How to lead with love – John 13:1-17, Part 2

In the previous post, we learned that Jesus leads with love.  Now we learn how he did so. Look at John 13, verses 2-5.

“The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”

The scene is what we call The Last Supper.  As we’ll see over the next few weeks, John’s telling of the Last Supper does not refer to communion, that famous event when Jesus breaks the bread and says “This is my body,” then holds up the cup and says “This is my blood,” telling his disciples they should celebrate that ritual in remembrance of him.  Instead John focuses on what we just read, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. 

John specifically mentions that Judas Iscariot was present.  This is notable because Judas has already started planning to betray Jesus.  In this intimate setting of Jesus and his closest friends, there sits one who already is far gone.  We know Judas is sitting there because of what we will study next week, John 13:18-38. 

Think about this for a minute.  Jesus loves these men.  Jesus is about to show them the extent of his love for them.  That includes Judas, the one who will betray him.  What’s more, Jesus by this time already knows that Judas will betray him.  Again, that fact is confirmed by the section we’ll study next week.  I mention it here because of what a powerful moment this is, Jesus showing love to the one in whom he has invested three years and yet who will in just a couple hours’ time betray him.  Think about how Jesus must be feeling as he washes Judas’ feet.

Betrayal hurts no matter who you are.  Remember that Jesus was not just 100% God, he was also 100% human, and he felt the full force of Judas’ betrayal.  In college, a friend and I went to a concert.  He was a good friend, and I was excited to spend time with him.  In fact, he had reached out to me, inviting me to go to the concert.  When we got to the concert, we bumped into an acquaintance.  Not someone either of us was close to.  But my friend decided to hang out with the acquaintance for most of the concert, and he barely paid me attention.  It felt like a little betrayal. 

I’m going to be vulnerable for a moment.  Michelle and I often tell people who are thinking about going into ministry that even after 22 years of pastoral ministry one of the most difficult experiences is pouring into someone and then they decide to leave the church.  Sometimes they leave for reasons you disagree with, and sometimes you don’t understand.  Sometimes they leave in hurtful ways.  No matter how or why, it stings. 

Maybe you’ve been there.  Jesus felt those feelings. Relationships can sting. And yet there Jesus is showing love to the one who had already begun planning to betray him. 

What we see from Jesus at this moment is his astounding example of loving inclusivity.  It is so difficult to include people who have hurt us.  It is risky.  They could hurt us again.  But we Christians look to Jesus to teach us how to live, and here he shows us a uniquely Christ-like way of life.  We love those who hurt us.  We love those who betray us. 

Whenever I talk about this, I need to include a word about boundaries.  And this is where the video about being selfish (in the previous post) resonates.  Jesus’ example of showing love toward even the one who would betray him does not mean that we should never impose any boundaries on the people who hurt us.  “Boundaries” is a difficult word because when we place boundaries on people, they might not appreciate the boundaries, and they will tend to accuse us of being unloving.  My response is that boundaries can be the most loving way to respond to those who harm us and our loved ones.  Boundaries can keep the harm from reoccurring and is loving to all involved.  Jesus certainly imposed boundaries on his disciples, on the crowds, on the religious leaders.  He got away for time alone. He taught boundaries. 

How did Jesus show his disciples love?  We read that he washed their feet.  Jesus took on the role of a servant.  In our culture, we don’t wash feet as a part of meals and hangouts.  We don’t live in a dusty area of the world.  We wash our feet when we bathe, and that’s usually enough.  In Jesus’ culture, it was a totally different story. 

When I was in India in March, it was very dusty, like nothing I’ve seen here in Lancaster, at least in my lifetime.  India has a dry season through the winter months, and the combination of lots of vehicles driving on dirt roads and no rain meant there was dust everywhere.  I couldn’t shake a dry cough the whole month.  We had dust all the time in our room. In the grocery store, there was a film of dust on all the products on the shelves.  My running shoes got so dusty, I cleaned them in a trashcan with shampoo and a toilet brush.  In a climate like that, especially when footwear was primarily sandals, as it was in Jesus’ day, your feet would get very dirty.  So footwashing was normal at meals. 

Apparently, no one had yet washed their feet or taken the initiative. So Jesus did.  This was not ordinary.  A leader, a teacher, washing their disciples’ feet?  In that culture, what Jesus was doing was totally unexpected.  This was a dirty, smelly job for the lower class.  For servants. Jesus leads with loving servanthood.

