16:5-33

14. The Priorities of Jesus in His High Priestly Prayer, John 17:1-26

15. Not Him! Give us Barabbas! John 18:1-40

16. Jesus is Crucified, John 19:1-42

17. Jesus is Resurrected, John 20:1-31

18.  Jesus’ Mission Clarified, John 21:1-25

(I am currently missing the sermon on John 20. Once it has been retyped and saved, I will add it.)

If the links stop working or are wrong, please tell me via email or as a comment in the comment thread. These are here to help with illustrative material, exegetical points, and homiletical ideas. I don’t care how you use them, short of publishing them as your own, and you should do your own exegetical work. I wrote these three years ago so some illustrations might be dated and some of the exegesis I might disown now–I have learned quite a lot since I originally preached these. 🙂 Nevertheless, I think they might help you and if they do, I praise God alone. Please, however, these are not meant to replace your own diligence in the study.

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The Kingdom of the Son He Loves

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Dunn wrote, “The implication, therefore, is not so much that the darkness has been already stripped of its power and banished. Rather, the darkness can be legitimately and authoritatively resisted, as having its license revoked” (78).

But can that really be said? Can we really say that darkness has power? Can we really say that darkness has not been banished? It seems to me that Paul is saying something quite the opposite: We have indeed been rescued from its power and authority. The dominion of darkness has no claim on the believer whatsoever. Darkness has been scattered and light has broken out all over. Perhaps Dunn gives darkness a little too much consideration.

Perhaps most don’t give it enough consideration. Indeed, the dominion of darkness can be seen all around us. It’s on the television in such innocuous places at advertisements. Darkness lurks in places we might not consider dangerous. And the darkness is dark.

But this darkness has no claim on the Christian. Why? We have been transferred out of that dominion. We no longer reside there. We no longer call it home, and we are no longer its prisoner. We may well feel the effects of its power, but we no longer suffer under the weight of its authority. The darkness is dark and perhaps getting darker, but it is no longer the only option available. I suspect there are many who are still living under the authority of the darkness. I suspect they do not even know they are. Some light needs to be shed.

Perhaps darkness ought to be called what darkness is and spotlights aimed in its direction. Are we children of light? Are we sparks of radiance that set the darkness on fire? If we have been rescued from the dominion of darkness, set free from its prison, are we so inclined to see others rescued too?

The thing is, this is an entirely passive operation. He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness. Those trapped in darkness will need far more than what we can offer. There must be a divine intervention. Someone outside of ourselves must brave the harsh realities of the enemy’s camp and bind up the Strong Man and then raid his house. This is not an operation for the fainthearted or weak or feeble. This is a work that requires a strong will and skill. He has rescued us.

I don’t suppose this means that he has any ambition for us to go back to that dominion and take up residence there again.

Who would want to? He has given us a new authority to live under: The Kingdom of the Son He loves. In this kingdom, life is different. Here there is forgiveness of sins and redemption. Here we have been placed in order to thrive and grow and live in the light. Here life is completely different from life there. Here there is light, and we can see. A certain amount of clarity has come over us and we see with unveiled eyes and hear with unstopped ears. There we wandered around in the dark with blindfolds around our heads. Our guides were blind themselves and had no other ambition but to lead us into deeper darkness. But He has rescued us from this dominion. At least we understand that the dominion of darkness was not quite as safe as some would lead us to believe. Rescue implies peril. Peril implies life threatening. And who would say that we were living in peaceful times when we were unredeemed?

The contrast is stark and cold. The dominion of darkness. Dominion is an unforgiving word. It even sounds relentless. Darkness hunted us down, captured us, held us captive and worse, we made very little attempt to escape on our own. We had to be rescued from it’s clutches because on our own it just wasn’t going to happen. He took the initiative to do what many of us did not want. As CS Lewis described himself a most ‘reluctant convert.’ On the other hand, there is the Kingdom of the Son he loves. He loves. Darkness is a dominion that operates on the principles of power, coercion, fear and brutality. But the Kingdom we are transferred to is based on Love, forgiveness, and freedom. The contrast could not be clearer: Love is the operating principle, the guiding factor.

The key is not the transfer is not the what, but the ‘whom’. In whom, he says. In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Our transfer from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of the Son he loves was a positional transfer. We moved from one place to the other. Apart from this ‘in-ness’ there is simply no redemption because it cannot be both ways. Redemption, then, is not only something that we are or something done to us, but some place we are. In Christ…how many times does the apostle use this expression in his gospel? Over and over again we learn that salvation is positional. We are either in Christ or we are not. I don’t see how it can be both ways.

David Garland asks, “Have the believers forgotten what their Lord and Saviour had done for them? Can they be dissatisfied with that great work of redemption at the cross? Is Christ not sufficient both to pardon and to deliver them from all their sins? Then let them be filled with the knowledge and power for this-a life of increasing goodness and gratitude to the end” (43). It is important we not forget the transfer that has taken place and the position we have been transferred to. It is important that we do not forget that we have been transferred from a Place where love is not the controlling factor to a Person in Whom love is the controlling factor.

And here also we see the important feature: It is the Father’s love for the Son that dominates Paul’s thoughts here. Not our love. No, that is not sufficient to initiate such a rescue operation. It is the Father’s love upon which all these things are predicated and dependent.

Friends,

I started this blog for the primary purpose of writing 90 days worth of meditations from John’s Gospel. Those meditations coincided with a 4 1/2 month sermon series from the same and were posted here under the heading “90 Days with Jesus”.

We also coordinated our Bible School classes and all ages were taught from the same lessons (adapted of course to each age group). I am currently uploading those files to my box.net account and there they will be freely available to any who so choose top download them.

In this post, I am providing  links to the Bible School material. The exegetical notes file consists of 114 pages of variously written notes (many quotes, outlines, etc.) and the lesson pages themselves are provided under separate links. The notes are according to my style and may be unedited or otherwise unfinished.  There are 18 total lessons. The chapters I didn’t write a lesson for are covered in the sermon aspect of the series. I will post the sermons in a separate post later. Thanks for stopping by. jerry PS–Let me know if any of the links fail.

The sermons to go along with these Bible School lessons are now available. Click the link: 90 Days with Jesus, John’s Gospel and you will have access to 17 of 18 of the sermons (I have to retype one) and the box.net links. Thanks, jerry

Exegetical Study Notes

Lesson 1    John 2:1-11

Lesson 2   John 2:12-25

Lesson 3   John 3 :1-21

Lesson 4   John 4:1-54

Lesson 5   John 5:1-47

Lesson 6   John 8:1-30

Lesson 7   John 11:1-57

Lesson 8   John 12:1-19, 37-50

Lesson 9   John 13:1-38

Lesson 10  John 14:1-31

Lesson 11  John 15:1-16:4

Lesson 12  John 16:5-33

Lesson 13  John 17:1-26

Lesson 14  John 18:1-40

Lesson 15  John 19:1-42

Lesson 16  John 20:1-31

Lesson 17  John 21:1-25

Lesson 18  Overview/Review

Day 10, Colossians 1:11-12: Strengthened with God’s Strength

“…being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”

Well, I haven’t worked on this series of ’90 Days’ posts for a while, so I’m hopeful that I won’t foul up too badly. 😉

So, then, how do we ‘live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God’? Can we? Should we bother trying? We are weak people, weakened daily by the pressures of daily friction involving our friends, co-workers, family members and any and all in between; strangers and enemies too. The fact that Paul says we are ‘being strengthened’ (he says something closer, and rougher, akin to ‘by all power being continually empowered’) means that we are necessarily weak, prone to weakness, constantly being drained of whatever we may call power or strength.

I think it also means that we have no strength in and of ourselves. We constantly need to be replenished. We are wearing down constantly and but for the strengthening and empowerment of God we would likely whither into nothing. This echoes,  I believe, what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

And this is no mere strengthening or empowerment. No the apostle says we are being empowered according to his glorious might precisely so that we do not run out of endurance are flag in our patience or become wishy-washy in our joy or lackadaisical in our thanksgiving. Instead, we are strengthened with his strength so that we can persevere in joy and patience and thanksgiving and endurance. I wonder sometimes, when I am weak, do I remember that as long as I try to persevere and endure in my own strength I am doomed to fail? This is why He strengthens us.

We are the ones who grow bored in the flesh. Ailments, pressures, anxieties, people-the flesh has a way of wearing us down, burning us out, beating us up and we fail. But God strengthens us according to His strength, according to his glorious might. I wonder if this means that we always have enough strength even when we find ourselves particularly weak. I wonder if this means that our weakness isn’t quite as bad as we like to imagine it?

That’s not all, though. The Father has also qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. This is nothing less than an unqualified, unconditional expression of God’s grace. He has qualified us. He has qualified us. He has qualified us. It’s all quite remarkable as he will point out in verse 13. Not only qualified, made sufficient, but transferred from the dominion of darkness and into the kingdom of light (13). He has qualified us. This is no small, individualistic thing. We are in this together. We stand qualified together. What a great love the Father has showed us to qualify, make sufficient, those who were at once weak and defiled and slaves.

It was said elsewhere, “Once we were not a people, but now we are a people. Once we were not shown mercy, but now we have been shown mercy.” We are a totally new people, qualified by God (I believe he is talking here of an instant, the moment we first believed), and now continually strengthened by His glorious might.

So if we are qualified by God, who then has a right or an obligation to doubt or qualify our qualification? It is God the Father himself who has qualified us. We stand, even now, qualified by God. I read, “H.C.G. Moule therefore rightly argues that the reference is “properly to the believer’s position and possession even now. This Canaan,” he explains, “is not in the distance, beyond death; it is about us today, in our home, in our family, in our business,… in all that makes up mortal life” (pp. 65, 66).

Two of the biggest problems we face as Christians are thus weakness and anxiety. First, weakness of the flesh. This is an outer turmoil, so to speak. It comes to us in any of a million forms a day, but we are constantly being strengthened according God’s strength. Weakness will not trump God’s empowerment no matter how weak the weakness. Second, there is a sort of inner turmoil we face, which is, the constant anxiety over our salvation. Paul counters this by noting for the Colossian church that we are qualified by God. As such, our qualification neither rests upon our shoulders nor is rendered moot because of fleshly weakness. We can have such confidence in God’s work to qualify us. It is God who does this work for us. He qualifies us. He changes our status from unqualified to qualified. He rescues us. He, not we.

