The Freeing Gospel: And the Benefits of the Doubt

John 8:1-47: Freed to Live

Well, someone went and did it. Someone or a group of someones walked in on some other someones doing the dirty and decided just a woman was the most guilty party deserving of a good old fashion stoning.

Adultery is never good, but suffice it to say in modern-day America, individuals have gotten away with rape without worrying about losing very much, let alone having to worry about the death penalty for intercourse between two consenting adults.

In Israel, the situation was a little more grave, and the text doesn’t exactly go into great detail behind the back story of the adulterous affair. We don’t really need it in order to imagine the humiliation this woman must have suffered as she was dragged into the temple, accused of adultery with the potential of death looming.

It certainly wasn’t a respite…

Until Jesus.

The woman is brought to Jesus in order to trap him so the teachers of the law and the Pharisees could accuse him of something. But Jesus, the writer in the sand, waits. More questioning was followed by Jesus’ verdict, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

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He returns to writing in the sand. The accusers disperse one at a time from a silent, slow, perhaps painful admission that they all are guilty of some infraction of the law. Jesus ruined their good time, or rather exposed that there are better options than stoning or permanent humiliation. Mercy, for instance, is a better option.

John 8:9: ”…until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.” Now the woman is faced with the only true and just judge. I want us to have this experience (not being caught in or committing adultery), the experience of being face to face alone with Jesus, completely exposed, confronted with our sin standing before the only one who can cleanse us of it.

I want to be face to face with God as judge and hear the merciful verdict, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Jesus is not interested in condemnation, rather he wants reconciliation. Jesus offers freedom, but in order to be free, one must receive truth. In order to receive truth, one must subject themselves to walking in the light.

Walking in the light was not the way of  the accusers of Jesus or this woman. They questioned Jesus’ every move and motive demanding a verdict in which only one answer would be acceptable.

They wanted Jesus to admit that he was not who he said he was because they could not bear to admit that they were not who they said they were. They were not the upholders of righteousness and justice they claimed to be because they did not know mercy. They only knew half of the heart of the Father. Yes, the Father is interested in correction and discipline but the Father is also interested in comforting and redemption.

Problems arise when we forget the kindness of God and when we forget what it means to be a child of God. Being a child of God means that we have a place at the table. It means we can see God the Father in Christ the Son and rejoice over the implications of the invitation to have a relationship with Jesus. It means that often we don’t have to die for the mistakes we make, but live because of the forgiveness Christ gave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Believing Gospel: And the Benefit of the Doubt

John 7- Life out of Doubt

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It is worthwhile to live my life by giving the benefit of the doubt in every situation. There is so much in life in which we only know part of the story. It can be tempting to imagine the worst case scenario or assume someone has it out to get us, but we live freer lives when we give grace to others while calling out their potential to choose well.

In the Gospel of John chapter 7, a lot of people are confused about or outright disbelieve the identity of Jesus. Included in the group of doubters are Jesus’ own brothers.

Jesus’ brothers sarcastically infer that if Jesus is in fact a somebody, then he should prove it to everybody at an opportune time, at the Feast of Booths for instance. They assume that the following Jesus is incurring, stems from a desire for mainstream recognition. Jesus instead makes it clear that there is a lot more at stake than a popularity contest, which is why he goes to the feast in secret.

The religious leaders also had their doubts about Jesus. They took it so far as wanting to arrest and kill him. They kept out a keen eye as they heard the murmurings of the people. The crowds were divided in their discussions. Some thought Jesus was a good man while others thought he was leading people astray.

Jesus begins to teach openly in the temple. He shares about who sent him and why he does what he does. Jesus’s teaching is from God because he has come from the Father and he heals on the Sabbath because it is right to. The crowd is still divided and the Pharisees send officers to arrest Jesus. But it is not Jesus’ time to go, and the officers are amazed by Jesus’ teaching.

In John 7:37-38, Jesus makes a powerful statement, maybe the most powerful, regarding faith in himself up to this point: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of their heart will flow rivers of living water.” What makes the statement so powerful? In a few short words, Jesus puts to bed the games we all play with doubt about him. While there are many times we may find ourselves doubting, the one thing Jesus encourages us not to doubt is who He claims to be.

Giving Jesus the benefit of the doubt leaves the door open to rivers of living water. It opens up a world of refreshing by acknowledging that Jesus is exactly who he says he is. If he says he is worthy of all our trust and if that is true, then it must mean that all our plans and are steps are best left in his hands.

Jesus displays this in the next chapter when he provides hope to a woman caught in the act of adultery. In that instance it was a matter of life or death; fortunately, for humanity Jesus’ offer is always life.

 

 

The Walking Gospel: Each Mundane Step Together

John 6:16-34, 60-71

Some people want spectacle in their miracle.

Some people don’t want miracles at all.

And some people are content for the miraculous within the mundane.

Jesus walks to a new town. But on this occasion he walks on water while a storm is brewing. Sneaking up on his disciples in a boat, they become frightened. He tells them: “It is I; don’t be afraid.”  They take him in, and they immediately reach their destination.

