authority, called, crowds, death, decision, hatred, lordship, Pharisee, truth

What is Truth?, #101

 “Pilate said, “So you are a king!”

“Jesus answered, “You are the one saying I am a king. This is why I was born and came into the world: to tell people the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.””

“Pilate said, “What is truth?” After he said this, he went out to the crowd again and said to them, “I find nothing against this man.”

John 18:37-38, NCV

Not only was Jesus on trial, but it seems the truth was too. “Truth” is mention three times in just two verses (again, for emphasis). Pontius Pilate who was the Roman governor of Judea, meets with Jesus to make the determination if Jesus would be executed.

Truth seems to be a focus here. Jesus understands that he was sent to declare the truth to the people. He also states that those were called would be listeners, and these would respond positively to all the Jesus had been saying. Jesus clearly understood what he must do, it was the reason he was born.

Pilate is cynical, “What is truth.” He asks the question that even today is being considered. He thinks that truth has many variations, and none of them could be understood.

But Jesus pronounces that he is the King of truth, and to Pilate that was foolish. No one person, in his mind anyway, could be the sole source. He dismisses Jesus’ statements with a philosophical idea that things are relative, nothing can be understood with any degree of certainity.

Pilate very obviously believes in unbelief.

He seems to want to set Jesus free–from his balcony he points out Jesus’ innocence. He finds no reason that Jesus should die for these statements. We see him negotiating with the Jewish people. But the Pharisees have decided that Jesus must die, we see them stirring up the crowd.

To Pilate’s credit he tells them that Jesus is no revolutionary. He presents no danger to either Rome’s empire or Judea. Being pressured, he orders Jesus to be whipped. It was also the place where a crown of thorns was put on Jesus’ head (John 19:1-5).

He tries to negotiate once more.

But the people won’t listen. It was Passover, and there would be pilgrims in the city. Scripture tells us that they’re on the verge of rioting. They declare that anyone who supports Jesus must be an enemy of Caesar (John 19:12-16). Pilate finally acquiesces and orders Jesus to be executed. C.H. Spurgeon makes the following observation about Pilate:

“Oh, the daring of Pilate thus in the sight of God to commit murder and disclaim it. There is a strange mingling of cowardliness and courage about many men; they are afraid of a man, but not afraid of the eternal God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”

Pilate ceremoniously washes his hands over the whole thing. He seems disturbed by the whole incident (Matthew 27:24).

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

This is our calling–and this verse exhorts us to do this in order to learn holiness, and to follow him with a complete heart.

Tradition has it that Pilate does become a believer in Jesus some years later. He is martyred for his faith by being beheaded on orders by the emperor Caligula.

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Love Like a Disciple, #93

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

The believers in Jesus must carry the credentials of Jesus. To be authentically his demands evidence–proof that you’re really are real. It never comes by one’s own words, personal declarations, or by affiliations or preferences. Jesus is crystal clear on what is true and what is not. To him, it’s black or it’s white.

“Where’s the beef?”

A few years ago that was the ad line of a particular fast food chain. It was catchy, and soon everyone smiled. The company only did it because it worked. Three old ladies looked at a competitor’s hamburger and made the announcement that something was terribly wrong.

Jesus made it clear that there would be evidence that everyone would see. “Love one another” is used three times in two verses–not only that, but in verse 35 we hear him tell us that “all people will know” what disciples would look like. To follow Jesus you must love like Jesus–to be like him, you must love like him.

We dare not minimize this. It’s now the believer’s credentials, the proof that they were real, and not just posers. We’re called to be more than religious exhibitionists, who somehow have an affinity for nice sounding words that only touch the outward. Jesus states that our love is now the true declaration of something super authentic–and very tangible.

So where’s the love?

The word used is ἀγαπάω, agape. It’s the ultimate kind of love–the love that God himself has for lost people: it’s not the love one has another sexually, that word is eros. It’s not the love we have for our brother, that word is philo. But it is agape, a love that has no limits, and the best and clearest definition is found in 1 Corinthians 13.

Maybe a better grasp of the verses in John 13 can be had by reading the Message translation:

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

(vv. 34-35)

“Our love to God is measured by our everyday fellowship with others and the love it displays.”