That’s why Jesus’ disciple Peter responds as he does in verse 6, which we’ll look at in the next post!

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Should you be more selfish? – John 13:1-17, Part 1

What did you think of that?  Selfishness is good?  As I watched the video there were times I felt confused, thinking that it is true that we are to care for ourselves, but also we are not to be selfish.  I also thought, I wonder how Jesus would respond to the ideas in this video? 

In the story we’re studying this week, Jesus gives us a glimpse into how he might respond to the video.  We’re studying John 13, verses 1-17.

Last week, in this post, we learned about what is called Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, as the city is getting flooded with Jews from all over the world who’ve made their pilgrimage for the Feast of Passover.  Chapter 13 starts on Thursday evening of that week.  Here’s what verse 1 tells us:

“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”

Jesus knows the end is near.  Everything he has done over the past three years was building toward this.  He knows that he is about to throw his disciples into what will likely be the most confusing, troubling, and difficult situation they’ve encountered in their lives.  He knows they will experience the tumult without him there.  He is leaving them.  How do you prepare people for a horrible situation?

In 2010 my denomination’s bishop died suddenly.  I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a denominational leader about how the bishop passed away.  The official word was that he was killed in a car accident.  That was true, and very sad, but there was more to the story.  Before he told me the rest of the story, the denominational leader said to me, “Brace yourself.”  He wanted me to take a moment and get ready for what he felt was going to be an emotional, difficult conversation. 

He was right. I was shocked and affected when he told me that the bishop’s death was declared a suicide.   It was a reminder of the reality and seriousness of how many people struggle with mental health.  We should not assume we know what someone around us might be feeling. Now I knew why the denominational leader had tried to help me steel myself for very difficult news. 

So here is Jesus, knowing his disciples are about to face their own very difficult news.  How will he prepare them?  We read that Jesus loved them.  He wanted them to know how much he loved them.  This is the first principle we learn in our story. In life we will from time to time have to give people bad news, whether it is punishing our children, or having a difficult conversation with a friend or letting an employee go.  When you have to give people bad news make sure people know how much you love them.  Lead with love.  Make sure they know how much you care for them.

Jesus leads with love.  How so? We’ll find out in the next post.

Are you struggling to complete difficult things? – John 13:1-17, Preview

One way God has been at work in my life over the last 5-10 years is in the area of speaking the truth in love.  I would much rather focus on the love part, which is good, except for the times when people need to hear truth about themselves and their situation.  I struggle with getting to the truth part in what I think could be a difficult or confrontational conversation with someone.  I struggled with this in disciplining my kids when they were little.  I can struggle speaking truth with other family members, with friends, and with colleagues.  Maybe you know the feeling.  I’ve heard from people over the years who say they, too, can have a difficult time confronting people, or holding people accountable. 

You might think, “But, Joel, sometimes your blog posts speak bold truth.”  If you think that, you’re right, and it could seem like an inconsistency in me.  How can I speak bold truth (hopefully also in love) online, but at the same time say that I struggle doing so in personal conversations?  I’ll tell you why.  When I am preaching, teaching, leading a meeting or writing blog posts, I do not see myself as talking to any one person.  Instead, I see myself as talking to a group.  That means my posts don’t feel personal or pointed.  I intentionally craft my posts so that they are not calling out any one individual.  Instead I hope and pray they are widely applicable to many people.   

But I can’t escape the fact that Paul writes in Ephesians 4:15 that we Christians are people who speak the truth in love.  Love and truth must go hand in hand.  Some people are very good at speaking truth boldly, authoritatively.  But those same people might have a hard time speaking truth in love.  They speak truth, but they can do so in a way that hurts people.  Consequently that hurt can make it very difficult for people to hear the truth.  Speaking truth, therefore, is not automatically helpful.  Others like me can struggle to get around to the truth part.  When we don’t share the truth, we are actually withholding love.  If we truly love people, we will be willing to speak truth with them, and we will do so in a loving way.  So we need both truth and love. 

