Friday, April 26, 2013
Picking up in chapter 14, verse 15 of John’s gospel account, Jesus tells them … “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” What you do reveals how you feel, what you want, and how you think. Only moments before Christ had issues to his disciples a “new” commandment, that they love each other as He loved them. In effect Christ was saying to His followers, that to love Him, is to love each other. To love others was the life example of Christ, and what He wished His followers to emulate and become. Again, Christ stood to gain nothing for Himself in what He did, but we stood to gain everything. He would pay any price to free us from the slavery we had chosen, not even His own life was as important to Him as was our well-being and redemption from the slavery of self. Doctrine would not equal love. Doctrine without love could not equal truth. The Pharisees had the scriptures, they had spent years in study and debate over their meaning. They had carefully crafted doctrines based on a wealth of accumulated knowledge, but they did not see love when it was staring them in the face. Truth without love, could not be truth at all. Truth could only be found in Christ, and Christ was love itself. Therefore Jesus reminds His followers, that when they love others, they love Christ.
Jesus continues in verse 16 … “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;”. Christ came in the flesh. But God is not bound by the limitations of the flesh. The Holy Spirit would be sent to be with the disciples, and with each of us. The Holy Spirit would not be bound by the limitations of our human containers, and would be the part of the God-Head that can be in all places at one time. This would continue our personal relationship building with God on a one-to-one basis. Jesus continues in verse 17 … “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. [verse 18] I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” As Christ is “the truth”, so the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Truth. The world does not discern it, because the world does not accept the divinity of Christ, or the truth of Christ. But the Spirit would dwell with us, and within us. He would bring us our comfort when Christ could no longer be physically present with us. The Spirit would bridge the gap between the time of His ascension, and the time of His returning.
Jesus continued in verse 19 … “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also.” Soon the world would think that Christ had died. But His followers would see Him again before His triumphant return. And in addition because Christ was alive after death, His followers would receive the Holy Spirit and the self-less miracle working power of Christ would bring them to life as well. This would be the definitive truth of Jesus Christ, for the disciples were merely men, flawed, human, and not extraordinary. But through the transforming power of the love of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, real change, and real miracles would occur. Jesus continues in verse 20 … “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives would be yet another proof, a certainty, a knowledge that Jesus was alive, and united with the Father, and united through His Spirit with us. This linkage would help give the disciples the certainty that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. The same evidence would be true for us as well.
Jesus further states in verse 21 … “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”. The Ten Commandments, and the recent summary of them in the “new” commandment, were ALL commandments of Christ. They were designed to show us, the basics of what it means to love each other. When we love, we do not steal from those we love. When we love, we do not think to lie to those we love. When we love, it never even crosses our minds to kill the things we love, rather to watch over them, and bring happiness to their lives. When we love, we prioritize, we put the objects of our love ahead of ourselves. This was the example Christ was setting with them in those very hours. He was about to be tortured and killed, yet still He is offering words of comfort to US. Even with everything He is about to face, His thoughts and words are directed to bring us comfort, bring us hope, bring us relief. That is the power of love to forget self, and focus on the object of love. It did not matter to Christ that His followers were still imperfect. It did not diminish the love of Christ for those men, even though they still did not fully understand the true mission of the Messiah, and therefore were missing the entire point of the Jewish faith. He loved them despite their imperfections, and their willful ignorance. He sought to bring perfection to them, not require it of them.
When we love others we reveal the love of Christ within us. When we love others, we find ourselves in harmony with Christ and His Father. When we love others, we become living examples and beacons to point to our Lord who is the author of all love. Christ is “manifested” in us, when we love others. Not just those who already claim to love us, but like our Lord, we are to love those who are bent on our destruction. We are to love those who would do us real harm. For love is the only way to reach those with hearts of stone, the only power that can turn them from stone to flesh again. Love is the only motive and reason to want to be something else, and something better. It was love that redeemed us, from the slavery of serving only ourselves at the expense of others. It will be love that will see an end to evil throughout the universe. It is as we allow the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that our human limitations, our human frailty is obliterated, and instead of us, the strength and depth of the love of God is manifested through us. We are not the source of the love of God, we are vessels through which it is dimly reflected. But His light burns brightly. It can overcome our tired frailty. It can overcome our decisions of apathy, our indifference, and our reluctance. It can create in us a burning fire to see love manifested in the world around us. We cannot change the world, but we can love it through the power of the Holy Spirit and in so doing point it to Christ, who can change anything.
Judas (not the betrayer but a different disciple, likely his brother Jude) ponders this idea of Christ manifesting Himself to them, but not to the world. He likely ponders if Christ would be invisible to everyone else, or just how that would happen, so he asks Christ about it in verse 22 … “Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” Jude is still thinking literally and has not understood the concepts of reflecting Christ through the manifestation of love to others. But Jesus stays on topic and repeats again to Jude his answer in verse 23 … “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. [verse 24] He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.” Loving others remains the hallmark of being a follower of Christ, and of His Father, and a testament that the Holy Spirit is abiding in us. By contrast, when we do not choose to love, or choose to accept the Holy Spirit’s influence over us, we are not just rejecting Christ, but rejecting God entirely. For the words Christ was speaking were still not His own, but the will of His Father in heaven.
