Friday, April 10, 2020

Weeknight Study, Gospel of John, Chapter 9

Weeknights with the Gospel of John

Recently, I've been doing a study of the Gospel of John with Facebook Live. Below are the sessions on the first eight chapters of the book.

Please note two things. First, I try to correct myself when I catch errors and misstatements from earlier live casts. Second, my hair is growing.

I'll be doing another Facebook Live presentation tonight, this one on chapter 9 of John's gospel. Feel free to join us.

Good Friday Worship

This is Good Friday worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. God bless you!

Spectacularly Unspectacular

Here's Maundy Thursday worship from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Below the video is the manuscript of the message for the day. God bless you!

John 13:1-17
The Gospel of John is often called a book of signs. It’s built around a series of signs performed by Jesus. They point to Who Jesus is as God, “the Word made flesh” and the Messiah, and to what kind of life He sets us free to live as we trust in Him.

On this Maundy Thursday, we see Jesus perform another sign. It’s not a spectacular sign like turning water into wine, healing a paralyzed man, giving sight to once-blind eyes, or feeding 5000 men with a few barley loaves and some fish. 

In fact, the sign that Jesus performs on that first Maundy Thursday, during the last supper He ate with the Twelve before His arrest and crucifixion, is spectacularly unspectacular. 

So much so that it offends at least one of the Twelve, Simon Peter, who objects to Jesus performing this sign as strenuously as he objected, according to Matthew and Mark, when Jesus said He was going to suffer and be executed on the cross before rising from the dead.

We’re told about this sign in John 13:3-5. John writes: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

Almost everything you need to know about Jesus Christ for salvation,  eternal life, and everyday life in this world is seen in summary in this incident. In a physical parable, Jesus enacts everything about Himself and all that He will accomplish for us.

John starts His gospel, you’ll recall, by saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)

In the prologue to his gospel, John introduced us to God the Word, God the Son. As the second Person of the Trinity, the Son was present before the universe was created. He is God, the One Who spoke life into being. 

Later in the prologue, John says that God the Word came into this world: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Think of what it means for God the Word--perfect, sinless, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent--to enter our world as a human being. It means Jesus laid aside all the advantages of His deity in order to live within the limitations of a single human life. (Yes, Jesus performed miraculous things only God could do. But He never did them to bring Himself advantage. He lived His own human life on earth within the same limits that you and I have.) 

During the last supper, John says that Jesus “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist…” Jesus did what, in some households, hosts did in those days for their guests or what, in wealthier homes, the servants did for such guests. 

But first, Jesus laid aside His garment and stripped down to the towel He wrapped around His middle in order to make the Twelve clean

The next time that Jesus will be stripped of His cloak is when He’s taken the cross.

And that is precisely what Jesus’ washing of the Twelve apostles’ feet points to, the cross

The cross is the place of our cleansing, the place where Jesus offers His sinless life, receiving the wages of death we deserve for our sin so that all who repent and believe in Jesus--Who turn to Him--will have life with God

Just as Jesus cast aside His cloak--the garment that brought Him comfort and protection from the hot sun of the day and from the cold of the night, He cast aside all the rightful claims He had the sinless Savior to be exempted from human suffering and death

Jesus didn’t deserve the cross; we do. 

But He laid aside all His rightful claims to the advantages that were His as God and Creator of the human race in order to save us!

This is the One of Whom Paul writes in Philippians that, though “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) 

Jesus gave up everything to save you from sin, death, darkness, and eternal separation from God. 

That’s how much you matter to Him. 

That’s how much He wants you to be with Him, now and in eternity.

Because Jesus gave up everything, Philippians says, God the Father has given Jesus the name above every name, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11) 

And just as in Philippians, Paul introduces these amazing words of praise to Jesus by exhorting Christians to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5),” Jesus, after washing the feet of the Twelve, tells Peter and us that we must not stand in His way as He washes us through the redeeming power of His death on the cross so that, His salvation will be outs

We need to be cleansed by Jesus. 

We need to respond when He calls us to daily repentance and renewal through faith in Him

We need to receive the forgiveness He gives to those who humbly and trustingly receive His body and blood in the Sacrament

Jesus also tells us that, because “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16), we are set free, as He was free, to serve others, beginning with our sisters and brothers in Christ, with the same confidence and abandon with which Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and went to the cross. 