I’m writing about speaking the truth in love because it is hard for me.  This coming week on the blog we’ll be talking about doing hard things.  I encourage you to take a look at the passage we’ll be studying: John 13:1-17.  Jesus was the master of doing hard things, as is clearly demonstrated in this story.  As you read the passage, ask God to speak to you through the biblical text and through the posts.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

The abundant life is found in holy disruption – John 12:12-50, Part 5

A crowd of people has just confronted Jesus. They think he is confused. Maybe they think he is wrong. He says the foretold Jewish Messiah will die. The crowd knows their Bible, and the ancient prophecies say the Messiah will live forever. Jesus’ response explains how we you and I can experience the abundant life. Take a look at his response in John 12, verses 44-50:

“Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Do you see what Jesus does there?  He explains more about the idea of judging which he previously mentioned in verse 31 (see post here).  When you place verse 31 next to verse 47, it could appear that Jesus is being contradictory.  In verse 31 he says that “now is the time for judgment” and in verse 47 he says that “he did not come to judge the world.”  Which is it?  Is Jesus judging or saving? 

He explains this apparent contradiction in verse 48. There is a judge, and that judge will evaluate how people respond to Jesus and his teaching.  Jesus came to save, but those who reject Jesus and his teaching will face the judge.  The judge he is referring to is God the Father.  While that idea of God the Father as judge might make him (God) sound harsh and punitive, Jesus says the mission Jesus has been on all along is the mission the Father sent him on, a mission of making available eternal life to all.  Jesus’ teaching is consistent throughout this passage.  He is on a mission of salvation so that all people can experience life in his Kingdom. God the Father is not a harsh judge. He wants all people to avoid judgment.  In fact, he so desperately wants people to avoid judgment, Jesus lovingly, sacrificially, gives his life to make it possible for us to avoid judgment.

The word “eternal life” evokes images of heaven, something that many people talk about encountering after we die.  “Die and go to heaven” is the phrase we so often use.  But as we have just read in John 12:12-50, for Jesus, the phrase eternal life is first and foremost rooted in the here and now.  We follow Jesus now.  We experience life in his Kingdom now.  Yes, in him there is promise and hope for life after death, but Jesus’ emphasis is on the here and now.  He showed us what it means to invite holy disruption in our lives.  We show that our trust in him is genuine by how we invite holy disruption in our lives.

Jesus lived an abundant life.  He lived a life of holy disruption.  People misunderstood him.  Even his disciples.  Some people mistreated him, questioned him, crowded him, used him. His life was a life of holy disruption by all sorts of people and situations.  This was his regular, daily life. 

Then, of course, his invited holy disruption in the ultimate way, physically, giving his life for all people.  Through his welcoming of holy disruption into his life, his light grew as more and more people could experience the love and goodness of God in their lives.  Holy disruption, therefore, is where the abundant life is found.  It will involve sacrifice.  It will involve learning, sometimes failing, then trying again.

How are you allowing your life to be disrupted?  Lean more into the way of Jesus. In the upside-down way of the Kingdom, the more you invite holy disruption into your life, it will actually bring you and those you interact with more and more of God’s light and life. 

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

How Jesus’ death brings light – John 12:12-50, Part 4

Jesus has been talking about his death, which he knows is only a few days away. People in the crowd listening to him respond.  They understand that he is talking about his death, but that confuses them.  Look at John 12 verse 34,

“The crowd spoke up, ‘We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, “The Son of Man must be lifted up”? Who is this “Son of Man”?’”

The crowd knows their Old Testament prophecy.  The Christ, the Messiah, long ago foretold, was supposed to reign forever.  How then could Jesus claim to be the Messiah if he was going to die?  Good question.  Let’s see how Jesus answers them in verses 35-36.

“Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.”

Jesus doesn’t really answer the question in verse 34.  Instead he says he is the light, and they should see themselves as people who are walking in darkness.  They need to follow him, the light.  What is so wonderful, he says, is that when people put their trust in Jesus, they are not only able to experience his light in their lives, but they become part of his family.  They experience a change. 

Here again we see the upside nature of the Kingdom.  Like the seed that dies and multiplies, when Jesus dies, his light should be snuffed out, but it’s not.  Instead his light enters and transforms all who trust in him.  Through his death, therefore, his light actually grows as more and more people become sons and daughters of light.  There is so much light that comes from Jesus death.  His sacrifice brings so much good. 

Yet there were many who had a very hard time with Jesus.  Look at verses 37-43.

“Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”

People had so many reactions to Jesus. John quotes the ancient prophet Isaiah who said there would be negative reactions to the Messiah. Many would not believe.  But as we read in verse 42, some did believe.  Yet even those who did believe were afraid of putting themselves out there because if the Pharisees found out, it would be trouble.  So just like those people had a choice about how they were going to react to Jesus, we have a choice.  What will we do with Jesus? 