And finally, this is a community idea. We stand even now as those who have already inherited the kingdom of light. We already share in that blessing and we stand together. We are strengthened. We are qualified. We share in the kingdom. Maybe it would be a good idea for the church, for the saints, to celebrate the community aspect of our faith more often. I don’t mean in a superficial, and merely Sunday morning, kind of way, but an always, everyday, praying, encouraging, suffering kind of way. The practice of Christian faith must come alive and stop being stagnant. We share in the Kingdom of Light. The Kingdom of light is visible not only to the world around us, but also to one another.

Day 9, Colossians 1:10: A Life that Pleases God!

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”

“Christian living is that which, through the knowledge of God, is constantly bearing fruit and increasing in good deeds. Here, the emphasis is on the essential link between right beliefs and righteous conduct. In the end, false teaching is known by its fruits, or rather lack of them, for observation does not discover a clear link between claims to possess gnosis and actual goodness: whereas an awareness of God’s gracious acts towards us should lead to many gracious acts from us towards others.”—RC Lucas, Colossians, 39

Prayers have a point. We are not merely whispering into the wind and hoping that our prayers land somewhere or near someone. Nor, for that matter, was the apostle content to pray prayers that were the mindless ramblings and incoherent mutterings of someone who has no knowledge of the true God. Everything Paul did was to an end; prayer was no different.

I take the two phrases, ‘live a life worthy of the Lord’ and ‘please him in every way’ to be parallel ways of saying the same thing. I might also say this: How does one please the Lord? How does one live a life worthy of the Lord? Then he goes on: Bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. Let me take each one at a time.

First, live a life worthy of the Lord. I don’t think this is terribly complicated, but I think we make it terribly complicated. We seem to forget, for some reason, that we are not being asked to do something we have not been empowered to do. In other words: We can live a life worthy of the Lord! We are expected to continue living, but now the manner in which we are living is different. It used to not matter if we lived a life that was worthy of the Lord; we used to have no power to do so. But now things are different: Now we should because we can. We don’t quit living once we find ourselves in Christ. There’s a lot living to be done and those in Christ must do so in a way that is worthy of the Lord. I’ll leave it at that. ‘Worthy’ is a loaded word. Doing something now that was once simply beyond our imagination, capability or desire still strikes fear in many. Nevertheless, as we shall see, the longer we walk with the Lord, the more we know Him, the more we will understand what ‘worthy’ means.

Second, we are to please him in every way. Pleasing. Not only are we living, but we are to be pleasing him also. Here is what Jesus said concerning this: “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me” (John 5:30). Jesus’ ambition, his goal, was to please the Father who sent Him. I think what this means is that Jesus would never do any such thing that might notplease the Father. This means he was perfectly fair, just, and reasonable. It meant that it pleased the Father for Jesus to die; Jesus died. It meant that Jesus did not seek to go about satisfying his own ambition or desire, but only that of God. It means that Jesus was the first to ‘take up his cross and deny himself.’ Well, I won’t argue with you if you say that it is not always easy to ‘please God in every way.’ On the contrary, we wage war against the flesh because there are pockets of resistance. We still, even after we find ourselves in Christ, want to please ourselves. So he expects us, too, to reflect God’s character too in all that we do. It means the often difficult and terrible work of self-denial. It means that disturbing work of not pleasing the self. It means the complicated work of learning when it is appropriate to do so.

Third, we are to be bearing fruit. The New and Old Testaments are filled with this idea that a good tree will bear good fruit and a bad tree bad fruit. It is also consistent that fruit will be born in some way, and that by our fruit we will be identifiable. The Fruit we bear is a strong indication of our identity and to whom we belong. Jesus expressed it this way in Matthew 7:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

I wonder if Paul is making this statement, ‘bearing fruit in every good work’ because it is possible that some Christians might just get lazy and forget that we are called to living, that once we have been raised up from the grave, we are not to find ourselves slumbering therein any longer. If false prophets then are recognized by their fruit, how much more will the Christian be recognized by hers?

Finally, and here is where everything comes together, Paul writes that we are to be growing in the knowledge of God. This growing seems to be the catalyst by which all of our living, pleasing and bearing get their start and get their energy to continue on day after day. Growing in the knowledge of God. Here’s what else Paul wrote about this:

33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34″Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35″Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
36For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

What better way to live our lives? Living, pleasing, bearing and growing. It sounds like quite a remarkable manifesto for living the Resurrection life, doesn’t it? As we grow in our knowledge of God, won’t our living a life worthy of him become much less complicated? As we grow in our knowledge of God, won’t our pleasing him in every way become far more important? As we grow in our knowledge of Him, won’t our bearing of fruit become far more productive? Yet also, as we do these things—living, pleasing, and bearing—won’t these things lead us to a greater understanding of God?

And these are the things that Paul never stops praying about for the Colossian Christians. It sort of puts a new perspective on the nature of prayer and on what our priorities ought to be during prayer. These things give meaning to our prayer that is far greater than the mere stringing together of words that some prayers are. Here’s what he prayed:

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Does this, in any way, resemble our prayers? Is this, in any way, the content of our own conversations with the Lord? Perhaps if we find ourselves struggling with living a worthy live, pleasing the Lord, bearing fruit, and growing in knowledge of God—perhaps, it has something to do with the content of our prayers, the intent of our prayers, and the purpose of our prayers. Perhaps the apostle ought to be our guide in these matters.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 8, Colossians 1:9: The Will of God & Prayer

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

“The ‘knowledge of God’s will’ is more than simply an insight into how God wants his people to behave: it is an understanding of God’s whole saving purpose in Christ, and hence a knowledge of God himself.’ (NT Wright, p 57)

“For a theist who believes that God’s active purpose determines the ordering of the world, lies behind events on earth, and shapes their consequences, one of the most desirable objectives must be to know God’s will. The corollary, spelled out in the following phrases, is that such knowledge gives insight into and therefore reassurance regarding what happens (often unexpected in human perspective) and helps direct human conduct to accord with that will.” (James Dunn)

‘For this reason’ means something like, ‘because of what I have just said, thus…’. It means Paul had just given reasons for his actions on their behalf, namely, his constant prayers for them. Paul has taken time to reflect on the circumstances of the Christians in Colossae. He has noted that these are people marked by a peculiar love who have been forged in a hostile environment, who have been created by the Gospel. These are people who are like and not like the world. They have dual citizenship: They live in Christ and in Colossae. This unique living arrangement has its own unique set of problems that the apostle insists the Colossians can survive. In fact, he seems to be of the particular opinion that not only will they survive but they will also thrive: They, like the Gospel, will (and must!) bear fruit and grow (see verses 6 & 10).

But his constant prayers, it seems to me, are not merely some form of congratulations or some form of ‘hey I hope these get you through the night and day.’ If Paul prayed for the Colossian Christians it was not necessarily for their moral character or their physical well-being or that they would have some profound philosophical insight into their circumstances or even that they would have wisdom to make ‘hard decisions concerning life’. His prayers carried with them certain specific, precise, and unambiguous goals. This is not to say that the aforementioned categories are wrong or unnecessary or that they should be neglected. To be sure, they have their place as Jesus taught us to pray, “Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread…” God’s kingdom people, shaped and formed, expanded and contracted as we are by the person of Jesus, cannot begin to function apart from grounding all aspects of our lives in prayer.

Thus he says, “we have not stopped praying for you and asking God…” Where does our ‘knowledge of the will of God’ come from? This knowledge that Paul is praying for must be the sort of knowledge that comes from some place outside of themselves. And neither is he content that this filling be fleeting or partial. I sense that he desires this knowledge to be complete. There is a divine element here: Paul is not praying for them just any kind of knowledge or wisdom or understanding. Paul is praying for a deep interaction between their brains and the Spirit of God. How else can we properly know the will of God unless it is God who gives us clarity? So he is constantly ‘asking God’ to fill them (for the important motif of fill/fullness in Colossians see 1:9, 19, 24, 25; 2:2, 9, 10; 4:12, 17.)

I think it is significant what Paul prays that they might be filled with. We often asked to be ‘filled’ with the Spirit; Paul prays that the Spirit will fill them with wisdom, knowledge and understanding. In other words, it is not just some spiritual experience that Paul is praying for the Colossians, but rather he is praying for the working of the Spirit in their lives. He wants them to experience the Spirit’s work which is itself a spiritual experience. I can see that, to an extent, a mere filling of the Spirit, progressing to some euphoric experience, could possibly be rather meaningless. But what about being filled with the fruit of the Spirit (Knowledge, wisdom, understanding) so that we might understand the will of God? And if we understand the will of God is this not a ‘Spiritual experience’? Note also the passive nature of the verb ‘to fill:’ we can seek it, but it is God’s prerogative to fill. This is why Paul is constantly praying and asking God to do just that.

Again I have to note that his prayer in this respect is most significant: knowledge of the will of God. This knowledge will be demonstrated in all, spiritual wisdom and understanding. ‘All’ and ‘spiritual’ govern both nouns: ‘wisdom’ and ‘understanding.’ In all things the will of God is to be determinative and it is fill us. Not an aspect of our lives is to be lived or thought apart from the will of God. However,

The reason so many Christian’s lives are messed up is because they did not take the time and do the work to discover God’s will for them. If you want to avoid life’s hardships, wrong turns and missteps, then I strongly advise you to find out what God’s will is for your life. (Here)

This is naïve at best. Knowing the will of God in our lives does not prevent hardships, wrong turns and missteps. Nor is the will of God something that we have to ‘find out’ about; the will of God is what God fills us with. There is a profound difference between ‘knowing about’ and being ‘filled with’ something. I defy this silly notion that we have to be slaving away on some great quest to know what God wants us to do or be in life. He has told us what we must ‘do,’ he has demonstrated to us what he expects, and he has shown us the steps he took to make that will known and efficacious. Frankly, the mystery is part of the adventure. Finally, the will of God is not something that is merely ‘for your life.’ The will of God, it seems to me, is far more comprehensive and expansive than the simple things in life that are summed up in one person’s daily decisions. There is a will for our lives but that will is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Our faith rests not in making every choice correctly, which is a dangerous and false doctrine called perfectionism, but in trusting the One who qualifies us (12) and rescues us (13) and redeems us (14) even when we make the wrong choices.