This is where so many Christian faiths have gone sideways on the topic of obedience. True obedience cannot be achieved in human effort or strength. It can only come AFTER the Holy Spirit is allowed control over our lives by our decision to submit the whole of who we are to Christ. Only then, can the errors we embrace, the selfishness we are slave to, be corrected within us. Creating lists of rules, or tenets of doctrine we must profess, does nothing to capture what it means to love others. Love is a living thing, it cannot possible be contained in a piece of paper. There are no laws of God that limit how much we can love another. There are only laws that restrict us from hurting another, thus revealing our lack of love in the actions we would desire to take. The beauty of obedience is revealed in the freedom from our slavery to self that it brings. Obedience too, is another gift of Christ to us. It is the end-result of the transformation His Holy Spirit works within us to bring us in harmony with The Father. The “laws” of God become a part of who we are. They define us, but then become so small, so quickly, when it comes to the measure of how much we can love another. Christ kept His own laws while living life on planet earth; but He did SO MUCH more than just keeping those tenets. His life showed us a love that is way larger than what we do not do to hurt people; His love was defined by how much He did to help people and lift them up. He held nothing back when it came to how much He would give for another; even His own life was not as precious to Him as we are. There is no commandment that could define the depths of His love. But when we are brought in harmony with Him, our obedience becomes natural, not an effort.
Our actions follow our motives. So to love would be revealed in what we do. Then came one of the most powerful promises Christ ever made to His followers, both the disciples in that room, and to us down through the ages. He states in verse 25 … “These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. [verse 26] But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Wow!! He will teach you “all things”. Understand the sequence of events here. The Holy Spirit must come to you FIRST … before your understanding of scripture and doctrine can even be called complete. To bring “all things” to our remembrance is NOT something we achieve by the power of our failing memories and human skills. It is another gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We remember the scriptures, and understand the love revealed in them, only AFTER the Holy Spirit is given control. What is more, the Holy Spirit is sent, not as a general rule, but in the Name of Christ. When the supernatural is manifested in our world, we can challenge its source in the name of Christ, and it must reveal itself in truth. Satan is not allowed to lie about who he is, if he is challenged in the name of Christ. And the Spirit of God is not offended to answer a similar challenge in that precious name.
It is important to God the Father, that we understand our salvation was enabled alone through the actions of His son. We do not randomly find God, or randomly find perfection. We find it ONLY through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and our willingness to submit to this truth. Being a “good person” is not the goal of our God. “Good”, simply is not good enough. Our God wants more for us. He wants us to live in perfect freedom, where “great” would hardly be adequate to describe it. There are those other religions and ideologies that teach self-abasement and doing for others as a way to achieve inner peace. It is true that in doing for others we begin to share in the contentment that God offers. But doing for others does not change “who” we are, absent our submission to Christ. We may have the willpower to resist doing actions that would harm ourselves or others. Perhaps because we fear the consequences of our actions, or the discovery of our evil intent, but the struggle against these inherent desires is the very thing that Christ longs to free us from. It is not the actions alone He wishes to alter in us, but the motives and desires behind them. Religions powered by self, are doomed to miss this mark entirely. History demonstrates this. But our God, Jesus Christ, offers to perform the work of transformation to perfection within us by His power, not our own. He changes us from inside out, and in this is the true power of the gospel. It is why the Holy Spirit is only associated with the name of Jesus Christ, and not with any other random ideas of deity.
We do not choose to love others, in order to secure the love of Christ. Rather, it is because of the love of Christ reflected through us, that we are able to truly love others. The beauty of obedience when it is natural, shows a manifestation of Christ alive in our lives, and in the lives of those we can affect with our love in action for them. Our circumstance become irrelevant when we love like Christ loved. He was facing torture and death, and yet spending his final hours caring for us, giving us hope, and offering us something more.
And communion was not over yet …
Saturday, April 20, 2013
But for Christ, things were different. He knew His time was nearly at an end, He knew His words would be silent for a while, during the time of Satan’s unrestrained rage to attempt to end His life forever. So the communion that took place between our Savior and those closest to Him, was perhaps the most important communication they had had up till now. Already Judas had parted company with the others and was lost in darkness, consumed by Satan and driven to betray Him to His death. John in His gospel remembers the words of Christ right before He would die. In fact, there are nearly 5 chapters of the Gospel of John from 13 to 18 that cover the conversation Christ had with them before the cross. Those were His last words with them before disaster. Christ with the weight of our salvation pressing down upon Him, would spend His final moments with us, not thinking of relieving His own burden, but still thinking of relieving ours.
In chapter 14 of John’s gospel account we pick back up in verse 5 with Thomas’ part in the conversation. Jesus had told them He was going where they could not go. But that one day they would be with Him and would be able to see where He went forevermore. Thomas was not sure what this meant and so He states … “Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” Thomas like us, wanted to know the direction we are to follow. He wanted specifics. He wanted a spiritual Google map that would give him step by step instructions on how exactly he would follow the path he was supposed to walk. But foreknowledge in every particular does nothing to build our faith, and require our trust. An inalterable guarantee would likely diminish our faith, not increase it. And so Jesus offers Thomas and us one of the most profound answers to our questions recorded in scripture.
