Friday, March 31, 2017

Day 75 – The Stink of Death

Read: John 11:18-44

The seventh sign recorded in John's Gospel is perhaps Jesus' most well known. His command for Lazarus to "come forth" is certainly one of His most famous commands, but it is not the only command He gave as part of this miracle. Before Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave, He commanded the crowd to "take away the stone" sealing Lazarus's tomb. Understandably reluctant, Martha objected, "by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days," (nothing like the KJV!) There is no indication that Martha was wrong about that. The grave clothes Lazarus wore must have been pungent with the aroma of death. The smell is no doubt, what led to Jesus' third command: "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
Stop and think about that. One minute you're grieving and the next you are reluctantly rolling the stone away from a grave you know is filled with the stench of a decomposing body. One moment you are comforting a grieving family and the next you are unwrapping the corpse of their recently deceased loved one. If Jesus could raise the dead, certainly He could have miraculously removed the stone and the grave clothes. Why these additional directives requiring the crowd's participation?
First, I believe Jesus wants His followers to know that, like Lazarus's resurrection, the miracle of salvation is instant, but that the miracle of transformation takes time. When Jesus called you from death to life, you also came out of the tomb wearing grave clothes. You also had the stench of death on you. The sanctification process is the process of removing grave clothes. If we have indeed died and been raised to life, the church is the gathering place for people who have just come out of their tombs, in various stages of removing rotting grave clothes, which is why the church can sometimes stink of death.
Second, the miracle of salvation is solely the work of God, while the miracle of sanctification is a partnership. Paul told the Christians in Philippi to, "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling," (Philippians 2:12). The partnership is between you and God, but it is also a collaboration among believers, which is why, as much as we try to resist bad smells, we should be concerned if we never smell the stench of grave clothes. Perhaps we would rather light a candle and cover up the smell, but Jesus called Lazarus's friends and family to work together to strip him of his burial rags.
Third, while only Jesus raises the dead to life, He expects His church to remove the grave clothes from those He calls out of the tomb. Too many times the church assumes the newly raised will strip off their own grave clothes. This is impossible. It would be like trying to get out of a straight jacket. You cannot do it alone. Sometimes the newly raised are too ashamed to allow their grave clothes to be taken off. That is understandable. It is embarrassing to be stripped naked in public. Many would rather keep their rags of death to cover their nakedness. The church should be a safe place where grave clothes are removed and replaced with robes of righteousness sewn from the faithful teaching of His Word.

Grant me the faith to roll away every stone You would have removed,
regardless of the fear of what lies in the tomb.
Fill me with Your love as You invite me to help remove the grave clothes of those called from death to life.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Day 74 – Jesus Wept

Read: John 11:17-37

Mary's conversation with Jesus stops short as He is suddenly overcome with emotion. "Jesus wept," (John 11:35). Not only is this the shortest verse in the New Testament, it is also one of the more puzzling.  Why did Jesus cry?  It is doubtful that it was because He was merely sad about the death of Lazarus. After all, Jesus knew what He was about to do. He understood that Lazarus would not be dead much longer. It is also not likely to have been because of the grieve of His friends Mary and Martha. Jesus knew that within moments their grief would become unspeakable joy. If anything, Jesus should have been giddy with the anticipation of what was about to happen.
But there is another, more fundamental question raised by this little verse: What kind of god cries? A vengeful, angry god? A disconnected and distant god? A god who cries hardly fits those stereotypes. And to be clear, this was not the only time Jesus wept. Luke tells us that as Jesus "approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it," (Luke 19:41). The writer of Hebrews reflects, "During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears," (Hebrews 5:7). The fact the Messiah would come weeping should have come as no surprise. The prophet Isaiah said He would be "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," (Isaiah 53:3)
First, Jesus' tears demonstrate His humanity. They remind us that He is familiar with our suffering (Hebrews 4:15) and is willing to bear it for us (Isaiah 53:4). Jesus meets Mary in her grieve and responds to her doubts by crying with her. In some ways, He absorbed her grieve with His tears. Second, I believe Jesus weeps so that we will know mourning is not disbelieving. Some Christians act as if grief is evidence of a lack of faith. At Lazarus's tomb, Jesus dispels that myth. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to grieve, but to do it as people who have hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). 
But most of all, I believe Jesus cried because of the condition of humankind. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. Death was not original to His Father's plan. While Jesus knew that He would raise Lazarus to life, He also knew Lazarus would again face death -- the same death that awaits each of us.
Jesus was overwhelmed with the condition of a broken world. For every disabled person He would heal, there would be millions more. For each blind person whose sight He restored, countless others would remain in the dark. God cries for His children and longs for the day when all the dead will rise, and death and sickness will be no more. Until then it is nice to know that God cares and shares in our grief.

