John 11:17-37

The police chief’s voice was grim and clipped as he gave me the news: a young 13-year-old boy had drowned, just a block away from our church. “Could you go and meet with the mother, Pastor?” he had asked me. I was only too happy to do so, and I got in my truck and drove to her house. She lived a couple of blocks from the church, and I sat in her living room with their family. The room was dark and deluged with tears and wailing. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to grieve with her; to come up with the right words for her. The grief in the room was augmented by the awkwardness of having a strange man in her living room; she occasionally looked nervously at me, wondering if I was going to ever get around to the purpose of my visit. I wanted to help her, but was powerless.

Because I did not know her.

17When Jesus came, he had already been in the tomb three days. 18Now Bethany is near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia [two miles]. 19Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. 20When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she greeted him. But Mary was sitting in the house. 21Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know presently that whatever you ask of God, God will give to you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise up in the resurrection at the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. 28And when she had said this, she went and called Mary her sister privately, saying, “The Teacher is here and calls you.” 29When she heard, she rose quickly and came to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come to the village but was in the place where Martha had met him. 31Then the Jews who were with her in the house and comforting her saw that Mary rose quickly and went out, followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Then when Mary came to the place where Jesus was, she saw him and fell down at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come together weeping, he was deeply moved and troubled in spirit, 34and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not the man who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?”

The gospel of John opens with a powerful image: God with us. The Word had become flesh and dwelled (or, as we have seen, “pitched a tent”) among us. The entire gospel carries this theme: Jesus is ever-present with his people. He’s always having dinner with them. He’s always hanging out with them. He’s always WITH them. When I read this pericope of scripture, I am struck with how naturally he grieves with Mary and Martha and the rest of the family. It is not awkward at all; he belongs there, because he’s been there so many times before. How many meals had he shared with them at that house? How many times had he made Mary laugh? How many pranks had he pulled on Martha with Lazarus? He was their friend. When verse 33 tells us that “he was deeply moved and troubled in spirit,” this is not manufactured. He is truly grieving because he was truly invested in Lazarus and this family. These were his friends. It hurt. It was a tremendous loss, and he FELT IT WITH THEM. Yes, he preaches the gospel (25-26), and yes, he has the right words to say….but they are the right words at the right time precisely because of all the other time he had spent there with them. Had he never been their friend to begin with, his words about the resurrection would have rung as hollowly through that house as mine did that terrible afternoon in DeSoto with the mother of that boy. They listened to what he had to say because he had already invested in them.

It is likely that the older I get, the more I value my “Fortress of Solitude.” Superman needed the Fortress of Solitude to collect himself and get acclimated to his mission. Such a quiet place is necessary for a guy like me. But the Lord is definitely moving me to pitch a tent among people—to be their friend, to be among them, to eat with them, live with them, laugh with them. In being called to be a preacher of the gospel, I am also called to be a friend and a brother. My mission is not to find 100 people to come to church on Sunday….it’s to find one person in whom I can invest as a friend.

John 11:1-16

Mondays are days of exegesis for me. After doing the contracting work that I must do in order to support my family, typically I am ready to begin immersing myself in the scriptural text for the sermon that is two weeks away. I usually spend that afternoon in my study, with lots of books and ancient texts and the Holy Spirit. It actually is a wonderful day of the week, and I am grateful for the solitude, the place to be alone and study, the tools for study, and generally everything about the process. But today, I am going to deviate from this rubric. I have been under conviction to spend more time in the community seeking those who are lost. So today, rather than spread out my books and texts in my comfortable study, I will be examining the Lord’s text in a Starbucks in the community where I pastor. It will be noisy and not particularly conducive to study, but there is a principle here that I am being led to pursue.

1Now a certain one was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, from the village of Mary and Martha her sister. 2Now it was Mary, the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother was sick. 3Then the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is sick.” 4But Jesus, upon hearing, said, “This is a sickness not unto death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God will be glorified through him.” 5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6But when he heard that he was sick, he remained in that place two days.  7Then afterward he said to his disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8His disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews are seeking to stone you, and you are going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of the world. 10But if anyone walks in darkness, he stumbles, because the light of the world is not in him.” 11After saying these things, he said, “Lazarus our friend has fallen asleep, but let us go to awaken him.” 12Then his disciples said to him, “Lord, if he is asleep, he will recover.” 13But Jesus was speaking about his death, though they though the was speaking about the rest of sleep. 14Then Jesus said to them openly, “Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I wasn’t there, in order that you might believe. But let us go to him.” 16Then Thomas, called Didymas, said to his fellow disciple, “Let us go also that we may die with him.”

