Luke 4:31-37

31Then he came down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and taught them in the synagogue on the Sabbath. 32And they were astounded at his teaching, because there was authority in his word. 33And in the synagogue there was a man having a spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34“Ha! What is it to us and you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 35And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Shut up!” and “Come out of him!” and the demon threw him down in the midst and dame out of him but did not hurt him. 36And amazement came on all, and they talked with one another, saying, “What is this word, that in authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out?” 37And the report concerning him went out to all the neighboring region.

The Enlightenment in Western civilization brought a boost to man’s ability to understand the world around him and employ reason for noble purposes. But it also brought an arrogance to humanity—a willingness to believe that everything could be rationalized, measured, explained, and reasoned. With this attitude came a deep suspicion of miracles. If you’ve ever wondered why American Christians don’t seem to see as many miracles as other places in the world, this might have something to do with it: we are sophisticated and reasonable, and therefore there is no room for the supernatural in our midst. We read of demon possession in the Bible and automatically assume that it always means “mental illness.” So in this first miracle recorded in Luke, it is not surprising to see modernist expositors fall over themselves to try and portray this exorcism as something other than a miracle. But make no mistake: it was a miracle. A few things to keep in mind as we peruse this text:

First, Jesus “went down” to Capernaum. Remember that he had been in Nazareth prior to this. Nazareth sits at 1150 feet above sea level, and his ministry was rejected there by his own folks. Capernaum in Galilee sits at 680 feet above sea level, and his ministry is welcomed with amazement and wonder by the folks there. So, as Chuck Swindoll points out, as Jesus descends in literal elevation, his ministry soars. Second, you should also note that, once again, Jesus is in church. He was in church in Nazareth when he read the scroll from Isaiah, and he is in church in Capernaum on the sabbath once again. And right there in the middle of church is a demon-possessed man. The man confronts Jesus, and refers to him as the “Holy One of God” (34). Jesus rebukes him and casts the demon out. But the biggest thing I want to point out to you about this passage is the use of the Greek word ἐχουσια—“authority.” We see the word at the beginning of this pericope, in verse 32: the people were amazed at his teaching because his word had authority. We see the word again at the last of the pericope, in verse 36, in which the people wonder in amazement at the “word” of authority once again. The word “authority” dominates this passage, because this is a contrast in two words: the word of the devil and the word of God. Here, in this church on the Jewish sabbath, is the physical embodiment of God (Jesus) and the physical embodiment of the devil in this man—and the word of authority wins the day. For all the bluster and braggadocio emitted by the demon within the man, he ends up obeying the word of authority uttered by the Holy One of God. Remember that Jesus had just announced, in Nazareth, that he had come to set the prisoners free. Here in this pericope, he was as good as his word. A word of authority.

Christ IS the Word of God. He is the very embodiment of the word of authority. His word is always true, and is always authoritative. He speaks, and demons still obey. He speaks, and men and women are set free. He is God’s word, physically enfleshed. Do we really trust his word? Have we talked ourselves into believing that miracles don’t happen to folks like us? Is his word a distant anachronism, a blast from the past that doesn’t really happen in this day and age?

The central question of this passage is “who has the real authority?” Christ does not change, because God does not change. This means that his word is still the last word. It is the word of authority. Trust in his word today. He has the final say over disease, possession, oppression, and the various other prisons in which we frequently find ourselves locked. His word is always true.

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Overview of John

Most students of John place the “key center,” or “main idea,” toward the end, in 20.31, when the author explicitly tells the audience his reason for writing the book (that the audience might be saved). But I believe there is a theological idea in this book that often gets overlooked, and it’s in the beginning: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1.14). The word “dwelled” is from the Greek σκηνόω, which means “to live, settle, take up residence.” It is used in the sense of God “tenting” or “pitching a tent” and dwelling with his people. The world is full of gods—made-up ones. They are either too far away or too much like humanity to be real, and they are thus unable to save man from his central problem: the curse of sin. But in the coming of the Christ, the transcendent God became immanent. He who could never be seen allowed us to look upon him in the Person of Jesus. He who is never-changing became flesh. He who was far away drew near. This is one of the things that separates him from the fake gods: his great love for his creation. He loved us so much that he put our needs ahead of his own. He pitched a tent and lived with us, putting down roots and settling and taking up residence. He learned a trade and went to restaurants and parties and took long walks and visited friends and celebrated and mourned and laughed with us. Think about how often in this book the author paints a scene in which Jesus is recling or eating with others. THIS is WHY the audience is able to be saved in Jn 20.31, which the author also says in 1.13. YHWH’s ability and willingness to pitch a tent and live among us opened up a new age of the Spirit and broke the curse and drew mankind to himself.