Photo by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash

What to do with fear – Jeremiah 42-43

I recently listened to a podcast about cryptocurrency and how it has turned out to be massively speculative and often fraudulent.  But investing in crypto was all the rage a few years ago.  There was a Super Bowl ad campaign, and stories of crypto fortunes.  Why was crypto so popular?

Will it surprise you to read that I think crypto was popular because of fear.  Any scheme that promises quick, effortless wealth taps into our fears about financial security.  If we are financially secure, we believe we’ll be free of the fear that we won’t be able to provide for our family.  As we will see in this week’s mid-week devotional, fear is a powerful motivator. What are you afraid of?

We are studying the book of Jeremiah, this week looking at chapters 42-43.  These chapters continue the story of the remnant of Jews living in Judah in the aftermath of the Babylonian invasion.  After Gedaliah, the governor of the remnant, is assassinated (for that story see last week’s post here), an army officer, Johanan, rounds up the people to head toward what they believe is safety in Egypt (see 41:17).  At the end of chapter 41, Johanan and the people have made camp in Bethlehem.

Now in chapter 42, we read in verses 1-3 that they meet with the prophet Jeremiah, asking him to pray to God on their behalf so that God will guide them.  This request sounds very faithful. Are they being genuine, though?  Do they really want God to guide them?  They make it sound like they are ready and willing to hear God’s word and do what he says.  At the same time, we’ve already learned that they are heading to Egypt.  What if God says, “Don’t go to Egypt, but stay put.”? 

This scenario is one that many of us have encountered in our own lives.  We act first and seek God second.  We formulate a plan, then we go to God asking him to bless our plan.  We invite God into a situation that is already a done deal, and if we deeply examine our intentions, we’re likely not all that interested in what he might say about it. 

In verse 4, Jeremiah says, “Okay.  I’ll do it.  I’ll will pray to God and tell you everything he says.”  This has been Jeremiah’s life since chapter 1.  Hear from God and tell people what God says.  If that sounds common, it’s not.  If that sounds easy, it’s not.  Throughout the life and ministry of Jeremiah, you can read time and time again how difficult the prophetic task is for Jeremiah.  People think they want to hear from God, but when they actually hear from God, they are often extremely disappointed.  Why?  Because people want affirmation of what they have already chosen to do.  They rarely want a corrective.  They rarely welcome critique.  Jeremiah knows this.  He’s faced it hundreds of times. 

But the people are excited.  Look at verses 5 and 6.  They are so positive and committed, making bold proclamations about how they will obey God.  These verses are an excellent ideal that we should strive for.  The people say that they will obey God no matter if his word is favorable or unfavorable to them.  If God says, “Go to Egypt,” or “Stay in Judah,” they will do what he says. They are all in.

Or so they say.  They might believe they are all in, but are they?  What will happen if God says, “Stay in Judah, be subservient to the Babylonians,” and the people think, “But we are afraid of the Babylonians, God.  When they find out about the assassination of Gedaliah, they will come back and kill us!”?  Will the people follow the word of the Lord if they don’t like what he says to them? 

When we don’t like what we are hearing from God, we can rationalize it away.  We can convince ourselves into thinking, “I bet I didn’t hear God right.” Or we can think, “There’s no way God would call me to do something so difficult.  I can’t do it.” 

It is easy, in other words, to proclaim our commitment.  It is another thing to remain committed to God’s heart and God’s way when we think it will cost us.  But perhaps God will affirm the remnant’s desire to travel to safety in Egypt?  In verses 7-8, we learn that ten days later God spoke to Jeremiah.  So Jeremiah gathers the remnant, and delivers the message from God.

In verses 9-18, the message is this: “The Lord wants you to stay in Judah, and there he will build you up, protect you and restore your land.  Do not go to Egypt, or you will surely die.”  Jeremiah concludes with some comment of his own in verses 19-22, telling the people that their bold proclamations of commitment were a sham, and they were never truly interested in being guided by God. 

Here we go again.  This is what Jeremiah dealt with many times before when he prophesied to the kings of Judah.  People say they want God to lead them, but they actually want God to bless them.  People do not want a God who will guide them through hardship and difficulty and fear; they want a God who will only make life easy and comfortable.  But that’s not how God always answers our prayers.

Instead God often calls us to trust him in the midst of the struggles in life.  Look closely at verses 10-12.  God is saying, “My people, I am grieved over all the pain you have endured recently, but if you will trust in me, I will protect you and help you thrive in the middle of the devastation.  Do not be afraid of Babylon, as I am with you.  Stay put in Judah, and I will save you.” 