Cry with me as I mourn the suffering of a world racked with pain.
Weep with me as I consider the plight of millions whose suffering
seems to know no bounds.
Mourn with me over a worldly system that appears to perpetuate injustice.
May I see in the reflection of Your tears, the love poured out on Your cross,
And may my mourning be turned into dancing
as I share in the power of Your resurrection.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 73 – If Only…

Read: John 11:17-37

After a delay of nearly a week, Jesus finally arrived in Judea. By then, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. His sisters had long since given up hope -- hope for their brother’s recovery and any hope that Jesus might respond to their need. When Martha heard that Jesus had finally come, she reacted with both disappointment and cautious optimism. As she rushed out to meet Jesus, her first words reflect the deep pain she felt, “If you had been here … “
How many times have you shared Martha's disappointment with God?  Times when you've begged for God's intervention, but He was silent. Moments when God could have changed the course of events, but He remained unmoved.  Circumstances that would have only required a small miracle, but the miracle never came, and you were left asking, "Does God care?" "Is He not powerful enough to answer my request?"  Those seem like logical and obvious questions in moments of deep disappointment. And even if we can muster the faith to believe in a God who can do anything, we are often forced to explain why He sometimes doesn't.
Many of our saddest stories begin with the words, "If only." "If only she hadn't been drinking." "If only he had not left." "If only they had not made that investment … taken that job …. sent that email … gotten in the car … stayed the night." "If only." Not only does "If only" defy reality and deepen our sense of regret, but it also threatens to undermine our faith in God. Whenever we say "If only," we could always finish the sentence with, "God loved me," "If only God were powerful enough," "If only God had been here."
Martha quickly recovers from her raw emotions as her overwhelming faith in Jesus overtakes her fear and doubt.  In spite of her deep disappointment, she still believes and that is the real test of faith.  Not how we respond when God provides and intervenes, but how we respond to His silence in our hour of deepest need.
God of the Silence,

I know You know my need and are not ignorant of my circumstances.
Please give me the faith to wait patiently for Your intervention. Give me hope past the point where hope seems reasonable. Help me to set aside my “if only”
 thoughts and replace them with the assurance of Your love,
power, and purpose – even in the midst of my doubts and fears.
In Jesus Name,


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Day 72 – Walking into Darkness