If you are not convinced of the existence of God because you’re waiting on some Western, Enlightenment-oriented empirical proof, consider how diligently you are trying to simply enshrine your own reason as “god.” Consider that this God—who doesn’t have to reveal himself to you at all, if he is God—decided to do so anyway, out of great love for you. He wanted so badly to cure what is wrong with you that he acted on that love. He wanted so much to reconcile you to him that he paid the worst possible price. He didn’t need you, but wanted you. You had wandered far away from him, but he came to you. Believe on him, that you might then learn even more about him. Believe against all doubt; believe in this God who loves to the point of self-sacrifice and death. Believe on him, that you will be spared what you truly deserve, which is judgment. For all who believe on him are not judged, but rescued eternally.

If you are already convinced of him, consider how his willingness to pitch a tent and dwell among us is a model for us. How often do we seek to pull back from one another—to build walls of isolation between us? Consider how easy it is for us to be in the same room with one another, but with earbuds that isolate us from true contact. Consider how alone we are in this connected age. Consider how our pell-mell thrashing about in life is merely an attempt to stamp our feet and get our way…..a self-centered approach to life that cloaks itself in euphemisms like “self-care” and “self-help.” Consider how we were designed to be with one another, to love one another, to dwell with one another. And consider how the God of the cosmos himself considered it important enough to do, out of love for us. We simply cannot deny the connection between love and physical “dwelling” and presence with one another.

We are either building walls or pitching tents. In what ways are you pitching a tent among those whom you’ve been called to love?

John 21:15-25

15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my sheep.” 16He said to him again a second time, “Simon Peter, do you love?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Shepherd my sheep.” 17He said to him a third time, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he said to him a third time “do you love me,” and he said to him, “Lord you know all things; you know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Truly I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your arms and another will gird you and carry you where you don’t want.” 19He said this to signify by what sort of death he would glorify God. And having said this, he said to him, “Follow me.” 20Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following—who had leaned back on his chest at dinner and said to him, “Lord who is it who will betray you”—21so upon seeing him, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord what about this one?” 22Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” 23So the word went out to the brothers that that disciple would not die. But Jesus didn’t say to him that he would not die; but “If I will him to remain until I come, what is that to you?” 24This is the disciple whose testifies about these things and writes these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25Now Jesus did many other things; were they all to be written, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books to be written.

The end of the book of John is a powerful picture of commission. Jesus has already given the group of disciples its corporate mission: “go out.” Now, he takes Peter aside and gives him a personal, individual commission: “feed my sheep.” Like many of us, Peter is hard-headed; he hears the words Jesus says but they do not really register with him. Jesus repeats it two more times. Repetition is, after all, the key to effective pedagogy. The repetition isn’t exactly monotonous, however; Jesus employs two different verbs in this exchange. He tells Peter to “feed” (βόσκω) his sheep the first and third times. The second time, however, he tells him to “shepherd” (ποιμαίνω) his sheep. This is a broader command, and would include the feeding of sheep. Jesus is speaking in metaphors, of course: the Church is a flock of sheep belonging to Jesus, and he has entrusted them to Peter. Peter is receiving his call as a pastor—shepherd of souls. He emphasizes that Peter is not to worry about the destiny of other individuals, but to simply focus on the single thing that he’s been called to do. He doesn’t want Peter to be distracted by anything else, so saying this three times focuses Peter on this significant moment. That the author of this book caught this conversation is a testament, once again, to his status as an eyewitness. He identifies himself in the closing statement of the book, and mentions that Jesus did so many more works while he was here that they simply can’t all be recorded in writing.

As a Christian, you are part of a corporate mission with the church. But the Lord also takes you aside and shows you what your part is in this mission as an individual. Are you listening to him? He is patient, and will repeat it. It is evident to me that he called me aside and exhorted me to do the same thing that he had Peter do: shepherd his flock. Perhaps yours is different. But the more time you spend in his word and in prayer and in the local church, the more clearly you’ll hear his voice.

Are you listening?

John 21:1-14

1After this, Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way: 2Simon Peter and Thomas called Didymas and Nathanael of Cana of Galilee and the sons of Zebedee and two other of his disciples were together. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I’m going fishing.” They said to him, “We’ll come with you.” They went out and got into the boat but by that night they had caught nothing. 4Early in the morning, Jesus was on the shore. However, the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, to you have anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” 6And he said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and they were not able to haul it for the large number of fish. 7Then that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tied on his outer garment for he was naked, and threw himself in the sea. 8But the other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from land, about 200 cubits [100 yards], pulling the net full of fish. 9When they arrived they saw a charcoal fire there and fish lying on it and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” 11Then Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net to shore, full of great fish, 153 of them. Though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” But none of the disciples dared ask him “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. 14This was now the third revelation of Jesus to his disciples after being raised from the dad.

