Posts Tagged ‘following Jesus’

The eight chapter of Matthew, close on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount, is a spectacular introduction to the Jesus we follow. What is probably most amazing is the variety of people that Jesus meets along the way after he came down from teaching.

This is probably significant. It probably means something amazing that Jesus said all that he said about what his followers look like (in chapters 5-7) and then goes on to demonstrate those things in his own life in the chapters that follow. What is compelling about this eight chapter is that Jesus makes it plain that his work, the work we see on display in chapter 8, is a matter of the kingdom. Look what he says: "I tell you, many will come from the east and the west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." This is encouraging as the context indicates Jesus was about the business of healing the servant of a Roman Centurion.

So, then, look at the sort of things that happen in chapter 8.

The first thing that is different about this Kingdom is that Jesus touches people; lepers to be precise. It's an unheard of thing. This is one sort of person Jesus stretches out his hand to touch. And when he does, Jesus doesn't become unclean. Who are the 'unclean' people in our culture that Jesus would likely reach out and touch? Go, then, be his hands.

Next, notice that this kingdom also has room for the oppressors among us. Roman Centurions were probably not well known for their likability. They worked for the enemy, the oppressor, the hated Romans. Yet Jesus says this enemy as more of a shot at the feast of Abraham than does some who are natural born sons of the kingdom. That's a strange thought, isn't it? It makes me wonder who the enemies are in our culture. Can you identify them? If you can, go and be Jesus' welcoming committee.

Then go on in the story….Jesus also touched his mother-in-law's hand and healed her…he healed those oppressed by demons–a large population among our own culture I am sure. Notice Jesus: he heals by touch, he heals from a distance, he heals by a word…he heals anyone who asks and everyone who comes to him with a need. He carries our sickness and weakness–he sort of takes it into himself and in himself disease has no triumph. But he also makes something else clear to his would-be disciples: this is no easy row to hoe.

Discipleship, as explained in chapters 5-7, has a cost. Here in chapter 8 he lays out some of that cost.

You have to be prepared to live on the run. There's no settling down. There's no staying put. If you are going to follow Jesus, be prepared to live like Jesus.

You have to be prepared to prioritize like Jesus. Jesus said we have to think about what matters and there may simply be times when the priorities of this life are no longer priorities. We have to discern what matters most when we follow Jesus. It's hard. I know it is, but Jesus doesn't seem to mince words.

And finally….we need to seriously consider who he is and 'what sort of man' he is. Who is this that even the winds and the waves obey? Are we prepared to follow a man who touches lepers? Are we prepared to follow a man who heals the enemy? Are we prepared to follow a man who takes our disease into himself? Are we prepared to follow a man who has no place to rest and who tells us that the dead will bury their own? Are we prepared to follow a man who can calm winds and waves?

We need to ask that: are we prepared to follow a man who calms winds and waves? The same man who orders disease to leave and sickness to vanish is the same man who commands the winds and waves.

And the last story….are we prepared to follow a man who sacrifices an entire community's economy for the sake of two men who were held captive by demons? Evidently the people of the Gadarenes did not: they begged Jesus to leave them. At least they were honest. They were not yet ready to follow a man who did all this sort of stuff.

Are we? This is the Jesus we follow and this is what marks his kingdom. Are we prepared to follow that kind of King? Are we prepared to touch and talk to and meet the sort of people Jesus did?

If not, then maybe we are not quite ready to follow him just yet.

Jesus OTLTitle: Jesus Outside the Lines

Author: Scott Sauls

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers

Year: 2015

Pages: 210

Disclaimer: Happily I was provided a free copy of Jesus Outside the Lines via Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my free and unbiased review of the book. Joyfully, I present to you my review–free of additives, preservatives, and sugary marshmallow shapes. Just my undiluted opinion, free of charge, here at Typepad and around the web at such places as GoodReads, Amazon, and elsewhere. Thanks for reading.

I noticed a couple of times in the book that Saul's quotes people with whom we might have a difference of opinion or two. In the introduction, he quotes as a source of authority Chris Stedman who happens to be a chaplain, at Harvard, and an atheist. There's a part of me that kind of cheers that Sauls finds something in common with Stedman, but there's another part of me that shudders because in quoting Stedman as an authority, early on in the book, he is allowing Stedman to set the agenda for the book. Maybe that's a good thing; I'm not sure. To be sure, he also quotes from Tim Keller and Tim Kreider and Jesus and Dostoyevsky and dozens of others. Slowly he builds his case that we should all be able to talk to one another peacefully even though we may disagree with one another on about every conceivable subject.  So:

Is it possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love that person deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and simultaneously embrace those who reject your deep convictions? (xxv)

And:

Do you want to be known for the people, places, and things that you are for instead of the people, places, and things you are against? Do you want to overcome the tension of wanting to be true to your beliefs and engage the culture? Are you ready to move away from polarizing conversations and toward Jesus and your neighbor? (xxvii)

This is the thesis of the book and the rest of the book explores this thesis with, surprisingly, some depth. And not surprisingly, he begins by discussing politics. I was prepared to roll my eyes frequently but early on he wrote this, "…when it comes to kings and kingdoms, Jesus sides with himself" (5). I agree. Then he ends with this thought concerning you and me: "Seek first the kingdom of God…, and all these things will be added to you" (19). I have engaged enough political debates on blogs and FB to know where my buttons are and I am able to simply avoid those conversations.

This might be key to all of our understanding of loving people and disagreeing with them. When I see a thought I disagree with, I assume first that it is just that: a thought. In other words, I try to remember that on the other side of the thought there is a person that I love or who may love me. IF I cannot handle the thought, I don't engage it because I prefer to remain in love and in friendship with the person who wrote it. It takes a lot of work, but learning not to be bothered by other people's ideas is a huge step in maturity. Learning how to peacefully disagree is another step in the journey. Learning how to see people instead of mere thoughts is Jesus. Being able to laugh with others, learn from others, listen to others, and love them deeply is probably something close to divinity.

Sauls frequently confronts the reader with the idea that Christians haven't always been the most gracious, kind, and loving people on earth when it comes to our disagreements with those who hold to a different worldview. We have tended to get all worked up, start campaigns, or believe, naively, that the only way to win a conversation is to elect a certain politician who will make our point of view law. That'll show 'em! I think Sauls does a fairly good job of helping us bridge that massive gulf between what we believe and how we treat others because of those beliefs. He tackles some fairly significant topics along the way towards peace–because ultimately, Sauls is playing the role of the peacemaker in this book–such as abortion, money, sexuality, church, poverty, and suffering. At times his thoughts are deep and at other times his thoughts are a little confusing; at times his exegesis is spot on and at other times it is a bit sketchy; and at times his voice is clear and prophetic and other times he really needed a better editor.