God is good, God is loving; but neither his goodness nor his love means that he promises to take all hardship away from our lives.  Instead, he often gives us his goodness and love to hold onto in the middle of the hardship.  How will the Judean remnant respond?  Remember their previous commitment to God, in verse 6, that they would obey him whether his answer was favorable or unfavorable? Will they keep their promise?

In chapter 43, verses 1-3, Johanan and other leaders of the remnant give in to their fear.  They accuse Jeremiah of lying.  Classic move. When you don’t like what you’re hearing, call the person a liar.  They also blame Jeremiah of being influenced by Baruch (Jeremiah’s faithful secretary).  Another classic accusation. “There’s no way Jeremiah could be hearing from God, right? He must be controlled by Baruch.”  Finally, they describe a nightmare scenario in which the Babylonians kill them.  All we hear from the people is fear and more fear.  The fear is so thick, they can’t feel or see anything else. 

Think about how Johanan previously acted with self-sacrificial honor in chapters 40 and 41, as we saw in the previous mid-week devotional.  He tried to warn Gedaliah of the assassination plot.  Johanan even volunteered to intervene and stop the plot.  Then, after the assassination, Johanan led the way to capture the assassin, Ishmael, and rescue the people Ishmael had captured.  Johanan really seemed like he was a faithful guy.  Now he is anti-Jeremiah, and therefore, anti-God.  I wonder what changed.

It seems that what changed is the assassination of Gedaliah, which included the killing of Babylonian soldiers.  Those would be exceedingly serious offenses in the eyes of the powerful Babylonians.  I suspect that Johanan, though he courageously intervened and rescued his people, has now become very scared at this point.  He appears convinced that the Babylonians will respond with severe punishment, and thus he concludes that Jeremiah is wrong.  In Johanan’s view, there is no way that staying in Judah is okay.  Fear is ruling his every thought, word and deed.  God is the farthest thing from Johanan’s reality. 

Fear does that.  It captures our imaginations so that we can only think of bad news, bad outcomes, failure and pain.  The sneaky thing about fear is that we allow it access to the center of our being, but we do so thinking that we are right to be fearful.  We evaluate our situation and we believe things are so awful that our fear is warranted.  We do not believe that our ability to evaluate our situation has become polluted by our fear.  Instead, we think we are doing what is best for ourselves and our loved ones.  As a result, fear clouds our judgment and often pushes us in a direction away from God. 

In verses 4-7, then, Johanan leads the people in disobedience to God, right into Egypt.  But what of Jeremiah?  Does he stay in Judah by himself?  It seems not.  Look at verses 8-13.  In those verses the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah who has traveled with the remnant and is now in Egypt.

There in Egypt, God asks Jeremiah to perform a prophetic skit.  In full view of the Jewish remnant, he is to bury some large stones at the entrance to the Egyptian Pharaoh’s palace.  Jeremiah is then to prophesy, telling the people that the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, will invade Egypt and set his throne over the place where the stones are buried.  Nebuchadnezzar will then destroy the temples and gods of Egypt.  In other words, while the people believe they are fleeing to safety, God says, “You’re not safe.  Egypt can’t protect you.  Just you wait.  Babylon is coming for you here too.” 

They symbolism of the Jews’ return to Egypt is rich in irony.  God rescued their forefathers from slavery in Egypt, and now the Jews are rebelling against God, pursuing safety and protection from Egypt.  Do the Jews no longer believe that God is trustworthy?  It seems they do not believe God can protect them. It’s curious, isn’t it, that they would ask Jeremiah to inquire of God on their behalf.  Their minds were already made up.  They were going to Egypt. 

What we see in this story is the complexity and messiness of fear and faith.  When we are battling fear, we can have a difficult time placing our faith in God.

How about you?  What fears are you struggling with?  I write this on the day after the Pennsylvania State primary election, the annual day where members of political parties go to the polls to vote on which candidates will represent their party at the general election in the fall.  In our era, politicians harness the power of fear, trying to convince us that our nation or community is falling apart, and they alone have the ideas to save us.  It’s a message of “Vote for me or die.”   There are many other fears in our world.  Fear of financial ruin.  Fear of bad health.  Fear of our children going astray. 

In the midst of fears, read God’s word to the people in Jeremiah 42:10-12 again.  God is for us.  God is with us.  God is mighty to save.  Give your fear to him. 