Jesus responds in verse 6 … “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” First let us remember, the destination of our journey, is HOME to be WITH OUR Father. It is where Christ will be going, and where we will be going, through the beauty of His plan of our salvation for us. Next, Christ tells Thomas, that “He” (Christ) is “the way”. The specific path to our Father God is through Jesus Christ and ONLY through Jesus Christ. We do not find God on our own. We do not find God through competing deities, or other ideologies, or through our determination, our will-power, or acts of good deeds, not even through our ability or desire to love. We find home with God, only through Jesus Christ. We must be led. There is no spiritual Google map to outline the path of our lives, because only Christ can provide us the next step, and only as we submit our own will to Him, and allow Him to make this choice for us. While we retain the illusions of control, we deny Christ the ability to lead us, and instead “tell” Christ where we are going, expecting Him to bless our decisions, instead of following in the blessing of His decisions. While we take on the burden of leadership, we navigate ourselves directly to failure. But when we follow, we find only His successes, and are blessed through them in our own lives at each step, regardless the path we find ourselves in.
But Jesus is more than just our navigator, and our leader, He is also truth itself. In today’s age, we read the scriptures to learn more of Christ. But often we trust our own interpretations of scripture as being “the truth” instead of remembering that only Christ is “the truth”. Our Bible’s, as precious as they are, are not equal to the Christ who inspired them, or whose story is told within them, or who is VERY real in our lives and relationships today. A REAL experience with Christ is required today, just as much as it was for Adam, Moses, Daniel, or Peter, in order to truly find truth. When we submit ourselves to the leadership of Christ, and the influence of His Holy Spirit over our own ideas or “wisdom”, we find the truth (Jesus Christ) within our scriptures. When we can be taught, instead of thinking it our job to teach, we can learn even more of Christ from a verse we have read countless times, or a story we thought committed fully to memory. There is infinite depth in the truth of Jesus Christ. It is only our arrogance to assume we have come to know it all, or to know what is important. We have come to know what would fit on the head of a needle, in comparison with what Jesus can teach us of truth, if we but let Him. His message to us is a strong one. The interpretation of scripture without the lens of Jesus Christ leads to errors, not to truth. This was the mistake of the Pharisees, and it was rooted in the disciples also. But through Jesus Christ, and the willingness of His followers to be taught by Christ, the real truth throughout scriptures could be revealed. If we are to find truth, we must find Jesus first.
Lastly Jesus reveals Himself to be the way, the truth, and finally “the life”. Existence itself, is founded in Jesus Christ. What our lives were meant to be is founded only in Jesus. Existence away or apart from Christ is a tortured one, full of pain, and craving only death as a release from it. Whereas Life is found in Jesus; life was meant to be lived without pain in any way. Life was meant to be lived where death or an end to it, has no relevance or meaning. Life was meant to be lasting as Christ is lasting. Life lived as Christ lived it, is our definition to which we should aspire. His life was an expression of love in action for us, the objects of His great love. He thought of nothing for Himself, but thought of everything for us. This is the model upon which God lives. God Himself serves. God Himself chooses to show love to those creations He wills into existence. It is the fundamental difference between the philosophy of God and that of Satan that twisted love for others into love for self. Satan internalized love and it became evil. The quest to make one’s self happy turned choices into compulsions. Whereas there is no limit to what God does to love us, there is also no limit to what Satan would do to try to please himself at anyone’s expense. The path of God leads to ultimate fulfillment in doing nothing for self. The path of Satan leads to ultimate emptiness by doing everything for self. This is why “Life” is found in Christ, and why “death” is the only alternative to that life.
So to the question of Thomas in seeking specifics, Christ offers him and us, the more important answer, Himself. To find our way home to be with God forevermore, we need only find Jesus. Jesus then continues and offers another revelation to his followers … “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” To see Christ, to know Christ, is to know the Father God. They are united in purpose, united in the expression of love, and united in the plan of our redemption. For those who would deny the divinity of Christ, they would by proxy deny the divinity of God the Father. Jesus links Himself with His Father, and states to know one, is to know the other; to see one, is to see the other. And by counterpoint, to deny one, is to deny the other.
The point of Christianity is not to threaten non-believers with punishments of hell and damnation. The point of Christianity is to love our enemies, and those non-believers who would do us harm, without restraint, or condemnation, back to the throne of grace where we too find redemption and God. Christ is here offering us a pathway back to God through His transformational power. He is the only one capable of making such an offer. Those competing ideologies would attempt to offer us another way of finding God, have no demonstrated way to change the core of who we are. We can constrict our behavior, but we are wholly unable to alter what we want, or how we think. Only Christ can bring a reformation that alters our very desires, thoughts, intentions, and motives. After He changes the core of who we are from the inside, our actions begin to reflect His changes. To attempt to act on our own is to find only a shallow reflection of what is possible alone in Jesus Christ.
These two texts that John recorded of the words of Christ are in themselves a summary of the entire gospel. They tell us where we are going, how to get there, and what is important. Living them, becomes an experience that cannot be captured in written words for none are adequate to express what they mean. We worship God, not to achieve our salvation, but because of our salvation. And to be saved one must experience being saved from self, from slavery to evil, from uncontrolled compulsions that once ruled our lives and now have found no place in them. To experience that kind of freedom in the salvation of our God Jesus Christ, is like nothing else on planet earth. Reading about the possibilities, is not the same, as embracing the reality of salvation from self in your life, by His power and none of your own. When that is your personal experience with Christ, you BECOME a witness to His great power and victories IN you. The victories will always be His, but you will now be a witness to them, and have something of meaning to say to others. A third person account of salvation may be interesting, but it is not as compelling as first person account. When you give YOUR testimony of the power of Christ, you will be speaking from your own heart, about what the living God did for you. All of the sudden the written word has real relevance and makes a real impact, because it is no longer just a collection of stories, but a transcription of your own reality and salvation. This is the difference between interpreting scripture and finding the God behind them.