With all that being said, the book grew on me. I started out with my typical skepticism and by the time I got to the end I was in a fair amount of agreement with him. The book is subtitled: A way forward for those who are tired of taking sides. No one should get this book and attempt to read it with the expectation that Sauls is going to lay out a step by step set of instructions for this 'way forward.' Instead, he is going to tell us some stories, talk to us about Jesus, point out where our flawed definitions of Bible things have caused us to see things with eyes fixed on the wrong thing. The book is going to cause the reader to stop and listen to Jesus and to 'examine the self.' Maybe all of us would do well to pause each day and examine ourselves or ask God to do a deep search of our souls and see if there be in us any unrighteous thoughts or way. The Spirit searches all things. Maybe we should invite the Spirit in for some housecleaning.

Interestingly, the following quote sort of summed up the book for me: "If Christianity has something to significant to contribute to the question of suffering and evil, it is that Christianity is incredibly realistic about how messed up the world is" (153-154). I have two thoughts, one negative and one positive. First, the negative, 'if' is a big word. I think I understand his point, but I also think that given the nature of our our faith (cruciform), 'if' is a bit too squishy. Here I believe his sentiment should have been a little more concrete and affirming. Second, the positive, if his point is true, and I think it is, then we (christians) are, and should continue to be, incredibly realistic about how messed up the world is. Let's live in hope that God has redeemed this world, but also let us be incredibly real about the hope we have in Jesus precisely because of the suffering he endured.

So this, which I think is Sauls' point: let's be honest. Let's stop acting like the world is so easily divided into 'us and them' or 'we and they' or 'me and you.' All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. Problem in the church is that we simply forget this because we come to church on Sundays. We seem to forget that we, too, were 'once like them' (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-12; Ephesians 2:11-22). If there should be any compassion, it should flow from this idea that we were once like those with whom we so often disagree. And if there is compassion and mercy it should not come from arrogance or hypocrisy or condescension, but from compassion, weeping, and grace. I think a large part of the problem with the church is that we have forgotten to remember…many things.

I came away from this book reminded to be sober in my thinking about others–especially those with whom I have philosophical or theological differences. I came away reminded that even though Sauls nicely divides the world in binaries, that the world is not so easily categorized as black and white.

Sauls does a good job balancing the book between self-deprecating stories and faith-hero stories–but he is never the subject of the faith-hero stories. He quotes all the standard folks we would expect to see in an Evangelical publication: Lewis, Chesterton, Volf, Lamott, and more. He quotes plenty of Scripture; although, at times it was mere prooftexting. I prefer larger quotes with more context and a little deeper exegesis, but it doesn't kill the book that he does not do things this way. The notes are all at the end of the book, there is no index, and there are no references. He ends the book by again quoting a lengthy swath of ideas from an atheist. I'm not sure how I feel about that, even the thoughts might be helpful, yet it does fall right in line with the theme of his book.

All in all, this was a helpful book and as I noted above, Sauls words and style grew on me as the pages were turned. There is a lot to think about in this book and he certainly makes us pause for a draft of reality as it relates to our own faith in Jesus and how we go about treating other people in the world. Get to know people. Step away from stereotypes. Listen to their words and engage thoughtfully. But always bear in mind that there is a person speaking to us and we may not  know all there is to know just by reading a FB update or Tweet. Talk to people, not ideas; dislike ideas, not people.

Maybe we should do two things. First, join Jesus outside the lines already drawn and, second, stop drawing new lines.

4.5*/5

 

 

 

Friends, here is the text for tomorrow’s sermon from Luke 9. The gist is that Jesus has given us power and authority to do something. That something is defined by Jesus himself as ‘proclamation of the kingdom’ and ‘healing the sick’ and ‘authority over demons.’ It seems to me that sometimes we church folk have forgotten about the power given to us, what Paul calls Resurrection power. Still, we have to be careful. This power is nothing like the power that the world wields. This power has the power to confound and perplex for that very purpose. It will all make sense once you have read the entire text. grace and peace. jerry PS- This sermon grew out of thoughts I posted the other day and posted here.

The Kingdom of Crucifixion
Luke 9:1ff

Introduction

“Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing his kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation. We need to pray that we will have the courage, as a church and a Christian persons, to follow the Servant King wherever he leads. That, after all, is why we come to his table. We have seen in our century what happens when people dream wild dreams of world domination, and use the normal methods of force and power to implement them. We have not yet seen what might happen if those who worship the Servant King, now enthroned as Lord of the world, were to take him seriously enough to take up our cross and follow him” (Following Jesus, NT Wright, 51)

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1When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9But Herod said, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?” And he tried to see him.

10When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 12Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14(About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.

18Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” 19They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20″But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

21Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? 26If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. 37The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 44″Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” 45But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

49″Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”50″Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” 51As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
____________________

Jesus gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases.

It kind of makes me wonder, seeing what he armed them with, what they would be up against. After all, he didn’t send them out with AK-47’s or Master Cards.

He sent them out, indeed, as sheep among wolves, doves among vipers, and he stripped them of all outer defenses: No staff for defense, no sack for extra gear, no bread for sustenance, no money to pay people off, no extra shirt for the long journey. Maybe he was reminding them that he was sending them out into a hostile badlands much like the Lord had sent the Israelites. Maybe even here Jesus was thinking about Scripture:

But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 29:4-6)

So Jesus arms these men he sends out with nothing more than power over sickness, authority over demons, and a proclamation about a kingdom. And so they went, village to village, proclaiming the message of the Kingdom and healing people everywhere. They went out and did the very thing they were armed to do.

It appears they did it well. And it appears they did not lack anything they needed, despite the fact that they left everything behind. Jesus gave them power to accomplish a mission and that is just what they do.

Jesus warned them, however implicitly, that this power did not come from them, that this power is not for them, and that this power is not to be used for any purpose other than what he has assigned it, and that this power will confound people, and that this power is unlike anything found on earth among those deemed powerful.
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A Powerful Kingdom of Poverty
Genesis 10, Luke 9

I’m not a little behind on these, but I promise I have been doing the reading. I actually have notes for several days’ worth of writing. I’ve just been wiped out lately and unmotivated to write. Nevertheless, today I’m in the mood to write. Today mostly focuses on Luke 9.

I love that Jesus called his disciples together and ‘gave them power.’ But he didn’t give them power for the sake of giving them power. No, he gave them a vocation as well: Power was accompanied by authority to drive out demons. Ability and responsibility. Power is never an exclusive possession. Power is a gift given to be administered in service to those who lack power—in this case, those who didn’t know the Kingdom; those who were sick. Power and proclamation seem to go hand in hand, and here the power is given for both purposes.

Jesus sent them out with nothing but power and proclamation (1-6) and after they returned, it was these two that still remained (10-11). Jesus models for his disciples what he expects them to do and be to those who come to him.

Later (49-50) we learn that this power is not an exclusive power for a few close people. Jesus’ power is spread about for his purposes, and to accomplish his ends.