   Andrew Murray

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Celebrity Servants? #92

drsunil.com, art by Takla

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

John 13:6-8 (context vv. 3-17)

Chapter 13 always rocks my world. I visualize this, I’m like a fly on-the-wall, watching it happen–and then I replay it over, and over in my mind. It always unravels me. Why does this have to happen? What does this passage tell me about Jesus, and his kingdom? (John 13). Why can’t I just walk away from it, and leave it be?

Jesus made himself a slave (or perhaps he was always a slave all along, and we just didn’t realize it?) Foot-washers were pretty much regarded as sub-human, mindless drones who mechanically performed a necessary duty. The lowest of the low, the very least of the least. Today they’re the burger flippers and the pool cleaners.

But Jesus took that role on himself, he laid aside his garments, and his Godhood. (They landed in a pile in the corner of the room). When he knelt down to scrub feet (making sure he got between the toes), it was deity serving man. This God/rabbi intentionally did this, not reluctantly or halfheartedly–but carefully.

He was their teacher, and custom demanded he enjoy the prerogatives of that position. But he wouldn’t, and didn’t. He mustn’t. As I stress over this, I must conclude he really was their “teacher,” but not in the way I expect. What he was doing on his knees, was instructing them in the art of loving each other. He showed us a leader in action.

And isn’t making disciples all about loving someone else more than ourselves? We get things turned around sometimes–we think that spiritual authority is moving up, when it’s all about going down. We elevate our pastors and elders, maybe subconsciously–and human nature lets it happen; and then we’re amazed why our leaders struggle so.

Leaders function best when they wash between the toes.

There was a point in Jewish history when the people actually demanded that God would give them a king, instead of a judge (1 Samuel 8:5-9). God warned them that this wasn’t in his plans–but they insisted. They had to have one, everyone else did. We still must have celebrities, and then we wonder why they short circuit on us. Who can resist the privilege, and the limelight?

The Church was never meant to operate like this. That’s what Jesus said. Instead it’s we who’ve turned it upside down. It’s we who insist on turning our pastors into minor celebrities. We assert that they take on the role of a “king” (albeit, a little one maybe). Perhaps leaders who stumble and fall do so because we want them to be front and center? Who can handle the privilege, and the adulation? I know I can’t.

Peter was classic Peter. It seems that whenever he resists, he gets rebuked. He makes it quite clear that Jesus will never wash feet–that Jesus will never use a basin or towel and serve him like this. It was outrageous. Unacceptable. It didn’t fit in Peter’s personal theology. He had no room for Jesus the slave. (Perhaps he knew that to follow meant he would have to do the same thing? IDK).

Jesus still washes his people. He sits us down and takes off our shoes and socks, and scrubs us clean. And we hate it. But to be washed by him is a condition of our discipleship. Every follower must be clean, and he continues his work to this day. We sin daily, even as his own, and he cleans us up–and somehow that really bothers us.

The gifts of leadership are one way of washing feet. At least that’s what our leaders were designed to do. That’s Jesus’ way of doing things. But it seems we’ve adopted Peter’s attitude, and embraced the ‘pre-king’ thinking of Israel. We need our celebrities, we want our kings. We simply can’t imagine it any other way.

“The very first thing which needs to be said about Christian ministers of all kinds is that they are “under” people as their servants rather than “over” them (as their leaders, let alone their lords). Jesus made this absolutely plain. The chief characteristic of Christian leaders, he insisted, is humility not authority, and gentleness not power.”

 John Stott

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The Whole Truth, #65

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32, (context, vv. 31-47)

There’re several ideas in these two verses which absolutely have to be considered. They can’t be ignored, they’re essentially bedrock. I’m convinced the most astonishing things about God’s Word is that it’s alive. It’s far more than stark dark letters of black ink on white pages. It really breathes and moves in each of us who want to follow Jesus.

The Bible is alive–it has a heartbeat. It simply wants us to get out our spiritual stethoscope and listen.