One of the first things we notice about this text is that Jesus is very close to this family. He has established and nurtured a real friendship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Doing so leaves him vulnerable to real heartbreak, as we’ll see later in the story. And in so doing, we see the Savior devalue his own feelings for those of others. When he hears of Lazarus’ sickness, he comes up with the bright idea of returning to Judea—and in light of the recent attempts on his life, his disciples think this is not the greatest bit of thinking. But Jesus is not motivated by fear of the Jews or a desire to save his own life. He faces his own death in order to go save Lazarus from death. He devalues his own life in order to bring life to another. The matter-of-fact manner in which Jesus faces the impossible (15) is a model for us. HE knows how this episode will shake out, even though Lazarus, the disciples, Mary and Martha do not. He knows that the ultimate purpose here is God’s glory, and he is working that out.

First, I’d like to challenge you to remember that your troubles are less about you than they are God’s glory. He works all things out for your good and for the ultimate purpose of demonstrating his goodness. Be confident in that, and face life with the certainty that he loves you like he loves Lazarus. Next, I’d like to challenge you to consider your own safety, leisure, and comfort to be of less importance than others. Be ready to deviate from your routine in the interest of bringing God’s goodness to another.

For me….studying in a noisy place seems a pain. But the possibility that I will meet someone who needs the light of the world is far more important than my routine and my comfort. That’s the challenge for us all today.

John 10:22-42

22At that time the Feast of Dedication happened in Jerusalem; it was winter. 23And Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24Then the Jews surrounded him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly!” 25Jesus answered them, “I told you and you did not believe; I do works in the name of my Father…these testify about me. 26But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life and they will never die and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from the Father’s hands. 30I and the Father are one.” 31The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these works do you stone me?” 33The Jews answered him, “It is not for good works that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy! Because you are a man who makes himself God!” 34Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law that ‘I have said, you are gods’? 35If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and the scripture cannot be broken—36do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world ‘You are blaspheming’ because I said ‘I am the Son of God?’ 37If I do not do the works of my Father, do not believe me. 38But if I do, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you will know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39Then they sought to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands. 40And he went away again across the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing and remained there. 41And many came to him and said that “John did no sign, but everything John said about this one is true.” 42And many believed in him there.

The Jewish Feast of Dedication occurs around 2 weeks after the Feast of Tabernacles, and is associated with Hanukkah. Hanukkah was established as a commemoration to the purification and rededication of the temple by Judas “The Hammer” Maccabeus on Kislev 25 (December 25), 165 BC, following its profanation by Antiochus IV Epiphanes three years earlier. It is noteworthy that the ultimate purification of the temple is present—Jesus Christ, the God-Man. The narrator’s use of “winter” has a double meaning, as well: this chapter marks the beginning of the winter of Jesus’ life. And just as Jesus was portrayed in chapter 1 as “dwelling (or pitching a tent) among” mankind, so he is here portrayed as “walking” and teaching. The Jews’ question of him is impertinent, inasmuch as they seek to put the onus of their doubt onto him. Jesus’ response to them is succinct and powerful: lineage has nothing to do with belonging to the flock; true sheep manifest their nature by following him (25-26). As Tenney puts it, “The sheep that belong to the Lord’s flock are characterized by obedience, recognition of the shepherd, and allegiance to him. They are guaranteed eternal life and permanent protection. All the resources of God are committed to their preservation. Eternal life is given to them, not earned by them, and they themselves are given to Christ by the Father. Christ promises his personal protection to the sheep that the Father has given him.” Jesus’ guarantee of eternal life for his sheep in verse 28 is even stronger in the Greek: Και οὑ νη ἀπολωνται εἰς τον αιωνα—which is literally rendered “and they will not die forever.” His explicit claim to deity in verse 30 really sets the Jews off, and they prepare to stone Jesus. But Jesus’ rebuttal to them is noteworthy, as well: his a fortiori (“from lesser to greater”) argument centers on the text of Ps 82, in which men have been appointed judges of Israel, to perform God’s justice for them. But they have been selfish and unjust, and God calls them to account in the psalm. Jesus’ use of this imagery in conjunction with his showdown with the religious leaders of his day says a great deal about his ability to exegete and interpret this passage for the rest of us in history. Simply put, “For these apostate rulers of Israel to judge the Supreme Judge was nothing short of blasphemy. It was they who should be stoned” (Swindoll). Jesus’ characterization of himself as the one whom the Father has “sanctified” or “consecrated” is powerful, as well. The Greek here is ἡγιασεν, and means “to separate.” You might recall from Ex 12.3, 5-6 that the Passover lamb is to be separated from the flock for a few days before the sacrifice. Jesus is the purifier of the temple, and its ultimate sacrifice.