As the chapter moves on, we learn about the cost of following Jesus and this cost is not cheap. There is power, yes; and authority, yes; and responsibility, yes. But there is more, and the more doesn’t just come in verses 57-62. Underlying this chapter is the simple fact that Jesus is heading to Jerusalem (51) and even before that Jesus has said twice (I don’t like the term ‘predicts’) that he is going there to die (21-22 & 43-45). So the cost of following Jesus is no small investment. It will involve all our being. There are no shortcuts. As I looked at this chapter and saw how Jesus interacted with his disciples and the things he said, I became convinced that following Jesus is not for the faint of heart.

He is going to Jerusalem (51). We go forth with nothing but power and proclamation (1ff). There will be little rest (10-11). Ours is a cross life (23ff). There will be heights of glory that we misunderstand and misinterpret (28-36). We will fail (37-43). We will be rebuked (55). We will not be great (48). We will not be exclusive (50). We will travel through the land of opposition (53). We will be homeless, discipleship will be urgent, and there will be no time for anything else (57-62). Truly, being a disciple of Jesus is an effort, not something for those who are inclined to give in easily when the pressures of said discipleship start pressing in all around us.

In the midst of all this talk of discipleship is talk of crucifixion. I count three times if you include the talk in verse 31 about his ‘departure.’ It is interesting to me that so much of the Kingdom talk in this chapter is mingled with crucifixion talk. Another serious implication to our discipleship is that we are following a Jesus who was going to the cross, going to Jerusalem, who had ‘set his face like flint’ towards that place. Strangely enough, he warns us that if we continue following him through Samaritan territory and on to Jerusalem we too must ‘take up our cross daily’ and follow.

And this Kingdom talk is also all mixed up with talk about opposition and poverty and rejection. How can power be woven into a conversation about weakness? What kind of Kingdom is this that Jesus is building? What sort of kingdom does he expect ‘us’ to go out and proclaim? Does he really expect to win people over to this kingdom when all he talks about is crucifixion, rejection, opposition, homelessness, no bags, no staff, no bread, no coins, and no turning back? “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

I’m not a little afraid of this. Who can accept it? This is just not the sort of kingdom that most people are looking for today and yet we are supposed to, in some way, and with power and authority, proclaim it! How can we reconcile our concept of kingdom as power, wealth, influence and politics with Jesus’ idea that kingdom is poverty, opposition, hiddenness, shared-influence, crucifixion, poverty, loving enemies, carrying crosses, childlike humility and dependence? Jesus’ idea of kingdom is nothing like the one we have constructed and continue to construct.

Jesus told his disciples to preach the kingdom and care for the poor (sick). We have preached affluence and ignored the poor. Jesus said we are armed only with the word and healing. No sandals. No bags. No staffs. No nothing that might suggest power, influence, or self-sufficiency. In other words, we go out armed with nothing that will suggest the kingdom is of ourselves or our making or that it is anything other than what it is: A kingdom of the cross.

That is power!

He gave his disciples power and yet told them that power would not gain them a home, friends, position, immunity from trouble, exemption from the cross or anything else of that sort. Those who are given the power of Christ are still expected, and must necessarily, live the life of crucifixion. The power and authority give by Jesus to preach and heal is to build up the kingdom of God—not the kingdom of self.

“Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing his kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation. We need to pray that we will have the courage, as a church and a Christian persons, to follow the Servant King wherever he leads. That, after all, is why we come to his table. We have seen in our century what happens when people dream wild dreams of world domination, and use the normal methods of force and power to implement them. We have not yet seen what might happen if those who worship the Servant King, now enthroned as Lord of the world, were to take him seriously enough to take up our cross and follow him” (Following Jesus, NT Wright, 51)

Friends,

And the resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid; because the God who made the world is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and calls you now to follow him. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a matter of believing that certain things are true about the physical body of Jesus that had been crucified. These truths are vital and nonnegotiable, but they point beyond themselves, to the God who was responsible for them. Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear. As John says in his letter, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4.18). And the resurrection is the revelation of perfect love, God’s perfect love for us, his human creatures. That’s why, though we may at any stage in our lives grasp the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead, it takes us all our life long to let that belief soak through and permeate the rest of our thinking, feeling, and worrying lives.”

Sometimes this process isn’t just a gradual thing; it may involve sudden crises. There’s a hidden chapter in the life of St Paul, which is usually ignored by those who see him either as the heroic missionary or the profound theologian, or possibly the misguided misogynist. Acts doesn’t mention this hidden chapter, but in our second lesson we heard Paul himself speak of it. At one stage of his work in what he called Asia, and we call Turkey, he says that he went through a horrendous and traumatic experience which seem to destroy him totally. ‘I was so utterly, unbearably crush’, he writes, ‘that I despaired of life itself; indeed, I felt as though I had received the sentence of death’ (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). And a good part of the second letter to Corinth actually grows out of this experience; the brash, proud Corinthian church had wanted Paul to be a success story, and he had to explain to them that being an apostle, and ultimately being a Christian, was not a matter of being a success story, but of living with human failure–and with the God who raises the dead. That’s what following Jesus is likely to involve.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 68-69)

For your consumption and encouragement.

jerry

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 11:11-16

11After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Being a disciple is not always all that it is cracked up to be. Well, maybe I should say, being one of those original disciples was not always all it was cracked up to be. Our lives are lived in relative obscurity. No one is writing Scripture that records our foibles and follies for others to learn from. My personal story of faith is not included in the Gospel of Matthew or the book of Judges for others to learn from. Open books we may be, living in history we may be, but example of faith or not throughout the entire history of Christendom we are not. We can read about Peter, James, and John; Judas, Thomas, and Matthias. But it is highly unlikely that a 100 years from now a preacher will be sitting around preparing a sermon and have to comment on the some grave mistake in understanding that you or I have made. At least not in the way it was so for Peter, James, and John.

Still, for all their mistakes, we admire the disciples. Their jobs were not uncomplicated and without trial. (Ours are too!) And there were times when they wore a very pronounced dunce cap. (I’m sure we would have too as it is only too evident that we are currently wearing one in several areas of churchianity.) Too bad for the disciples in John 11 that they missed Jesus’ words and the true meaning behind them. But let’s notice a couple of aspects of these verses.

First, I noticed that the disciples did seemingly everything they could to avoid going back to Judea. In the first place, they wearned Jesus that this Judea was the place where the ‘Jews’ had tried to take his life previously. It was there, the disciples said, that they tried to stone Jesus. In the second place, they said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ So they thought for certain that sleep was a good thing and that Jesus didn’t really know what he was talking about. I wonder if perhaps they did have an inkling that Lazarus was dead? So then their comments might be something of an attempt to shield Jesus from the death of his friend. I doubt it, but I suppose it is possible that they were thoroughly misunderstood about Jesus’ power and person.