We sometimes get confused about the word “abide.” It seems like a tricky word, and of course we’ll insist on complicating it, but if he is calling us to follow Jesus – the Word made flesh–means we’ll abide, (to live in, to dwell in, to make your home there) –in that Word. Disciples sometimes won’t do this out of fear of man, or they can’t because of unconfessed sin, or politics, or religion, or philosophy. They’ll become confused about this, and it’s painfully obviously to all.

Imagine, you find a lost wallet in the parking lot. Now what?

You open it to find ten 100 dollar bills! I’m convinced at that certain moment, the Spirit will speak what’s true. You really can rationalize it–possibly this is definitely God’s gift to me (!), or maybe we might look for the driver’s license in order to return this lost wallet to its owner. But it’s a moment of truth, and all of heaven is standing on tiptoe to see what you will do next.

The truth will set you free.” Keeping the money, and ditching the wallet seems like a fine idea at the time, but it’s essentially a seductive trap. If you rationalize this, at this at this point, you’ll fail his test. Your freedom is at stake. What’s true, and what the Spirit is saying, is well on its way of being discarded. (A thousand dollars after all would truly be a blessing? Maybe I’ll tithe off it?)

And maybe the Holy Spirit wants to see what’s really in our hearts, and just maybe a minor angel planted it there, just to show everyone what see what we will do. And maybe it was accidentally dropped, which is probably the case. But what are you going to do? The longer you wait, the trickier it seems to get.

Are you abiding in the words of Jesus? He’s calling you to follow him–and he wants you to become intimate with the real truth, which is really him in the flesh. Disciples who are living out the life of Jesus will act like him. As “abiders” we’ll insist on making his decisions, and becoming truthful people–even if it seems like a disaster.

“Where I found truth, there found I my God, who is the truth itself.”

Augustine

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Flowing Rivers, #62

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out,” 

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

John 7:37-38

It was the Feast of Tabernacles–it would be the last one that Jesus would attend. The feast went on for eight days. Every day someone would carry a golden pitcher from the Pool of Siloam to be poured out on the altar in the temple. Everyone understood that this was to be done to acknowledge the way God provided water for them in the wilderness.

The eighth day was key. No water would be poured out; only prayers would be offered. There are points we should know–

  • The feast was also known as Tabernacles, and, Booths–Shelters–Sukkot–Ingathering.
  • The Feast of Tabernacles is very much like our Thanksgiving. It had dual focuses. It was a fall celebration, corresponding to the harvest. It also commemorated the 40 years of wilderness wanderings where God provided water for the Israelites. So it had dual significance.
  • It was a major event in the calendar; it was one of three main pilgrimages to the temple for every Jew and his family. Every observant man was required to make this trip. No matter where they lived, they must make this trip.

The city would be flooded with people, and Jesus spoke to huge crowds of religious pilgrims. Jesus stood in the temple courts, just a few steps from the Temple itself, it is there he just didn’t speak–he shouted. Perhaps that might seem to be a challenging thought for some.

There is a direct link between the water poured out on this Feast and Jesus’declaration that he was the final source of water–something spiritual, and quite true. Jesus declares plainly that he is the wellspring of life, and the amazing thing is that it’s open to all–it is received through a holy and true grace.

There is something about having water flow perpetually from one’s heart that we must figure out. It usually doesn’t long to realize that this all has to be pretty much a supernatural work of grace. People who need grace come to The Feast of Tabernacles, which looked forward to a beautiful river of grace–the throne of God is its source.

Jesus says that we’re to put our trust in him, to place him on the throne of our hearts–and then watch out, the water is going to gush out. But to be honest, I need to understand that he is always the first source, and we are the conduits of life to others. That spiritual equation is essential–it’s how it’s got to work.

“He was able to satisfy thirst, and, moreover, that those who received such satisfaction from Him should become channels through whom the overflowing rivers should pass.”

(Morgan’s Commentary on John 7)

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Teaching With Authority, #60

“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”

John 7:16 (context, vv. 14-24)

Spiritually, Jesus is superior to everything and everyone. All that he did in the Gospels revealed that salient fact–whether he was healing the sick, walking on water, or teaching the Sermon on the Mount, he had total command. An authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge.

