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Crucified Before the Foundation of the World

"Crucified before the foundation of the world." What does that mean? How could that even happen? Historians and archaeologists ta...

Monday, December 30, 2013

Jesus Prayed For Me And You

Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane),...
Christ in Gethsemane (Christus in Gethsemane), oil painting by Heinrich Ferdinand Hofmann (Heinrich Hofmann). The original is at the Riverside Church (Riverside Church, New York City). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
John 17 begins with Jesus addressing his Father.  The prayer is a commitment to see this to the end. Jesus wants the Father to glorify him so that the Father will be glorified in this act of obedience and sacrifice. The Father and Son are united in this and whatever glory is revealed in one also flows on and through the other. He refers to the glory they shared before the world began, and now he is opening the door for the Disciples to view this glory.

In verse 6 he returns to the need and situation of the Disciples. The Disciples already belonged to God the Father, but he gave them to Jesus, and Jesus now is returning them back to the Father. The symbol of words is used here. The words he taught them came from the Father, and the revelations he shared with them came by instruction from the Father. Believing the words is the place where entering into God’s eternal life takes place. At this point he was praying for the Disciples because the whole plan of God depended on them when he was taken up.

He makes an amazing statement here: He says that glory has come to him because of the disciples. They had begun the life of obedience and fellowship that would be the lifeblood of the Church when the Spirit comes. Jesus sent them back to the Father with confidence that they would be protected by his name and sanctified by his truth. Jesus feels the pressure of the arrest looming, and he knows the risk they will face in the world without him. Now they must face that risk alone without him, but with the Father’s help and grace he is ready to take the next step.

Beginning in verse 20, he prays for the message the Disciples will deliver to yet unborn generations. He sees the Disciples as the founding members of the Church and their disciples as the culmination of the Father’s plan. Throughout the process Jesus claims the Father’s glory. The unity he had with the Father before the world began will be the glorious outcome as the Disciples are obedient and yielded to him. He envisions the world knowing the love of God and surrendering to it so that all will be united in love and in him.

I claim this prayer of Jesus as his prayer for me as a believer who has come to know him through the words and evangelistic efforts of the Disciples. In that thought, I enjoy a reflection of the glory Jesus prayed for us to receive and I revel in it. 

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

John 16-It's Gonna Be Bad--But Don't Worry

John 16 is full of reassurance and hope. Jesus says words of comfort and anticipation. He knows this scrappy group of followers will be subject to doubts and temptation, so he is making a last ditch effort to steady them for the battle they will face. He wants to prepare them for the persecution that will follow, but they are still blinded to the seriousness of the situation.

He points out that they are not concerned about where he is going 
or the reason he is leaving, but they are only in grief and anxiety that he is leaving them. He lists the ways this will benefit them: They will receive the Comforter after he is gone.

And the battle is more about their ability to stand when he is gone 
than about a confrontation with the rulers or armies or sinners. He tells them that his leaving will assure the coming of the Comforter. They do not understand this yet, but he wanted to tell them so that when the time comes they will remember that he said it.

He prophesies the coming of the Spirit will convict the world of sin 
because it does not believe in the Son of God, of righteousness because the Son and the Father are united, and of judgment because Satan, the Prince of this world, is judged.

The Comforter, the Spirit of Truth will lead them into more 
understanding and remind them of what he said before. Jesus is still speaking of things they can’t understand. You see me now but for a while you won’t see me; then you will see me again.

They asked each other what this could mean, but Jesus answered 
the question. In this there is a deeper meaning and another revelation. He compares it to the birth of a child. When a woman comes to deliver a baby, she suffers pain and it is intense, but the joy of holding and seeing the baby is more valuable than the pain was detestable.

Just a side note here: The moment when a baby is delivered from 
the mother is one of extreme relief and rapture. No drug, no joy compares with that ecstasy. The joy of receiving the Spirit will be for the Disciples a new level of faith, conviction, joy and obedience. He cannot tell them in words what it will mean, but he wants them to expect something big. The meaning of the coming of the Spirit cannot be overstated. It will change their lives and their world.

In John 16:26 he makes them a promise he has not made before. 
He has said before that they can ask the Father in his name and he will beseech the Father and the Father will grant their request. But now Jesus says that they can address the Father and he will respond because the Father loves them. Even when Jesus is no longer with them, the Father will hear their prayers because they have loved Jesus. Jesus speaks plainly to the Disciples, but they still have trouble understanding because he is referring to future events. He says, “I came from the Father to live in the world, and now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” Now they say they understand, but their sorrow has not yet recognized the fact of his death, the cross, or separation.

He reassures them again. You will be scattered and alone, but I am 
going to my Father. Don’t fear because I have overcome the world.

There is still more to come.