Second, there is Thomas. For all that we do not know of Thomas, this one sentence he uttered speaks volumes about his character: “Let’s also go, that we may die with him.” In one sense then I think the disciples had a very deep understanding of what they were getting into: they knew that Jesus’ life was under constant threat from his opponents. In another sense, however, they were really unaware that Jesus was working towards that goal on purpose. It is also ironic that here they, or at least Thomas, were willing to go with Jesus and face death but later on, in the same Gospel, everyone flees, and after His death everyone is hiding behind locked doors ‘for fear of the Jews.’ Still, we can say this much: Whatever his understanding and motives, Thomas was at least willing to go with Jesus and face whatever Jesus faced. There is something to be said about his level of loyalty at this point.

Third, there are Jesus’ words: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Sometimes we miss the rather obvious, and it has to be made rather obvious to us. It’s that whole ‘forest through all the trees’ thing. Jesus wanted to go back for reasons that he thought were rather evident, rather obvious, rather clear as the man who walks by day. He wanted his disciples to understand this, but he had to help them over their fear of what lay ahead. Jesus understood that in order for death to be defeated he had to go to a place where death reigned—even if it meant that he had to face the prospect of his own death to do it. This is no small decision he made, but make it he did, and into the fire he went.

I wonder how many times we stand in the way of Jesus going some place? I wonder how often we try to block his path when all along he wants to bless us even more than we can imagine? Oh, not like that. I’m not talking about money or riches or wealth or fame. I’m talking about Resurrection, life, hope, salvation. Remember, Jesus purposely waited two more days before going to Lazarus. He deliberately sat around for 48 more hours before going. Why? “…for your sake…so that you may believe.” Strangely, this miracle had very little to do with Lazarus and everything to do with those who would witness it: especially the Twelve. Jesus intended something even greater and they tried to stop him. He intended for them to see this sign and believe. Imagine: Jesus was glad that he had not prevented Lazarus’ death! Have you ever said something of that sort or believed it? Can you say, “I am glad that God did not prevent such-and-such from happening in my life so that so-and-so might believe in Him?”

I don’t know if I have that sort of resolve. The spirit is willing; the flesh is weak. Jesus is here making explicit that which has only been implicit to this point: He is going to do something that the disciples wouldn’t believe until they saw it done, but I think we need to get out of the way.

So we learn from these disciples a couple of things. First, we learn not to misunderstand that Jesus is doing. I confess that there are plenty of times when the thing he means to do is often the thing that we think is most dangerous, most ridiculous, most backward. Then we protest: No Lord, you don’t seem to understand, if he is sleeping this is good. Jesus responds that it is not good for Lazarus to sleep (‘die’). Death must be overcome and Jesus meant to do it. We must not misunderstand Jesus intentions.

Second, we learn that Jesus is willing to do what it takes to provoke belief. “I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” Well, believe what? That question is not fully answered until the end of the Gospel, John 20:30-31, however, all through the Gospel it has been belief in Jesus as the One God sent. But what Jesus did here that was so risky was not that he let Lazarus die, but rather that He brought Lazarus back. It is not death that provokes belief; it is Jesus’ mastery over death that provokes belief.

Third, we learn that following Jesus is often a difficult and misunderstood road to travel. Thomas really didn’t know what he was getting into when he said what he said, and went where he went. There is, however, an element of sincerity and trust in Thomas’ words. Would that we too had such confidence to go with Jesus even when we have very little idea what His complete plans are or what he means to accomplish. Into the den of lions, into the midst of people who had resolved to kill him. There we follow Jesus, I think, because in some way we want to believe. We want to see. Not because we want to die, but because we want to live.

Soli Deo Gloria!

John 6:41-51

41At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” 43″Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44″No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

John’s Gospel as a whole contains mountains and mountains of stories relating various peoples’ objections to Jesus. There was always someone discontent with something he said, or something he did, or who he spoke to or with, or who he ate with, or where he went. These verses today begin with that idea: “At this, the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” There was some deep seated dislike, distrust and hatred of Jesus inside these people. And here’s the irony. The story that precipitated all this conversation was the miracle of the loaves and fish. When Jesus did that, everyone wanted to make him a king. As the story has developed in John’s Gospel, the people have grown more and more angry, more and more disconcerted, more and more distant, and eventually, they turn away from him altogether and ‘follow him no longer.’

But why were the people so offended? What was so difficult for them to comprehend? Jesus gave them two scenarios. In one scenario, they were fed some bread that filled their bellies for a day until they were hungry again. In a second scenario, they were fed The Bread of Life and were satisfied forever. Again with the irony: They did not want bread that would help them live forever. They wanted bread on the table today. You know as well as I do that in the church today, many are saying: Jesus is all about bread on your table today. And as long as preachers say this, the flocks will grow. But as soon as Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (and he said it more than once, to be sure!), the people ran away, fast and furious.

These words, Jesus says, are not something to grumble over or about or because of. They simply did not like that Jesus said, “I came down from heaven.’ And they grumbled. And grumbled. And grumbled. Then they ‘argue sharply among themselves.’ John says later, in verse 61, ‘aware that his disciples were grumbling about this…’ Then some turn back and ‘no longer follow him.’ I sense in here, to a degree, that Jesus just kept raising the ante, the bar, the standard, the qualifications for being truly considered his disciple. And the more he raised the bar, the more they raised their voices in protest. He said, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then they argue. Clearly they were not too well versed in the use of metaphor.

They missed some things in Jesus’ words. They missed that he said he would raise them up at the last day (43), they missed that he said ‘everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me’ (45), they missed him saying that he had seen God (46), they missed that whoever believes has everlasting life (47), they missed that humans who seek to subsist on mere bread will die (48), they missed that there is a bread a person can eat and not die (50), that whoever eats the bread will live forever (51). They missed all this ‘live forever’ nonsense and focused in on that one tiny phrase ‘eat his flesh.’ At the same time, Jesus did not mince his words. There is no life at all apart from our appropriating his flesh into ours. There is no eternity save for those who have found their only survival in His survival. There is no eternal life for those who steadfastly refuse to participate in the life and death of Jesus. There is no eternal life for those who are more and only concerned about a king who feeds bellies here with bread that is not of himself. But Jesus shows the absolute pricelessness of what He offers to humanity when he says, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the World.” How can any such sacrifice have a value stamped upon it? His sacrifice for the world is beyond compare, beyond measure, beyond our comprehension. It is incomparable; utterly unrepeatable.

This caused only more argumentative debating and grumbling among the people. Strange or funny how people get hung up on the smallest aspects of the Gospel and thus are utterly turned away from it. Strange that these folks who wanted Jesus to be their king a couple days ago should turn on him so quickly when they find out his real motives and his real designs on their lives. They did figure out that it was necessary to consume Jesus; they just could not figure out how. So they rejected him altogether on the basis that his claim was utterly absurd. That is as near as I can figure.