What we must not do, however, is assume here that Paul is constantly praying that God reveal his will for them in the sense that he wants God to tell them what step to take today, what road to travel tomorrow, or what highway to avoid on Friday. It’s not that he is asking God to show them which path to take in order that they can avoid hardships, wrong turns, and missteps. He is rather praying and asking that they will know God’s will which reassures, guards, and protects them regardless of how many missteps they take or hardships they encounter. Christianity is a combination of two lives lived: In Christ and in Colossae. Too many people, Christians foremost among them, wrongly assume that knowing the will of God is equivalent to ‘having all the right answers.’ It is not. I don’t think it is designed to either. Knowing the will of God, being filled with the will of God, means that we are filled with the strength, wisdom, understanding, and motivation to live our lives according to God’s purposes for all life in Christ. Being filled with knowledge of God’s will means having the singular focus of living for God’s purposes in life as opposed to our own.

Filled with the knowledge of God’s will is closely akin to ‘growing in the knowledge of God’ (v 10). What is the end? Well, it is actually several-fold and I will unpack these in subsequent posts, but suffice it to say that when we are fully in tune, constantly reminded of, and always anticipating God’s will in our lives we will a) live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way and bear fruit and grow in knowledge of him (10); b) be strengthened so that we might have great endurance and patience (11); c) give thanks to the Father (12). Knowing God’s will for us in Christ even while we live in Colossae gives us the courage we need to ‘walk about’ (‘live a life worthy’) in a manner that pleases Him in every way. This all, in other words, has something to do with our sanctification in Christ which is an ongoing process that will not culminate until death or the return of Christ.

I wonder if the Colossians were surprised at the contents of Paul’s prayer for them? He doesn’t pray that they will be magically shielded from all sorts of dangers. He doesn’t call down curses on the heads of the so-called ‘visitors.’ He doesn’t pray that God will heal them of all physical maladies and ailments. He doesn’t even pray that they will be protected from danger while they reside in Colossae. Instead, he prays simply that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, that no part of their existence would be left unscathed by his purposes, that they, like water jars filled to the brim with water (see John 2:7) would have no room left in their lives for the will of anyone or anything else. Filled. Completely.

I suppose it would shock most Christians if the preacher came to their hospital bedside and began to pray something like this, but here we see the ordering of priorities in church prayers: What matters? Does sickness and difficulty in life matter? Yes. Should we pray about it? Yes. The real question is not, however, if we should pray about such things but rather what are we going to pray about such things? If we have prayed that God fill us with the knowledge of His will, and He does it, then is there anything else left to pray about at all? I wonder if the church, as naïve as this may sound, can be content with a prayer the content of which is merely “I pray you are filled with the knowledge of His will.” If we are filled with His will then there is no room left not even for our own.

Soli Deo Gloria!
Day 7, Colossians 1:7-8: Love in the Spirit
You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

Grace is not merely something they heard about and signed up for. Rather, it was something they understood. They made an intellectual, cognizant decision to participate in the grace of God. It was something that was preached to them as truth, it was something they believed, it was something they comprehended, it was something they accepted and believed, and it was something they incorporated and practiced in their lives as believers in Christ. What defines us as Christians is not the mistaken idea that we have all the answers to life’s questions but rather that we are a people full of all sorts of questions. We have found the world’s answers lacking; we find grace filling. And this grace compels us, moves us, changes us. It causes us to love in ways we never imagined possible a people we could never get close enough to under our normal circumstances. Grace has that sort of power to enable us to love the unlovely, the unlovable, and the unloving. The irony is that God doesn’t even wait for us to go to ‘them’. Instead, he brings us all together in one place (‘in Colossae’) and plants us in one person (‘in Christ’). There, in Christ in Colossae, we learn how to love.

So love works itself outward towards others. In the context of the church: it IS worth talking about, love, that is. Jesus made it clear that when others see our love for one another demonstrated they would know beyond doubt that we belong to Him. And it is probably possible that the sort of love Paul is talking about is only possible within the context of congregation of grace, empowered by the Truth, and filled with the Spirit. If he mentions earlier that we are ‘in Christ,’ here he mentions that we are no less ‘in the Spirit.’ This prompts Dunn to write, “The love that mirrors the love of God in Christ can only be aroused and sustained by the Spirit of God. The phrase carries overtones of an inspiration that wells up from within, charismatically enabled, and that depends on continued openness to the Spirit if its quality of unselfish service of others is to be maintained.” (65)

This is what was being demonstrated at Colossae: A love for one another because of Christ and in the Spirit.

Sadly, Christians are known more for what they are against than for what they are for. We Christians make it impossible for ‘sinners’ to get near us not because we put up fences or walls or traps (even though we do!) but rather because we fail to love one another. Instead, we hold up placards denouncing one another, judging those for whom Christ has died, lambasting those who might otherwise have a heart or an ear towards the Gospel. In my estimation, the greatest single cause of unbelief in this world today, is the church because for all the church’s talk about love and compassion to the world at large, we fail to love one another sacrificially in the way Christ would have us to. Give away all the food you want, but who wants to be a part of a group that cannot love one another? No one will convince me that the proliferation of judgment ministries around the country via the Internet, radio, television is doing anything to attract people to the Gospel of God’s grace. Those ministries are not protecting the Gospel, they are cheapening it. Those ministries are not protecting the ‘saints,’ they are pushing away the ‘sinners.’

I am always amused by this story from Mark’s Gospel:

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” 39″Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. (Mark 8:38-41, NIV)

Or the Message:

38John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.” 39-41Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.

In our world, doing something in the Name of Jesus is not enough any longer. Nowadays, if it is not done in a manner prescribed by someone else (see my post on ‘modern gnostics’) then it is just not enough, not good enough, not holy enough. Nowadays in the church, love in the Name of Jesus is the last thing we ask of or see when we are considering someone else’s faith in Christ or their work in the kingdom. But this is what Jesus said: “Do not stop him.” Jesus told us not to stop the person doing something in His Name. Our problem is that we tend to act like his Name is somehow our name and that we must protect our name from any stains and blemishes that those a little less sanctified might taint it with. Love gets thrown aside, grace is cast out, in favor of protecting something that even Jesus didn’t protect (that is, he did not retain the exclusive rights to usage; he was happy that love and grace were abounding when power was recognized.) I suspect that those who used his Name knew about love and grace and had a burning passion to demonstrate it in the only Name that they could: Jesus’ Name. Thus, “Don’t stop them.”  Jesus did not seem too concerned, did he? (This isn’t to say that every use of the Name of Jesus is righteous or valid or blessed. This isn’t to say that we should ‘take the Lord’s Name in vain’ which means a lot more than just uttering a curse when we hit our thumb with a hammer.)

My point is this: If Epaphras told Paul about the love the Colossians had in the Spirit then it seems rather clear to me that this was something Epaphras saw with his eyes. I do not imagine a scenario where Epaphras conducted interviews: “Well tell me, member of the Colossian church, do you love in the Spirit?” No. I imagine a scenario where this love was visibly demonstrated before his eyes. He saw it and when he told the apostle about it, it was no mere, “Oh, and by the way, they love in the Spirit.” I imagine an enthusiastic, ebullient, child-like explosion of, “Oh you cannot imagine how much they love! I saw it all over the place! It was everywhere! They withheld their love from no one! They love Christ the Lord! They love one another! They love their neighbors! Husbands love wives! Wives love husbands! Children love parents and parents children! You cannot imagine the love these people have!”

It’s that, isn’t it? He doesn’t specify who or what they were loving in the Spirit. It just says, “your love in the Spirit.” Truth be told, does it matter? Our love is not something we have to brag about to others, but if we love like Scripture says we should then it will be visible to others. “By this will the world know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Why? Because the world will see our love being demonstrated. Would that the Body of Christ could be marked by our love in the Spirit instead of marred by our hate and contempt.

Soli Deo Gloria!

PS–If you would like to more fully appreciate what I have written here about love and grace, I would recommend you click this link and read the post. Here’s a taste:

I sit back a little stunned. I want to argue but can’t find anything that counters the simplicity and elegance of Papa’s words.  “Okay, I think I get what you’re telling me; that we aren’t very good at loving, but a lot better at defending our turf.”

“See, another great reason for mystery. The ambiguity of belief, of doctrine, reveals the motives and the dark places of the heart…the places that need to be healed. Religious self righteousness and intellectual snobbery are kissing cousins. Intelligence was never created as a justification for the absence of kindness and respect and love. Do you remember the community of faith at Ephesus. I wrote a letter to them in which I commended their ‘orthodoxy’, that they wouldn’t put up with the Nicolaitans…”

“Yeah,” I interrupt, “I have been meaning to ask about them…”

“Not important right now, “ she cuts me off and continues. “The point is that they were all about theology and doctrine, but I removed their light, their influence, their very life; not because of doctrine but because they no longer knew how to express the love who is Truth that indwelt them. Ambiguity and mystery constantly raise real questions. In the face of uncertainty and differences of idea and belief, will we stop loving? Will I descend to the acquisition and defense of territory and turf? Will I even stop loving my enemy, let alone my brother or my sister?”

“How come I haven’t understood this?” I shake my head.

“Like you stated yourself, it is because love doesn’t come naturally to you. The closest you have is how you love your own children but even that is only a reflection of what love truly is. Turf and territory have always been about independence, while love is only present in dependence.” 

We are silent for a few minutes while I try to organize the jumble of thoughts crashing around inside my paradigm. Papa, aware of my struggle, speaks first.

“Not everything is ambiguous or a mystery. There is much that is clear and evident. I even wrote it down for you. Very clear, very unambiguous. It is all over the scriptures. Start with I Corinthians 13…clear as the nose on your face. The question is why have you turned the clarity of love into something ambiguous?” (William Young)

Day 6, Colossians 1:6: The Efficacy of the Word

“…that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”

“Paul describes the effect of Epaphras’ preaching in Colosse in terms not of an emotional reaction, nor even of people ‘accepting Christ into their hearts,’ but of hearing truth and understanding it. The task of the apostolic herald is to announce truth: the word here translated ‘understood’ indicates that the response sought is an intelligent thinking through and recognition of that truth.”—54 (N.T. Wright)

It was the Word of truth, the Gospel, that had come among the Colossians. This is significant for a number of reasons, but I think it also raises a number of questions. Foremost among these questions is this: Is the Colossian response to the preached Word a paradigm of what should happen when the Gospel is preached among people? A sub-question might be, what is the point of preaching: Intellectual response or emotional response? Are the two responses mutually exclusive? Is the Colossians’ response the norm from which other responses are the exception? Just how much credit, so to speak, should we give the Word of God when it comes to conversion?