Friday, December 20, 2013

John 15-The Gardener

The end of John 14 speaks of leaving the Upper Room, so I believe that this passage continues the conversation as they walk to Gethsemane or after they arrive. John makes no mention of the private prayer in which Jesus commits to see the Father's will executed on Calvary. In Chapter 15 he speaks of the vine and the branches and the work of the Father as a vine dresser. 

The image of a farmer is prevalent throughout the Bible. The farmer is understood by all societies as the source of sustenance and renewed strength. Here Jesus is careful to list the requirements of the gardener, the vine and the branches.
The fruit does not have any duties, but the branches bear fruit. We being the branches, are expected to bear fruit. Bearing fruit means continuing the work Jesus commands--We are to proclaim the gospel and allow it to be exhibited in our lives. We should be deliberate in our practice of love and integrity.  

Some people interpret this to mean that God will destroy those who do not follow Jesus closely. "such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned."(John 15:6) This is a harsher treatment than Jesus has proclaimed before, but we must remember that this is an analogy, a metaphor, not a judgment. Jesus may have been referring to Judas who did not remain in him, but chose another path and cut himself off from the vine. Other paths never lead to the joy or glory found in the Son.

Jesus focuses on fruit in verse 8. Bearing fruit brings glory to the Father and proves discipleship. Matthew 7:15-20 discusses other aspects of fruit and the trees that produce them. In John 15 I find the focus to be on the fruit, and that fruit must be a result of the believer's connection to Jesus. All the efforts that are dependent on our striving, our plans, our systems will produce no fruit and be wasted labor when it does not flow from Jesus.

In John 15:9 the focus shifts to love. Keeping and the commandment equates with abiding in the love. In other places we are commanded to love one another, but the command to love is no where more insistent than here. Jesus uses himself and his obedience to the Father as their example. "Just like my Father has loved me, so I have loved you. If you do what I have commanded, you will remain in my love. That's what I have done--I kept his commandments and remained in his love. Love each other as I have loved you." (Paraphrase)

In this statement Jesus raises the Disciples from servants to members of the board. When they were servants these things were not revealed to them. Jesus elevates them to confidantes. Now they are more than just associates, they are part of the management team. But the instructions are still the same: Love one another. They were expected to understand more and do more and be more, but there is just one new rule: Love one another as I have love you.

Now he shifts to a new focus: You will not be loved by the world. It hates me, and you will be like me in this. It will hate you too. The world has an agenda that excludes you. and it will not accept your message. I have chosen you and I love you, but the world won't.

Don't delude yourselves believing that you will escape persecution. You are not better or wiser or more well-liked than me. If they hated me, they will hate you. and it will be because of your love. Those who you will preach to will treat you like they treated me. There may be some who will receive you and love you for my sake, but some will attack you and kill you for my sake. 

Chapter 15:26-27 Jesus promises the support and comfort of the Holy Spirit. This will be an event to anticipate, though as yet there is only a vague hint of the power and resource he will provide. He will bring them testimony of Jesus and the Father.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

John 14--Promise of the Holy Spirit

New Promise

The closing verses of John 13 are filled with prophetic doom: Jesus reveals that he is going to die and Peter is going to deny him, but Peter seems to be oblivious to this truth. He keeps pressing Jesus for more information, but when it comes he refuses to accept it.


Chapter 14 begins with a message of great encouragement: "Don't trouble yourself about it now." He does not shift the focus, but he reassures Peter and the others for the moment that their destination is secure.  He cautions them to remember his words and instructions and to keep them.

 The Disciples have trouble accepting his words and teaching as coming from the Father. Jesus hints that he is going to die, but he avoids proclaiming it in a positive affirmation. He says, "I'm going where you can't follow yet. You will later. I go to prepare a place for you." It seems like Jesus is baiting them with vague references so that they may come to an understanding on their own. 

The Disciples Still Have Questions

Some of his statements are bold and some, cloaked in mystery. Jesus is still trying to provoke them to believe. He says "You don't have to know the way because I am the way. You will follow me." When Philip begs him to show them the Father, Jesus reassures them saying, "If you've seen me, you have seen the Father."  

Jesus continues to comfort and reassure the Disciples, and he promises the Comforter who will be available to them later. He gives them peace to sustain them because the Prince of this world is coming. Jesus is confident that God's purposes will not be thwarted and that the world will know God's salvation.

Now Jesus is ready to leave and go to the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New Testament Freedom

I hear a lot of talk about what it means to be a Christian.  One line of thought centers on the prohibitions--things Christians aren't supposed to do or indulge in.  The Ten Commandments, even in this modern age, still contain the major breeches of Christian ethics.  There are five commandments that tell us things we should do: Worship only God, keep no idols, keep his name holy, keep the Sabbath or the Lord's Day holy, honor your parents.  There are five that name sins we should not commit: lie, steal, murder, bear false witness, and covet.  After that, it seems like everything else may need prayer. 

