The Gospel That Shows You: See The One That Matters

John 1:29-34 and 3:22-36 – Beholding!

A giddy child may run up to you one day and be eager to show you something that is completely unimpressive. When they do this, it is a common courtesy to celebrate their discovery. It might be a rock, a dead bug, or a picture they drew. You may even get a sense of joy as you are reminded of what it’s like to look at the world through a child-like lens of awe and wonder.

John the Baptist, who has gotten quite a lot of play on this blog in the last two months is that child. Luke 1:15 states that John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth which quite frankly requires a whole lot more of an explanation that will be given here. But part of the responsibility of being filled with the Spirit since birth was to prepare the way for Jesus by being a witness.

John the Baptist, the man described by Jesus as the greatest man born of women, had a mission to show Jesus to the world. He was a forerunner, his mission existed as an appetizer to the main course of the ministry of Jesus.

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John says of himself in John 1:31 “I came baptizing with water, that he (Jesus) might be revealed to Israel.” He says when Jesus approaches him, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John is in awe; when Jesus arrives, he directs all eyes to Jesus. John has a self-awareness that as Jesus is revealed to Israel, John’s ministry would fade out. John’s joy is fulfilled in Jesus ushering in the kingdom.

It is amazing to me how John’s encounters with Jesus make him more humble. The encounters gave him assurance in what he set out to do.

I, like John want to show Jesus to the world. I, unlike John am so unsure of what to do. I’m in need of more encounters and in need of the boldness to do what I have been called to do. I need to lose the memory of past flops. I need to retain the memory of God’s word over my life. I need faith, hope, and love. I need to navigate this season well.

I need to be shown the gospel and have the eyes to see the kingdom of God coming amidst a world that casts doubt on its imminence.

Now, more than ever, those that follow Christ need eyes for the Kingdom and to hear the still small voice of God because there are powers and principalities that are loud at work. God, please, show me what you see and let me know what to look for.

The Gospel That Grows You

John 3:1-21

Does growth happen at night or during the day? Growth is something that we spend the beginning years of life not giving a thought to. We do very little, if anything to contribute to our own growth early on. In birth, it is safe to say that we do nothing to contribute to our growth because we are not yet responsible for ourselves.

Ironically, Jesus draws a comparison to being born again or born from above as the precursor to seeing the kingdom of God. He is saying, salvation comes without your or my unction. I think Jesus’ night visitor, in Nicodemus, actually asks a pretty sincere question.

“How can someone be born when they are old? I can’t choose to reenter the womb.” He wants to know what contribution can be made to his new birth.

Jesus’ response is a spiritual one. The how of your new birth is beyond your control but the “yes” response to the invitation is your decision.

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“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Aren’t you glad Jesus put it clearer and didn’t wax poetically? J/K, he’s a poet. Jesus is illustrating that the way of the Kingdom is not in the control of mankind. This is meant to be simple not complex but our inclination is tempted to makes things complex.

Salvation is like the wind. You know when it has arrived so let it carry you. Jesus wanted to lighten the burden and make His kingdom easy to enter. But that sinful, dark part of us wants to contribute. We want credit for our growth; we want to boast in our arrival.

I have this office plant. Her name is Penelope, Penny for short, Pen for even shorter. She was a gift from my friends the Lanes. She came from Florida in a box and was wrapped in plastic. She hopes to one day become a 4-6 ft tall palm tree/plant. I also hope she becomes a 4-6 ft tall palm tree. I water her once a week, and she sits by the window. Occasionally, I move around the soil under her and trim off her dead leaves.

When you think about my contribution and Penny’s contribution to her existence, it’s all rather simple. The labor is not intensive. She sits in the sun and soaks up water I give to her, and sometimes she hears me say how beautiful she is and that I’m proud that she is still alive.

John 3:17 reads: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him… v. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Penny was placed in the window, in the light by me but if she gets too much heat from the light too soon her leaves burn. She needs plenty of light and moderate heat.

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This is my very condition; I need the light, I need the exposure of my darkness, I even need to a small or large extent others to see my darkness so they can also see how God is forming me in the light. I need to be known, in the midst of my struggle, in the midst of my dark, so I may come into the light of God to be saved and to grow.

I’ll be honest, the theory of spiritual growth puts a large emphasis on our effort, maybe even our leadership style, but spiritual growth is about posture not productivity. Jesus warns of over-productivity without an emphasis on intimacy.

 

You are a tree planted by living waters, you are a lily of the field, dancing in the wind, you’re a bird of the air, how often do you think they grow weary from causing their own growth? How much less should we? But a heightened awareness of who grows us and giving our time and affection to the Spirit of God, this is a good place to begin.

 

The Gospel That Throws You: Tossing Aside Our Trades

John 2:13-25 – Trading

In Scripture, it is not a common thing for Jesus to get angry or resist people. In John 2:15 Jesus does something seemingly uncharacteristic of himself. He makes a whip, uses it to drive salesman out of the temple, dumps money on the ground, and flips tables.

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Jesus’ reaction is the result of a liturgy turned to lethargy. He is angry that a community lacking in adoration has turned apathetic towards the things of God. Instead they are halfheartedly in the temple while wholeheartedly out for their personal gain.

Jesus isn’t as upset about the house of trade as he is upset about the hearts of the people in regard to their treatment of God. The trading in the temple is a symptom of a lack of trust in God for provision. It’s a symptom of greed expressed through exploiting those who might actually be coming to the Temple to worship. And it’s still a tactic all too prevalent in the church today.

Those witnessing Jesus cleansing the temple ask: “How can you prove that it is okay for you to do this?”