Whatever we may say, the apostle seems to be convinced that it was the Word of truth that opened the eyes of the Colossian pagans and brought them into the riches of God’s plan for their salvation. The apostle takes no credit, and barely gives Epaphras credit. The credit belongs to the Word of God. The Word has the remarkable power to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, and soften the hardest of hearts. Yet it is the Word that is often neglected, supplanted, or misused. (A question I might ask in this regard is this: must the word be preached in a specific way in order for it to do its work or will any old method or manner accomplish the task? If we agree that the Word is effective, how must it be preached in order for it to be effective?)

“The addition of ‘in truth’ reinforces the overtones of 1:5 that their encounter with the gospel was an opening of their eyes and lives to reality, what actually is God’s purpose for humankind, a purpose of grace, with the further implication that this truth first learned thus should continue to be the touchstone of their ongoing discipleship.”—63 (Dunn)

Truth it seems requires an intellectual response and it requires an ongoing conversation. The Word of truth becomes the touchstone of our ongoing discipleship. We continue to return to the truth even as we never stray far from it. But Paul is also making, I think, more than a statement about our dependence on the Word of God. He is making a statement about the efficacy of the Word itself. The Colossians will continue to grow in the grace of God as long as they continue in the Word. The Word has not stopped growing among them since the day they heard of it. Again, here is an important point often missed in our modern hurry to provoke people’s emotions: We simply lack confidence that the Word of God will do its work.

James Dunn makes sense of the present tense participle with the preposition: “The opening phrase could be translated ‘which is present among you,’ recognizing the force of the present tense. But in this case it can also mean ‘which has come to you,’ (and so is present among you). And that makes better sense of the preposition, which most naturally has the meaning ‘to or into’.” (61; so, see Acts 6:7 for the Word grew).

How important is it then that the Word of God be among us? What matters among us: that the Word Grows. What is primary about us: That the Word produces fruit. So what needs to be among us: The Word.

We cannot, we must not, we dare not try to produce the sort of fruit among ourselves that is not derived from the Word of God. It is the Word of God that bears fruit among us so we are right to ask: “If there is fruit among us, is it fruit from the Word?” Knowing what we know, would we want fruit that is not of the Word? And if the Word is not among us, then what of the fruit that is being produced? But note also the power of the Gospel of truth, of Grace: Its effects are not only local (small) but they are worldwide (‘all the world’; large). In other words, the Word of God is big enough for the world, and small enough for the local congregation. The Word will do its work in any setting, in any context. Our responsibility is to trust the Word enough to let it do it’s work whether that work is to cause stumbling or bring salvation.

I fully understand the way of things: We want results. We are ‘now’ sort of people. Still I cannot help but believe that we are too easily sated with cheap imitations in the church. I cannot help but believe that are far less convinced of the power of the Word than God is. The Lord is quite content with the foolishness of preaching of his Word. Why we are less convinced will continue to be the mystery.

Finally, it cannot be a mere coincidence that what Paul writes about is the grace of God. They understood God’s grace from the preaching of truth. This must have been the content of Epaphras’ teaching of truth: God’s grace. I’m speculating here, but I wonder how much more the Word would be among us, grow among us, if the content of our message of truth was God’s grace? This word of Grace has continued efficacy among those who hear it: From the day we hear it this grace will be our hope.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 5, Colossians 1:5: Faith, Hope, and Love in the Truth

“…the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel [that has come to you]…”

“ ‘The Gospel’ for Paul, is an announcement, a proclamation, whose importance lies in the truth of its content. It is not, primarily, either an invitation or a technique for changing people’s lives. It is a command to be obeyed and a power let loosed in the world (Rom 1:16-17), which cannot be reduced to terms of the persuasiveness or even the conviction of the messenger. It works of itself to overthrow falsehood.”—(NT Wright, Colossians, 52)

What I see here is that faith, hope and love are all, in one way connected with the truth which is the Gospel. Their faith, hope, and love are all based upon whether or not the message that came to them was truth. If it was truth, then there is some substance and validity to the hope they have. If what came to them was not truth, then their faith, hope and love are based on a lie and are rather meaningless. Hope that is not based on truth is no hope at all. Faith in something that is a lie is not faith but stupidity. Love that is not based on truth self-serving and empty and a vague sentimentalism. How can anyone have a faith that is not based on the truth? How can I trust the love of anyone if that love is not based on truth? How do I know that love is sincere, actual, authentic? And what is hope if not based on truth? Will I really be any more hopeful if I have no guarantees of the veracity of that which I hope for?

He also said this: our hope is stored up for us in heaven. This is very similar to what Peter wrote to his congregations:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

We have not yet fully taken hold of that which we have set our hope upon. It is not ours yet, but we persevere in love and faith because we know that we are looking to something that has been promised to us by God. And if this were not true, then we would be hopeless. Our hope is stored up in heaven for us: It is in the place where God is. It is protected by the God who is. It is surrounded by the grace of God and no one can take hope from us. People can come along in our lives and take everything away from us. Tragedy can come along in any of a million different forms but tragedy can never take away our hope. How can hope be stolen? How can hope be crushed? How can hope, protected as it is by Almighty God and guaranteed by the work of Christ, ever, ever, be snuffed out of our hearts? I thank God that he is the one guarding our hope and not me. It is a strong hope that He guards but in my hands it is fragile, susceptible to fracture. I will trust in Him.

So what is the content of that which we hope for? Is it mere eternal life? Is it the mere expectation of something better? Is it the wishful thinking and joyful rejoicing about the day when we shall be free from the shackles of this present darkness? Is it the mere glimmer of a life without pain, suffering, and death? Is it the glad thinking that someday all of our questions will have answers? Well, I suppose it is to an extent all of these things. But I also suppose that it is far more than we can possibly imagine. Paul later says in Colossians, “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). You see the fullness of our hope is not any of those things I mentioned above, but rather Christ himself. He is our hope: He is what we expect, He is why we persevere, He is why we have faith, He is why we love; He is our hope and nothing short of Christ can even compare or satisfy. We expect someday at the last trumpet to meet Christ. I have to be honest here, nothing short of Christ would be at all satisfying to me. I couldn’t care less if my questions are answered, if my suffering ends, or if I have eternal life if I have not Christ.

Finally, we see that our faith, our hope, our love all spring what we have learned in the Gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ—which has come to you. The Gospel came to us; truth came to us. I don’t suppose that we went out of our way to pursue it even if we did accept it when we heard it and turned to the Lord in repentance calling on His Name. Nor do I suppose that we went out of our way to create truth. But here we see the Gospel as the pursuer, the hunter, the hound tracking us down. Truth comes to us and the truth is contained in the content of the Gospel, but I would also add this: The Gospel is Jesus Christ and not merely the sum total of the stories or traditions gathered around him. The Gospel cannot be separated from the person of Jesus Christ. I scoff at those who say stupid things like, “Well, it doesn’t matter if Jesus was real or not. What matters is that I hope he was. But either way…” Blah. Blah. Blah. Mindless drivel is what that is. If you take Jesus out of the picture there is no Gospel, and it certainly isn’t truth. Further,

“Neither Christians nor churches are created by accident. They do not emerge of themselves from the social milieu of any generation, nor fall unheralded from the skies. The creative agency can always be identified: “the word of the truth of the gospel. The power that convicts of truth and kindles life is the power of the Holy Spirit; the means He uses is the good news of Christ, the record of divine redeeming events, interpreted in light of prophecy and confirmed in the testimony of transformed men.”— (In Him the Fullness: A Study in Colossians, R.E.O. White, Fleming H Revell Co, 1973, 16)

I’ll close by nothing this: The truth, the Gospel came to the Colossians. I think this is a direct reference to missionary activity. Given the opportunity, most will be content in the bliss of their ignorance. Most are not going to go on a spiritual quest in the hopes of finding truth that saves, gives hope, motivates faith, and drives love. The Gospel must go and the Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “My Word will accomplish the purpose for which it is sent.” (Isaiah 55:9-11). The Lord is active in sending out his Word to the places where it needs to be preached, to the places where it needs to be heard, the places of darkness where people are living hopeless, faithless, truthless, loveless lives. The Gospel goes and the Gospel does its work.

“And I put my hope. And I put my Trust. And I put myself in you, Lord.”—‘My Hope,’ David Crowder.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Day 4, Colossians 1:4: Our Faith in Christ Expressing Itself in The Love of the Saints

“…because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints…”

“But Jesus’ glorious prayer ‘that they may be one’ is manifestly being answered to a superlative degree in the confessional church around the world today, as Christians bask in God’s love and understand that all of our love is but a grace-driven response to the intra-Trinitarian love of God which has issued in the glorification of the Son by means of the cross, in the Son’s perfect obedience to his Father, all the way to the cross…Or what shall we make of postmodern voices that, in the name of love, deny the exclusive role that Jesus plays in mediating God’s love to us? Will their siren tones increase love, or even our understanding of love? Sadly, no: they merely restore idolatry under a new guise. These voices are among the least tempered and least loving of our time, especially with those who do not agree with their vision…Christian love is anchored in the Godhead, anchored in eternity, anchored in Christ, anchored in the cross.” (D A Carson, Love and the Supremacy of Christ, in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 99)

(You should get that book and read that chapter.)

I realize I am doing a dangerous thing by taking one verse at a time for mediation and thought. In taking one verse at a time I run the risk of oversimplifying Paul’s arguments or overcomplicating his exhortations or of being less faithful to the context than I should. It’s a dangerous method of meditation. So, remember that today’s verse was preceded by these words: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”. Then he says, “Because…”

We have heard…he is praying a prayer of thanks because someone had heard something about someone. In this case, someone had heard about the faith of the Colossian church. This was no random faith. This was no easy believism. This was no mere acceptance of something as truth with absolutely no evidence to back it up. (That’s how unbelievers define the faith of Christians.) No, theirs was a real belief in someone real and historical. They had faith in someone that could be heard, and seen, and touched. Christians do no believe in just anything and everything blindly for nor reason or just because some ‘poorly translated, dusty old book’ says it. We believe because people have testified to the truth and history is on our side. But this was no small thing. Their belief was known. Someone heard about their faith. In other words, they were not ashamed of what they believed nor were they ashamed of the consequences that such belief had in their everyday lives. It produced the sort of love that got people talking.