We know the confident freedom with which Jesus performed these acts of love, the foot washing and death on the cross: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God…” (John 13:3) 

Jesus could become a lowly servant because He knew that even beyond death, God the Father would not abandon Him

Because He went to the cross, Jesus makes it possible for us to live, love, serve, and die with the same assurance with which He lived, loved, served, and died on this earth

The God Who loves us so much He sent His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life with Him assures us that if we will cast aside our dependencies on all the things this world says we need to have life or significance or hope, God will honor us too. He will give us life, even beyond the grave

There is no ultimate security to be found in the things of this world. 

True security that lasts now and forever can only be found in Jesus. 

May that be the truth He teaches us tonight on this Maundy Thursday. Amen

[Man of No Reputation is a song written by the late Rich Mullins. He planned to include it in a collection for which he had recorded demos just prior to his death. Afte he died, musician friends of Mullins, including members of his Ragamuffin Band and, in this case, Rick Elias, who sings the lead vocal, recorded and released The Jesus Album. Jesus chose to spectacularly unspectacular, a man of no reputation in the eyes of a murderous, self-centered, rejecting world. And yet this man of no reputation, God in the flesh, has won new and everlasting life for all who follow Him rather than the world.}

Thursday, April 09, 2020

This Year, the New Commandment Means Staying At Home

It’s Maundy Thursday.

This day commemorates Jesus’ institution, on the night of His betrayal and arrest, of Holy Communion, the Sacrament in which He gives His body and blood to believers in Him. Through this gift, we receive what Jesus promises: the forgiveness of sin.

Maundy Thursday also recalls Jesus giving His Church a new commandment: that we love our sisters and brothers in Christ as He has loved us. The whole human race, of course, is commanded to love God with our whole being and to love others as we love ourselves. But in the new commandment, Jesus lays on believers in Him a higher calling, one that we can only fulfill, as we trust in Him and the Holy Spirit does God’s work in us: to love fellow believers with the same passion and commitment with which Jesus loves us during this Holy Week.

That’s what I believe we Christians are doing as we stay at home from worship and other church activities this year. We are refusing to be unwitting carriers of a novel virus which, if the elderly, the babies, or others in our church fellowships, were exposed to it, could mean their deaths.

Love of God and love of neighbor and love of fellow believers this year may well be measured by how willing we are to stay at home.

Some day, our churches will be able to gather together again.

Until then, we pray, we wait, and we prayerfully seek to find ways, even now, to love.

Have a blessed Maundy Thursday!

Sunday, April 05, 2020

The King Who Saves Us From Ourselves

Today, Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday, also commemorated as the Sunday of the Passion. (Passion describes a love so great that the one who loves is willing to die for the loved one. In Christ's Passion, He sacrificed Himself on the cross so that we can live with God, now and forever.)

Below is today's online worship from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. After that, you'll find the prepared text of the message for the day.

God bless you!

Matthew 21:1-11
A friend of ours was dying. She’d had a long battle with cancer and as I visited her in the hospital ICU, she said nothing most of the time. I thought for a while that she was unconscious. But it became clear that she knew I was there and that the morphine was doing little to ease her pain. At one point, she reacted to what was clearly a brutal stab of pain. “What can I do?” I asked her. “It just hurts so much,” was all she could say.

Within twenty-four hours, she had passed from this life and, knowing her faith in Christ, into the Savior’s loving arms. 

But, as often happens in the face of such tragedy, everyone who knew my friend--her family, her co-workers, her friends--were left with questions. 

What about all the prayers offered for her healing in Jesus’ name? 

What about her friendship, virtues, talents, and wisdom now lost to us? 

Had God abandoned her? 

Had God abandoned us?

Was God impotent in the face of life’s deadly realities?

We ask questions like these often, especially today when, in the words of the old hymn, “despair engulfs earth’s frame.” Because of the coronavirus, many are more conscious today than they ever have been of the ongoing, daily primal battle between life and death, darkness and light, despair and hope. 

In one form or another, the cry of the whole human race, shouted out to God by those who know Him through Jesus and by others who have no faith at all, is the same: “Save us! Help us! Deliver us from this evil! ”

We come today to Palm Sunday, also known as the Sunday of the Passion. The day commemorates both Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem days before His crucifixion and His passion when He would offer His sinless life as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 

On that first Palm Sunday, the crowds in Jerusalem, unaware that by this time, Jesus has already predicted three times that He would be arrested, beaten, crucified, die, and rise from the dead, do know of the reports that Jesus has performed miracles and given people the hope that, at long last, this is the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed King, Who would set all things right, and meet their deepest needs

As Jesus arrives, the crowds set branches down in His path, creating an ad hoc roadway of welcome. And, in a day when most people owned only one cloak, they lay their cloaks down before Him. 