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Jesus responds, “Destroy it all and I’ll raise it up,” referencing his body not the building in which they were supposed to be worshiping. Those who heard Jesus’ response didn’t understand it; the disciples figure it out later. But the interaction points to an interesting statement at the close of this chapter.

“…many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them because he knew all people, and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

This verse makes a declarative statement about the omniscience of Jesus. It also implies that as a result of his omniscience, he rejects the faith of many of these individuals. Jesus was likely seeing something inside of them, a belief that recognized the potential benefits of the kingdom yet disregarded the real cost of following Him.

Thus it was an incomplete faith, maybe even a false faith. It was a faith that Jesus would not entrust or attach himself to, a faith that was incapable of the commitment to follow. It’s a faith that is trying to negotiate its terms of a trade.

The faith he is rejecting is often my faith. God is all too familiar with my negotiating tactics. He is familiar with my un-renewed mind; he is familiar with my selfish terms.

I’ve walked through seasons in which my faith was more filtered and refined, where I’ve followed regardless of the cost, and then somewhere along the way I wanted to renegotiate the terms of my contract.

I thought that if was I going to serve in ministry as my vocation, God would give me a spouse quickly. I thought at some point I would have this overwhelming support from my family to serve God. I thought my entanglements and temptations to sin would be gone completely. I thought I would be even keel in my emotions with less seasons of disappointment. I thought I would be more resilient even immune to bouts with depression.

And pardon my eloquent writing, but that turned out to be bullshit.

Jesus took that view of faith and said, nay, he demanded, something much deeper and richer. Jesus flips the table of our idols, looks beneath our white washed tapestry of comfort and says, “I want a faith that will follow Me, whether or not you get any of that. I don’t want your terms of trade; I want you to follow me and trust that my terms are better than you could ask or imagine.”

Jesus wants to perfect within us an enduring faith, one that maintains its beauty and luster through a desert, through a storm, through a trial, in the miracle, beyond the blessing, rooted in the depths of love. He wants us in a posture of a constant returning to the romance of the greatest love we will ever know. And Jesus who knows that, will throw out, will purge away our self-indulgence to make room for the fullness of God.

God doesn’t have room for only a part of me, but God does have room for all of me. God tosses my trade aside, looks at me as I am and invites me to follow.

 

The Gospel That Knows You- Redeeming Reputations

John 2:1-11 – Wedding

We were two young lovers from a small town;

Had our reception at the fire hall.

a shotgun wedding, not much time for planning.

 

We were scraping to get by, living in the city,

didn’t have a lot, but we had each other.

That was enough of a reason to get married,

Afraid it wouldn’t be much of a party.

A village wedding is a foreign concept for people who have time to read and write blogs. In actuality, a fair number of people are reading and writing blogs to insure they do not have a wedding that looks like the one described in the Gospel of John chapter 2.

The wine runs dry, the kegs are tapped out, they burnt the only casserole, catering never arrives.

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A concerned mother, friend of the groom’s mother, tells her son they’ve run out. The Son doesn’t want to make that his problem, but his mother gets the waiters moving, telling them, “My son will take care of it.”

 

The waiters go to the industrial sinks at the venue, perhaps, thinking they are getting ready to clean up because the party is coming to an early end, so as to save a little face for the new couple. But the unassuming guest is performing an inconspicuous miracle.

With the party in flux the waiters slip a drink to the DJ who was getting ready to play a song for a last dance. Instead, the DJ takes a drink, calls the groom over and commends him for his generosity in offering a second round of celebration to those in attendance.

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If you want the 1st century version of this story, I direct your attention to John 2:1-11. Jesus, the Son of God is invited to a wedding in the region where his mother grew up. His mother, moved by compassion for an unprepared couple, wants to preserve their reputation. She doesn’t want the happiest day of their life to be marred by the thought that they couldn’t throw a party.

She wants to avoid the gossip that would follow in the days to come about the naïve young couple that put out a poor spread. Mary probably knew a little bit about town gossip. She remembered the months after an angel told her she would be a virgin with child. She remembered the struggle in explaining to her fiancé and those that knew her, the joy of carrying the Son of God while they treated her with suspect.

And then there is Jesus, the man who would wait a thousand years to marry. The God who would know a much greater shame and be the subject of much worse gossip and ridicule. The One who would bring good news and fullness of joy to every living thing. He can’t resist responding in his great compassion.

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His first recorded miracle saves someone’s reputation. It is obvious that he is concerned with the reputation of the bride and groom, I agree. But it has also occurred to me, what about his mother. What if he just did this particular miracle because it mattered to his mom?

His mom, who was likely a widow when Jesus performed this miracle, who was once the subject of gossip in this small town, where she attended similar weddings as a young girl, who probably was not permitted to celebrate her own wedding in Galilee, now gets to see her Son, who was the reason for her ridicule, perform a miracle at a wedding, a public celebration for a people who once, likely rejected her.

Jesus’ glory is revealed to only a few, but the miracle spares some newlyweds from being ashamed of their status, permitting them to enjoy their union.  His miracle starts their marriage on a high note.

I can’t tell you what your reputation needs redemption from, but I am well acquainted with my own shame and my own fears that stem from my inadequacies. I’ve sometimes overheard the hurtful things individuals have said behind my back and have been mercifully spared from truthful things that would likely hurt even more.

We are so imperfect. This is true of us, we will disappoint others. If anyone looks hard enough at any of our lives, they will see our flaws. And I, more so than most, have been consistently sub-par at keeping up appearances.

Jesus, at a wedding, knows the groom is incapable of saving face when it comes to the party but makes him look like a champion in front of the guests and before his bride.

Jesus does this with us, incapable of cleansing ourselves, Jesus makes us new, makes us presentable to God so we might be rejoiced over in His Kingdom.