While much of this discourse focuses attention on the showdown between Jesus and the Pharisees, the central truth that shines from this passage is the incredible word of encouragement that is directed to those who are true sheep. Chuck Swindoll listed four characteristics of those who are true sheep of the Good Shepherd:

  • They are sensitive to his leading 10.27a
  • They are eager to obey his commands 10.27b
  • They are confident 28
  • They are secure 29

It is easy to forget how “in control” he is when we are in the midst of adversity. But if we are sensitive to his word and leading, are eager to obey him, are confident in him and know that we are eternally secure, then we can face anything. He is the fullness of God, the revealed Word of God, the purifier of the temple who calls us to the celebratory feast of the Lord’s Table. He is the Bridegroom who is yet coming for his Bride, and we are confident in our standing because that standing is rooted in him.

What could be wrong with today when this is true?

John 10:7-21

From 2009-2014, I served as the Associate Pastor of Church on the Hill here in DeSoto. I had been a pastor before for a couple of years, and had assumed that I would be one again when I moved up to the metroplex to attend seminary. Nothing could prepare me for the utter lack of opportunity to shepherd a church that awaited me when I arrived in the metroplex. Of the 535 pastors in our district to whom I wrote letters and emails, only one responded to me, and he told me I was too old for the position he had in mind. God eventually brought me to DeSoto Assembly of God (now Church on the Hill), where I received an education in pastoral ministry from Jerry Weiss while I attended seminary full-time and received that education as well. There was very little, if any, money involved in the position of Associate Pastor—but there was plenty of work. I learned what it meant to put their needs ahead of my own. I watched my pastor work diligently, even when there was no money to pay him. I watched him put the needs of his flock ahead of his own. When my youngest son was injured and had to go into emergency surgery in the middle of the night, Pastor Jerry abandoned his own family to come be with us in the hospital. And when it came my time to become a pastor, I had received an education in what it truly meant to “lay it on the line” for your people. It was a lasting legacy, an education that cannot be unlearned—particularly because I am still learning it, each and every day.

7Then again Jesus said, “Truly I say to you that I am the door of the sheep; 8all who came before were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door; if anyone comes through me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief does not come except to steal and destroy and kill; I have come in order that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd is he who lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is the hired hand is not the shepherd; the sheep are not his own. He sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and flees—and the wolf snatches and scatters them—13because the hired hand is not concerned about the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd and know my own and am known by my own. 15Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep not from this fold; I must bring them and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, in order that I my take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have authority to lay it down, and authority to take it up again; this is the commandment I received from my Father.” 19Again, there arose schism among the Jews because of this word. 20Many among them said, “He has a demon and is crazy! Why listen to him?” 21Others said, “This is not the saying of a demon. Is a demon able to open the eyes of the blind?”

Again, Jesus draws a stark contrast between the Good Shepherd and others. One of the comparisons is between Him and the thief. The thief’s designs on the sheep are wholly malicious, while the shepherds designs on the sheep are wholly benevolent (Bruce). The Good Shepherd wants them to have plenty of life and pasture, while the thief has his own welfare as his priority. It is true that “abundant life” is a phrase that has been badly used by the “Word-Faith” movements. Every one of the people surrounding Jesus during his ministry (except the author of this book) was martyred for the faith; they didn’t live in mansions and drive Cadillacs and have nice things. They had the very opposite of material abundance. The willingness to interpret “abundant life” as always having to do with money is a demonic distraction from the truth. True abundant life, as Swindoll points out, includes having purpose, destiny, and joy while facing any adversity—even the grave. Jesus also contrasts himself as a shepherd with those who are merely hired hands. The good shepherd lays down his life (τίθησιν—to lay it on the line), while the hired hand abandons the sheep. The Good Shepherd obeys the Father; the hired hand obeys his own lusts. Jesus points out his deity (“I am”) and his consubstantiality with the Father (14-15), and declares decisively that he lays down his own life and takes it up again for the salvation of his people and the formation of one ultimate flock. This is a hard word for his audience to hear, but perhaps an even harder word for today’s ministers to internalize.