I’m writing this rather late. I am on vacation and I had intended on writing earlier. I got caught up in a story I’m reading and a baseball game that was not quite as thrilling for the home team as last night’s game was. So it’s late, but I hear what Jesus is saying. What comes through loud and clear is that Jesus is offering eternal life to those who want it. What is necessary is a level of faith in him so deep that it can only be described in terms of eating his flesh. What is described by Jesus here is, to an extent, the forsaking of those confidences we place in the bread of this world. What is heard by those he spoke with that day is something like, “How will everyone eat his flesh? Eight months wages wouldn’t buy enough for everyone to have a single cell.” And yet the demand is no less demanded. Eternal life is found only by those who so identify with Christ through faith that it appears they have consumed his flesh, or been consumed by him. Either way, those who wish to live forever, according to Jesus, are left with no alternatives: It is either in Jesus or not at all.

What he goes on to teach us is that this way he is speaking of is terribly difficult and not at all strewn with marigold petals or lined with mammoth sunflowers. It is hard and at least most of the people did figure that much out and turned back. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw this too.

“The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn. To be called to a life of extraordinary quality, to live up to it, and yet to be unconscious of it is indeed a narrow way. To confess and testify the truth as it is in Jesus, and at the same time to love the enemies of that truth, his enemies and ours, and to love them with the infinite love of Jesus Christ, is indeed a narrow way. To believe the promise of Jesus that his followers shall possess the earth, and at the same time to face our enemies unarmed and defenceless, preferring to incur injustice rather than to do wrong ourselves, is indeed a narrow way. To see the weakness and wrong in others, and at the same time refrain from judging them; to deliver the gospel message without casting pearls before swine, is indeed a narrow way. The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at him who goes before, we are already straying from the path. For he is himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and he alone, is our journey’s end. When we know that, we are able to proceed along the narrow way through the strait gate of the cross, and on to eternal life, and the very narrowness of the road with increase our certainty. The way which the Son of God trod on earth, and the way which we too must tread as citizens of two worlds on the razor edge between this world and the kingdom of heaven, could hardly be a broad way. The narrow way is bound to be right” (The Cost of Discipleship¸ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 190-191).

May your 26th Day with Jesus be Full of Grace & Peace.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

I’m in my study. It’s a beautiful day outside–I’m inside. I’m making phone calls, returning e-mails, ordering office supplies, and typing on my laptop a post for my blog. Right now I’m waiting on hold with the office supply people; part of an order was backordered and I’m curious to know how long I have to wait. In the meantime, I have a confession to make.

I just received an e-mail from a company who would very much like me to attend a leadership conference in Washington, Dallas or Orlando–cost is on $199.00, which sounds reasonable until you factor in fuel, food, lodging, and all the books I would undoubtedly need to purchase once I arrived for this three day conference. Oh, David Crowder Band will be playing; I’d go just for that. There’s other reasons I wouldn’t go.

One reason, the only reason I’ll expound on here, is that I watched the trailer. The trailer began by showing a clip of JFK, then moved on to MLK, and then to Ronald Reagan–all stalwarts in their respective fields; leaders without peers. But I think that is the very reason I cannot go. The irony of this: I heard a lot of names dropped–impressive names. But I didn’t hear anything about Scripture or even Jesus for that matter. I watched a 2:02 video trailer (minutes, seconds) and here’s what happened.

I heard about choosing the go to the moon. I heard about someone having a dream. I heard about someone else demanding that someone else tear down a wall. I learned about ‘impacting culture,’ which in my judgement is a totally fallacious and meaningless enterprise; it cannot be done; it will not succeed. The fact is, with all the people in this nation who claim to be Christians, the impact should already be felt. I don’t mean at the polls, or in elections; those aren’t the real indicators of impact. Think of Star Wars episode IV when Luke Skywalker and the rest of the rebels are going up against the Empire’s weapon of Mass Destruction: The Death Star. One rebel made a pass, fired his proton torpedo, pulled out of the trench and lamented, “No, it only impacted on the surface.” When Luke Skywalker flew down through the trench, fired his proton torpedo, it entered the exhaust port, flew into the center of the ‘Star’ and destroyed it and all who were on it. For the rebels, there was no success in merely impacting the Death Star. I’m funny like that. I’m not interested in impacting the culture. Christ wasn’t either for that matter. He came and blew up the stereotypes and the status quo and, in a manner of speaking, he totally wrecked culture. Jesus did not come here and say, “OK, let’s see how this Christianity thing will fit into the prevailing culture.” He came and said, “I am the culture.” There’s a big difference that has been lost on a generation of Christians whose preachers and prophets are far less concerned with Scripture and Truth than they are with the size of their congregations and buildings.

Here was the accusation leveled against those Christians, “We gave you strict order not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood” (Acts 5:28). I don’t think we can be accused of this any more. The Church is far to welcoming to culture. The Church is far to concerned with having a good name among the pagans. The Church is far too accomodating to those who reject Christ, far too sensitive to their ‘felt’ needs, and far to willing to overlook the problem that Christ died for: Sin. The fact is, the world’s opinion of Christ and His Scripture doesn’t matter or change the veracity of it. It is true whether the world rejects it or accepts it.

Anyhow, this conference I mentioned. I watched 2 minutes and 2 seconds of worth of trailer. When they got around to mentioning who would be speaking or whatever, the video mentioned first a musician, second a musician, and then some other ‘leaders’ who have, no doubt, important things to say. It is about ‘unleashing 20-30 somethings to action.’ I heard zero calls to exalt Christ or to submit to Scripture or to repent from sin. I heard a lot about ‘impacting culture’; nothing about being profoundly counter-cultural. I heard a lot about serving the world; nothing about repenting of sin. I heard zero, count them, zero, calls to Scripture. And no mention of Jesus undoubtedly the greatest leader to ever lead.

Here’s my thing. I just don’t think I fit in anywhere. I feel, I’m very serious about my feelings, left behind, left out, out in left field somewhere because I find this sort of stuff seriously missing the mark, and irrelevant. I don’t see the point. Is this what is necessary to ‘unleash 20-30 somethings’? Isn’t this really beside the point? Wouldn’t the devil love for us to be sidetracked in such a way? I’m 36 and I don’t find it particularly necessary to be unleashed. Why should people need motivation to be unleashed to live what they supposedly believe? Has God ordained such things to promote His agenda? I feel like a 30 year old with no place to call home because I can’t understand those who are of the opinion that I need more motivation to believe, live, and do what is right. And how shall this be done for these folks? How shall we be the exact opposite of everything this culture says we should be? Yes, another leadership conference is what we need.

I’m sort of rambling on a bit. I feel that way today. Our motivation should be other, I think. I don’t need soul-stirring concerts, emotionally charged atmospheres, competition for my feelings, or exceptionally motivational speakers to energize or unleash my potential; and I don’t think anyone else does either.

I think what we need is a fresh look at the Cross. If the cross does not motivate us, unleash our energy and energize our potential, if the Cross does not stir in us a love for God, then I don’t want to be stirred, unleashed or energized. I don’t want what this world calls and offers up as motivation for service. In my estimation, it will be short lived and meaningless–no matter how exceptional the cast of speakers. What is needed is the Cross. “We love because He first loved us.” “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

Look to the cross. And may God have mercy on those who think that more is necessary to motivate us than the Cross. And May God have mercy on those who think they need more than the Cross.

jerry

John 3:22-30 

22After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. 24(This was before John was put in prison.) 25An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” 27To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.