The crowd that Jesus fed the day before search for him. They find him across the lake and ask him when he arrived. Jesus doesn’t answer that question. He is not interested in touting his own horn regarding miraculous workings. Instead, he addresses where their priorities are, slowly guiding them towards faith in Him.

After explaining that he is the bread of life, those following find it difficult to comprehend what Jesus is asking of them. He draws a distinction between flesh and Spirit which sifts out those who don’t really want to follow.

Jesus then turns his attention to the twelve, asking a poignant question, “Do you want to leave too?”

And sweet, sincere Simon Peter answers, “To whom would we go, Lord?” Peter confesses that Jesus’ words lead to eternal life. Peter states that they know Jesus is the Holy One, sent of God.

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If I was listening to all this, depending on my mood in the moment, if Jesus asked me “do you want to leave to?” I wonder what I would say. Too often it feels as if I would be tempted to answer him yes. Perhaps it’s my perception of God’s distance, perhaps I would answer differently if he were standing in front of me.

 

This past year I was planning to leave the church I attend. If somebody asked me, “do you want to leave?;” for a stretch of about 6 months, I would have unabashedly and perhaps with insensitivity said: “yes.” I could have given them a date. But nobody really asked and there were a few people I just told in order to get another perspective.

I think, during that time, I slowly and painfully realized that my expectations and miracles themselves are not dictated by what I want. Scripture says miracles follow those who believe. Another way of saying it is: miracles accompany those who live for God. Miracles happen when I walk out the mundane day to day and obey.

I am not capable of forcing a miracle in the same way that I cannot force faith. If there happens to be water in the direction Jesus calls us, Jesus will help us navigate. Jesus made the way and asks us to keep taking steps in faith, even if our next thousand or million steps don’t move a single mountain.

I’ll be honest. My flesh hates that it works that way. My flesh hates that it can’t snap its fingers to fix things. My flesh hates that it feels like drudgery to reconcile the people close to me. My whole being hates when churches act as marketing machines rather than rejoicing over the Gospel. Jesus was not interested in selling bread; He was interested in being bread.

Yes, Jesus is the bread, and the imperfect Church is still his body. The imperfect church I attend is still part of His bride. Cultivating the sense, that people in a medium-sized church would actually like to spend time with each other or would want to pray for/with one another when they are hurting has too often made me feel like I’d be better off withdrawing.

In spite of this, Jesus is teaching me something about walking and something about the mundane. The only thing that matters is that mine and your next step is in Christ:

Some of those steps you’ll be looking down, sullen because this wasn’t the story you wanted to tell about yourself and I’m sorry for that, I’ve been there too. I’ll mourn with and pray for you.

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Some of those steps you’ll be looking ahead, focused because you’re determined to see something through and I’m cheering you on, I’ve been there, though less often than I’d like to but I’ll pray for you still.

Some of those steps you’ll be looking up, wondering, because you are not sure how God is going to come through, knowing you are only going to make it, if God does move on your behalf. Regardless of how that feels, it is the best place you can be. I’ll pray God moves on your behalf.

Some of those steps are on water, leading you to surprise the ones you love, arriving at the eventual response of a welcome embrace as you continue on the journey together. That’s where the Church treads, which is why he gives us one another so we won’t journey alone. I’ll rejoice with you in our glorious future.

Will we take those steps? After all, Lord, where else can we go?

 

The Feeding Gospel: Eating and Drinking God

John 6:1-15, 35-59

Have you ever been so gripped by something, whether it be entertained or given to a task that you have forgotten to eat? If you’re anything like me, it has rarely happened because you like food. However, there have been some instances where I have delayed eating a burrito and ended up very hungry.

In John chapter 6, a large crowed of people intently follow Jesus. Jesus wants to feed them. But notice, it does not indicate that they are poor and starving (though they might be). It doesn’t even say they are hungry. We can infer they are hungry but not Israel wandering in the wilderness complaining kind of hungry. Not only that, a feast day was approaching, the Passover, so these people would have expected to eat at some point.

So Jesus takes the responsibility of feeding them upon himself and the disciples. He asks Philip where the closest bakery is to feed the people bread. Philip, who is not the treasurer and apparently does not need to be, indicates they do not have enough money to feed all the people.

Andrew who is standing by points to a little boy holding a couple of loaves of bread and some fish filet  admitting that the food could only feed a few people.

Jesus has the crowd sit down. The Gospel of John wants to let us know they are sitting on lots of grass because that is better than dirt and pebbles. 5,000 people sat down, and Jesus gives thanks. The Son of God spiritually microwaves the boys Lunchable by multiplying it and feeds those who are seated as much as they want. Oh, and there were leftovers.

