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John 21 – Fishers of….fish?

This is an odd chapter to me for several reasons.  First, let’s review what we know about what all is going on around this story.  We know that Jesus was with the Apostles for several years during his ministry.  Jesus, as he predicted, went to Jerusalem and was arrested by the chief priests and religious leaders and handed over to the Romans, who crucified him.  Three days later he was resurrected and shortly after appeared to the women in the Garden and the disciples in the upper room where they were gathered.  Jesus spent some part of 40 days with the disciples and Apostles explaining things to them.  He then ascended to prepare a place for his followers to go.  About 40 days later the Spirit is going to come upon the Apostles with power and they will preach the Gospel in every language and 3,000 will be baptized and begin the church.

So John 21 falls somewhere in the 40 days between the resurrection and the ascension.  He has already appeared to the disciples twice before (v. 13).  And here is what I find interesting…the Apostles seem to lack any sense of purpose or direction.  It appears that they are sitting around one day and Peter says to a couple of the others, “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I am going fishing tonight.”  And not just casual vacation fishing; this is occupational catching fish in nets for money fishing.  They aren’t out preaching or teaching.  They aren’t in prayer or even meeting in an upper room any more.  There are only a few of them there.  It seems like they don’t really know what’s next.

There is an interesting thing here that we see in almost every text where Jesus appears to people after his resurrection: they sort of recognize him.  There is always this suggestion that they recognize him and can tell that he is who they know he is, but also an implication that he looks a little different.  Jesus, as the firstborn of among the dead is in his resurrection body and we, as Christians can look forward to our own resurrection body someday.  And what seems to be the case is that we will be different yet recognizable.

It’s also weird to me that Peter puts his outer garment on and then jumps in the water.  Apparently a strong swimmer to swim fully clothed.  I also like that we are told exactly how many fish they caught, which is apparently far beyond what nets can usually hold without breaking.  Perhaps this should be known more as the miracle of the super strong nets.

The story then moves to the three part questioning of Peter’s love for Jesus.  Of course, by the third questioning Peter is hurt.  His best friend and the one who he proclaimed to be the Messiah is questioning his loyalty and love for him.  It’s hard to know if Jesus is showing some undoing of the three denials in way that is getting back at Peter or has some redemptive force.  It’s also possible that Jesus is just really trying to drive home the importance of taking care of the “sheep” or followers of Jesus.

And then, just as we come to the end of that somehow redemptive, somehow commissioning conversation Jesus tells Peter in some cryptic way how he is going to die.  Church tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down on a cross.  What’s really somewhat humorous is that Peter looks over at the disciple whom Jesus loved (presumably the Apostle John and author of this Gospel), and he asks Jesus, “What about him?”  This is a grown up version of a conversation I have with my toddler children on a fairly consistent basis…”How come I have to _______ while she gets to __________?  That’s not fair.”  Jesus simply responds, “What business is that of yours?”  Good answer Jesus.

Finally, the entire Gospel ends with John stating that this is simply a snapshot of the endless volumes that could be written about all of the things Jesus did and said during his lifetime, which is a pretty powerful conclusion to the book.  On the other hand, it’s almost that John just said, “Well, I guess that’s enough.  I couldn’t ever tell you everything, but that’s enough.”

And on that note…the end.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in John, Uncategorized

 

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John 15 – Fruitless Branches and He Hate Me

The imagery of the vine and the branches here in John 15 is just that…imagery.  It sounds like a parable, but John doesn’t really make use of parables in his Gospel; it’s really a metaphor.  And as always with parables or metaphors, you have to be cautious to use them for their main points but not to take them too far.  At some point they unravel and fall apart.  So with that being said, here are some key points to be taken from this metaphor.

  1. Jesus wants us to be fruitful.  As a Christian, you should constantly evaluate whether or not your Christian life is producing something tangible in your life or in others’ lives.  
  2. God prunes the vine to make it more fruitful.  In agricultural societies, this would indicate that God is hands on with helping his people to be fruitful.  I imagine this imagery to be very similar to referring to God as the potter who shapes the clay.
  3. The source of our fruitfulness is in Jesus.  Being part of Jesus’ Kingdom is more than just good works.  You have to be in Christ for your fruitfulness (good works) to be of any value.
  4. “IF YOU DO NOT REMAIN IN ME…” you will be picked up and thrown away.  Some choose to fall away and if they do, they aren’t part of the vine.  They just get thrown away as they no longer have value.  This imagery is very similar to salt that has lost its saltiness.  You throw it away.
  5. If you remain in Jesus then God will do great things for you and do great things through you, namely producing great works of love in the lives of others.