To these profound truth’s Phillip looks for clarification. He reasons that if Jesus and the Father are so linked, it should be easy enough for Jesus to ask for the Father to appear among them, and in this way, all doubts would be removed, and the “proof” of the divinity of Christ established, at least for him. So he asks in verse 8 … “Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” Phillip’s request was not much different from the Pharisees who demanded proof, or the atheists in our day who demand the same, or perhaps even ourselves who ask God to just answer one particular prayer in order that we would believe. When we put conditions to our belief, we introduce doubt, and what we reveal is a more deep-seated choice not to believe. An atheist friend of mine, once told me that if a 50 foot Jesus appeared on the 50 yard line of the Super Bowl, he would then believe in God. To which I challenged him, would he really? If he only saw it on television, might he simply not attribute it to special effects? If he were there in person, wouldn’t his first thought be that this was simply some form of grand magician’s illusion? And failing that, might he not prefer to believe that this event was some form of mass hallucination based on a toxic chemical release in the air rather than a true revelation of something he refuses to believe is possible?
When we ask for concrete proof to assuage our doubts, we find our doubts are bigger than the “proof” we demand. Our trust and our faith cannot be founded in absolutes or they would cease to be faith at all. Lucifer had trust in himself and his own logic, ideas, and “facts” as he knew them – but he was wrong. He trusted his own wisdom over that of God, and evil was born into the universe. If evil is to be extinguished we must make the choice to trust God over our own ideas, “wisdom”, and perception of the “facts”. That choice to trust cannot be made if we base it ONLY on absolutes. It must be made with a recognition of our dependence on Christ because we do NOT have all the answers. This leads us to trust in His wisdom over our own. It leads us to know His motives are pure, and we can put our faith in Him, because He loves us, and love is all that matters. Phillip’s request to see the Father was not an unreasonable one, often our requests seem equally meager. But we ask the wrong questions, when it comes to the building of our faith. We must choose to believe in spite of our lack of knowledge, not because of the accumulation of it. We must choose to trust, because He is worthy of trust, not because we have no alternatives, or because we have no reason to doubt. Trusting in Him, in spite of what we might “think” is true, is the beginning of real wisdom and truth and faith – and it forms the cornerstone of our salvation. For part of the transformation we are to undergo is to have even our thinking be remade. That cannot happen while we cling to it and refuse to undergo His changes in us.
Jesus responded to the request of Phillip in verse 9 … “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? [verse 10] Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” The answer of Christ was a simple one. You already have it Phillip. Everything you have already seen in your own life, shows you who Christ is, and the example of His life shows you who the Father is. There is no need to ask the Father to materialize to show Him to you, because what you see in Christ is already sufficient to see the Father. After all it is the works of the Father, that Christ performed, each miracle a revelation of divine love.
Then Jesus offers another perspective on “why” Phillip should believe. If he must have evidence of the supernatural to prove the divinity of Christ he could believe based on the miracles he has already seen. Jesus continues in verse 11 … “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. [verse 12] Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. [verse 13] And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. [verse 14] If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” Here Christ ups the ante. Not only has Phillip seen the miraculous works Christ has performed in the name of the Father, upon which he could choose to shed his doubts. But Christ furthers offers participation in performing miracles, that are requested of Him, in order that the name of the Father might be glorified in the Son. Keep in mind, that God measures glory in acts of love in action for others, not in the accumulation of wealth, fame, and power for us. But in effect, Christ is telling Phillip, you have seen what I have done, now I am offering you participation in the enactment of miracles wrought in the name of Christ, for the glory of God the Father.
The most mind-blowing portion of that scripture stands as a sharp rebuke to the faith of myself, and the modern Christian church of today. Christ tells us that those who “believe on Him” would do “greater works than these” because He has returned to His Father. So let’s first think about the miracles He has already performed …
· Turning water to wine at a wedding
· Revealing the entire life history to a stranger and ministering to her and her town
· Healing the child nearly dead without even being in the area at the time
· Restoring the eyes of a man blind from birth
· Healing a lame man who has spent decades in this condition
· Healing a woman who but touched the hem of his robe in a crowd of people
· Walking on water, and instantly moving 12 men across a significant distance
· Feeding 5000 men, plus women and children, with the lunch of a small boy
· Disappearing from sight in crowds of thousands bent on making Him King
· Raising Lazarus from 4 days dead back to life
These were but a few of His miracles, and the question that haunts my own faith, is where is ours? Christ says if “we” believe on Him, whatever we ask of Him, He will do it for the glory of the name of His Father. So I understand that the name of the Father would not be glorified in my winning the Powerball lottery (despite what I claim I would give away), or becoming CEO of my company (despite how I might be able to use my firm for good), or being President of the United States (despite what changes I believe I could enact for good in the world). All of those things are about the glory of myself measured in terms the world understands. But what about the healing of AIDS and Cancer, in those who have need? What about addressing the needs of the hungry in spite of our lack of means to do so? What about the greater miracle of allowing Christ to completely re-create who we are from the inside out? Are we seeing these miracles in the church of today, wrought within the believer in the mirror, for the glory of His name and not our own? Are we so caught up in the idea of it being “us” who gets to take the credit for miracles that none can be performed? Christ said “anything”. Do we even ask that much anymore or have we become so meager in our faith that we only ask for what we believe is “possible”, “reasonable”, and “doable” as defined by our human reality.