There is much here for those called to serve others in ministry. Origen tells us that “those who teach with a dishonest and defiled soul steal,” implying that all who are shepherds should first come through the door of Jesus before taking up the mantle of shepherd for his flock. The transformation must be real, not contrived. Augustine reminds us that “Through Christ we [pastors] have a door of entrance to you: and why? Because we preach Christ and therefore enter in through the door.” But the truest mark of a called shepherd is one who learns the discipline of putting his own needs last, as Gregory the Great reminds us: “There are some who love earthly possessions more than the sheep and do not deserve the name of shepherd.”

Those of us called to ministry must learn this habit of laying it on the line for our people. Their needs must come before ours. “The good shepherd has laid down his life for his sheep in order to change his body and blood into a sacrament for us and to satisfy the sheep he had redeemed with his own body as food…the first thing we are to do is to devote our external goods to his sheep in mercy. Then, if it should be necessary, we are to offer even our death for these same sheep…if someone does not give his substance to the sheep, how can he lay down his life for them?” (Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies 15). This is a habit; a discipline. It takes time to cultivate, and you need to learn from models who live it out.

But this selflessness is necessary to be a real shepherd. A real shepherd isn’t just someone who looks like a shepherd or uses the clichés of a shepherd or is part of the popular network of pseudo-shepherds. A true shepherd is someone so devoted to his flock that he lays it on the line.

In what way are you laying it on the line for others today?

John 10:1-6

I’ve had the privilege of serving under a great pastor who taught me a lot about shepherding God’s people. Jerry Weiss taught by example, and I do find myself striving to be a bit more like him in my approach to people. I had the privilege of receiving a formal theological education, including training in languages, philosophy, history and exposition, and it was illuminating and God-sent. But I probably learned the most lasting lessons of pastoral ministry from my father-in-law, the rancher. Each morning at sunup, he left the warmth of his home in West Texas to care for his cattle, sheep and goats. He hooked a large mechanism to the bed of his truck from which feed dropped on a timer. He drove out to the fields and called the animals with a unique combination of sounds, occasionally honking the horn of his F-350 as well. He is a gruff man, a tad rough around the edges—perhaps no shepherd cussed his sheep with more conviction and effectiveness than my father-in-law. In the evening, when he could have been comfortable with his family, he went back out to care for the animals—to deliver calves, to give medicine, to extricate from barbed-wire fence. Underneath the rough exterior, this is a man who knew how to care for a flock.

1“Truly I say to you, the one who does not come through the door of the sheep fold but ascends from another place—that one is a thief and a robber. 2But the one who comes through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The doorkeeper opens to him, and the sheep hear his voice and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he sends out his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they do not follow a stranger, but flee from him, because they do not know the stranger’s voice.” 6Jesus spoke this figure of speech to them, but they did not know what he was talking about.

I am always convicted when I read Jesus’ job description of a pastor, which is essentially what we see here in the first 6 chapters of John 10. No, when he spoke these words, he didn’t do so primarily to reach me, but the impact of his words to that audience at that time tells me a great deal about the heart of a true shepherd. He draws a distinction between the true shepherd and the thief. The shepherd knows the sheep by name (this tell me that the flock is small enough that he can do that!), while the thief doesn’t know and doesn’t care. The shepherd sends out his sheep with their ultimate good in mind, and the thief does what he does with HIS ultimate good in mind. The great Scottish expositor F.F. Bruce asked the question “Who were the shepherds of God’s people?” In the gospel of John, the Pharisees expect that they are the answers to that question. Yet they expelled the man born blind from their midst, and the true Shepherd found him. Why did they expel him? They were interested in him only inasmuch as he was a “butt in the seat” for them in the synagogue. Because he was Jewish and lived in that area, he belonged to them, whether he liked it or not. When he accepted Jesus’ authoritative healing and believed that it could only have come from God, this was a challenge to their flimsy authority. In other words, they were in the shepherding business for themselves, not for the man born blind. But Jesus FOUND HIM. He went and found the man, and called him by name. He did everything he did for the man’s good.