Okay, now here are some things that people often do with this metaphor that I think cause it to unravel.  I think we have to be careful when taking this metaphor to these extremes.

  1. Pruning is cutting and cutting hurts.  So when bad things happen in your life that’s just God making you more fruitful so thank him for doing bad things to you.  I think there is some truth to that.  We can grow through difficult times in our lives.  However, I don’t think that every crisis in our lives can be blamed on God pruning us.  Sometimes its a consequence or our or somebody else’s sin and other times it’s just the result of living in a fallen world.  
  2. God isn’t pruning people to throw them into the fire.  In this passage, the only way you get cut off is if you remove yourself from the vine.  Then you are worthless and get thrown out.

Okay, so that’s that.  From there, the text moves to a passage about how the world hates disciples.  Jesus starts by saying that the world hated him first and so if we want to be his disciples, then don’t be surprised when the world hates us too.  Now here are a few things I hear Christians talking about today:

  • Things aren’t like they used to where people respected the church.
  • We used to be a Christian nation.
  • Our laws used to be based on the Bible.

It’s definitely true that things in our world are changing.  But when we read Jesus’ words in John 15, how are we surprised when the world starts turning against the church?  Jesus is so convinced that the world would hate and persecute his followers, that if we aren’t being hated and persecuted then maybe we need to question we are doing a good enough job of being his disciples.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in John

 

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John 13 – Shamefully Clean Feet (Love Each Other)

In this chapter, John does something that we see in every Gospel: He connects Jesus telling his Apostles of his impending death with a story about the Apostles failing to understand the kind of servant life he is calling them to.  None of those stories is as emotionally evocative as this one in John’s Gospel.

Even though it doesn’t say so specifically here, we know from the other Gospels that this was the Passover meal that we know as the Last Supper.  The Passover meal would have begun with everybody walking into the room and the one who was “the least” would take off his outer garment and begin washing all of the others’ feet.  Often this would have been the youngest or one who was actually a slave.  The problem began when all of the Apostles began arguing about which one of them was the least.  While they were all bickering, Jesus simply slipped off his robe and picked up the wash basin.  When suddenly they looked up they would have all been mortified.  While they didn’t know who was the least, they knew that Jesus was the greatest.  This was wrong.  It couldn’t stand.  

And Peter said so.  But Jesus insisted.  This is the way it has to be.  Jesus is done lecturing the Apostles about how the greatest must become the least.  He is showing them.  You can’t imagine that this is some happy motivational moment for the Apostles.  It’s deeply convicting.  The most dominant emotion for most of them was likely overwhelming guilt.  While they were refusing to wash feet because they were arguing about who was the greatest, the one who was the greatest actually began washing.  It’s likely that for the rest of their lives, any time somebody mentioned “greatness” that the Apostles’ thoughts would have gone back to this moment and they would have begun washing other people’s feet.

John then stops for a moment to explain how Judas came to betray Jesus.  You might have noticed that John (the beloved disciple) is very harsh towards Judas.  Any time he is mentioned in John’s Gospel, I can almost imagine John spitting just to get the vile taste of Judas’ name out of his mouth as he tells the story.

At the same time, just because Satan prompted Judas and entered Judas does not mean that Satan is in charge.  Even at this dark moment of Jesus’ betrayal, John understands who is in charge.  Vs 3 says that Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power.  Vs 18 says that Judas betrayed him to fulfill scripture.  Vs 27 goes so far as to tell us that Jesus instructed Judas how to go about his betrayal when he tells him to go quickly.  It may look like Satan is getting his way, but there is no question in John’s mind who is in charge of everything.  Jesus is no victim.  Jesus is in control.