Twelve baskets full of leftovers; those baskets each of course belonged to each one of the disciples. Oh, you didn’t know that disciples each carried baskets. They kind of were like the grizzled versions of Little Red Riding Hood fighting off wolves in sheep’s clothing who devoured their widowed grandmother’s houses. (I don’t actually know nor think the disciples carried baskets)

All the people present recognize Jesus is the one they were waiting for and were ready to make him king because he was able to miraculously feed so many people. So what does Jesus do? He withdrew. He went on a hike by himself. (We will look at why he does this next post).

Let me save the walk on water story and the confusion that follows for the time being and jump to the lesson. In John 6:41, Jesus reveals what He was building towards. He states, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” In v. 48 He says again, “I am the bread of life.” Then Jesus talks about consuming Him so as to have life forever.

Admittedly, this is a confusing statement. Those gathered are wondering why Jesus is offering himself up for a cannibal feast. To the crowds confusion, Jesus adds drinking his blood to the mix. Vampires and Cannibals will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Clearly Jesus is pointing to the institution of communion, the invitation to His supper.

All jesting aside, Jesus is inviting those in the synagogue to His table. He is advocating divine intimacy. He is offering the promise of life eternal with Him which will fill them with a sense of full acceptance and security.

As we eat the bread and blood of Jesus, He dwells inside us. He unites us. He reminds us to eat. He wants to be remembered and met with through fellowship with the Spirit of God inside of the believer.

I want to consume God like I consume my food and be filled with the Spirit like I’m filled by a buffet.

Thanks be to God for feeding us.

 

The Honoring Gospel: Earning Authority

John 5:18-47

For the first couples centuries of the Church, Christians tried to figure out a way to explain the relationship of Jesus, the Son of God to God the Father. The mysterious conclusion the Church came up with explained that personhood need not equate to separation among the Godhead. In other words, despite God the Father and God the Son being distinct in identity as they relate to humanity in appearance, their origin, absolute reality, and existence is the same. They are inseparable in their expression or essence.

Thus Christ is able to fully honor God the Father while simultaneously honoring Himself. It’s beautifully complex in its simplicity. His statement in John 5:19 that “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing is true as it pertains to Christ’s holiness but also as it pertains to His willingness and ability to stray from the will of God. This is the power of inseparable union.

Jesus sees everything God does. Because of this Jesus reveals God’s goodness as the world marvels. This is the pattern of Jesus’ ministry. Reveal the works and word of God and allow others to testify to about Him. This is how the people are given the opportunity to know and honor God.

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Jesus demonstrates that to honor is to imitate. Honoring can mean bowing one’s knee, but it also means following. In honor, authority is bestowed. Honor those in positions of authority and they will yield their authority to you.

Jesus takes his time explaining the relation between authority and witness and how God works together with the best part of creation to tell the story of God’s goodness. Jesus presents his listeners with a chance to find full life, to avoid divine judgment, and to believe in Himself.

He leaves it open-ended. After all, it’s still early in the Gospel according to John. There are a lot more miracles still to be done, a lot more forgiveness to be offered and a lot more about God to be revealed. But up to this point Jesus has only done work deserving of honor. And what we find as we read through the Gospel and throughout life, that all Jesus does honors humanity by offering them opportunity to be safe and whole, reconciled to God.

You’ve Always Been There

Ezekiel 47:13 – 48:35

The culmination of the book of Ezekiel describes the division of the land in Israel. It partitions out land to various tribes and reminds the Israelites that the land they are receiving is an inheritance from God. The land is a gift to be cherished and used to enjoy and survive in.

Central to the land is a 12-gated city named: “The Lord is There.” This is how the book ends, the naming of a restored city in a future vision. Ezekiel is not standing in the midst of this city but God lets him see it. Ezekiel can rest in the promise that God is there. He can also rest in the assurance that God has been with Ezekiel the entire term of his prophetic ministry.

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Original Artwork by Adam Greene, “The Four Living Creatures of Ezekiel’s Vision”

If you would allow me to recap this ministry, I would like to remind us of what Ezekiel has been called to and endured for this season: called to be watchman to Israel through visions, lies on his side cooking on dung for over a year, prophesies the destruction of his people, prepares for exile, is told not to mourn the death of his wife, prophecies and laments the judgment of all surrounding nations and their rulers, renewed calling as the watchman, the promise of renewal, and the vision of a new temple, new city and a restored Israel.

The timeline of Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry spans approximately from 593 BC to 573 BC. 20 years in 48 chapters of a book that has the 4th most amount of words of any book in the Bible. Ezekiel is obedient and Ezekiel has visions and Ezekiel remains hopeful. He is not a messianic prophet like Isaiah, rather an eschatological/kingdom of God prophet. He is more optimistic than Jeremiah likely because he is not as persecuted and sees the spiritual picture clearer.

510896924_a4c183ad02Ezekiel is the watchman and a watchman is attentive and a watchman has to be at his post which is why Ezekiel doesn’t travel much unless it’s in a vision. He is conveniently where God wants him to be and likewise his desire as indicated by the end of the book is that God would be with the children of God in the place where the Lord is.

To sum up the message of Ezekiel: God has always been here; acknowledge God, obey God and you likewise will find yourself aware that you are with God.