The Greek word most often translated “authority” (exousia) in the New Testament basically means: “right, permission, freedom.” Jesus was completely free to do whatever he knew was the Father’s will–he had full and total authorization to do whatever he wanted. (That’s what his baptism was all about.)

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

The Greek word to “teach” (didaskō) in the NT; it means “give instruction, impart doctrine, to explain.” Jesus’ teaching was a marvel, he explained God’s kingdom to us crisply, succinctly and precisely. All we need to understand was freely given to us in the red letters. Everything necessary to us was taught with confidence and freedom.

Since Jesus perfectly combined the two words, both teaching and authority, he was able to dictate to us everything we need, everything we must have, in straightforward terms. This can’t be stressed enough, the scripture we read–when ignited with the Holy Spirit, seems to be the only thing that can change the human heart.

The preceding verses in this passage reveal the setting for this statement.

  • Jesus stays out of Jerusalem because of the murderous hatred of Pharisees.
  • There was a deep concern by his family who doubted Jesus’ timing and direction.
  • The origin of his teaching was questioned. He was speaking with the authority of the Messiah. Jesus completely understood the true source of his teaching.
  • There was the general consensus of the people. Many were finally arriving at a decision in favor about him. Many would reject him.

We have never seen anyone of his impressive caliber, and we can only imagine the impact he was having on everyone he met. Under the Spirit’s direction, his disciples would retain all that Jesus did and taught. (The author of this passage was the Apostle John, and when you read his letters to us, we see that his memories were quite vivid).

His authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge.

So what do we do now? What kind of “lordship” does he have over us? First of all, we learn (slowly) that we MUST teach ourselves to submit to our lord, constantly. He carries the authority we need, the authority human beings require. The Holy Spirit knows exactly how to pierce our pride and independence. Our teacher, comforter (and coach) understands us perfectly.

“His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice.”

-John Stott

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Seeing the Inside, #59

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

John 7:24 (context vv. 14-24)

We need to admit that what we see isn’t always the way things really are. Some of our issues come from basic human ignorance, and yet, we need to admit there can be a satanic element. He darkens our perception, so we can’t see reality.

Judging “by appearances” is a thread in our DNA. We see the outside, and we imagine the insides. We’re limited by our failure to see the interior, and our vision is never clear. I suppose this is how it works, we can’t see the inside of things (1 Cor. 13:12.)

“It is the unseen and the spiritual in people that determines the outward and the actual.”

-Oswald Chambers

We must admit our vision is often deceitful. Jesus tells the Pharisees that their analysis isn’t real, they aren’t making holy decisions. They won’t accept him, they rather debate instead believe. The Pharisees’ never could understand Jesus.

But Jesus suggests that there is a real discernment that must be used, but it’ll require bypassing what seems real, or at least what everyone thinks is real. Discerning the difference isn’t always easy, as people are never what they seem. A beggar sleeping under the overpass can have the heart of a king.

Making distinctions is necessary, but typically we evaluate superficially–we see the outside, and the interior goes unseen. With this shallow assessment, the Pharisees’ can’t see beyond anything Jesus taught. They had already decided.

We must have the gift of discernment; the world is confusing and we’ve lost our north star. We’re to be a people of perception, and we need to understand the times and seasons. We must learn prayer, and pray hard. God’s gift of discernment is always given to us for intercession, and never ever for fault-finding.

Me, on a good day.

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The World’s Hate, #57

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”

John 7:7 (context, vv. 1-8.)

Forty years of following Jesus has taught me many things. Lumped up in my top-ten is the hard lesson, “people dislike truth.” We are all fallen, and the fig leaves we find don’t cover much–they’re always wilting. And yet we avoid the light, and make up things that are really illusions (or delusions.) We find a mask and wield it to prevent the truth from penetrating our hearts.

Darkness is everywhere it seems. We see it in politics, religion and the media. We see it in our self, and others. It’s grim and sad and proud. And it’s disturbing that it actually turns into a solid hatred. And as believers, and part of the Church, we catch levels of flack from different levels of darkness.

“If you belonged to the world, the world would treat you with affection and would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world [no longer one with it], but I have chosen (selected) you out of the world, the world hates (detests) you.”