To become something more, we must be remade by Christ. But as we are remade, let us not abandon the power of the Love of Christ to accomplish what cannot be accomplished. AIDS and Cancer may kill many based on the limits of human medicine and science, but they are no match for love of God in action in the life of a person afflicted and in need. Christ healed all those in need. Everyone who sought Him did not leave disappointed. He did not require faith first of those He healed. Instead their faith was built because of what He had done for them, not as a prerequisite. They worshipped Him because He had changed their lives, not in order to secure the change. Part of our challenge is to learn to want different things. While what I crave is the power and fame of this world, what I ask God for is less about His real measure of glory and more about my own corrupted view of it. But as I allow Him to remake me, I think less about my own gain, and my own fame, and more about the real needs of others. I do not wish to be on CNN, and known as this country’s Christian miracle worker; nor do I wish the praise and gratitude of those who are healed through the power of prayer. Instead it is enough to offer silent prayers that only Christ can hear. It is enough to know that He will hear them, and those in need will be cured. It is enough to know that He allowed us the great privilege of participation in the miracle of meeting the needs of another, without the accolades of fame, or false gratitude to us that in truth belongs only to Him.
We must become a church of miraculous service to others. We must learn to fulfill the mission we have been offered as yet another gift of our Savior. We do not need to have the means first to accomplish our goals, for in truth we will never have what we need based on our own efforts in any case. What we truly need to accomplish sharing in His mission, is Christ. We must take Him up on His offer, and participate in the miracles He would have worked in the world of today, by offering intercessory prayer for those who have need. For our enemies first. For those who would do us harm first. For those who do not share our beliefs first. For theirs is the greater need. Then should we continue to pray for those who we love, until those who we truly love cannot make the distinction between family and one who would choose to be our enemy. We should pray first for their salvation and restoration to God, thus asking God to act in their lives in order to answer our prayers, even if the objects we pray for would not have ever thought to ask for themselves. Thus do we participate in the salvation of our enemies and our families until they are one. Then we should ask for our Lord to work His miracles to meet the needs of those we know. We should be content in the knowledge that He will act, and need no confirmation of this fact, other than the fact that we asked. A praying church, who like Christ, looks to the interests of others, and never seems to get around to seeking its own interests, would be a church that would truly change the world, and bring about an end to the power and influence of Satan.
But the last words of Christ and His communion with His faithful few was not over yet …
Friday, April 12, 2013
His ultimate sacrifice for those He loves represents the pinnacle of the measurement of love in the kingdom of Heaven. And so Jesus begins by stating this to His disciples, to teach them where true glory lies, not in the battlefield against other men, but in the battlefield against self. In verse 31 John records … “Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. [verse 32] If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” Judas had just left the communion into the darkness. Jesus then tells his faithful few, that it will be His own death and sacrifice for those He loves that will glorify Him before the universe. The glory of love will be seen within Him as He pays for our crimes, and provides for our restoration. This glory is shared by the Father who sent Him in to this world and shares His mission in every act of love and sacrifice. Both Father and Son will share in the glory, for the glory they measure is defined in the actions of love to their creations.
Jesus continues in verse 33 … “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; …” How appropriate that despite all the time they had spent with Him, they were barely toddlers in the faith. How appropriate the reference to little children who do nothing for themselves and gladly rely upon their parents for everything they need. So it is with us. Our salvation is not a work we perform upon ourselves. It is a work our Father performs for us, within us, and sometimes in spite of us. We need only look to Him, like a loving toddler looks to His parents. Our Father longs to provide for us, carry our worries, give us rest and peace and comfort and provide for our needs. But so many of us struggle to take those burdens upon ourselves, and then fail so miserably at them. How much better to be free not to worry, to be free to love, to be free to play with our Father who longs to just play and be with us. That close communion and fellowship with His disciples was about to come to a close. He was going to miss them. They were going to miss Him. Jesus tenderly tells them it is now time for their physical companionship and communion to come to its close. But this is not all bad news.
Jesus continues in verse 33 “…so now I say to you. [verse 34] A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. [verse 35] By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” The MOST important thing in all of existence is love. Here is Jesus about to die on a cross and the ONE thing He commands of His disciples is that they LOVE one another as HE has loved them. Christ loved in actions. He healed the sick, thus meeting every physical need He could, without demanding payment, or service, or even faith. He was careful never to condemn the guilty but instead to focus on their redemption. Only moments before He could have out-ed Judas as the traitor in their midst but He would not. Mary Magdeline had been guilty. But He refused to condemn her. His constant focus on all He encountered was only to show them love, and effectively love them back to redemption, without judgment or condemnation. Christ served those He loved in absolute humility. Christ took ownership of nothing, but gave everything. To love each other as Christ loved us is to abandon caution and restraint and apprehension and love with the fullness of our lives. He would die for us. We should be willing to go that far for each other. But Christ did more than die for us; He had the courage to live for us. He lived a life of exemplary love and it is to this kind of life we should aspire.