Photo by Vadim Bogulov on Unsplash

How God’s upside-down Kingdom helps us make sense of Jesus’ death – John 12:12-50, Part 3

Jesus is just days from his death. So it’s no surprise that in John 12 verses 27-28 Jesus becomes introspective: 

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Jesus chose to experience humanity, thus he knows the depths of what he is about to endure, struggling, and yet he says, “I’m still in.”  He is going to fulfill the mission of God, which includes giving his life.

So instead, here’s what he actually prays, “Father, glorify your name!” It is a prayer of commitment.  Jesus wants God to be glorified.  Shockingly, something extremely rare happens.  Look at the second half of verse 28 and then all of 29:

“Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.”

God responds in an audible voice to this prayer!  People there heard it! 

That must have been astounding.  As verse 29 suggests, people didn’t know what was going on.  Was it thunder?  An angel?  You and I would likely be confused too. 

Why did God speak?  Jesus prayed many other times, and there was no response from heaven.  Why now?  In verse 30, Jesus explains:

“Jesus said, ‘This voice was for your benefit, not mine’.”

That makes sense to me.  Hearing the voice of God could help some people place their faith in Jesus.  His followers especially are about to get hit with a wild roller coaster ride of emotions of fear, confusion and doubt.  When Jesus is dead, and his followers feel like giving up, they can remember that the voice of God spoke truth about Jesus. 

But right after God speaks, what Jesus says next in verse 31 seems odd.

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.”

What is Jesus talking about? In this passage we’ve heard a lot about his death. In the previous post, Jesus talked about how his death relates to being his disciple.  Just above in this post we heard Jesus’ inner conflict about his soon-coming death and his prayer to God to glorify God’s name.  Now Jesus talks about judging the world and driving out the prince of the world.  If you feel like there’s a lot going on in Jesus’ teaching, you’re right.  It’s hard to keep it all straight.  Is there a theme to help us understand what Jesus is getting at?

Yes, the theme is his death.  Everything he says in verses 23-32 revolves around his death.  So whatever verse 31 means, it will likely refer to his death.  What connection is there between Jesus’ death and the idea of judgment on this world and the driving out of the prince of the world?

The world is not being punished by death.  Jesus is.  No prince is being driven out.  Jesus is.  Wouldn’t Jesus’ death be evidence of a judgment on Jesus?  But this is where we see the upside-nature of God’s Kingdom. 

In God’s upside-kingdom, everything Jesus says makes sense.  You and I have the benefit of hindsight, and we can understand Jesus because we know that he is talking about his soon-coming death, and we know that in his death, ironically, he was victorious.  Yes, he dies, but rises again in victory.  Through Jesus’ sacrifice, the world is judged according to how the world responds to Jesus.  

But what about the prince of the world?  Who or what is that?  Almost certainly Jesus is referring to Satan, to evil in this world.  It could seem that in Jesus’ death, Satan had the upper hand. But the upside-down Kingdom rules again, because it is precisely through Jesus’ death that victory is made possible for all people to experience life. Through Jesus’ death, Satan faces a major loss.

That gives Jesus reason to make an important conclusion,

“’But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.”

After all this potentially confusing talk, what Jesus says here is extremely welcoming, “All of you, join me.  Every single one of you.  Every tribe, every nation, ever culture, every ethnicity, I invite you into my Kingdom.”  Jesus draws all people to himself, inviting us, welcoming us, he does not force us. 

These verses have a darkness to them because he is talking about his death.  But his death, Jesus says, has the surprising result of opening the way for whomever wants to enter his Kingdom.  That is the connection to the Greek people from verses 20-21 who wanted to have a meeting with Jesus, which we talked about in this post.  In the Jewish mindset, Greek people were not included in God’s Kingdom.  Jesus says, “Things are different now.  The Kingdom is for all.”  Thus the church of Jesus is for all. Jesus’ death is a loving self-sacrifice by which he invites all people to enter his kingdom.

This makes me think of a recent visit Faith Church had from Church World Service. See their impactful presentation here. Church World Service Lancaster invites churches to start Welcome Teams because they need more churches to welcome people from all over the world who are resettling in Lancaster.  CWS has offices in communities across the US. There are numerous other resettlement agencies as well. Consider how you can connect with and their support their important work.

Jesus showed us the example of sacrifice for the purpose of welcoming all.  How will we invite holy disruption in our lives?