Finally Jesus returns to the other Apostles and gives them what might be considered “John’s Great Commission.”  At this final moment before his arrest, trial and conviction, Jesus has a moment to leave them with his final words and they are: “Love one another.  As I have loved you, you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  

We spend a lot of time in churches developing evangelism programs, marketing campaigns, visitor friendly whatever and that’s all good.  But it’s nothing without this, that we love each other.  Jesus has this unwavering belief that if his followers, both the Apostles and also just anybody who goes to church today, will just love each other then the world will know who we are and whose we are.

Want a church evangelism program?  Love everybody at your church.  Want a marketing campaign?  Treat other Christian like you love them.  Want to be visitor friendly?  Start by being member friendly.  Love each other.  Love each other.  The world will know you belong to Jesus if you just love each other.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in John

 

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John 9 – Oh No He Didn’t

Okay…so…whaaaaat?

Q: Did this man sin or his parents that caused his blindness?  A: Neither.

Phwew…that would have been uncomfortable.  Then Jesus says that the man was born blind and has had a terrible life of blindness so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  And now I am really uncomfortable.    Jesus makes it sound like God made somebody blind for their entire life for God’s benefit.  I don’t think that’s really what Jesus means, but his statement is at least troubling.  Personally, I think he’s refuting the idea that all illness is tied to sin (in contrast with John 5) and stating that instead of having evil in him (as many assumed at that time), he will have God working in him.

So Jesus spits on the ground, makes a mud pie, and sticks it on the guy’s blind eyes.  Wait…what?  Did Jesus need the spit, the dirt, the combination, or was this for the guy’s benefit (as in “You’ll know you’ve washed enough to get all the blindness off when there’s no more mud)?  Okay…ready for my opinion?  In John’s Gospel, when Jesus heals on the Sabbath he always does something or commands the healed person to do something that the Pharisees will consider “work.”  In this case, it’s making mud pies for the eyes.  Earlier it was picking up a mat.  Either way, it’s picking a fight with the Pharisees.  Again…this is my opinion.  But if it is what Jesus is going for…well it works.  And now for the awesome conversations:

  • Isn’t that the blind beggar?
  • No, that isn’t him.
  • How can you tell?
  • Because he isn’t blind.
  • Hey, you over there with the seeing-eyes.  Are you the blind guy?
  • I am…I mean I was…er…yes.
  • Then why are you seeing?
  • Jesus put some mud on my eyes and I washed it off and now I can see.
  • Where did Jesus go?
  • I don’t know.

Enter Pharisees:

  • Hey blind guy, how can you see?
  • He put mud on my eyes.  I washed.  Now I see.
  • Whoever did this cannot be from God.  He breaks the Sabbath.  How can a Sabbath-breaking sinner perform signs like this?
  • Hey blind man, what do you think?  It was your eyes he opened.
  • He is a prophet.
  • You weren’t blind.  This guy is faking.  Somebody go find this guy’s parents.

Enter Parents

  • Hey parents, is this your son?  Is this your blind son who was born blind?  How can he see?
  • Well first, he is our son.  We know that.  Secondly, he was born blind.  We are quite sure of that.  But we don’t know how he can see or who did it.  Please don’t kick us out of synagogue.  You should ask him.  He is a grown man after all.
  • Hey blind man, come back over here.  Hey, seriously…tell us the truth.  We already know this guy is a sinner.  What did he do?  How can you see?
  • I already told you and you didn’t listen.  Why do you want to hear again?  So you can become his disciples?
  • (Pharisees’ heads explode in anger/insults follow)  We aren’t his disciple…you are his disciple.  We follow Moses.  We don’t even know where this guy is from!
  • You’re kidding.  I mean…you are kidding, right?  He healed my blindness.  God listens to him and God doesn’t listen to sinners.  Only people from God can do things like healing a man born blind.  Therefore…
  • You were such a sinner at birth you were born blind…what do you know?  Get out of here!

Enter Jesus:

  • Heard you got thrown out.  Do you believe in the Son of Man?
  • Who is he?  If you tell me I will believe.
  • You’ve SEEN him; in fact, it’s me.
  • Lord, I believe.
  • I have come to judge people.  The blind will see and those who see will become blind.
  • (Pharisees nearby)  Hey, are you calling us blind?
  • If you were blind, there would be an excuse for the way you are.  But you say you can see, so what could be your excuse?  You must be held responsible.