Next Christ tells us, that by this kind of love for each other – to be a family by choice and not by blood – the world will know we are His. This is HOW Christians were supposed to be known, for our unabashed love and acceptance. Those men in that room were NOT perfect yet. They were ALL still sinners, not just Judas who left into the night. Their understanding of doctrines related to the mission of the Messiah Himself was STILL incorrect at that moment. They were STILL greedy and seeking position in the anti-Roman kingdom they hoped He would rule. They STILL valued their own safety above the loyalty they felt for their Lord. In short, nothing about them was in the condition to deserve love, and avoid judgment or condemnation that would be well earned. This should a model for us. We do not need to expect perfection from the pathetic sinners we encounter before we decide we are “able” to love them. For in truth, we are just like them. One does not need to be doctrinally perfect to be loved. One does not need to be completely transformed to be loved. The character of these men would STILL lead them to do wrong. BUT that did NOTHING to deter Christ from loving them in spite of their condition. For only through the power of His transformational love would they ever be free from the pain of sin they embraced. The same is true of us. The same is true of those whose behavior and beliefs we do not agree with. Only love can bring us, and them, to a reformation. Condemnation does nothing to reform anyone, it only deepens the sadness. But love can lift a person from the depths of depravity to the heights of selfless service, and give them a motive to never want to live another way.
This was His last commandment to us. He did not say … be sure to teach the world the proper doctrines in order that they might be saved. For in truth, none of them were even aware what those doctrines might be; whereas the doctrine of love is the ONLY one that leads to the freedom from ALL sins, and the road to His perfection, in His time, in His methods for each of us, suited to each of us. He did not offer this idea that we should love each other with conditions or as an optional idea. This was a commandment, of the same variety written on tables of stone by the finger of God. It is a reflection of how like Him we have become. When we love without reservation, we reflect the character of Christ. When we love like this, we do not even consider taking what is not ours, lieing, cheating, lusting, and putting our own desires ahead of others. To love like Christ loved is to do exactly the opposite. Instead of taking, we think of nothing but giving, for in giving we find our own joy. It is in the making of another’s happiness that we finally find our own. This was the model with which He was establishing the Christian church. It was after all a “new” commandment, as we had not properly discerned it from the last ten He had written. How different our world will be, when we finally submit ourselves to Him, and begin to see this commandment fulfilled in our characters from the inside out.
But like all great truths, we sometimes miss them entirely because we focus on the things that are important to us, instead of things that are important to God. Christ was keenly interested in focusing His disciples on continuing to love each other. That was what was most important in His words. But Simon Peter was still hung up on the words that preceded them. He was still pondering the ominous ideas of Christ leaving and him being unable to follow. To this idea Peter responds in verse 36 … “Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards. [verse 37] Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.” For Peter, even the grave was not something he would allow to separate him from Christ. But unfortunately, this boast was based in the strength of his humanity, not in the humility of his submission. Therefore it was subject to error, and a revelation of pride, even if the pride was of a spiritual nature.
Christ responded in verse 38 … “Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.” Christ reveals the future to Peter here and predicts where his human strength will lead him. We can do nothing without Christ. We can do nothing, even of a spiritual nature. We will achieve no conversions in our missions, nor transformations in the mirror, without Christ. Peter made his boast believing it to be true. But it was not true, for it was founded in his own ideas, thinking, and will. None of these would prove adequate when the testing time began. Only through the power of Christ can we withstand the testing that will surely find us all. In those times we must throw ourselves upon Christ and seek for Him to fight our battles. Or we will find ourselves like Peter and Judas, defeated by our own ideas, and faith in ourselves, our own wisdom, our own strength.
But the focus of the communion was not intended to depress Peter or the others with the reality of their human weaknesses. It was to focus them on the beauty of what He would accomplish on their behalf. While chapter 13 ends with these prophetic words to Peter, chapter 14 immediately refocuses their minds back to the truth of the rewards of His mission. Jesus continues in verse 1 of chapter 14 … “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.” Perhaps one of the most quoted scriptures in all the Bible. Do not be worried or dismayed at your own human weakness. You believe in God. You can believe that Christ can overcome the weakness inherent in you. This is the most precious text in scripture and perhaps so often quoted not for what follows but for what has already been said. It is not the mansions we need. It is the redemption we need. It is the recreation from the sin-sick-slaves to the freedom to love without restraint or limit. We do not need a license to continue in our depravity, but instead a surety that He will free us from it. We believe in God. We can also believe in the salvation Christ offers us, in His promises to change us, to redeem us, to forgive us, and to re-create us so that even forgiveness will become a thing of the past.
Jesus continues in verse 2 … “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. [verse 3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. [verse 4] And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.” Heaven is NOT about the beauty of architecture and precious gems. It is about COMMUNION. It is about fellowship. It is about being WITH God full time forever and ever, never to be parted again. The mission of Christ was not to be accomplished only to keep us distant from Himself on some remote planet at the far end of the universe. We are going home. To our real home. To the place where we belong. To the side of our God. We will know where He goes, because we will be able to see it with our own eyes. We will live with Him where He lives. To accomplish this, He leaves this world to prepare homes for us in His. He is making His city ready for humans to live in. We need things like water, air, food, gravity. But our greater need is to be loved, and to love. We get that from Him. And He intends to share that with us for all eternity by building us a home right where He lives. Heaven, where gold is nothing more than concrete, and companionship is worth more than all of it combined. This is the beauty of the reward of His mission. It is not about making us wealthy in His eternal city. It is about bringing us home to be with Him forever. We could live in mud huts if we were close to Him. But love is not satisfied with providing us with such meager accommodations; instead He finds His joy in making our homes special for each of us.