About their faith…this is no mere faith in whatever happens to come along and stir up their interest. This is a specific faith in Jesus Christ. N T Wright wrote, “Faith is not just (as often today) any religious belief. It is defined as faith in Christ Jesus.” (51) Too often today people, even church folk, have faith in something or someone other than the true object of faith Jesus Christ. It was this specific faith that the apostle ‘heard’ about and which caused him to offer prayers of thanks to God. I wonder what the apostle would say about the faith that is demonstrated and proclaimed in many evangelical circles today? Would the faith we are known for be something worth bragging about, something worth hearing about, something worth preserving, something worth thanking God for? Can people in the church define the full nature of the faith they profess or are those who criticize Christians correct that most Christians believe in myths and fairytales? What do you think the apostle would say about our faith?

In Jesus Christ…It gets a little deeper, no? Just as the church is also found ‘in Christ’ so also is the faith that they demonstrate a faith that has a location: In Christ. But this is not all! It also means, I think, that we have put our trust and confidence in Jesus. In other words, we are counting on Him to bring about all that we hope for. David Garland writes, “A fallen humanity in a fallen world offers no hope. Many people today place their confidence in science, but all our great advances have produced as many problems as have been solved. In many ways, science has shattered hope. It has become more difficult for some to believe in a God that would care about or even notice our existence. Consequently, many people live without any hope of salvation in this life, let alone the life beyond.” (62-63) Everyone has faith. There is not a single person on this planet who has not put his or her faith in something or someone with the expectation that said faith will give them some sort of hope. But the Colossians were different from the world around in that they put their faith in Christ alone. What of the church today? Are we putting all our faith in one basket so to speak? But if we do not put our faith in Christ, where else can we put it? Who else will cause our faith to realize its hope? Who else is trustworthy to do with our faith, to bring our faith to its intended ends? Surely the one who is the beginning and end of creation is trustworthy to handle our faith? Will he let our faith fall or fail?

But I might also add this: Faith is not just the ‘sphere in which we live’ or the ‘manner in which we conduct ourselves.’ We don’t sit around in hopeful, eager expectation wishing and praying that Jesus would do something for us so that our faith will be sure. Instead, we put our faith in Jesus Christ in confidence that He has already done something. We put our faith in the Jesus Christ who has already accomplished a great work and finished it. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Our faith is confidence that what God has promised, Christ has completed and will complete. This is no empty promise devoid of power. Our faith is in this power we know will finish what was started.

Which prompted their love…David Garland asks well: “Is our love for the saints something worth broadcasting? Is it something worth talking about?” Again, we have to be most careful to define the sort of love that is being spoken of here. Love, in this case, is specifically defined as love that is based on faith in Christ Jesus: It is a sacrificial love being spoken of here. I don’t think for a minute that Paul is talking about merely saying, “Hello, I love you.” I suppose there is nothing wrong with telling people that, but mere words do not define Christian love. Those who belong to Christ, those found in Christ, those who put their faith in Christ Jesus cannot help but be people of love. Jesus said, “A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” How can we claim to be the people of God if we do not love one another? How can we claim to be in Christ if we do not love one another? What does it say about our love for Christ if we do not love one another? What sort of faith are we demonstrating to the world if we do not love one another?

For all…here you can see that there are no exclusions to the love that the Colossians had even if the love they demonstrated was rather narrow and focused. There’s that word ‘all’ again. This word is anything but exclusive. It means that there is not a Christian brother or sister on the planet that we have a right to not-love. Dunn writes, “Presumably, therefore, this is what was in mind here—an active concern for one another among the Colossian Christians which did not stop short of self-sacrifice of personal interests—and not just for one another, if the ‘all the saints’ is to be taken seriously.” (58) We discriminate too much among ourselves. We think too highly of those we know and too little of those we do not. We think that we don’t have to love those who have different theological ideas from our own—even if those ideas happen to be decidedly wrong. But Paul writes that what defines us is our ‘faith in Christ.’ I see too much discontent, too much dislike—frankly, too much hate in the Church. There is no room for hate in the Body of Christ of which Jesus is the Head and in whom we live and move and have our being and place our faith and trust.

I think this hate must stop. I know it must. I understand well theological arguments and disagreements. I understand well that there are heretics among us. I understand well that there are plenty of people who are preaching a Gospel out of false motives. Yes, it is true: this and more is true, the Church is an ugly place at times. But what are the boundaries of our love? Does our love know boundaries? Did the love of God, the God who rescued us while we were yet sinners, who rescued us while we were still in the dominion of darkness, who rescued us while we were still enemies in our minds and doing evil works—did His love know boundaries? I ask you, should our love know boundaries when it comes to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ? My contention is that it should not and that it will not if, in fact, we are people of grace. I’m not suggesting that we do not contend for the faith. I’m not suggesting that everyone who utters the name of Jesus is among the sheep and not the goats. I’m not suggesting, for a minute, that we should scuttle orthodoxy. May it never be! What I am suggesting is that we can engage people with differences in these areas in love, genuine, self-sacrificing love. We can love them regardless of how right or wrong they or we happen to be. It will not be easy and it may require some effort, but it can be done; that’s what grace is about isn’t it?

The Saints…Wright said it this way: “For Paul, the sure sign of grace at work was the fact of a loving community created out of nothing: of a love not restricted to those with whom one has a natural affinity, but which extends to all the saints.” (51) You understand that our love and affection for the Saints is evidence of the grace of God working among us? The saints, the holy ones, the call out and set apart ones, will factor prominently in these verses (2, 4, 12, 22, 26, 3:12). We are the saints and we are called to love one another. I don’t think this means we are to neglect the world at large, but I do think it means we are to have a special affection in our hearts for those who also share a hope in Christ, have placed their faith in Christ, and who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are the holy ones. Notice that saints is plural. This means that there is more than one, and we are to love them all. (As an aside, please do not misunderstand Paul here. He is not talking about some specialized group of people who have been canonized by the church. Paul here is talking about Christians. This holiness is our common bond with one another: We have, all Christians, been called out, set apart, and are being perfected in the image of holiness. The saints are all of us or they are none of us.)

So what does Paul write: We always thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray because we have heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all the saints. When was the last time you can say that you prayed such a prayer in the Name of Jesus? I wonder if we can say this about our church? Can we say that our love for one another is something to brag about? That is, is it something that people are talking about or hearing about in general conversation? Is our faith in the Lord Jesus a talking point? I notice that Paul does not say, “I thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because we have heard about your fantastic new multi-purpose, multi-media, multi-million dollar building.” No. He thanks God for something simple: I thank God for your faith in Christ which manifests itself among you as a sincere, self-sacrificing love for one another, indeed for all the saints. This is the evidence that God’s grace was truly working among them.

Would that our churches here in America could be known for something more than our political agendas. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something other than our budgets. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something other than our fancy campuses. Would that our churches here in America could be known for more than their television or radio ministries or their charismatic senior, executive, director of operations. Would that our churches here in America could be known for something as radical, as Biblical, as holy as our faith in Christ expressing itself as love for one another.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Day 3 Colossians 1:3 The Prayers we Pray

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”

Prayer is language used in a personal relation to God. It gives utterance to what we sense or want to respond to before God. God speaks to us; our answers are our prayers. The answers are not always articulate: silence, sighs, groaning—these also constitute responses. The answers are not always positive: anger, skepticism, curses—these are also responses. But always God is involved, whether in darkness or light, whether in faith or despair. This is hard to get used to. Our habit is to talk about God, not to him. We love discussing God. The Psalms resist these discussions. They are not provided to teach us about God but to train us in responding to him. We don’t learn the Psalms until we are praying them.” (Eugene Peterson, Answering God, 12)

In a sense, much of what Paul writes in this first chapter is prayer. He starts a prayer here in verse 3, talks about many of the things he is thankful for, and then, in verse 9 starts praying all over again. Then in verse 10 he offers more prayer and I might go so far as to say that Paul will offer yet another prayer in verse 24. When he gets near the end of his letter (what we call chapter 4) he concludes with this exhortation, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray…Pray…let your conversation…” So he opens the letter with prayers, and he closes by inviting the congregation he is writing to to join him in his prayers.

The depth of the prayers that Paul offers in the first chapter though is simply astounding. Here we read of a man who is struggling mightily in his prayers for these people. There is a richness to his prayers that language barely expresses. He ‘invents’ words to capture his ideas. There is a vastness to his prayers, not content is he to merely pray about every broken bone and every dying person, Paul opens up the heavens and prays in cosmic, universal language to The firstborn over all creation, the Creator of all things, the Image of the Invisible God. Paul is not praying to some lesser deity about some lesser thing. Paul is praying about the church over which Christ Jesus himself is the Head. Paul is praying about the church and for the church to the one who ‘holds all things together.’ Paul is praying for the church to the one who is the beginning and end of creation. Do you think Paul is concerned for the church? And do you think we should be?

Yet how often are our prayers stifled by a cacophony of ‘organ recitals’? How often are our prayers muted by the overwhelming sickness and disease rampant among our members? How often do we pray in galaxy type language—borders wide, depth unimaginable, expanse limitless; Christ’s Lordship unquestioned? How often are our prayers constrained by time? How often are our prayers determined by the course of world events instead of being catalysts for world events? How often do we pray in the uncertainty of God’s will instead of praying for God’s will to simply be confirmed—regardless of what it is? How often do we pray prayers of thanks for others because we have heard of their faith and love that they have for the saints? You see, our prayers can be too limited and often are restrained and unrefined. Here in Colossians 1 we see an example of the sort of prayers that are refined by the Word of God and honed to a sharp perfection. Here are the prayers of the saints!

But he is also not merely content to pray to God. No, Paul also feels compelled to tell the church what he is praying forthem. And to this end we see the apostle’s agenda, that is, what he thinks it is important to pray for and about on behalf of the Colossian Christians. Don Carson well notes,

“Suppose, for example, that 80 or 90 percent of our petitions as God for good health, recovery from illness, safety on the road, a good job, success in exams, the emotional needs of our children, success in our mortgage application, and much more of the same. How much of Paul’s praying revolves around the equivalent items? If the center of our praying is far removed from the center of Paul’s praying, then even our very praying may serve as a wretched testimony to the remarkable success of the processes of paganization in our life and thought” (DA Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 96-97).

We will explore in more detail the specifics of the apostle’s prayer later as this series progresses so for now I’ll simply note a couple of the ideas.

He thanks God because of their faith which was, evidently, well known in the world at the time.

He thanks God for the love they have for the saints.

In verse 9, he prays specifically that God will fill them with ‘knowledge of his will’. In fact, he says, ‘we have not stopped praying’ this.