As we’ve seen in John 12:20-33, Jesus has done a lot of teaching. How will the crowd respond? Actually, they have a rebuttal for Jesus, and it seems they have a good point. In the next post we’ll learn what they say, and how Jesus will answer them.

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The unhealthy way to love life – John 12:12-50, Part 2

The city of Jerusalem is jam-packed with pilgrims from all over the world who have come to celebrate the Feast of Passover. In the previous post, we learned about what is called Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into the city, when all sorts of people are clamoring to get near him. In John 12, verses 20-22, we read,

“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.”

Who are these “Greeks”?  We don’t know, and in fact, after these brief verses, these people aren’t mentioned again.  It seems they have traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, and they probably heard lots of talk about this Jesus.  His miracles, his preaching, his parables. Of course they want to meet Jesus. 

Interestingly, we hear nothing further about the Greeks, or if they ever met with Jesus.  Instead, it seems that the Greeks’ request launches Jesus into an important teaching, which starts in verse 23.

“Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

That’s a cryptic sentence.  That’s just not the kind of thing people say.  We say things like, “It’s time to go.”  “It’s time to wake up.”  “It’s time to eat.”  But “It’s time to be glorified”?  No.

What is Jesus talking about?

“Glory” is a word that has appeared numerous times in the Gospel of John.  All the way back in chapter 2, verse 11, right after he has performed the miracle of changing the water into wine, we read that Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples. (See post here.)  His miracles revealed his glory because they pointed to the reality that Jesus was more than a mere human.  He was God in the flesh. 

Now in chapter 12, verse 23, Jesus tells the crowd that something is about to happen that is even more substantial than his miracles, something more consequential.  He is not just slightly showing them his glory.  It’s not just a glimpse.  No, this time he says he will be glorified.  A change is coming.  What change?  Look at verse 24.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Jesus is symbolically talking about a change that will involve his death.  But not just his death. In verses 25-26, he teaches a principle that applies to all of his followers: 

“The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

That’s a tongue-twister, but I think we can grasp it.

Jesus is not saying that we should not love our lives, or that it is wrong to be thankful for our lives.  He is not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy life.  Jesus in John 10:10 taught that he came to give us abundant life.  There is so much about life that is wonderful. Life is truly a blessing from the Lord.  What Jesus means when he says, “If you love your life you’ll lose it,” is that there is a line you can cross in how we think about life.  There is a healthy way to love life, and there is an unhealthy way.  What is the unhealthy way?

We can be too consumed with our comfort, our satisfaction, our ease.  We can indulge our desires, to the point where we neglect God and other people.  When we are selfish with life, Jesus is saying that we love our idea of life too much, and the ironic byproduct is that we will lose our life.  We will not experience the abundant life he wants us to experience.

Therefore, we need a healthy view of life.  He is saying that if we want to experience the life that is truly life, we give ourselves to serve God and others.  When we live that way, we will keep our lives.  Jesus calls this eternal life.  This is the joyful abundant life he mentioned.

Jesus says that this kind of life is marked by serving him and following him.  This is discipleship. A disciple is one who learns from Jesus, going where Jesus goes, and doing what Jesus does.  A disciple is a person seeks to learn how God is at work in the world around us, in our communities, and then we join him in his work.  A disciple is a person who seeks what the Spirit is doing, and then joins the Spirit.  A disciple welcome holy disruption into their life. One way to learn this is to observe the kinds of people Jesus spent time with, the places he went, the things he did. Then we go and do likewise. That is the person, Jesus says, who has eternal life. 

What Jesus is getting at is a practice of faith in him that lives his Good News in both word and deed, and that person does so in a self-sacrificial way.  Self-sacrifice is his whole point here.  He invites holy disruption into his life as he will sacrifice himself.  He refers to this when he says a seed dies first before it multiplies.  He himself is about to die, and then his life will multiply through the lives of his followers.  He then calls his followers to die to themselves, meaning that they will not indulge their selfish desires.  Instead they welcome holy disruption by giving their lives like he did, inviting many others to enter the way of Jesus, so that more and more people will become Jesus’ followers who will experience what it means to have God the Father honor them. 

This statement of Jesus’ mission and our part in it is wonderful. Think about it.  We get to join Jesus in his mission!  What a privilege.  But remember that a major part of his mission is death, so it is no surprise that in verses 27-28 Jesus becomes introspective. We’ll learn how in the next post.