America is full of bad shepherds. And it wouldn’t take that much for me to be one of them. Often, I look over the roster of our little church and I am disheartened that there are barely enough sheep there to justify calling it a “church.” I get discouraged at our inability to “grow” her at the speed I want. But a passage like this convicts me. The “lust for more sheep” is the world’s game. The love for each individual sheep with whom The Great Shepherd has entrusted me is His calling. May the Lord teach me to love each person as he has loved me. May he send me to seek out the expelled, the rejected, the wanderers who need a sheepfold in which to be nurtured and grown.

“The shepherd of the sheep is the one who is worthily endowed with the gift of teaching. He is the one who uses the lawful entrance, that is, who lives with all his heart according to the doctrine of the law and so enters into the sheepfold, as is only right. Then he leads all the others, like sheep, to the pastures of doctrine by showing them the food of the Word with which they must nourish themselves first and continually afterwards. He also leads them by showing them the power of the Word, how Scripture must be understood and from which doctrine they must abstain—doctrine that others may deceitfully propose to them for the slaughter of the sheep…The thief and bandit is the exact opposite.” (Theodore of Mopsuestia)

John 9:13-41

13They brought the one born blind to the Pharisees. 14Now it was in the day of the Sabbath when Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes. 15Therefore again the Pharisees asked how he received sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes and I washed and I saw.” 16Then some of the Pharisees said, “How is this one a man of God, since he does not keep the Sabbath?” Others said, “How is a man who is a sinner able to do these signs?” So there was division among them. 17Then they said to the one born blind again, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a Prophet.” 18Then the Jews did not believe that he was born blind and received sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had received sight, 19and they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20Then his parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21How he now sees we do not know, neither do we know how his eyes were opened. Ask him; he has maturity. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who confessed the Christ was to be expelled from the synagogue. 22Because of this his parents said, “He has maturity; ask him.” 24They summoned the man who was blind a second time and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered them, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. I do know that I was blind and now I see.” 26They said to him, What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I told already and you didn’t listen! Why do want to hear again? Do you wish to become his disciples” 28And they reviled him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered and said to them, “This is amazing, because you do not know where he comes from, but he opened my eyes! 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but listens to those who worship God and do his will. 32Since the world began, no one has opened the eyes of one born blind. 33If he were not from God, he would not be able to do it.” 34They answered and said to him, “You were born steeped in sin, and you teach us?” And they cast him out. 35Jesus heard that he had been cast out and, having found him, said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I might believe in him?” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him and it is he who is speaking with you.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe!” and worshiped him. 39And Jesus said, “It is for judgment that I came into this world, in order that those who don’t see might see and those who see might become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Are we blind?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt [sin]. But now that you say you see, your guilt remains.”

Jesus isn’t through with the “blind/see” motif about which he’s been speaking. The Pharisees are in a conundrum: there’s not a soul in the world who could have done this miracle except God Almighty. But Jesus violated the Sabbath, according to their “fence around the law” code. In effect, their argument is that even God has to submit to their authority, since they are the ones who have reduced the Law to a list of rules. When Jesus didn’t follow them to their liking, they automatically assumed that he couldn’t be God. They are, in effect, blinded by their own pride. The man who was born literally blind, by contrast, now sees clearly. Witness his rebuttal to the learned Pharisees in 30-32: ““This is amazing, because you do not know where he comes from, but he opened my eyes! We know that God does not listen to sinners, but listens to those who worship God and do his will. Since the world began, no one has opened the eyes of one born blind. If he were not from God, he would not be able to do it.” His reasoning is more sound than that of the men trained in biblical reasoning. Then, when the Pharisees begin to catch on to his “some are born blind, others wish to stay that way” theme, Jesus’ retort essentially shuts them down. He argues that the guilt of sin is relative to the amount of light that has been shown a person (41). As for the man born blind: he now sees literally and spiritually, and is counted among the believers. But the consequence of this is his having been cast out of the synagogue—the equivalent of excommunication.

Only Jesus gives light. Until then, we all stumble around, believing that we see. We all have such faith in ourselves and our ability to see, to read, to interpret. But only He gives true light. And the more of it he gives, the more responsible to him we are. Moreover, there is a cost associated with his giving of sight. When we also confess that he is who he says he is, the world casts us out. They hate the light of the world. They are blinded by their own pride (just like we were formerly) and they don’t want you among them. The cost of following Jesus is usually a loss in societal standing of some sort.