This is one of my favorite chapters in the Gospel of John.  It is so clear who is in control.  It is so clear who cares about people.  It is so clear how foolish those who are opposed to Jesus really are.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2013 in John, Uncategorized

 

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John 007 – Jesus the Revolutionary Spy

I have never had to live with the knowledge that somebody was trying to kill me.  I can’t even imagine what that would be like, to know that if the wrong people found me in the wrong place they would kill me.  I don’t know how I could sleep.  Jesus has apparently been dealing with that reality since he healed the man at the pool of Bethesda.  So when it was time to go into the city for the festival Jesus sends his followers on without him.  He went on into the city, but apparently going without his entourage was a good enough disguise for him to be among the people without being noticed.

And what a great opportunity for Jesus to walk around listening to what all the people had to say about him.  He was on every tongue.  There were rumors about the miracles and signs he had performed.  There were rumors about how the Jewish leaders wanted him seized and killed.  And everybody had an opinion about who he was. For the first half of the festival he got to listen.

Then he speaks.  He addresses the crowd and tells them that some are trying to kill him because he healed a man on the Sabbath, and why not, since they circumcise on the Sabbath.  The crowd doesn’t know at this point that the Jewish leaders are trying to kill Jesus.  Jesus does a smart thing here.  When you make somebody’s accusation against you before they do, when they finally show up and accuse you all people will say is, “Yeah, he said you would say that.”  And then, he insults the crowd by telling them that he knows God but they don’t.  If you want to see this effect, simply stand up in any church and start telling people that every one of them are fools who don’t know God and don’t know anything about Scripture.  See how well it goes.

On the last day, Jesus makes a bold proclamation that those who will come to him will receive rivers of living water, a phrase used to describe the Spirit of God moving in them and among them.  He was convincing.  Many people believed from his speaking that he was a prophet, others believed him the Messiah, and even the Temple guards were so convinced that they refused to arrest him.

When Nicodemus stands up for Jesus and demands a hearing, we see why Nicodemus would only visit Jesus at night.  He is ridiculed for his mild support for Jesus and they throw racist, prejudiced taunts at him.  The religious and political elites could not believe that somebody from that side of the tracks could ever be a prophet, let alone a Messiah.  And anybody who thought they could can just go be one of them.

The entire chapter is full of tension. The entire city is on a knife’s edge ready to erupt into violence and its all because of the rumors about this man Jesus.  But nobody laid a hand on Jesus.  In this chapter we see that Jesus is not afraid of those who want to kill him.  In fact, he goes right into their midst and after he learns everything he needs to know he refutes them.  He defends himself.  He is a master of the crowds.  He has authority and influence over the Jewish leaders own Temple guards.  Jesus speaks with power and people are impressed and influenced.  They still don’t know what to do with Jesus, but this guy is a revolutionary.  Some want to worship him, others to follow him and some want to kill him.

When you really listen to what Jesus is saying…when you honestly consider who he is and what he did…you cannot ignore him.  He is the most influential and revolutionary personality in history.  The question for you is what will you do with him?  Ignoring him is not an option.  Will you believe?  Will you follow?

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2013 in John

 

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John 5 – Healing, Confrontation, and Testimony

I wonder what was going through Jesus’ mind when he asked the paralyzed man by the pool, “Do you want to get well?”  We don’t really know.  The guy responds with a very practical response about not being able to get into the pool which was believed to have healing powers, although he doesn’t really answer Jesus’ question.  Jesus then just tells him to get up and walk.  In that moment, muscles that hadn’t existed or moved in thirty-eight years were strong enough to carry a man anywhere he wanted to go.  Unlike modern surgeries, which can heal people and require rest and strengthening, Jesus’ miracles don’t require physical therapy or further treatment.  Get up and take your mat with you.  It all happened so fast that the guy didn’t even know who healed him, so he didn’t know who the Pharisees could blame when he got busted carrying his mat.