Once again, the author (whom we traditionally presume to be John the Apostle) emphasizes the main theme of his work: the 2nd Person of the Trinity pitching a tent and “dwelling” among mankind. He tells the story of a post-resurrection appearance of the risen Savior. The disciples wished to go fishing and set about to achieve their goal. They failed—until Jesus gave them some advice on fishing. Following his advice, they succeeded wildly. I would imagine that Jesus was having some real fun as he casually mentioned that they should cast the net on the other side of the boat! When they got to shore, Jesus already had breakfast made for them, and they ate yet another meal together. If there is one thing Jesus does frequently in this book, it’s EAT with OTHERS. After his resurrection, where is he found? Eating with his friends, once again.

Humanity could not have been saved if God had remained far off; transcendental without being immanent. But He didn’t; He became man and dwelled among us. He didn’t save us from far off; he came and pitched a tent. He was physically with us. He lived with us. He rejoiced with us at parties and weddings, and mourned with us at funerals and appropriate times. He worshiped with us in church, and engaged us intellectually in teaching. He physically touched us and healed us from disease. He took great pleasure in helping the disciples achieve their goal of catching fish on this occasion. And the ultimate symbol of God’s love for mankind is the shared meal. He literally ate with us.

How often do we hope to serve the Lord from far off? How frequently do we hope to witness to our world from far off? Swoop in and say some quick words, or hope the conversation comes to us in a fleeting moment. But this is not how people are saved. My wife goes to HEB every Friday for our weekly groceries. There, she sees a girl every week who greets her and carries on a conversation of a few minutes each time. She has learned of the girl’s problems, and family, and desires and goals in life—all from just BEING THERE every Friday. She has established a relationship with this girl, and in that sense DWELLING with her. Now the conversation can come naturally, without being forced. Now the girl can believe my wife as a credible source, not just another Texan with religion talk.

Are you among them today? The challenge for me is to MAKE the time to be among them. I cannot FIND the time; I must MAKE it. For that is how I execute the mission he has given me.

John 20:11-31

11But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. Then as she wept, she stooped into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head one ad the feed, where Jesus’ body had laid. 13And they said to her, “Woman, Why do you weep?” she said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have put him!” 14Having said thee things, she turned behind her and saw Jesus standing and did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Thinking that he was the gardener, she said to him, “Lord if you have removed him, tell me where you have put him and I will remove him.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” Turning, she said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” which means “Teacher!” 17Jesus said to her, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went out and announced to the disciples that “I have seen the Lord!” and that he had told her these things. 19On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the door was shut where the disciples were—out of fear of the Jews. Jesus came and was in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 20And having said this, he showed them his hands and side. Then the disciples rejoiced, having seen the Lord. 21Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace be to you. Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22And having said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive anyone their sins, they will be forgiven. If you withhold, it will be withheld.” 24Now Thomas, one of the twelve—called Didymus—was not with them when Jesus came. 25Then the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks in his hands and his side, I will not believe.” 26Eight days later, his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, the door having been shut, and he was in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. And put out your hand and place it in my side. And do not be unbelieving, but believe.” 28Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen, you have believed. Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed.” 30And Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, but they are not written in this book. 31But these things are written in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Mary Magdalene’s weeping is interrupted by a startling event: the risen Savior himself addresses her. I can just imagine how much fun he was having with standing in front of her and saying her name and watching the light dawn on her. She is overcome with joy, of course, and he commissions her to go tell the good news to the disciples. She runs and tells them excitedly. That evening, Jesus comes and hangs out with them again. A key phrase here is “in their midst.” Just like he has for the entirety of his mission on earth, Jesus is “pitching a tent” and dwelling with them. He also commissions them, as well, and sends them with their purpose into the world. The author includes the story of Thomas, showing once again the significance of being an eyewitness. Poor Thomas wasn’t there for that first startling experience, so he requires some convincing. Jesus is only too happy to show up and give it to him, though he does make the broader point that every Christian after this will be of the variety that doesn’t physically see Jesus—and they are blessed. The obtrusive narrator then interrupts the flow of his story to tell the audience why he has told this story: in order that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah….and that we might have life by believing in him.

There is no missing the significance of “commission” in this text. Jesus sends Mary, and then Jesus sends his disciples. John writes the story as part of that commission. We, too, are sent. We are sent to tell others the same good news that Mary Magdalene told. We are sent to share the same good news that the disciples gave their lives telling. We are sent.