And communion was not over yet …
Friday, April 5, 2013
But being “wrong” about doctrine, was not a sin. If it were, ALL of them would have been guilty. The misinterpretation of scripture was going to lead them all to a great disappointment, but was not going to alter the truth in any way. The true meaning of scripture was about to be revealed. The true glory of God was about to be seen in the giving to us the ultimate of sacrifices of self. So despite them clinging to misguided interpretations, and hopes that vaunted their pride and ambition, these ideas were NOT the source of the uncleanliness that Christ was identifying. In that sense the disciples were little different than the Pharisees. Both were mistaken about doctrine and scripture. But the difference was that the disciples were willing to follow and love Christ in spite of the error of their doctrinal beliefs. As long as they were willing to follow, their beliefs could be corrected. When like the Pharisees they no longer believed they needed correction; that they were already the foremost authorities of scripture ever known to man, truth could not be discerned by them – even when it was accompanied by miracles, and the literal voice of God the Father.
How like us. Each Christian denomination is so certain today of its respective beliefs and doctrines that none of us believe we still need to be led to truth. We have our own ideas about the packaging of truth, and believe only our own leads to heaven. But in this we are ALL mistaken. We are ALL in need of the leadership and guidance of Christ; for it is Christ alone that allows us to see truth clearly. It is Christ alone who allows us to look beneath our respective packaging, and find the truth in its purest form. For Christ alone is truth. Interpretation of scripture is nothing more than an attempt at discerning Christ better. It is a vehicle by which to behold Christ. But it is always and only Christ who IS the truth. When we become willing to be led, we can be led. When we are humble enough to discard our own human wisdom and look to Christ to receive His wisdom instead of our own – we will find it. And we may come to rethink many of the core beliefs we hold as sacrosanct. Think about it. The most fundamental belief of the Jewish nation at the time of Christ was regarding the mission of the Messiah. And they were ALL wrong about it. But it was the disciples who were willing to be corrected and led by the Truth of Jesus Christ. We may find that one or more of our core beliefs are mistaken as well. And we may be the better and blessed for this discovery, but only as we put our faith, our trust, and our humility to follow in the only true leader Jesus Christ.
Judas however, was not so willing. Judas was too much like the Pharisees around him. Judas could see that Christ was simply too humble to ever take the crown the people wanted Him to have. So Judas planned to force the issue. He would betray Christ into the hands of His enemies, thus forcing Him to become the King He was supposed to be. Surely no man would ever allow Himself to be killed, rather than become the King of the world. The plan of Judas was a sound one. It was logical, rational, believable, and he was certain Christ would thank him for it later when He was King. Then, once having a crown on His head, Jesus was sure to remember who was responsible for putting that crown on His head. He was sure to reward the ingenuity and creativity of the Machiavellian planning of Judas. Judas thought himself in a win-win scenario. He would make a little money, and force Christ on the throne at the same time. He would naturally become the number two guy in the new kingdom. And he would win the thanks and gratitude of Christ in the process; even if the process itself, was a little shady. The lesser of two evils though right? And after all, the end justifies the means.
Again, how like us. When our prayers are not answered in the way we desire, we attempt to manipulate our circumstances to force God to answer them in the way we believe He should. Instead of re-thinking “what “ we want, or “if” what we want is truly what is in our best spiritual and eternal interests, we demand positive answers in the here and now. When we sometimes do not get the answers we want, we proceed with every human means at our disposal attempting to get them anyway. We rationalize to ourselves that we are only following the certain will of God. We rationalize that even if we must disobey the values and laws of God to get what we want, once we get it, God will be happy and forgive us our methods of achieving these goals. This is the same logic that allows men who carry the name of Christian to commit murder of those who will not accept their ideas. They believe they defend the honor of God, and follow His earlier edicts from the Old Testament regarding how to handle enemies. But they entirely miss the life of Christ who took NO such approach when confronting those who would not accept His truths. And they miss the same concepts of forgiveness offered throughout the Old Testament, from cities of refuge, to the sacrificial system, to the salvation of Noah who was far from perfect, to the bargaining of Christ with Abraham to spare both Sodom and Gomorrah with thousands of evil doers if only for 10 who were not so evil. But when we are bent on our own ideas as being the will of God, we are never deterred by truth, logic, or the reality of the answer “No”. We proceed on course and figure God will catch up with us later. So it was with Judas.
Jesus continues talking to his disciples in verse 18 saying … “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” Jesus reminds them all that each of them is precious to Him, He chose each one. Judas, John, Peter, all selected by Christ. But being selected does not automatically translate into receiving the transformation He offers. One must be willing for that to occur. Jesus tells them that the damage done by “lifted up his heel against me” will not be a permanent detriment. He continues in verse 19 saying … “Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.” Jesus is trying to tell them all, Judas included; that He knows what is about to take place. It will not be a surprise to Him. This was His mission. The disciples all expect Him to be crowned King. Instead He is about to be betrayed to His death, a death upon the cross. That is a long ways from their expectations of Him, and the Messiah in general. Had He been overtaken by events, without fore-knowledge, it might have totally dampened the faith of even His most loyal followers as to His divinity. Instead He tells them here, plainly, He knows what is coming.