Jesus enters the city in the way that Zechariah had prophesied the Messiah would arrive in Jerusalem six centuries earlier: “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

God’s people had suffered much. 

And much of their suffering was self-inflicted, just as ours can be. 

They had worshiped false gods like worldly success and power. 

They had treated others unjustly, ignoring God’s command that they treat the immigrants among them with hospitality and love, developing ferocious prejudices against Samaritans and all Gentiles. 

They exhibited religious snobbery, forgetting that they were not chosen by God to be His people as a light to the nations because they were better than anyone else, but simply because of God’s His grace, His charity.

But they had also suffered at the hands of other peoples and nations. They still were suffering at the hands of other peoples and nations. 

They had been enslaved, conquered, forced to become refugees. 

They had been robbed, exploited, pushed around, misused.

No wonder then, that as they see Jesus on what we now call Palm Sunday, they shout, “Hosanna [meaning, “Save us! Deliver us!”] to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Here, at last, the people think, is the Messiah. Now, we needn’t suffer anymore. Now, the Romans can be sent packing. Now, God will use this Messiah to punch all our enemies in the nose and give us all that we want. Their despair, they believe, will at long last give way to hope.

But they are, of course, about to be disappointed, the way that you and I can be disappointed by God when He doesn’t do what we think He should. 

Jesus hasn’t come to Jerusalem to conquer what the people see as their biggest problems. 

Had Jesus done as the Palm Sunday crowds wanted, they all would have been free of the Romans, free of the dominion of other peoples, able to live in the land that God had given them. 

But had Jesus chosen that course, they (and we) still would be slaves without hope: Slaves to sin. Slaves to death. Slaves to the darkness of eternal separation from God.

The crowd, like us much of the time, is playing a short game. They want benefits that, at best, can only last a lifetime. They want money, independence, good health, and times of ease now and they don’t want to change anything about themselves or submit to a Messiah Who they view as a kind of cosmic ATM, to get what they want. 

They don’t want the Messiah to be their Lord, a Messiah who insists that the way to healing and wholeness is for us to die to ourselves and our sins so that we can embrace the life that only God can give to us, the life that God only offers us through this Messiah Jesus.

Jesus, by contrast, is playing the long game. He wants to bring us into the kingdom of God forever. 

The Kingdom of God is the realm in which believers in Jesus Christ live even in this imperfect world. 

It's the kingdom He gives to believers, in which we know that we are forgiven of our sin and that we are right with God for our faith in Jesus. 

It's a kingdom that will only be brought to perfection when we, like Him, are raised by God the Father from the dead. 

Friends, I have seen the kingdom of God, the hope of life with God most in places that most people might deem unlikely: in hospital ICUs, in funeral homes, in jails and prisons where men rightly paying society for their crimes nonetheless were filled with the light of eternity because of their repentance and their belief in Jesus. 

In desperate moments, those who latch onto Jesus know what they really need. 

Not money. 

Not ease. 

Not power. 

They know they need what we need: Jesus. 

Just Jesus. 

Our real enemies are sin, death, and darkness. It’s these things Jesus goes to Jerusalem to conquer by His crucifixion and resurrection. And He does it for you and me!

The crowds in Jerusalem are largely uninterested in what Jesus offers to us: new life set free from ourselves, freedom to live with God forever. 

This same disinterest exists today, even among some Christians. 

As the gospel writer John says of Jesus and the reaction of the human race that He, God the Son, made: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:11-12)

The good news of Palm Sunday is that Jesus refuses to cave in to the expectations of the world. 

He does the will of God the Father. 

He pays the price for our sin. 

He invites us into the kingdom of God for eternity. 

In this kingdom, Christians live even when our lives aren’t comfortable. 

Even when things don’t go as we hope. 

Even when we have to walk away from sins we so desperately want to commit. 

Even when our prayers aren’t answered as we want.

Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of coronavirus and death.

What Jesus goes on to do on Good Friday and Easter Sunday is our assurance that, no matter what happens to us in this life, God will meet the greatest needs we all have in Jesus

He will forgive our sins. 

He will give us the resurrection. 

He will turn our despair into hope. 

He will turn our mourning into laughter that never ends. 


[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]