Later when he runs into Jesus, Jesus tells him to stop sinning or something worse might happen to him.  We don’t know what Jesus is specifically talking about.  Was the man sinning because of something he said to the Pharisees?  Does Jesus know about a sin problem that the man had that was related to his illness?  Later in chapter 9, the Apostles will ask whose sin made a man blind and Jesus will respond that his blindness wasn’t caused by sin.  However, in the case of this paralytic, Jesus at least implies that illness can be related to sin.  It appears that sometimes sin can have actual health related physical consequences for people and sometimes people just have health problems.  It’s important that we both recognize the effect that sin can have on our bodies, but it’s also important that we don’t presume to know when somebody’s illness is sin-related or not.  That’s not our place.

The conversation then shifts as Jesus provides both evidence and testimony to support his authority to do the things he is doing and say the things he is saying.  He starts out by saying that he isn’t going to bother to testify about himself since they won’t listen to him and then provides what they must consider valid evidence of his authority and claims.

  • I speak with the authority of the Father.
  • I act in accordance with the will of the Father.
  • John the Baptist has testified to the truth.
  • The works God gave me, that I am doing, testify that my Father sent me.
  • My Father testified regarding me, but you don’t listen to my Father
  • The Scriptures testify to me, but you refuse them too.
  • Moses wrote about me and testified about me, but you apparently don’t believe Moses either.

So let’s review here: John the Baptist, God the Father, the Torah (Scriptures), Jesus’ miracles from God, and Moses all testify that Jesus is the Son of God.  So if you don’t believe Jesus then you refuse to listen to all of these.  So go ahead and tell everybody in the crowd here, who exactly do you follow?

Jesus better be careful insulting these guys too much or they might try to kill him….wait…

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in John

 

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John 3 – Crawl Back in Where?

If you manage to read the Gospel of John without laughing, then you need to go back and read it again.  If Nicodemus could redo this story, he probably would.  It’s really quite far from flattering.  Here, a Rabbi and leader in the Jewish Council comes to meet Jesus at night.  My dad used to say about curfew, “Nothing good happens after 11pm. So if you’re out later than that then either you are doing something bad or having something bad done to you.  Either way, you’ll be home before then.”  Clearly Nicodemus thought that meeting with Jesus was the kind of thing that could only happen after curfew.  Not exactly taking a stand here when he thinks that he wants to meet this potential Messiah but he doesn’t want people to know about it.

So Nicodemus opens by acknowledging Jesus is a great teacher from God, and Jesus jumps right to the heart of things by saying that nobody can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.  Then Nicodemus essentially says, “But Jesus, I won’t fit back inside my mom again.  How could you want me to do that?”  Jesus now must clarify that he is not speaking of a fleshly rebirth that requires a midwife, but a spiritual one of water and spirit.  Perhaps the verse at the heart of the entire passage is when Jesus says, “You are Israel’s teacher and do you not understand these things?”  I can’t even imagine Nicodemus’ shame.

Jesus goes on to explain what it’s all about.  The Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn or judge (as most expected him to do) but rather to save and to heal.  Those who placed their faith in him would receive eternal life.  Those who did not put their faith in him would be condemned.  For a Jew, this was turning his world upside down.  No mention of obedience to Torah.  No mention of covenant.   No mention of faithfulness to Yahweh.  Believe and be saved.  Don’t and be condemned.  The text then connects what Jesus is saying here to the discussion of light and darkness earlier in the book.  The light has come and will defeat the darkness, but the darkness of the world will continue to stand against the light.

The implications here are clear…”Nicodemus, you have a choice to make.  Will you believe or be condemned?  Will you be on the side of light or darkness?  The time is coming and is here to choose sides.”

The last part of this chapter transitions back to the diminishing role of John the Baptist.  As the book continues, it will continue to portray Jesus as greater and John as less.  In this passage John says exactly that in verse 30.  During the Presidential primary process every few years, the time will come when a candidate realizes that he will not be the winner and that another will.  At that time, the major news of the day is how strong of an endorsement the defeated candidate gives to the presumed victor.  In this case, it is a resounding and total endorsement.  John’s own followers have started following Jesus.  Jesus is baptizing more people.  John has testified that Jesus is the Son of God and that Jesus is becoming continually greater while John’s role becomes further diminished.  Jesus’ ministry is just beginning while John’s moves towards it’s conclusion.  The Gospel of John wants there to be no confusion as to which of these two is the Son of God, the Messiah, the greater.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2013 in John

 

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