Are we going?

In our church, we have written the names of 4 people on a card. We have prayed for them for 2 weeks, then have spent 2 weeks investing in their lives, and now we’re spending 2 weeks inviting them to church for Easter Sunday service. Sounds easy, right? Except it’s not. Each day that passes, we are encumbered by our work schedules, our illnesses, our medical appointments, our lives. The opportunity to just go and do something nice for these four people never seems to present itself. And why would it? Our lives are about US. We have to WORK to make it about THEM. We have to get creative and get up early and do something different….we have to make THEM significant enough to invest some time in.

We have been sent. But are we going?

John 20:1-10

1On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb when it was still dark and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and came to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and said to them, “They have taken the Lord away from the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Pater and the other disciple ran and came to the tomb. 4And they were both running, but the other disciple quickly outran Peter and arrived at the tomb first. 5And stooping in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb, and saw the linen cloths lying there, 7and the facecloth, which had been at Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded apart in its own place. 8Then the other disciple went in who had first arrived at the tomb, and he saw and believed, 9for they did not yet understand the scriptures that it was necessary that he be raised from the dead. 10Then the disciples went again to their homes.

Mary Magdalene is the first to notice the Lord’s absence, and she immediately reports it to the other disciples. A footrace ensues, and John outruns Peter. This little passive-aggressive inclusion of detail always reminds me of my two older sons, who have always felt the need to race everywhere. It is telling that John makes sure we understand who won! Peter rushes into the empty tomb first, of course, because Peter always rushes into everything. John, a bit more careful, only stoops in at first, but then follows Peter’s lead. The minute he sees the folded facecloth, he believes, though he doesn’t yet understand the scriptural ramifications of Jesus’ resurrection. He saw but a little, and believed that the power of God was at work.

We, too, see but a little. We don’t know the details. We don’t even understand what it is that we see; yet our choice remains the same each day. We can believe, or not believe. We can see a little and believe, like John, or we can see a little and talk ourselves out of believing. I have seen a little good news medically and I believe that God is healing me. I have seen a little motivation about our evangelism campaign at the church and I believe that the Lord is healing the church. I have seen but a little, and I believe that God is working.

You, too, have seen a little. What now?

John 19:31-42

31Then, since it was the day of preparation, in order that the bodies might not remain on the crosses on the Sabbath (for the Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and that they might be removed. 32So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and then the other crucified with him, 33but when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, and did not break his legs. 34But one of the soldiers pierced his side with his spear, and immediately there came out blood and water. 35And he who saw has testified, and his testimony is true, and he knows he telling the truth that you may believe. 36For these things happened in order that the scripture be fulfilled, “None of his bones will be broken.” 37And again a different scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” 38After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus out of fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus, and Pilate allowed it. Then he came and removed his body. 39There also came Nicodemus, who had first come to him at night, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes of a hundred pounds. 40Then they took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen cloth and fragrant spice, as is the custom of the Jewish burial preparation. 41Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42So because it was the Jewish day of preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus in it.

Another irony of this scene of the Lord’s Passion is the day of preparation. Traditionally, this was the day chosen to prepare the Passover meal before the Sabbath. The Passover, ultimately, was a celebration of the moment that the Angel of Death passed over the Jewish people in Egypt. On this day of preparation, the Lamb of God is being prepared, all right: for burial….and for his ultimate defeat of death. The narrator of the story becomes obtrusive in verses 35-37—coming as close as possible to identifying himself as John. And with the Roman authorities overseeing the transfer of body to tomb, two men undertake the difficult task of preparing Jesus’ body for burial. These two men are a curious selection: Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Both men had been prominent in Jewish religious circles, and both had become followers of Jesus, though secretly for socio-cultural reasons. Now, just as Jesus’ hour had come, theirs had, too: they took what God had provided them and employed it in honor of their Lord. Though it might seem easy to some to criticize these men for being secret disciples, the truth is that Jesus’ “out in the open” disciples had scattered, and these men had remained. It was their turn to be faithful, and they did so admirably.

We, too, can be like these men. We can be faithful today, regardless of what yesterday looked like. We can employ the gifts that God has given us in order to honor him. For these men, those gifts were largely financial and political. They had influence and money to procure favors and buy stuff. Perhaps, as Americans, that describes our gifts, too, to some extent. But God has given us so much that we should surely be prepared to employ our abilities and time and talents for his ultimate honor.

What’s your gift today? What is your talent? Where is your time being invested? Never mind yesterday. What are you doing to day to honor your Lord? How are your gifts, your abilities, and your time put to use for his ultimate honor rather than your own comfort?