John 15:19, Amplified

Jesus knows every heart, He evaluates and can’t find anything good. “The works are evil,” and every place He looks it is night, spiritual darkness. When you’re dark spiritually, you’re in a very bad place–you are still lost in your sins (Luke 19:10.) I’m sorry, but I am telling the truth.

The world system still hates Jesus, and we’re despised by association. We must be aware. As believers, we’ll never fit in. Much of persecution is satanic, the devil originates much of it. There are countries today that blast believers with dark attacks. I’ve read that more Christians have been killed in the last century than all the others, combined.

“Princes, kings, and other rulers of the world have used all their strength and cunning against the Church, yet it continues to endure and hold its own.”

-John Foxe, “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs 

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The Plow, #56

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:62 (context, vv. 57-62)

Every disciple has his plow. Sometimes it’ll be obvious, everyone sees it; other times it’ll be buried deep inside, and no one knows. A plow is a perfect word to describe exactly what the Holy Spirit is doing–and its descriptive of the determination of a disciple who is slowly learning how to follow.

When you’re trying to grow-up you’ll grasp this foundational lesson. You have to be single-minded and really focused to stay moving ahead. You cannot look behind at what has been done. You can’t turn around to admire your work, rather we look at the tree that is keeping us lined up with Jesus.

You will sweat and get tired. Your full effort is needed to keep the plow in the hard earth. You aren’t pushing, the oxen is pulling, but you’re the one who weighs it down while keeping your furrow relatively straight. It’s harder than it looks. (Thank God for the modern tractor.)

In case the plowman starts to look back, his plow line would become crooked. If that happens, the field he is plowing will not yield a full harvest. A good plowman has learned he must hold on. In following Jesus, we are to keep our eyes on Him, and never let our minds and hearts wander away. (Hebrews 12:1-2.)

“To keep our hand on the plow while wiping away the tears–THAT is Christianity.”

-Watchman Nee

To follow means looking and moving forward. We must understand this–it’s the very essence of walking a path. We’re walking out the journey. Sometimes we feel Jesus’ joy as His follower, but occasionally we won’t. We’re learning to understand it more and more. But no matter what, we keep putting heel-to-toe. We are followers after all.

Jesus lived this; He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51).

“To learn strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.”

-George Mueller

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A Really Hard Reality, #53

30 “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them,” 

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”

Mark 9:30-32

There are no illusions found in these verses. This passage is painfully practical, and whenever I read it I’m forced to take another slug of reality–Jesus will die. Evil men will kill Him. I don’t want to see His ministry end like this. Deep inside, I want to His ministry to continue. I need to hear more parables, and see more miracles.

But thinking squarely isn’t always my best point. I sometimes like illusions. They seem like necessary padding for the stark rigors of living. They’re nice to have around. But I do know that gripping reality is needed. It’s harsh and rude, and some of us avoid it like vampires dodge picnics.

The disciples must get real and extend their thinking about the Kingdom. They’ve been witnesses to all those supernatural things that the Messiah is doing. It’s all been very good. But now they must think deeper, and even more redemptively. Jesus will-must die, and He will rise. Why?

The Holy Spirit is always pouring love on us. I know that all that He does is done by love. Whether it’s touching a leper or feeding 5000, it’s love that is Jesus’ reason and clearest motive. Easily seen in these amazing miracles, and somewhat harder to picture when it comes as betrayal and murder. (God help us adjust.)

Jesus will (must) die. That is His accurate prediction. The disciples must clear the decks and assimilate this fresh information. They’re needed to grab this and make it part of their understanding. They are now witnesses, completely and wholly grasping the deepest realities of the Kingdom.

The gospel of the Kingdom up to this point is indeed a wonder. Teachings and healings, miracles and resurrections are becoming the norm. We all want to see them continue. We are shocked when Jesus takes this morbid perspective! How perfectly awful. (NOT the way to win disciples!)

The death of Jesus Christ, and His resurrection, is the next necessary miracle. It is needed to redeem and ‘heal’ the entire world. Oh yes, Jesus touched a leper, forgave the whore and raised the dead–but these are miracles that primarily touched individuals. He intends to kick it up a notch.

Jesus is going to die for us all. Isn’t that outrageous?

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