Jesus then looks forward, to a time when His followers will go into the world to preach the new gospel. The gospel of redemption, reformation, and re-creation under the name of Jesus Christ. This will not be an easy work. There will remain those who believe it is their religious duty to kill the ones who spread these new ideas. So in verse 20 Jesus reminds His followers, that they have a connection to Him, and through Him to God the Father … “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” The gospel that will be preached by these men is not just one of the story of Jesus Christ in isolation. It is the story of Jesus Christ and His intimate connection with God His Father, and now ours. That connection is our vehicle of restoration, back to what His intentions were for us, before we embraced this evil of self. In this verse, He offers them and us hope. Hope that no matter how our message is received, it is a truth that traces back to the Father’s throne, not our own.
But none the less, one of His faithful few, remains bent on betraying Him to His death. Betrayal is painful to us, but agonizing to Christ; and for a different reason. Jesus agonized that the betrayal Judas would enact, may cause the loss of Judas to His kingdom. He would gladly see Judas repent and be forgiven no matter what his crime. But Judas would not believe he could ever be forgiven, and so would not ever ask it. He would believe his crimes were too great. He would believe he did not deserve a second chance. So like us. In truth, we know better than to choose to do the things we do. Like every other sinner before us or after, we partake in the evil of self-service willingly. We do not deserve his forgiveness. And so, some of us will be like Judas, choosing to live as though forgiveness is not possible and therefore we must get as much evil as we can before we die eternally. And some of us will live like Peter, who though we are guilty of great public crimes that cause immense pain, still crawl back to the throne of grace, only to find Him there with open arms longing to forgive our every crime, and purge us of the evil we embrace. The weight of the loss of Judas hurts Christ and troubles Him. He cries out to them in verse 21 … “When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” This was both a prophecy and a warning.
The disciples could hardly believe their ears. This was more than just being unclean or unworthy. They had an active traitor in their midst. They began looking around and doubting that this was even a possibility. All of them had been with Christ for nearly three years. They had all seen the miracles. They had all seen the risen Lazarus. It was unthinkable that one of them could do such a thing. And in this scene, John takes time to note where he was. He was in the “bosom of Jesus”. He had his head on the chest of Christ, or perhaps in his lap. But no matter, he was physically the closest to Jesus at the time this was all occurring. Communion, even when it was painful, to talk of betrayal, was still occurring between God and man. So Peter asks John to ask Jesus who it might be and John does ask. Jesus could have exposed Judas clearly by name. But if he had done so, Peter and the others might have taken direct action to prevent Judas from carrying out his plans. So instead He is less clear to the others there, and only very clear to Judas. I believe He was still hoping Judas might turn from his plans.
Jesus answers in verse 26 … “Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.” Still dining, he dips some of the unleavened bread into the oils there and hands it to Judas. Thus Judas knew clearly, that Jesus was well aware of His plan. But the disciples were used to Christ serving others, and another act of generosity was not immediately interpreted as the identification of a traitor. But at this point, something horrific happened. John tells us in verse 27 that at that moment Satan entered Judas. Christ then directs Satan within Judas … “Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.” Judas having refused to yield control of himself to Christ, has now yielded it to Satan whether he wanted to or not. There are only two choices in this regard. Satan tries his best to get us all to believe that “we” are the masters of our will and our fate. That “our” decisions govern our lives and no one can control our will or make us do anything. But this is just not so. We have but one choice: to yield to Christ, or to default control of our will to Satan. Our nature is to be bound to self-service, slave to it, we are simply NOT free to choose a fate for ourselves other than to give up to Christ, or be bound to evil.
The disciples in the room could still not wrap their heads around what Christ was saying, either to Judas or to them. They did not know if maybe Jesus was asking Judas to go out and buy something they needed for the feast, or maybe to address some need the poor may have. But whatever the reason, Judas got up immediately and left into the night. Satan has no power against Christ. He cannot resist the power of the love of God. But he is fully able to conquer us without working up a sweat. We are child’s play to him. When we refuse like Judas to be transformed by Christ, to be protected by Christ, we find ourselves in the net of the devil already. This was the sadness Christ had dreaded, for the one sheep had left the fold and was lost. Christ loved Judas, and it was His will, that all would have remained faithful until the end. But Judas would not choose to embrace that fate. Now all that remained for Judas was Satan and the night.
To think that Judas alone betrayed Christ was and is a mistake. We join him in that betrayal. Every time we choose to sin, rather than choose His victories within us, we put Christ back up on that cross to cover the cost of our choices. Peter too would betray His Lord, he would deny even knowing him, in order to protect his life, such as it was. While our crimes are great, it is not our crimes the Lord came to judge within us. Instead He paid our cost so that we might embrace His forgiveness, and begin to know His re-creation personally. Had Judas like Peter sought repentance and forgiveness, he would have found it. Though we are convicted by the truth of our sins, and though we do not deserve yet another chance, His love reaches out to us still. He does not want to lose us, like He lost Judas. He wants to reclaim us, like He was able to do with Peter. But the choice of our response to His love, is our choice to make. We can ignore Him, walk away from Him, believe we are not deserving and decide to never seek Him out again. Or, we can return to the foot of the cross, confess what He already knows, acknowledge our need, and find redemption, and re-creation from a love that can transform the entire world, within us, and around us. This is the lesson of Judas and his betrayal for us to learn from. There is redemption, even after a betrayal of God, if we but seek it.
And communion was not over yet …