In 10, he prays that they might live a life worthy of the Lord, please him in every way, bearing fruit, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthen with all power so they might endure and be patient and joyful and thankful.

This is the tip of things, but as you can see the apostle’s prayer priorities are far different from the typical prayers that are uttered in prayer meetings or from the pastor on Sunday mornings. DA Carson calls this the ‘paganization’ of our christian prayer life and thought. I say it is the minimizing of our thoughts, or it is prayers to a lesser god. When our prayers are merely the same repetitive, boring pap that the pagan world offers, “Oh, god of wood and stone, let me win the lottery,” then our defeat is complete. But what if our prayers were suffused with the sort of language the apostle uses here: “I pray that you will be filled with the knowledge of God so that you might live a life worthy of God and please him in all things.” What do you suppose would happen if those were the sort of prayers, biblically informed and biblically formed, that we prayed?

What if? What if our prayers were prayed to the God who is the Creator of all things? What if our prayers were prayed for God to rescue people from darkness and bring them into the Kingdom of the Son he loves? What if our prayers were unmasked and unfiltered and unashamed of the glorious authority that is in Christ Jesus, the Head of the Church? What if our prayers were filled with the remarkable content of grace? What if our prayers were concerned more with the Gospel bearing fruit all over the world, and even among us, than with mere churchgrowth? (Don’t you think that if the Word grew and did its job church growth would be a necessary corollary?) What if our prayers were that the people of God be filled with wisdom and knowledge and understanding of God, God’s mystery in Christ, and God’s will? In other words, what I am saying is this: What if our prayers were Christocentric and not man-centric? What if our prayers focused and centered on God in Christ first and only on ourselves as a distant second or third? Do you think this would change the way we act, behave, live, and pray?

And what if we truly considered who it was that we prayed to? Paul is praying these things to the God who rescued the Colossians from the dominion of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of the Son he loves (13-14). Paul is praying to the God who reconciled us by way of the cross (22). Paul is praying to the God who has now made known the mystery of Christ in us (27). Paul is praying to the God who lives in fullness in Jesus Christ (19). Paul is praying to the God who defeated death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (18). Paul is praying to the God who forgives sins and redeems people (14). I could go on, but the point is clear: This is no pagan deity that Paul is praying to, and the nature of Paul’s prayers indicate that this is no God to trifle with. These are serious prayers. They further indicate that this God is powerful enough to effect the prayers that Paul is praying. There’s no point in praying such things if the God one is praying to is unable to hear them or answer them.

I also notice this. Paul is praying to someone specific: The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This goes along partly with what I just wrote, but in a different way. Paul is praying to the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that he is praying to the God who acknowledges the work that Jesus Christ has done. He is praying to the God who acknowledges and confirms that Jesus is Lord. Arthur Patzia writes, “This emphasis upon Christ’s exalted status as Lord certainly would reinforce the idea that Christ is not an inferior deity but one in whom God himself is Found” (NIBC, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 17) James Dunn notes, “God the Father is the one to whom prayer should properly be offered…just as he is the ultimate source (‘Father’) of all creation and all being, including the dignity and authority of Jesus’ Messiahship and Lordship.” (56) In other words, Paul is praying to the One who has acknowledged and established the authority (Lordship) of Jesus Christ. What if we prayed with the acknowledgement that Jesus truly is Lord and that we were praying under the auspices of his Lordship, because of his Lordship, and acknowledging his Lordship? Would this change our prayers?

Finally, there is this little word ‘always.’ There is a constancy about the prayers of Paul. This word ‘all’ (and its cognates) is used constantly in this first chapter and will play an important role in helping us understand the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ who is exposed in this letter. But for now, it is safe to note that Paul’s prayers for the Colossian church are specific in content, specific in direction, and specific in duration. If nothing else, we can say that the apostle was a man of prayer who believed that prayer made some sort of difference in the lives of those he prayed for.

And he wanted them to know it. This is the glory of it all: Paul wanted the Colossian Church to know what he was praying, to whom he was praying, and why he was praying it. I think by extension, he wants us to know as well so that our prayers will become biblically formed and biblically informed; that the language of Scripture will be the language of prayer. He fills his page with words and meaning and direction so that our prayers will not be the vacuous, meaningless devoid of content mumbling and ranting that Jesus warned us against in Matthew 6 when he said, ‘When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites or the pagans.’ Here the apostle is giving shape and content, focus and direction, meaning and purpose to the words that we dare utter back to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

hilltop-view-of-cincinnati.jpg

Day 2 Colossians 1:2 In Christ, in Colossae

“To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.” (1:2)

I am reminded of the words of Jesus as recorded in John’s Gospel. In the 17th chapter Jesus prayed:

And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father keep them in Thy name, the name which thou has given Me, that they may be one, even as we are…I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world…I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one….I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; and they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, are in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.” (John 17:11, 14-15, 20-21, NASB)

Here in this mere introductory verse of this very important epistle, Paul the apostle defines the complex nature of the Christian faith. Those who are Christians are at once in Christ and in Colossae. Now of course, in this case, Colossae is a metaphor for ‘the world’ which we will explore in a minute. (The Greek reads ‘in Christ in Colossae’ even though some translations, like the NIV, obscure this important point of contrast.) 

So NT Wright writes:

This encourages us to take ‘in Christ’ in a locative sense, i.e. neither merely as a synonym for Christian nor in a sense of ‘mystical absorption’, but as referring to the Messiah, the anointed King, in whom the true people of God find their identity. Thus to be described as ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Colosse’ is to be located with precision in the purposes of God, as a member both of his true people and of that particular earthly community where one is called to service and witness.” (Tyndale Commentary on Colossians & Philemon—47)

I think the Apostle is referring to something deep; the emphasis is on the location of the new life, not the new life as such. Perhaps he is reflecting on the words of Jesus’ prayer. Whatever the case, we live out this new life in Christ which seems to indicate that we do not live it apart from Christ and that to attempt to is to deny the very life that we have because we are in Him. Here the Apostle is talking about the comprehensive place where the life is lived from. It is a life characterized by his presence. In Him we live and move and have our being. The Christian cannot live or function apart from this ‘in-ness’ and it is maddening futility to attempt to do so. “In Christ” locates grace, peace, salvation and hope. We move forward, each step, in Him and because of Him. But ultimately we do not stray from Him and ultimately return to Him. (‘In Christ’ appears in Colossians: 1:4, 14, 16, 17, 19; 2:3, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15; 3:18, 20; 4:7, 17.)

Perhaps we do not consider the importance of this position often enough. We are a located people and this is especially important when we consider our other position in Colossae. These two positions stand in opposition to one another and yet, as Wright points out, one is the power by which we do ministry in the other. They are in tension with one another because no matter if we live in Columbus or Cancun or Antarctica our allegiance is always to Christ first—maybe I should go so far as to say our allegiance is to Christ only. See, the apostle says we are in Christ first and in Colossae second. I will also note, as this series goes along that the apostle has a plethora of different ways in which he describes this new position we possess. They are contrary to one another and yet we cannot escape this sort of dual identity. We are marked both by our position in Christ and in Colossae.

The pressure of living in Colossae is incredible. Our allegiance is being tested in a 1000 ways a day. How does one manage this pressure? We do so, I believe, by remembering where we are first: in Christ. The struggle to remain in Christ is amplified by all sorts of antagonists and the temptation to find our ourselves at home in Colossae is great. We can grow too comfortable here. We can also grow discouraged by all the trouble we see. We can grow weary from all the burdens we feel compelled to carry around with us each day. So the apostle reminds the Holy and Faithful ones living in Christ in Colossae of what is theirs in God the Father: Grace and Peace.

Peace is a rather strange idea in our war saturated world. Many claim they can provide peace, and many others promise peace for a small fee or compromise. “Peace, peace,” they cry, and our allegiance is expected if we are going to continue in the peace they promise. But how can we be people of peace when we are living in Colossae—the land of war—when so much compromise is undoubtedly expected? It can be terribly discouraging, to be sure. Well, we must recognize that the peace we are searching for comes from God the Father. Those who are in Christ will be people of peace—I don’t think this is something we have to search for or grope for, it is something that is ours by virtue of our being found in Christ.

But there is also the idea of God’s grace. Not only do we live in the peace of God, but we also live in the grace of God. This is so liberating! We are people of Grace. I think this means that we are not only people who are saved by Grace (in Christ) but we are also people who must be conduits of grace by living out that which saves us (in Colossae). Grace is the fountain in the middle of the city—the refreshing spring we hover around and return to on a continual basis. Colossae needs more fountains of grace.

Finally, the apostle says we are to be Holy and Faithful in Christ in Colossae. Like peace, holiness and faithfulness are complex ideas in a world of war. With so much temptation and diversion around us it is becoming increasingly difficult to be the holy and faithful people we are expected to be. Again, however, we must remember: We are in Christ first. This is our first and foremost position and this is no small thing indeed. Everything we are and everything we face is in Christ. So this means Colossae has no grip on us even if its power is seen all around us.

I want to encourage you who are in Colossae who belong to Christ. Colossae is the dominant feature in this world and it can easily crowd in on us, wear us out, drag us down, strangle us, suffocate us. Most are friendly to Colossae and give no consideration to those in Christ. Colossae is our secondary position. Here we are strangers, sojourners, and aliens (see 1 Peter 1). Our true home is found in Christ. And in Christ we find refreshing grace, satisfying peace and these enable us to live the Holy and Faithful lives demanded of those who are in Christ. So I encourage you who are living in a difficult place right now. Remember, Colossae exists and is to be contended with constantly by the Christian. But nothing can disturb your position in Christ–especially Colossae, no matter how often it snaps its jaws, no matter how ugly it becomes.

We belong to Christ first and nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ (See Romans 8).

Soli Deo Gloria!

ps-I should have given more time to discussion ‘holiness’ and ‘faithfulness’ in this context as they are important and significant features of the Christian position. I am certain they will be brought up in other contexts in Colossians as we move through the letter.

Day 1, Colossians 1:1: A Task Not a Title

Saint Paul Preaching on Mars Hill
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother…”

There are a lot of preachers who say things like this today. You have heard them: “I have been called by God to preach.” Paul makes such an audacious claim himself. How do we know who has been and who has not been called to be a preacher of the Gospel? I think the difference is found in the content of their message. Paul makes this claim of apostleship and we can verify if this is true or not by the content of his message. We can verify if he is specifically and apostle of Christ Jesus by the content of his Gospel. And that he claims to be an apostle of Jesus Christ in and of itself tells us much.