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The Triumphal Entry as holy disruption – John 12:12-50, Part 1

How much inconvenience should we accept in our lives? 

What is the definition of inconvenience?  You want to get some Chick-fil-A real quick, but the drive-through is wrapped around the building.  What an inconvenience. 

Inconvenience is defined as trouble or difficulty caused to one’s personal requirements or comfort.  Some synonyms are aggravation, annoyance, disruption, disturbance.  I like disruption.  How much disruption should we allow into our lives?

What I’m getting at is not the disruption that happens to us, but the disruption we choose to bring into our lives.  Another word for this is “sacrifice.”  When we sacrifice, we choose to invite disruption into our lives.  We give up something. We surrender something valuable.  Might be our time, our money, our energy, sleep.  Let’s keep this in mind as we study John 12:12-50 this week.

Before we read the story, let’s remember the context.  We learned in chapter 11, verses 46-57 (see post here) that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem are on high alert for Jesus because they want to arrest him and kill him.  Why?  They believe that the Romans will think Jesus is starting a movement to overthrow the Romans, and therefore the Romans will respond by not just killing Jesus, but with overwhelming force, destroying Israel.  The Jewish leaders, in order to avoid war and destruction, therefore, believe they must preemptively eliminate Jesus, which they think will have the effect of shutting down his movement. 

Jesus finds outs and goes into hiding for a short while.  When it is time for the Jews’ Feast of Passover, he comes out of hiding and boldly travels to the town of Bethany, just two miles outside of the capital city of Jerusalem, the very place the religious leaders are looking for him.  In Bethany his friend Mary pours expensive perfume on his feet, and Jesus says she was preparing him for burial.  In chapter 12, verses 9-11, we read that a large crowd gathers in Bethany, and word of Jesus’ presence there makes it to the Jewish leaders.  Now that the leaders know where he is, they make final plans to kill Jesus.  That brings us to John 12, verses 12-19.

“The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him. Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

Of course this is the very familiar story of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday every year.  As I write this in May 2023, Palm Sunday was just about a month ago, so I’m going to skim past the event.  But I do want to ask: Is Jesus, by entering Jerusalem, making a horrible mistake riding right into the hands of the religious leaders, the very people who wish to kill him? Maybe. Maybe not.  For now we learn that the leaders’ hands are tied because the crowds are enthralled by Jesus. 

You can almost hear the religious thinking as they watch the Triumphal Entry, “See. I told you so.  The Romans are not going to like this.  The crowd and all their cheering about good news…this is bad news! Very bad news.  The crowds are quoting Scripture calling him ‘King of Israel,’ for goodness sake!  Jesus is riding into Jerusalem like some big stuff conqueror might seem fun right now.  Just you wait.  When the Romans find out, they are going to decimate us all.  How can we put a stop to it when everyone is rallying around him?  Jesus needs to stop this.  Or rather, we need to stop him.”

It seems like Jesus is inviting holy disruption into his life in a significant way.

So the Triumphal Entry, while very celebratory, actually needs to be seen in the larger context of dark storm clouds of conflict that are growing all around Jesus.  What happens next in the passage, it seems to me, is rarely mentioned when the story of Jesus’ final days is told. In the next post, we’ll begin to learn about that rare occurrence.

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Would you like to know your DOD? – John 12:12-50, Preview

What would you do if you knew the date of your death?  Could you imagine if that data were available to us?  We’re accustomed to putting our DOB on all sorts of forms, but what if we knew our DOD? What would you be thinking and feeling if you knew exactly how much longer you had?

From Shakespeare’s MacBeth to a plethora of contemporary films about time travel, there are many works of literature and drama that imagine what would happen if a person could know the date of their death.  It often doesn’t go well for the people in these stories when they learn their DOD.  At least in the minds of the writers, we humans are better off not knowing.

Except for Jesus.  As we continue the story of Jesus told by the Gospel of John, we’ve arrived at Jesus’ final week before his crucifixion.  When we read John 12, therefore, it’s not surprising that his death is on Jesus’ mind.  What will he say?  How will Jesus handle the reality that his death is literally just a few days away?

No doubt, everything Jesus ever said is important.  But Jesus’ thoughts about his impending death carry a weightiness.  We’ll want to pay close attention to Jesus.  So read John chapter 12, and I think you’ll see what I mean.  It’s intense.  Then check back on the blog Monday for the next post as we talk about John 12 further and how Jesus’ thoughts about his death matter to all of us.

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