Whom do you trust more—yourself and your own judgment? Or His? He provides you with light—with teaching and preaching, with the sanctification that is present at the Lord’s Table, with regeneration symbolized by water baptism, with the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. He provides you with light. He illumines your path. And he does a great deal of this through the local church. Do you trust yourself more than what he has provided for you?

John 9:1-12

The man had been born blind. He had never seen anything in his life. He had tasted the salt in the air by the sea, and had heard the waves crashing, but never saw the majestic blue-green of a sea or the white sands of the shore. He had never seen the blast of color from Indian paint brushes against the swaying prairie grass, or the terrible beauty of a sunset hanging low in the clouds. Moreover, he didn’t have any idea of these concepts. He simply didn’t know what he was missing. He had a problem that needed to be solved, and he didn’t even understand the magnitude of it. He could never have imagined “being healed” of blindness. He dared not hope for something so extraordinary. Reality, after all, is reality—it trudges ominously along, never to be interrupted or altered.

1And as he passed by, he saw a man born blind. 2And his disciples asked him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man sinned or his parents, but in order that the works of god might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one is able to work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made clay from the spit and spread the clay on his eyes. 7And he said to him, “go wash in the pool of Siloam (which, translated, is “sent”).” Then he went and washed and returned seeing. 8Then the neighbors and those who had seen him previously as a beggar said, “Is this not the same one who would sit and beg?” 9Others said, “It is the same one.” Others said, No, but he is like him.” He was saying, “I am he.” 10Then they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and spread it on my eyes and said to me to ‘go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed, and came up seeing.” 12And they said to him, “Where is this man?” He said, “I don’t know.”

As Chuck Swindoll points out, blindness is the perfect metaphor for our sin: we are born into the darkness of sin. That’s why Jesus juxtaposes “I am the light of the world” with another healing of blindness—to emphasize the true sovereign power of the living God over all blindness: physical and spiritual. As the man sits, his destiny coincides with that of Jesus, who “passes by” (1) on the way to somewhere else. But Jesus does not see the man as an interruption in his destiny; rather, he fully intends to interrupt this man’s reality. The disciples’ question reveals the impertinence of Job’s friends; they have a low view of God’s character, which causes them to ascribe wickedness to God. Of course God didn’t cause this man to be born blind! Jesus sees the blindness as merely an opportunity to reassert the true sovereignty of the Creator. He demonstrates love to the man by halting his own forward progress to heal him.

And so it is that the same hands that, many millennia before, had picked up the clay of the ground and created mankind now repeated this miracle of creation on a smaller scale. And he did so to this one man. When the Word of God—present at creation, the active agent in creation—puts that clay on the man’s eyes, he is drawing a straight line from the present to the past—and to our own future! There is another parallel in this story: the man himself. Born blind, he cannot know what is coming next when Jesus commands him to go to Siloam to wash the absurd clay off his eyes. Jesus hadn’t even promised healing to the man! The parallel is with Naaman in the Old Testament, but the man in this episode has a very different response: “He obeyed Christ blindly. He looked not upon Siloam with Syrian eyes as Naaman did upon Jordan; but, passing by the unlikelihood of a cure by such means, he believeth and doeth as he was bidden, without hesitation” (the Puritan John Trapp, 1647). The man dared not hope for something so extraordinary as a complete healing; he could not have even imagined it. His trip to the pool at Siloam was sheer faith in action.

So it is that the man’s destiny was interrupted by the Creator who had made him. The God who created all did not like walking past and seeing his creation so twisted and perverted by sin. He stopped and fixed it, like an artist fixes a painting. He interrupted reality to do the extraordinary that only he could have done. In “passing by,” Jesus saw the man’s predicament as an opportunity to reassert the true sovereignty of the Creator. He replicated the act of YHWH’s creation—doing in small scale what he had done at the dawn of creation—and transformed the man from one reality to another. He interrupted reality; he happened upon reality. He passed by it and changed it. He didn’t watch powerlessly. He interrupted it.