If you tell people how to behave, you are called judgmental.  If you do whatever comes to hand, you are considered uncontrolled.  It seems there is no standard of behavior.  

The Bible usually focuses on things that foster life and love and righteousness. These are pretty good standards for right and wrong, or put another way, how to decide if an action is a sin or not.

People often try to justify actions based on kindness or beauty, convenience or  practicality, but God does not care about these issues. He cares about righteousness. He wants us to look at actions that enhance life and make it better. Actions that promote health, love, and doing the right thing are the ones that God looks at with pleasure.. 

I find great joy in doing things I think God will approve and smile about.  
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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

And It Was Night - John 13-Continued

It is easy to think of Jesus as calm and in total control of himself and the meal in the Upper Room. He had chosen the location and made the arrangements. He was the host for this meal with his disciples.

When he changes the course of things with the foot-washing, we immediately realize what was said by John in the first verse of the chapter. Jesus knew that this was a climatic event, but he seems to be trying to tell the Disciples in a gentle demonstration of love and compassion not to worry about the outcome, but simply to trust him.

John was writing several years after the event had happened, and he reflects on the scene with the wisdom of hindsight.  Judas was the one who would betray him and tonight was the night. John points out that Jesus was not blind to the facts and he was distressed about it.

Jesus knew that Judas was the betrayer, but the Disciples did not understand this or the significance of it. John was reclining next to Jesus and asked him the name of the betrayer, Jesus took a piece of bread and dipped it in sauce and handed it to Judas. “Jesus said, ‘What you are doing, do quickly.’”(Paraphrase) Judas left, but the disciples did not understand the significance of his departure yet. 

The Disciples were still looking for human explanations, and they thought Judas had gone on some errand concerning money.  Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” No angels appeared. No thunder clapped. But this was momentous in the mind and heart of Jesus. Betrayal was in the heart of Judas, and he was gone to accomplish his purpose.

Preachers’ sermons invest much time in exploring the last sentence in John 13:30b. And it was night. They may view it as reflecting the state of Judas’ heart. To others it may seem to signify the outlook for the world’s destiny without Jesus. 

John allows this to close the focus on Judas and betrayal. Now Jesus and the rest of the Disciples resume the final teaching and references to glory, departure and Peter’s denial.

See also the entry entitled "Do Your Feet Need Washing?" 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Do Your Feet Need Washing? John13:1-11

The Upper Room discourse described in John 13-17 included a meal that Jesus shared with his Disciples. I have always read this and assumed that the meal was the Seder of Passover, but John 13:1 clearly states that this was before the Passover.  Perhaps Passover was on Friday, the day of the Crucifixion, but there are questions about that too. Jesus stated that he would be in the grave for three days and three nights. Using Thursday as the day of the Crucifixion would give the right time estimate with Sunday as the Day of the Resurrection.

John does not give the same details the synoptic gospels do of the supper. John refers to the meal and immediately describes the preparation for washing of their feet. I find it very helpful to recall the eating customs of the time. 

They reclined on couches leaning on the left elbow and extending their feet. This position made the foot-washing convenient and much less disturbing to the guests who were eating than sitting at a table would have been.  Jesus’ position was no longer the host and master but that of an obedient servant.

Nobody commented on this ceremony but Peter. His interchange with Jesus seems to be almost a rebuke to the Lord. First, he doesn't want Jesus to undertake this menial duty, but then he requests that he wash his hands and face too. Jesus corrects both these attitudes. 

This washing symbolizes daily communion with Jesus. Peter needed to go to Jesus for help, strength, and forgiveness whenever he was exposed to contact with the world, and Jesus offers us this constant refreshing.  

On a continuing and constant basis, Christians are invited to seek Jesus for forgiveness and encouragement in daily life and ministry.  We are to remain always yielded and humble. 

Peter seems to have thought he was above needing this service, but Jesus told him there was more to this than Peter understood at the time.

 Jesus had foreknowledge, but He did not control people’s behavior.  He knew Judas had would betray Him, but he did not interrupt the plan Judas had made. 

He proceeded with the foot washing and did not exclude Judas. I wonder what Judas’ emotions were at this critical time. Did he agonize when Jesus performed the humble task of cleaning his feet? Did he recognize this as an opportunity to repent? Or was his heart hardened to the path he had chosen?

Jesus in the Upper Room discourse spoke urgently to the disciples emphasizing the importance of this last chance at teaching them before the Crucifixion because He knew they would be scattered and their faith would be tested. 

He was very tense as shown in his language.  His speech was urgent and stressful.  He wanted to be sure they were committed to Him, but that was yet to be seen.  His nature was compassionate, but his need was immediate.  There was no Plan B.  If this was not successful, salvation would never happen.