A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

John 2:1-11 "God of the Small Stuff"

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there,  and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so,  and 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  and 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.”
 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 

 What is surprising in this story is not so much that Jesus' first miracle was making wine -a wine so good that the wine drinking celebrants declared it to be the best at the celebration -although that seems to surprise most American Evangelicals, it shouldn't.  Clearly, God is not quite as uptight as American Evangelicals -no real surprise there.  And, if God is going to make some wine for the party, would we really expect Him to make the cheap vinegary stuff?

In Luke chapter 4, Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 as a synopsis of His mission.  He came to preach the Gospel to the poor, restore sight to the blind, heal the broken-hearted, deliver those in spiritual and emotional bondage.  What I find surprising is that this first miracle was doing none of those things.  Here Jesus is not healing the sick, raising the dead or casting out demons. 

The motivation for this first miracle seems to be simply to save the host of the wedding celebration from embarrassment.  Jewish tradition required the host to supply enough wine and food for the invited guests to enjoy themselves for the duration of the celebration (several days).  But here, the wine had run out.  In the bigger scheme of things, this is not an earth shaking tragedy.  This was not as traumatic as, say, contracting leprosy or having a loved one die.  Some eyebrows would have been raised.  There would have been a few rude comments.  There would have been some snickering behind the host's back.  The host's perceived social status may have taken a temporary setback.  But I'm sure this would not have been the first wedding in the history of the Jewish people where wine ran out.  This was survivable.  Yet Jesus cared enough to spare the host embarrassment and made the best wine of the week.

This speaks to me of the true nature and character of God; I serve a God who loves me and cares, not just about the big events, not just about overwhelming traumas, not even just about the valleys and pits of despair.  The God who loves me is thoughtful enough to care about the little things.  That is awesome.

Friday, June 15, 2012

John 1:43-51 "The Unique Call of Jesus"

The next day He decided to leave for Galilee. Jesus found Philip and told him, “Follow Me!”
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law 
(and so did the prophets ): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him.
“Come and see,” Philip answered.
Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said about him, “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus answered.
“Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe only because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”  Then He said, “I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
 Philip is the first disciple that Jesus specifically sought out.  You might remember that John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the Messiah; Andrew had been a follower of John, and chose to begin following Jesus.  Andrew went and found his brother, Peter, and Peter also followed Jesus.  Later, Jesus will officially call both Andrew and Peter to be disciples, but as of yet, they are simply following Jesus of their own accord.

This tells us, however, that Jesus went looking and found Philip and told him, "Follow Me."  Philip responded by bringing a friend, Nathanael.  Nathaniel, it seems, was a skeptic by nature.  Philip appealed to him, though, based upon Nathaniel's study and knowledge of Scripture:
"This is the one Moses and the prophets wrote about..."  So, Nathaniel went along to meet Jesus.

Here is where things get interesting.  Jesus sees Nathaniel (the skeptic) and says, "Now here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him."  We can understand this to mean something like, "Here is a true patriot."  Nathaniel (the skeptic) is non-committal and perhaps a little cynical, "How do you know me?"  To which Jesus replies with a prophetic, divine, supernaturally revealed response, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Or "I knew you before I met you and I saw you when nobody was around to see."  Nathaniel quit being a skeptic.

I think we can see a glimpse of Father's heart as revealed here in Jesus.  Andrew only required to know that Jesus was the Messiah.  Peter only required his brother's testimony.  Philip required a personal invitation.  Nathaniel required proof.  Jesus gave each of them exactly what they needed in order to believe and follow.  I believe the principle is still in play.  He wants us to believe.  He desires that we follow Him.  And, importantly, He gives us whatever we need to make that possible. When Jesus invites us to believe and follow, He is merciful and thoughtful. He calls us uniquely, giving to each whatever is needed to believe. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

John 1:35-42 "Bring People To Jesus"

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples,  and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.  He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

John the Baptist had good ministry.  He strongly called people to radical, life-changing repentance and a lifestyle of humility and obedience.  But he was keenly aware that his job was to prepare the way for Jesus, and he faithfully introduced his disciples to Jesus when the opportunity arose.

Andrew, one of John's disciples that chose to follow Jesus after John introduced him, went to get his brother, Simon (whom Jesus nicknamed Peter -The Rock), and brought him to Jesus.  Meeting Jesus was life-transforming.

There is a principle here that we sometimes forget.  Too often, we talk about our churches, our ministries, our outreach programs, our worship teams at church, our favorite Christian singers or authors or websites, our preachers, the preachers on the radio or television, the up-coming special services -almost anything except actually talking about Jesus.  All of those things are conversation worthy; it's not that it is wrong to enjoy or even be proud of the spiritual places and events in which we participate.  But, ultimately our mandate is not to introduce people to the Christian community, we are called to introduce people to Christ.  And a promise Jesus gave us (John 12:32) is that if He is lifted up, He will draw people to Himself.  

So, in a sense, our options are 1) introduce people to our ministries, in which case, by definition, our ministries become the focus of attention and our ministries sometimes grow -or 2) introduce people to our Savior, in which case, many people experience salvation and the Kingdom grows.

There is nothing wrong with inviting someone to church, but the hope for the hurting, the lost, the sin damaged people that God loves so dearly is not in finding a good church, it is in finding Jesus.  