Jesus said in John that he only did what he saw the Father doing, he only spoke what he heard the Father saying, and he only (always) did what pleased the Father. If Jesus sent Paul, or made him an apostle, it is pleasing to the Father and the will of the Father that he do so. Jesus works in complete harmony withand not in antagonism to the will of the Father. But we can also say that if Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ then he is an apostle of no one else. He serves Jesus Christ and no one else. He does the will of Jesus, serves the mission of Jesus, preaches the Gospel of Jesus. Paul’s apostleship is about Jesus Christ. The work he does in the Name of and on behalf of Jesus Christ testifies to Jesus Christ alone. Paul is not about to be one of those double-talking snake-handlers. He remarks at the very beginning of this letter that he, and thus all that he will write, are working and writing about Jesus Christ. But also, we might say this: Ministry chooses us, or we are chosen for ministry. We who do it do not choose it. It is a course marked out for those who preach by God himself. This is where the authority comes from. (At least this is true in Paul’s case. There may be significant debate about who in the present church, if any, has such authority. That is, to be sure, another conversation.)

Paul as an apostle of Jesus Christ both belongs to (was sent from) and is about Jesus Christ. This happened by the will of God. Paul is very keen to understand the who, and what, and why of his apostleship. He places the blame squarely on God. The origin of Paul’s authority then is not in question. Like Jesus said in John’s Gospel, if they accept you, they will accept the one who sent you. Paul writes to the Colossians based on this authority alone. Paul demonstrates early in the letter that he is a servant of God’s will. Some might say this is rather convenient, I say it is rather comforting. Not too many people claimed said authority and those who did had their message scrutinized. The field was narrowed and only those who were truly chosen by the will of God remained authorities.

Thus Paul’s ambitions in writing are not self-centered or self-important. His ambitions are God’s ambitions—in the sense that he is doing the will of God. He is doing what the Father wills and teaching in accordance with that will. I think perhaps it is hard for us to get our heads around this at times, but these letters are not American greetings. These letters are imbued with the authority and power and wisdom of God. Paul in testifying to his apostleship being a matter not of his choice but of God’s will demonstrates that this letter, written under that authority, is binding for Christians who read it: it is God’s Word to us; not Paul’s. Further, Paul is acting under the authority of Jesus Christ to whom he belongs. If we happen to find it necessary to reject the letters of Paul, we are finding ourselves in opposition to the One who commissioned Paul and commanded him to write. We don’t have the right to challenge or abrogate the words of Paul any more than the we do the Words of Christ.

N. T. Wright wrote, “The supporting claim, that his apostleship came about by (literally, ‘through’) the will of God, is not merely an indication of the ultimate source of this authority, but a linking of Paul’s task to the over-arching divine plan of salvation which, prepared in the Old Testament and brought to a climax in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was now being put into effect through the world-wide mission in which Paul had been allotted a key initiating role.”—(Tyndale Commentary on the New Testament, Colossians & Philemon, 46)

So what about us? What does all this mean for those of us who read now some 2,000 years later? Well, for one thing, it seems abundantly clear that Paul was called to a task and not to a title. Paul understood well the nature of his existence. He understood that he had a task before him—a task assigned him by God. Throughout the remainder of this letter we will see how seriously he took that task. He was called to proclaim Christ and he will do that well. We should remember that we may not be called to be apostles, but we too are called to the task of proclaiming Christ.

A second point is this, I haven’t mentioned Timothy’s name yet, but his role is important. Throughout this letter Paul will demonstrate that he was not the be all and end all. His task was shared by others, Timothy, Epaphras, Tychicus, Aristarchus and many more. Paul needed, and evidently desired, others to share in the task he had been assigned. We cannot go this alone. The task before us is too weighty for us to do by ourselves.

Finally, in being declared an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God he is to considered in a long line of prophets who have been specially designated by God to preach the Gospel. He is in line with Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Joshua, Jonah, David and more. This shows a continuity with and a continuation of the Work of God in Paul’s life. People were well advised to listen to the Prophets of old. I suspect we would be well advised to listen to this prophet of today (Paul) as He declares to us what was hidden from all the rest: Jesus the Christ, The Supreme One, The Sufficient One.

Soli Deo Gloria!

John 21:15-25 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 90)

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

I don’t know that this section should be called ‘the reinstatement of Peter.’ That sounds way too deep for what happened in Peter’s life. Maybe something like the reassurance of Peter is a better way to headline this section. Whatever the case, on thing is for sure: Peter jumped into the water before he was forgiven.

This is the last meditation in the 90 Days with Jesus series. I have enjoyed working my way through John’s Gospel even though it took much longer than I had hoped. It is the story of forgiveness. Really, that is about it. There’s a lot that can be read into it. There’s a lot of minutia that can be squabbled about. But at the root of this story is one of forgiveness. Out of that forgiveness grows an enabling and empowering conviction that life is about only One: Jesus. The forgiveness we have in Christ defines us. It molds us. It creates in us a life that is decidedly about Jesus as we continue to grow and become more and more like Jesus. Peter would be among the first to learn this. Out of this conviction concerning Jesus grows all else in the Christian’s life.

In keeping with the theme of these meditations that John’s Gospel is about Jesus, I’ll make a couple of observations.

First, Jesus asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” First he asks him, ‘do you love me more than these?’ I suppose this could mean, “Do you love me more (quantitatively) than the rest of the disciples do?” That is, is your love for me greater than, say, James’s love for me. It could be this, but maybe it is something else. It could also mean, “Do you love me more than you love everything you see here?” That is, do you love me more than 153 fish, more than boats, nets, more than the bread, the fish, more than the other disciples, more than success, more than anything else you can see? I think Jesus asks Peter this question three times because Peter denied Jesus three times. Eventually, Jesus will tell Peter that if he really loves Jesus his love will be tested by the threatening and taking of his own life in the same manner Jesus’ life was taken: Crucifixion.

But here’s the thing: Do you really love me more than these? If you do, then it won’t be a task to feed my sheep and take care of my lambs. If we truly love Jesus, loving people is no chore. But I think loving Jesus comes first. Love me. Love me. Love me. Jesus is clearly telling Peter that there will be a lot of thing in life competing for his affection and attention. Hey, all of the sudden Peter was a successful fisherman: 153 fish is nothing scoff at! But did Peter love Jesus more than these? I don’t know what Jesus pointed to specifically, but I do know this: ‘Me’ is specific; ‘these’ is not. Our love has a concrete, objective object. The object of our affection is not the randomly scattered, and abundantly supplied, ‘theses’ of the world but the One Resurrected Lord Jesus. The question is appropriate for us too: Do we love Jesus more than these? Is there anything we count more than Jesus?

Second, Jesus says that Peter will glorify God by the way he dies. It is hard when reading this not to recall what took place in chapter 12 of this Gospel:

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. (John 12:23-29)

So imagine you are Peter, you are happy to see the Lord Jesus. You have a great fishing expedition. You eat breakfast. You take a walk on the beach. Then Jesus drops this on you: “Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’” Just exactly how do the sheep get fed because Peter dies in a certain way or because Peter dies at all? Whatever the case may be with that, Jesus told Peter in no uncertain terms: Someday you will die—quite in the same way that I died—and your death will also bring glory to God—quite in the same way that mine did. (It’s not really complicated when you compare the Greek of chapter 12 and the Greek of chapter 21.) “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.”

Would that we could (would?) live and die in such way that brings honor and glory to God! The gist here is what I mentioned above: Be prepared in this life to give an account of the love you claim to have for Me. Be prepared to live and die in such a way that demonstrates you are more interested in Me than these. Be prepared to live (next Jesus says, ‘follow me’) and die in such a way that demonstrates you are more interested in God’s glory than you are in your own. It’s a tall order and it is one that I suspect a number of Christians, in a number of Churches have thoroughly failed to grasp in their attempts to live the American Dream and be Christians (I don’t know if the two are as compatible as some would have us believe). I think it is quite fair for Christians to consider well if they are living and preparing to die in such a way that brings glory to God. The bottom line is this: Peter knew from that day forward what he had to look forward to if he continued to follow Jesus: Peter knew that some day he would die because of his faith and confession in/of Christ. Are you similarly prepared? If Jesus told you, “Some day you will die because of me,” would you continue to follow Jesus? Peter did. I suspect that is how sheep are fed by Peter.

Finally, Jesus tells Peter: “Follow Me!” In fact, he tells him twice: “You must follow me!” There can be no compromising. This is not a matter of if, or will, or might. It is a matter of fact: “You must follow me!” Now, what we experience in the world of American Christianity is, normally speaking, anything but this following of Jesus. It’s nothing new: Paul had to write to the Corinthian church on such matters:

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)

People have always had issues with the ‘who’ of ‘follow me.’ But what would happen if the church would, each day, every single person who confesses Jesus as Lord, take up their cross and follow Jesus? Isn’t this what Jesus is telling Peter? He just finished telling Peter, “You are going to die like me.” Now he says, “follow me.” In other words, “You are going to take up your cross and follow me.” What would happen, again I say, if every Christian truly lived this way? What if our sole ambition was not ourselves, not ‘these’, not dreams, not visions, but simply, profoundly, sincerely, the taking up of the cross and the following of Jesus? I know it sounds complicated, but I don’t think it is. Jesus is saying to Peter, “Don’t be afraid to go only where I went.” Life will be difficult, but keep the pace: Follow me. ‘What about that person over there?’ Don’t worry about him, follow me. Don’t look to the left, the right, or behind, side to side, up to down, keep your eyes fixed on Me. Follow Me. You Must follow Me. Or, this way:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s not strange that the book should end this way. It’s not strange that Jesus should demand such allegiance. What is strange is the manner in which we have failed and the ‘Jesus’ we have followed. But if we follow Jesus, we follow the Jesus that John wrote about: The Lamb of God who takes away the Sins of the World, the King of Israel, the One Moses wrote about, the One Isaiah Saw, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth and the Life, The I Am, The Living Water, the Bread of Life, The Word. We are not free to follow a Jesus of our own invention. We are free to follow the Jesus of Scripture. We are not free to determine the manner in which we follow: There is only one way to follow Jesus and that is in such a way that brings glory to the Father. This might mean a life of death or a death of life. But it always means that our sole purpose is to Love Jesus more than anything or anyone else and in so doing we will bring glory to the Father as Jesus did. Follow me, he says, all the way to the cross!