Here we are on Day 11. It is now 12:21 AM, Monday Morning, June 11, 2007. I really should be sleeping. I’m not tired though. I just looked over some of the ‘statistics’ for my blog—Life Under the Blue Sky—they seem a bit low, but I forgot some people read at the Life in the Aquarium blog too. But I digress. I sometimes forget that its not quite about me. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Jesus has graciously prepared the way for this word by speaking first of self-denial. Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for his sake. If in the end we know only him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed looking only unto him” (The Cost of Discipleship, 88).

Here is an interesting passage of Scripture that begins with a quiet and serene setting. A flowing river, disciples gathered around baptizing eager converts or penitents, harmony all around—except for that fight that broke out among some of those baptizing. The argument sort of gets dropped, but John’s disciples do use it as a pretext for asking their master why he doesn’t seem more concerned about this Jesus fella who is gaining more disciples. But John does not seem to care; in fact, he seems downright elated: I have done my job, my joy is now complete. (I think too that John’s statements concerning Jesus the Lamb of God were also John’s way of saying, “Look! There’s the One you should be following.” That’s why he said it twice. He wondered why people were still hanging around him.)

John then says the most astonishing thing a human being has ever uttered: He must become greater; I must become less. John doesn’t get involved in the argument. John does not care that more people are going to Jesus. John does not go out of his way to attract attention to himself. He always points to Jesus and is not jealous when Jesus begins to rise in stature. How could he? John, in my estimation, perfectly understood his role. He accepted what God gave him and did not throw a fit that it was not more. Really, that is about it for these verses. John was doing all he could to get out of the way so that people could see Jesus.

So here’s what I’m thinking about this. We need to get out of the way too. It’s no wonder, isn’t then, why God chooses us to be his messengers? Who else but us could so adequately make the case that this message is from God and not us? And that is precisely why we must continue to preach the gospel! That is precisely why we must continue to preach Christ Crucified! That is exactly why the treasure is hidden in dirty vessels like John the Baptist, me, and many others just like us. God hides his message in us and says: Point away to Jesus. I can’t emphasize this enough. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Jesus, the Supremacy of Jesus, the Above-all-there-is-Jesus, the Son of God Jesus, the Lamb of God Jesus.

I don’t even want to tell you today what I think the problem is in most preaching, but it has something to do with preachers being far too concerned about their job security and the approval of parishioners and the respect of their peers and colleagues. Hey, I’m a preacher, I’m most likely part of that problem to some extent so I think I’m safe to criticize my own. But I have to say something about: Preaching, preachers, prophets nowadays are far too self-centered. They know too much about too many things and so instead of preaching the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, the Whole of the Scripture, preaching takes on new shapes and dimensions and rises to new levels of oratory and rhetoric and psychology. But preachers are to be more like John and get out of the way. God doesn’t need us to stand up and glorify ourselves. God needs preachers to point to Jesus. There is something to be said about preachers not being so smart about so many things and instead being prophetic geniuses when it comes to the cross and the Crucified Lord.

David Wells, writing about the place of Scripture in the church, wrote in God in the Wasteland, “The fact that this Word is now so silent, that it has so small a part to play in the church’s worship, understanding, and spiritual nurture, goes a long way toward explaining why God, in his holiness, is also a stranger to the church…And so it is that God is disappearing from his church, being edged out by the self, naked and alone, as the source of all mystery and meaning” (149). Wells has much more to say about this, but let me sum up the main idea which is this: When the church becomes so full of us, it becomes emptied of God (there’s not room for both in the Body). When preaching, that means by which God has ordained his Gospel to be announced, is less filled with, constructed from, and centered on Scripture, what else is left to preach but the self–and many are profound exegetes of their culture, themselves, and films but not of Scripture.  And I submit to you that man’s life, man’s experience, man’s wisdom is not sufficient enough to guide the lost or the redeemed through this life; and it cannot even come close to leading people to that Place where the Houses are build by the Hands of God. Wells concludes, “Without this transcendent Word in its life, the church has no rudder, no compass, no provisions. Without the Word, it has no capacity to stand outside its culture, to detect and wrench itself free from the seductions of modernity. Without the Word, the church has no meaning” (150).

All of this is an example of what happens in the church when we become more and Christ becomes less. When Christ becomes less then we don’t even have ‘use’ for the Scripture let alone reverence and dependence upon it. When we become more and Christ becomes less then the mission of Christ is less about the Cross and more about our ideas which are decidedly cross-less. My encouragement to you today is this: Make it your ambition, or not your ambition just your life, to become less. It’s hard to want to not be all things to all people at all times. It’s hard to be the moon and not the sun. It’s hard to get out of the way, but do it anyhow. Be a servant. Accept what God has given you and find joy and satisfaction in seeing Jesus exalted, lifted up, gaining, growing, becoming more. Become less so that Jesus can become more. When what matters most in your life is Jesus and not you…well, then what matters most will matter most. And that matters. It seems to me that Scripture is convinced that God can do far more with less than He can with more. Ours is a culture of more, and to a great degree this pathetic philosophy has penetrated the hearts and minds of church folk. The Way of Jesus is counter-cultural: Narrow ways, foolishness, weakness, and, surprisingly, less.

Earlier this year Eugene Peterson published his third in a series of books on spiritual theology. The book, The Jesus Way, is a remarkable portrait of the nature of a true disciple of Jesus. It is a way characterized by sacrifice, failure, the margins, and holiness. He wrote, “More often than not I find my Christian brothers and sisters uncritically embracing the ways and means practiced by the high-profile men and women who lead large corporations, congregations, nations, and causes, people who show us how to make money, win wars, manage people, sell products, manipulate emotions, and who then write books or give lectures telling us how we can do what they are doing. But these ways and means more often than not violate the ways of Jesus” (The Jesus Way, 8).

And he’s right. This is the model people follow today because they are convinced that the only way to win the culture is to become the culture, or the only way to win the people of the culture is to reflect the culture so they will be interested in us–as if we will be thoroughly, completely lost without them. There is something to be said, however, for being willing to simply preach the Whole, Entire, Massive Word of God. There’s something to be said for preaching the hard truths that most people don’t care about or care to listen to.

PT Forsyth wrote, in the early 1900’s, “What is our task today? It is to take the mass of men (and not only the masses)–inert and hopeless some, others indifferent, others hostile to God–and to reconcile them with God’s holy will and righteous kingdom; but to reconcile them less with the ideal of a kingdom of God than with His way of it. They are keen enough about a kingdom which glorifies human ideals, but the trouble is about God’s ideal and God’s way, about Christ and His cross as the way as well as the goal” (The Cruciality of the Cross, 41-42).