God loves you so much that he doesn’t see “forward progress” the same way we do. He is always “passing by,” and he never misses you. He created you, and he is sovereign over the sin, blindness, and adversity in your life. He is the great interrupter of reality. He does not stand powerlessly or helplessly by and watch it go down; he acts. His commands may make little sense to you, but his hands are working in your favor, just like they always have. Trust him. Have faith in his sovereignty and in the power of the living God.

He is the great interrupter.

John 8:48-59

48The Jews answered and said to him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50I do not seek to glorify myself; there is one who seeks and judges. 51Truly I say to you: if anyone would keep my word, he will never taste death [not taste death forever].” 52Then the Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died and the prophets, and you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death’! 53Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died!” Who do you make out to be?” 54Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nought. My Father is the one who glorifies me, whom you say is your God. 55And you do not know him, but I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I know him and I keep his word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” 57Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you: before Abraham was, I am.” 59Then they picked up stones to cast at him. But Jesus hid and left the temple.

This discourse, which began with “those who had believed in him,” now has broadened to include a bunch of folks who just can’t handle what he is saying. And verses 48-58 form the most offensive teaching of all for those Jews who cannot hear him. For in this passage, he makes two claims that are at once absurd (power over death, 52) and offensive (he is God, 58). The Jews had kept their focus on the person they had long thought of as the “greatest” among them: Abraham. They took pride in being from his family. They saw him as the model of their faith. It had ceased to dawn on them that one greater than Abraham could ever show up. And they knew enough about humanity to be fairly doubtful that some random guy could be God. So this was a hard thing for many of them to hear. I am always amused by atheists who argue that Jesus never claimed to be God. There is no other way to read this passage; why else would the crowd of observant Jews wish to stone him to death? For hurting their feelings? Nope. When he said “I am” (ἐγω εἰμι), that was a claim to the deity of YHWH, and every one of them recognized it. Only God can save, in the Jewish mind; this is why it was necessary that Jesus have this conversation with them. He is God. Therefore, he is the Savior.

If anyone keeps the word of Jesus, he won’t taste death forever—that was the actual, literal Greek that appears in the gospel. The Savior has power over death and is alone able to save. Have you passed over from the death of your humanity to the status of eternal life? Have you placed your faith in the Savior who alone is God, rather than in your abilities to obey a list of rules? Good!

But what about the folks around you? What about the neighbor who lives next door to you? What about the one who lives across the street from you? What about the guy taking out the trash at the gas station? What about the man in the coffee shop? What about your waitress? What about the helpful bag guy at the grocery store? What about your coworkers?

If what Jesus said is real, then you have been given a great opportunity today. What are you doing to make the most of it? May God open our eyes to see these folks who are being invited to never taste death forever.

John 8:39-47

When the boys were little, my wife would shout from the next room, “You boys clean your rooms before you go play!” Frequently, we would see the boys subsequently come skulking sheepishly from their chaotic rooms to go play, and she would halt their forward progress with the question, “Did y’all hear me?” They would feign ignorance. “Oh, you said something?” Everyone in the house (and perhaps a couple of neighbors) heard her command to clean those rooms. The boys didn’t WANT to have heard her, because hearing her meant that they had to clean rooms. So it was easier to pretend that they hadn’t heard her. We do this with God quite a bit. He tells us what we are to do, and we often act as though we don’t know what he wants from us. But hearing him means obeying him. The two are not separate concepts.

39They answered and said to him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were children of Abraham, you would do the works of Abraham. 40But now you seek to kill a man who speaks to the truth he heard from God. Abraham did not do this. 41You do the works of your father.” Then they said to him, “we were not illegitimately born! We have one father—even God.” 42Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father you would love me, for I came from God and am here. For I am not speaking from myself, but he sent me. 43Why, then, do you not understand what I say? Because you are not able [cannot bear to] to hear my word. 44You are of your father the devil, and you will to do the desires of your father. That one was a murderer form the beginning, and he does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks he lies, and speaks from his own character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. 45But because I speak truth to you, you do not believe me. 46Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I speak truth, why then do you not believe me? 47Whoever is of God hears the sayings of God; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.

The conversation about parentage is laden with innuendo. When the Jews feel that their racial parentage is called into question by Jesus’ words, they maintain that they were not born illegitimately. There are several expositors who point out that it’s very likely that they were implying something extremely insulting about Mary, given the mysterious explanations regarding Jesus’ conception (Swindoll, Cyril of Alexandria). In their minds, HE was conceived illegitimately. If this is the case, notice that Jesus does not even respond to the insult of his mother. He moves on with his point; to respond would be to be distracted from the main premise of his argument. And what is his argument? That true parentage is ethical. That is, true children reproduce the works of their parents. If they were truly the children of Abraham, they would be known for their belief instead of their murderous intentions toward him (40). If they were truly the children of God, they would receive the truth that Jesus speaks (47).