The forgiveness of God enables and empowers us to do these things. Forgiveness is not given so that we can live how we want to live. Forgiveness is given so we can live how Jesus wants us to live: In close fellowship (loving), in close suffering (glorifying), and close proximity (following) to Himself. It’s no easy thing to surrender ourselves to such a life.

I hope you have been blessed by this rather long series of meditations on John’s Gospel. I am sorry it took so long to finish them, but your patience is appreciated. I have thoroughly enjoyed studying this Gospel so intensely for so long. The only problem is that I was in the library at the Seminary last week and I noticed that there are about a thousand books on John’s Gospel alone. I have a lot of work to do and I realize that what I have written is in no way close to comprehensive. I could probably start at the beginning and do it all over again. Still, I hope that someone has been blessed in some way because of this work. I hope hope is that God was/is/will be glorified by this work.

Be blessed and a blessing. I hope soon to start a new series of meditations from Paul’s short letter to the Colossian Church. I am about half-way through my exegesis of chapter 1. When I have finished chapter 1, I will start writing. Until then, I remain yours for the glory of God alone.

Jerry

John 21:1-14 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 89

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana of Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

“John’s Gospel does not end with the resurrection of Jesus, but with a challenge to His disciples. It is not simply a challenge for belief, but a call for commitment. Paul’s epistles give doctrinal teaching, but each leads to a ‘therefore’ section with practical application of the truths presented. Lives are changed because of acceptance of Jesus and His teaching. Following Jesus demands action, a life that obeys Him. So John’s Gospel not only presents the facts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, but ends with the challenge to Peter and to us to follow Him and feed His sheep.”—Lewis Foster, John, 224

All along this entire series of meditations on John’s Gospel, I have tried to maintain the focus that John did, that in writing the Gospel he, the author, was concerned to present his readers with Jesus. So, when, for example Gary M Burge writes: “Chapter 21 is about discipleship and leadership.”—(NIV Application Commentary, 593), he is wrong. From first to last, the Gospel is about Jesus. These are the historical events that took place in the life of an historical person in an historical place. In other words, the events are measurable. These are not ‘cleverly invented stories,’ but the eyewitness accounts of real people about a real person (2 Peter 1:16). So when we read them, we are only learning about ourselves (or leadership or discipleship or hairdressing) as a second, third, fourth, or fifth lesson. I submit to you that if we open our Bibles and Study Jesus, The Word of God, the Gospel, everything else will sort of fall into place. But that’s just me; well, and a bunch of others too.

So then, what would or does a common reader of this Gospel learn about Jesus after reading this last chapter? Well, frankly, it is difficult to wield an exegetical knife and cleave this chapter down the middle, but to an extent we are looking at two distinct historical events that took place ‘the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples.’ What then do we learn about Jesus since all these things ‘were written that [we] might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing [we] may have life in his name.’ In this first section, something happened with fish. In the second section (which we will look at on Day 90) something happened with barnyard animals. This is a very zoological chapter. No, really. We learn here about Jesus a few more lessons.

Before asking this question (‘What do these verses teach us about Jesus?’), there are a few other preliminary questions that must be asked about what is going on in this particular pericope (short historical, biographical paragraph or episode in the life of Jesus). I’ll ask them, but only briefly comment because the lesson we learn about Jesus is intricately tied to the answer to these questions. What the reader must not do with these verses is get caught up in the minutia. I think one can spend so much time calculating the ‘meaning’ of 153 fish, for example, that they miss why they caught anyfish at all. In other words, I don’t think these verses have to be allegorized in order to have meaning. Perhaps it is enough for us to simply read the verses and take them at face value and learn about Jesus.

I think the story centers around four questions. 1) Why does Jesus ask if they caught any fish? 2) Why does Jesus catch so many fish for them? 3) Why does Jesus cook a fish breakfast for the disciples? And 4) Why does Jesus hand them some fish? To be sure, I don’t think this story is necessarily about fish. I do, however, think that these questions give us insight into what we are to learn about Jesus

First, why did Jesus ask them ‘haven’t you any fish’? I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus knew they hadn’t any fish so why did He ask them? Was he making polite conversation? What he chiding them a bit because their skills at fishing hadn’t improved one bit over the course of the three years he had spent with them? Remember Luke 5?

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the Word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”

So why did Jesus ask them if they had caught anything? It could very well be that he intended to humiliate them just a wee bit, to make them look on this expedition as yet another failure they had to endure. Perhaps he was intending to make them look at the life of fishing they were leading, and the one they had led, and to compare the two and see: It was getting them nowhere. Perhaps, and here’s the point, Jesus is not all that willing to let those he calls simply go back to their old way of life so easily. Some disagree, but I think that is exactly what they were doing: Going back to their old life. But didn’t the Resurrection of Jesus mean something more than their old way of life? Is that what His resurrection meant to them? Surely it meant more to them, and means more to us! Perhaps he wanted to remind them that they should not have been so willing to so quickly go back to that life. Fishing here represents the life that Jesus called Peter from not the life he called him to. Now that He is alive, there was more to do and it would not be done by people who were so consumed with their past failure (and reliving that failure all over again!) that they were not looking forward, moving forward, in the power of Resurrection. Jesus brings them out of that old life; again.

The second question is this: Why did Jesus catch so many fish for them? John seems to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the number of fish they actually caught. Notice he makes reference to the haul in verses 6, 8, 11. This load of fish really made an impression on John—so much so that he counted the fish! Well, these disciples always seemed to have their nets on the wrong side of the boat. They would fish on one side, catch nothing, and Jesus would have them throw it over again and they would catch something. What are we to learn about Jesus from this part of the story? Clearly something was meant to be learned or John wouldn’t have felt the need to record, in Holy Scripture, the measure of the catch. But contrary to some opinion, I don’t think that the meaning is found in interpreting the number of fish. Whatever else 153 might mean (and I think it simply means that Jesus filled their nets with 153 fish), clearly the point is that the catch was large.

What shall we learn? Do you think it could be something as simple as the fact that it is Jesus who provides for us often in spite of our best efforts? So, contra Burge again, Jesus was not merely their ‘coworker.’ He did all the work! Perhaps it is that Jesus is giving; giving more than we expect. It certain did catch them by surprise. Or perhaps it was not so material after all. Perhaps Jesus was testing Peter and John and Thomas and Nathaniel and James and the other two. Perhaps he wanted to know: What do these men love more: Me or fish? Me or material gain? Now that they have been successful, will they stay in the boat, on the water, fishing? By the time they are all on the beach, ‘No one dared ask him ‘are you the Lord’; they knew.” (I’ll come back to this later.) John saw: “It is the Lord!” I think Peter makes his point too: he jumps in the water and doesn’t even wait for the fish or his friends. For him, Jesus is all he sees. (And we will see this up close and personal in the conversation between Peter and Jesus in the last several verses.)

The third question also has to do with fish: Why does Jesus cook the disciples fish for breakfast? I might ask it another way: Why does the Resurrected Lord Jesus Messiah build a fire, bake some bread, fillet some fish, and prepare anything for the disciples? “Come and have breakfast.” What a strange thing this is! The Lord of the Universe, the First fruits of the Resurrection, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World, the Alpha, the Omega, the Bread of Life, Living Water, the King of Israel—we have come so far in John’s Gospel!—making breakfast on the beach for these ordinary fishermen. It is indeed a strange world Christians inhabit. We have strange ideas about God at times, but this one is the strangest of them all: God making breakfast! And what’s even more is this. If John and Peter knew it was the Lord because a) John saw the fish and b) Peter believed John’s testimony (“‘It is the Lord’…as soon as Peter heard him say…”) then it seems the rest of them figured it out only after Jesus offered them breakfast: “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” Why? Because He made them breakfast?!

So what do we learn about Jesus? I think it is rather simple and it goes back to the upper room. One of the last things the disciples experienced with Jesus was in the upper room when he washed their feet before his crucifixion. Now here is Jesus after his crucifixion, after his resurrection, still doing the same thing; i.e. serving. So Jesus is still modeling for his disciples the sort of life attitude that should characterize us as well. Why does Jesus remain one who serves?

So far, I think we have learned three things about Jesus in this context. First, we learned that he is not content to let us just wander back to our old life—the life that he called us from. Second, we learned that he provides for us even in spite of our best efforts to succeed on our own. Third, we learned that he was among them as a servant and counts it no shame at all to do even menial things like cooking breakfast for friends.

So finally, our fourth question: Why does Jesus hand them some fish? “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” I recall a time when Jesus multiplied bread and fish and fed a multitude of people. The story is told in Mark’s Gospel, Matthew’s Gospel, Luke’s Gospel, and John’s Gospel. But wherever the story is told, and whatever the focus, Jesus is always the Host. Jesus invites people to sit down in groups. Jesus takes bread and passes it out to others. He provides the fish. He takes the fish. He blesses the fish. Then he gives the fish back to us. He does the same with the bread. But it doesn’t matter if it is an unruly mob that wants to make him king by force, or if it is a group of hungry people who had been with him all day and hadn’t prepared themselves by bringing lunch, or if it was a couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus, 5,000 Jews, or 4,000 Gentiles, or a few disciples who had gone back to a failed fishing career. Jesus is the Host. It doesn’t matter if it is 2 fish and 5 loaves or 153 fish and ‘some bread.’ Jesus is the Host

We are invited to a meal that is Hosted and blessed by Jesus. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that it is Jesus who does all the work in this Resurrection story? Jesus catches the fish. Jesus bakes the fish and bread—and builds the fire. Jesus asks all the questions. Jesus invites them to breakfast. Jesus takes the bread and fish and gives it to the hungry disciples who, after a failed night of fishing, were bound to be quite hungry. Do you think this Resurrection story is telling us there is nothing we can do in this life apart from Jesus? Do you think it teaches us about the nature and character of Jesus and that if he is willing to be so perhaps we should too? Why does Jesus remain the host after his resurrection?

Fish! Going fishing. Failing at fishing. Catching Fish. Cooking Fish. Blessing and serving fish with his own hands. Jesus did a lot of things that morning that he had done all his life with the disciples. He caught their fish. He served them. He hosted them at the table. This same Jesus who was on the beach with them that morning was the same Jesus who had been crucified a week or so earlier. It’s not so much that Jesus wanted them to forget things as much as it was that he wanted them to remember things. He wanted them to remember Himself. He reinforced their memories by Being Himself.

Soli Deo Gloria!