The church must recover this cross centered preaching and those disciples of Jesus who claim to be saved must recover this cross-centered, sacrificial way of Jesus. The cross must be returned to the pulpit. The Jesus way, not the man way, must be followed and preached.  Imagine these men, writing nearly 100 years apart, saying exactly the same thing to two entirely different generations of Christians. When do you suppose it will change? Will it start with you?

jerry

John 2:1-11

1On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4″Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

When I was in college, I took a semester long class on the book of Acts. As part of the semester’s requirements, I had to produce 10 sermon outlines from the book of Acts. Recently, the church secretary was sorting through some of my files and one day, when she wasn’t looking, I snuck a couple of them out of the pile. One of the files I took out contained some old term papers I had written, all 4.0’s I might add, and also those old outlines that I produced for Acts class. My outlines were really bad and I think my professor was being generous when he marked a couple of them with 4’s. One of the 4’s that I received was on Acts 3:1-10. I wrote a pretty good outline, I thought at the time. The points were well made. I followed the flow of the text in the chapter. I thought I had done well until I saw, to the left of the 4.0, my professor’s rather lengthy paragraph written in stunning, glaring, red ink. He wrote:

I’m not sure our asking in prayer is really parallel to the lame man asking for money and receiving something better, but you have done a good job of expanding on a slightly shaky foundation.

Again, a generous 4.0 was given. I didn’t deserve the 4.0. I don’t suppose there are too many college sophomores who ever deserve 4.0’s—especially those sophomores who are learning how to ‘rightly divide the word of God.’ Strange though how after all these years it is the first part of his paragraph that stands out most in my mind. Even without the paper I remembered what he wrote: “I’m not sure our asking in prayer is really parallel to the lame man asking for money and receiving something better…” It’s that ‘something better’ that the author of the book of Hebrews argues, over and over again, that we find in Jesus Christ. It is this ‘something better’ that John illustrates by telling us the story of Jesus turning water into the best wine. It is no accident that Jesus chose six stone water jars that the Jews used for ‘ceremonial washing’ to complete his work. It is no accident that the wine was ‘the best wine’. It was no accident that this wine was ‘saved until after the guests had had too much to drink.’ It was no coincidence that after this sign Jesus errected that pointed to his glory that his disciples ‘put their faith in him.’ “The servants, Jesus’ mother, and his disciples knew, but the text mentions only the disciples as those in whom the sign accomplished its purpose: they ‘believed in him.’”—Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 94

I’d like to take time to say about a million things about this particular episode from the life of Jesus, but I stop short because that ‘something better’ keeps sticking in my head. I cannot get it out of my head, my heart, my eyes, my ears. It’s ringing around in my ears, bouncing on the walls of my skull. Jesus is the ‘something better.’ When that lame man was healed by Peter the ‘something better’ he received was Jesus. That wine that the steward took to the master of the banquet served as a metaphor that something better was at hand, something better than the rules & ceremonial washings of the Jews. It was something generous—filled to the brim! It was something abundant—six jars holding 20 to 30 gallons each! The most prophetic line in the text: “You have saved the best till now,” uttered by some wine steward at a wedding banquet. Ironic. It was something better, not the cold, hard, letter of law; but the warm, human, compassionate Jesus.

The book of Hebrews fills out the picture for us. All you have to do is read through the short letter to see how the author continually points out to the reader that Jesus is the something better that the Scripture hints at over and over again. Here’s the list (complete, I believe) of the something better in Hebrews: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:9); “The former regulation is set side because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God” (Hebrews 7:19); “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22) (See also 8:6, 9:23, 10:34, 11:16, 35, 40, 12:24). The author of Hebrews is convinced that in Jesus everything else takes a distant second seat.

However, I must complain. I think the Christians have, by and large, settled for something far less than the something better. I think Christians have been sold down the river by preachers offering health and riches and cars and televisions and satisfaction with so much of life here on earth instead of preaching, simply, that in Jesus there is something better. Where is the holy dissatisfaction with this earth? Where is the longing and groaning for a better resurrection in Christ? Where is the despising of flesh and the longing for Christ? Where are the fervent prayers for Christ to hasten his return? Where is the conviction that Christ is Better and the living out of such a conviction? And those who have rejected Christ out of hand are missing out too, but I don’t have time to document their misery. It’s bad enough documenting the misery of the church.

Jesus is not just something better. He is Someone Better. I can’t get that out of my head. Of all that there is, Jesus is Better. Why isn’t the church convinced of this?

I hope your 7th Day of 90 with Jesus is blessed by your reading of His Word.

jerry

John 1:43-51

43The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46″Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” 48″How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

We are again confronted with this man, this Jesus, who simply says, “Follow me.” He doesn’t say where he is going, or what he will be doing, or why he is going there (yet), or how he will get there. In fact, most of it he keeps a mystery. He said later, “You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come” (7:34). Yet Philip not only follows Jesus, but he goes and grabs up one of his buddies who happens to be enjoying an afternoon siesta under a fig tree saying, “We have found (discovered, eureka-ed!) the Messiah, the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the Prophets spoke of. Andrew had said to Simon, “We have found (discovered, eureka-ed!) the Messiah!” I sometimes wish evangelism were so easy! Then again, perhaps we try to make it far more difficult than it has to be. Perhaps it is as simple as saying, “Guess who I have discovered?”

Whatever else may be learned here, one thing I do know is this: Philip does not go to Nathanael unarmed. He went steeped in Scripture: Law and Prophets were on his mind and he knew who he was looking for because he knew who was written of (Philip recognized Jesus because he recognized Scripture). When he met the one who conformed to Scripture he knew he was on to Someone. Here’s another key point. People often say things like, “I can’t witness because I don’t know enough.” I say that is, well, junk. The only way, theologically speaking, to get to know Jesus is by spending considerable time in His Word. Philip made these deductions based on his reading of the Old Testament. How much more then should we be able to make the same deductions after reading the New Testament? Our problem is that too much fluff is spewed out of pulpits in the Church today. There is simply not enough (any?) thorough, biblical, theological exposition of Scripture taking place in American church pulpits. Is it because preachers cannot do so or will not do so? I suspect it is probably both. After all, we’d rather have a crowd listen to fluff than no one listen to Scripture. Right? Our problem is that we figure we can avoid testimony for Christ by avoiding the Scripture; so it collects dust on a shelf. But in truth, Scripture will not be avoided and if the church, the people who are the Body of Christ, does not return to Scripture I fear the church will be lost or destroyed. I hope it is not too late.