Lord Jesus, help me to learn this lesson.  People need You more than they need what I do for You.  Amen.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

John 1:29-34 "Behold, The Lamb"

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’  I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’  I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”

 First, let's look at what is actually going on here, then we'll look at what it means.

This is not John the Baptist's first encounter with Jesus.  Jesus was, in fact, his cousin.  And implied here when John says, "I saw this happen to Jesus," is that this is sometime after he had baptized Jesus; other Gospel accounts tell us that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and rested on Jesus at the time he was baptized.  

If this was after He was baptized, then it also must have been after He had fasted for 40 days in the wilderness because other accounts tell He did that immediately after being baptized.

So, here is what seems to be going on.  John baptized Jesus and witnessed the remarkable appearance of the Holy Spirit and remembered and had been meditating on what God had previously revealed to him -that the one on whom the Holy Spirit descends and rests is the Messiah.  When the delegation came from Jerusalem (verses 19-23) to question him, John had already been thinking about these things.  He knew his role -to introduce the Messiah.  Now he knew who the Messiah was.  So, when he saw Jesus returning from the wilderness after the 40 days of fasting, John introduced Jesus to his followers with the statement, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

For us modern non-Jewish folks, we may need an explanation of this title.  The Jewish followers of John the Baptist did not.  They had gone to the temple with their families many times in their lives to make sacrifice for their sins.  The appropriate sacrifice was an unblemished lamb.  John, in giving Jesus this title was prophesying about the sacrifice Jesus would one day on behalf of not just Jews, but all humanity.  He would die so that we could be forgiven.  Jesus would be the Sacrificed Lamb.

Monday, June 4, 2012

John 1:19-23 "The Voice"

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’"

In order to grasp what is going on in this passage we need to understand just a little about the political landscape of Israel at the time.

Anyone who was attracting as much attention as John the Baptist needed to investigated.  First, because of the Romans.  The Jewish people lived uneasily under Roman rule, and it would not take much to set off Roman brutality.  So, Jewish leaders tried hard to keep tabs on what was going on politically in Israel.  Second, many Jewish people were actually expecting and looking for the appearance of the promised Messiah -most people believing that when Messiah came, he would liberate them from Roman rule.

So, the temple leaders sent a delegation to the Judean countryside where John was preaching and baptizing people.  John knew why they were there, and accommodated their questions Even before they actually asked, John said, "I am not the Messiah."

Because of a passage from the prophet Malachi, some believed that Elijah, the great Old Testament prophet, would bodily return just before the actual Messiah arrived, so this delegation asked, and John answered plainly, "I am not."

 Other people believed that the Messiah would be accompanied by a new great prophet -someone like Moses who had delivered the Israelites from Egypt.  Maybe, this delegation speculated, John was that prophet.  Again, John answered plainly, "No."

It seemed that John was implying that he claimed no connection to the coming Messiah, so they asked him, "Who are you?  What do you say about yourself?"

John then made clear his role: he was a voice.  His message was a quote from the prophet Isaiah, "Make straight the way for the Lord."  He was, indeed, preparing the way for Messiah.

We can learn an important lesson from John.  In our day, we seem to have a lot of preachers and teachers who do not understand their roles.  Too many are overly concerned with  maintaining and proving their annointings.  Too many are focused on building their ministries.  Too many are trying too hard to be important and influential.  Too many are building their own kingdoms, forgetting that we have a King and we have a Kingdom. 

We, like John, are simply voices bearing witness to the truth and reality of our King.  A voice is focused on the message, not the messenger.  The message of Christ's redeeming love needs to be spoken and demonstrated, not just in mega-churches and TV ministries and religious venues where Christians gather -but in the wilderness.  Christ's love needs to be spoken in the back streets and alleys and sidewalks and marketplaces -to the lonely, the hurting, the fearful, the skeptical and the confused.  We are the messengers, not the message.  This needs to stop being about us and start being about Jesus.  So much depends on our getting this right.

Lord Jesus, help me today to get this right in my own life and ministry.  I am a messenger; You are the message.  Amen.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

John 1:16-18 "The Greatest Revelation"

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.   For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.   (NLT)

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.    (NIV)

 The Old Testament revelation of God is wonderful.  Think about it -God did not have to reveal anything about Himself to us.  He did not owe us an explanation.  He is the Creator, and we are the created.   He chose, however, through the Law and the prophets to give us insight into who He is and how He thinks and what He loves (and hates).   So, in a very real sense, the revelation He gave us through the Old Testament is an essential grace -a foundational, formative, important insight into His nature and character.

Since Jesus came, however, the insight and revelation we have about God the Father is deeper and fuller by far.  This was in fact, at least in part, why Jesus came -to reveal the Father.  This new revelation, not given by prophets, by but Jesus who was and is Himself God, is not simply grace; it is grace upon grace.

Through Jesus we see not just what God says -not just His laws and commandments -rather, how He interacts with people, how much He cares, how He loves in practical terms of real life, how He deals with stress (and hunger, and heartache, and weariness, etc.)  Through Jesus, we see Father's unfailing love and faithfulness.

Jesus is the greatest revelation of Father's heart.  Because of this, Jesus actually said in John chapter 14, (looking ahead) "If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.... Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."

It is also interesting that in John 14 Jesus prophecies concerning the Holy Spirit that the Holy Spirit "will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you."  So, the Holy Spirit reminds us and teaches us and points us to Jesus, who reminds us and teaches us and points us to Father, who gives us the Holy Spirit.  Perfect.  Grace upon grace.