This is a troubling premise for us. If we were truly God’s children, the evidence of that would be that we receive his truth and obey it. When Jesus says “whoever is of God hears the sayings of God,” he is speaking to a Jewish audience, and therefore he employs “hears” in the Jewish sense—that is, one who hears also obeys. If God is telling us stuff, we can’t claim to hear it if we are not also doing it. We need to obey what he is saying.

What is God saying to you? You will know this by the time you spend in his word, the Bible. You will know this even further by the corroboration of THAT information that takes place in the community of the church. You will know what God is saying to you, because he will not tell you something different than he is telling the church. All too often, we simply don’t want to hear what he is saying. We don’t want to DO it, so we don’t make too much of an attempt to HEAR it. Can we hear God today? If so, we can do what he says.

As for me, I have to go clean my room.

John 8:31-38

When I got married in 1995, I assumed I knew what “marriage” was. Boy, was I in for a surprise! More significantly, was my WIFE in for a surprise!  It is one thing to walk to an altar and exchange vows; it is quite another thing to celebrate 24 years of marriage. The former is an accomplishment of the “beginning” variety; the latter belongs to the “remaining” category, as Jesus will explain.

31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples. 32And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33Then answered him, “We are Abraham’s seed, and have never been enslaved by anyone; how do you say that we will be set free?” 34Jesus answered them “Truly I say to you that whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. 35And the slave does not remain in the house forever, but the son remains forever. 36If, then, the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know that you are Abraham’s seed, but you seek to kill me, because my word finds no place in you. 38I speak what I have seen from my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

When Jesus engages the audience in this part of the discourse, the text tells us that his audience is “Jews who had believed in him” (31). We will see, by the end of the discourse, that the audience certainly broadens to include direct opponents. And it is quite possible that many of those opponents are those who started out “believing.” You see, Jesus’ own words create a tension between the “starters” and the “remainers.” When he says “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples,” he is implying that it is possible to START a process that you do not FINISH. Dr. Tenney reminds us that the process of receiving his teaching is not a condition of discipleship, but is rather the manifestation of it. Swindoll describes the process adequately: “Belief is a beginning, a birth after which growth must follow. Believers are to continue in obedience. As believers order their lives after His truth, they will ‘know’ the truth.” And Swindoll is merely echoing Augustine: “It is a small thing for a disciple to come to him; it is a much greater thing to continue in him.” When Jesus speaks of knowing the truth, he is likely speaking Hebrew to these Jews, and therefore would have used the verb יֹדֵ֣עַ, which means “to know or understand.” The translation of this conversation into Greek for textual purposes has Jesus employing the Greek verb γνώσεσθε, which is a 3rd person plural future tense version of γινώσκω, which means “to grasp or comprehend.” It is one thing to “come to know.” It is quite another thing to “grasp or comprehend.” The “knowing” Jesus talks about here is a deeper, process-oriented sort of knowing. It is not a “one-moment” knowing. Jesus goes on to describe the slavery of sin; though a man thinks of himself as free, he is yet enslaved by his own desires. But the promise that Jesus makes is that He is capable of setting such a man free from those desires. Again, the implication and grammar here do not allow a person to think of “set free” as a moment, but a process. Dr. Klink helps us understand this freedom when he describes it as “taking personal and permanent residence in the spiritual presence of God mediated through the Son [and] empowered and facilitated by the Spirit. It is the mode of existence for the Christian.”

Receiving his word is the mark of the Christian. Remaining in his word is the life of the Christian. Receiving his word takes place at the beginning. It is the moment you “say the vows” to the Lord. Remaining in his word takes a lot of time and work. It is the resistance of temptation, the sense of repentance and desire to be free and transformed. It is the willingness to deny oneself daily and yield to the transformative work of the gospel.

Anyone can “ask Jesus into his heart.” Anyone can say vows. It takes a true disciple to remain, no matter how frustrating, slow-going, heart-breaking, lonely or depressing it can get. It matters little what others are doing. Are YOU remaining in his word today?