Nathanael is no dummy though: “I’ve heard about those ruffians from Nazareth. Brutes they are. Can anything good come out of there I wonder?” And all Philip says is the same thing John the baptizer said, “Come and behold!” So Nathanael goes and a dialogue takes place between Jesus and Nathanael after which Nathanael proclaims, “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” All of this because Jesus knew where Nathanael took a nap each day! But then, who’s to say that Philip, steeped in Scripture as he was, did not take time to open Scripture to Nathanael on their way to follow Jesus? Nathanael makes a profound confession of Jesus to go along with John’s “Behold the Lamb of God, Andrew’s, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip’s, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law…” Now we also have, “You are the Son of God; the King of Israel!” These four appellations paint for us a comprehensive picture of this person who keeps on saying, “Follow Me.” When Jesus finally speaks he refers to himself as “Son of Man.” Yet another dimension of Jesus’ person; and all terms that are rich with Biblical imagery and meaning. I dare say that if one is not sufficiently immersed and submerged in the Scripture of the Old Testament these titles, names, and identifying markers might lose a bit of their meaning; most of it.

Again I think you have to know your Old Testament to make sense of Jesus’ words about angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. In short, they will not ascend and descend on a ladder or stairway as they did in Genesis 28, where we read of Jacob’s dream, but on Jesus. In other words, Jesus would be the bridge, or stairway, or ladder that bridges the gap between here and there. Or, better, Jesus himself is the Way between here and there. Jesus has replaced the ladder; Jesus is the ladder. There is no other way for angels, or men. Jesus has replaced the ladder. Jesus describes this, seeing angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man, as one of the ‘greater things’ that Nathanael will see. This is a bold statement; a radical pronouncement. This is simply off the hook. All of this, keep in mind, after Jesus said, “Follow me.” Who could resist? Who would be foolish enough?

Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Wayspeaks near the end about ‘other ways’ of following in this world or ‘other ways’ of achieving something in this world; other ways of achieving the goal or prize–ways out of sync with the Jesus Way. He speaks of the way of Herod, and Josephus and Caiaphas, men who embodied ways that would not cause a person or an angel to ascend to heaven. They were, by the world’s standards, massive success stories. By Jesus’ standards they were complete failures who led people exactly nowhere and Peterson assures us that we are fools if we do not dismiss these ways, these alternatives, as paths to hell. Peterson writes, “What stands out as we consider all these dismissed options is that following Jesus is a unique way of life. It is like nothing else. There is nothing and no one comparable. Follow Jesus gets us little or nothing of what we commonly think we need or want or hope for. Following Jesus accomplishes nothing on the world’s agenda. Following Jesus takes us right out of this world’s assumptions and goals to a place where a lever can be inserted that turns the world upside down and inside out. Following Jesus has everything to do with this world, but almost nothing in common with this world” (E Peterson, The Jesus Way, 270). This is what we are getting into when we follow Jesus. We will see great things, no doubt. But we must also be quite prepared to leave this world behind. No wonder one of the first teachings of Jesus in this book is a story about leaving this place and going to that place—and, better, the Only Way to do it: Through Himself.

So, who can resist? Who would be foolish enough?

Read this article from WorldNetDaily.com:

http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=55990

Think you got it bad here in America? Think your church stinks? Think you’re not getting anything out of the worship on Sundays? Read this article.

“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering”–Hebrews 13:3 NIV

jerry

John 1:35-42

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39″Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour. 40Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).”

I picture John shouting these words: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” I sort of imagine that he was on the lookout, waiting, watching, keeping one eye on the crowd and one eye searching the crowd—and then it happened; He appeared. John ‘saw Jesus passing by.’ “Behold! I’m trying to get your attention! There is someone you just have to see! You cannot not take a look, a long gaze, a mesmerizing stare! Behold! Examine! Contemplate!” John’s disciples would later repeat these words. Philip went to Nathanael and said, “Come and See.” He uses the same Greek that John did: “Behold!” “Come and behold!” The author to the Hebrews would say something very similar: “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of your 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.” The message is always the same: Stay fixed on Jesus.

John has twice pointed out Jesus to the gathered crowd. Both times he has said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” I did a quick Internet search for the moniker ‘Lamb of God.’ I did not turn up one hit for the One named Jesus. I did, however, turn up an entire page of links to a group of musicians known by the same. They, unfortunately, have nothing to do with Jesus except to mock him. They are nothing worth paying any attention to. They are not worth beholding. They are not worth spending the day with. They are not worth concerning yourself where they are staying. Jesus was and that is what I noticed about these verses here.

John pointed to Jesus and said, “Look!” Then some of John’s disciples followed Jesus. Then they wanted to know where he was staying and when they found out they stayed with him an entire day. Next one of these men, Andrew, went and found his brother and bade him to come and meet Jesus also. Andrew makes what is one of the first open confessions, aside from the baptizer, about the identity of Jesus. “We have found!” “We have discovered!” Notice also that this newly discovered information was information that had to be shared with someone else. This was not something to keep to oneself.

There is another thought concerning this dawning, this awakening, this eye-opening revelation that overwhelmed Andrew. I notice that he came to this conclusion quite apart from any sort of displays of power, or miracles, or even teaching. Maybe I’m being too simplistic about this, but what actually caused Andrew to come to such a conclusion and make such a pronouncement? What took place during that day he spent with Jesus that caused him to conclude that Jesus was in fact the Messiah, the Christ? Was it something John said? But all John said was, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (The only other things John had said were, “I am not the Messiah.”) Or was it something in Jesus’ words, “What do you want? Come, and you will see.” It would be fun to know what Jesus and these two disciples did that day. I’d like to know what compelled Andrew to conclude that this Jesus, with whom he had spent one day or so, about whom he had heard a couple really short sermons, was in fact the hoped for Messiah. It would not always be like that in John’s Gospel. Sadly, it is not nearly at all like that in our day.

Maybe it’s not tough at all. Maybe it was just a matter of spending a day with Jesus. And this is to say nothing of Peter who, evidently, had never even heard John say “Behold the Lamb of God!” Peter, evidently, took Andrew at his word and went to Jesus where from that day forward his life was altered. (Was he so persuaded because of Andrew’s conviction?) What shall we say then? That when we spend time with Jesus we will undoubtedly come to such a conclusion? That when we ourselves are convinced of who Jesus is we will make a beeline to someone we know and love and tell them the news? That we, having more information should be as convinced and convincing as Andrew was to Peter? Or, maybe we should ask, how Andrew could be so confident with so little information and we so unconvinced with so much information?

There is one last thing: It was Jesus who, from the get go, was the leader. “When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. And, they spent the day with him. And, ‘Andrew…was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.’ And Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And they wanted to know where Jesus was staying. In other words, from the start, these men followed Jesus, spent the day with him, went to him, share him with others, told others about him. From the start, it was about where Jesus was. Eugene Peterson writes, “North American Christians are conspicuous for going along with whatever the culture decides is charismatic, successful, influential—whatever gets things done, whatever can gather a crowd of followers—hardly noticing that these ways and means are at odds with the clearly marked way that Jesus walked and called us to follow. Doesn’t anybody notice that the ways and means taken up, often enthusiastically, are blasphemously at odds with the way Jesus leads his followers? Why doesn’t anybody notice?” (The Jesus Way, 8 ) From that day forward they followed Jesus. Would that this were true of all of us: Stay fixed on Jesus.