Read: John 11:1-16

When Jesus told His disciples that they were going back to Judea to check on Lazarus, they quickly reminded Him that people had tried to kill Him the last time they were there.  His response to their warning is curious, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him," (John 11:9-10).
So what does this recurring theme of light and darkness have to do with the disciples’ fear of returning to Judea? Jesus is reminding them that His followers have nothing to fear at night because He, the Light of the world, is with them.  The people seeking to kill Jesus only had 12 hours in which they could walk by the light of “this world” and not stumble. They might prevail for a time, but the night would soon overtake them. Jesus is making an important distinction between “the light of this world,” and the “Light of the World." At the end of every day, the sun will set, and darkness will fall as the light of this world fades. But the darkness cannot overtake the Light of the World. In Him, there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). "Stick with me," Jesus says, "and you don't have to worry about the darkness."
Of course, the disciples would soon witness Jesus' arrest and trial. Both of which took place at night under cover of darkness. Even His death by execution would be accompanied by a total eclipse of the sun (Mark 15:33). In a matter of days, it would appear to the disciples that the Light of the World could, in fact, be overcome by darkness. All of that would change three days later when the Son rose from the grave, and the darkness was finally defeated. But that was still in the future. For now, the disciples faced the very real danger of walking into a hostile situation, and while they may have sympathy for Lazarus's condition, they were justifiably concerned about what may happen to them and their leader if they returned to Judea. 
I love Thomas’s response to Jesus’ plan, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  That is a statement you might expect from a man who would soon come to be known as “doubting Thomas.” While he had the faith the follow Jesus into the danger, he lacked the faith the believe that Jesus could deliver them safely through it. Thomas’s response sounds a lot like me. I often have the faith to follow Jesus, but I sometimes lack the faith the trust Him with the outcome. The secret is to stick with the Light of the World, even as He leads you into the night.
It reminds me of the child who was terrified of the darkness. Even when she walked with her father, the fear was overwhelming to the little girl. One night, walking with his daughter across a dark parking lot, the father realized that his daughter was calmly walking along side of him, holding his hand, humming her favorite song. After they were safely in their car driving away, the father said to his daughter, “Honey, I’m proud of you for being so brave when we walked across that dark parking lot.” The daughter smiled and said, “Daddy, I learned that as long as I’m holding your hand, I can close my eyes and the darkness goes away.”
What darkness is awaiting you, and whose hand are you holding?

I am afraid of the darkness that awaits me. While I may have the faith to follow You, I often lack the faith to believe that You will see me safely through the trials to come. Please forgive my lack of faith and give me the faith I lack. Thank You for walking beside me, lighting my path and holding me close.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 71 – Love You to Death


Read: John 11:1-16

It was a relatively straightforward request, at least it would have been simple for Jesus. Two sisters, Mary and Martha, want Jesus to come and heal their brother, Lazarus, who has fallen ill. John has already described six other miracles performed by Jesus: water turned to wine, healing a nobleman's son, healing a paralyzed man, feeding 5,000 people, walking on water, restoring sight to a man born blind, and these were just the few John chose to record. We know there were many others.
After countless miracles, curing a friend of what was probably a fever doesn't seem like much to ask.  He had done greater things for total strangers. Jesus' disciples don't seem overly concerned about Lazarus. They're even quick to point out how dangerous it would be for Jesus to go back to Judea since they had tried to kill Him when He was last there.  Besides, Jesus Himself said that Lazarus's illness wouldn't end in death, so what's the rush?  Later, Jesus informs the disciples that Lazarus is asleep and everyone feels better knowing that he probably needed the rest.
While the disciples are totally misreading Jesus’ words and the seriousness of the situation, Jesus’ friends back in Judea must have been wondering why Jesus didn’t seem to be taking their request more seriously. Does Jesus not care about Lazarus? Is He unable or unwilling to minister to this friend in the same way He has ministered to others?
John, looking back on this situation, attempts to frame the truth about Jesus’ unusual behavior, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). Really? He LOVED them? He has a curious way of showing it. Wouldn't love respond immediately to a need as severe as this? Does love delay when time is of the essence? To complicate the issue further, consider Jesus’ words to the the disciples when He finally revealed the truth about Lazarus’s condition; "Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (John 11:14-15). Jesus said He was glad Lazarus was dead. That means that Jesus’ delay was intentional. He knew that Lazarus would die, and He was glad for that outcome. Let that sink in for a minute. If you are like me, your mind will quickly go to the end of the story, but don't let it. Stay in this moment. Live with this consequence in real time, and let the reality of this story weigh on you like it must have weighed on Lazarus’s family.
If Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, how could He possibly justify His inaction which resulted in Lazarus’s death? Again, the key may lie at the beginning of verse 15, “…and for your sake I am glad I was not there." Jesus allowed Lazarus's death to occur for the good of His disciples. I believe that includes every disciple who would ever follow Jesus. I believe that includes you and me. Jesus wants His followers to know that death isn't the end. But the only way to know that death is not the end is to pass through it to the other side. You cannot fully understand the resurrection until you've endured the crucifixion. 
“Okay,” you might say, “but that seems like a cruel way to teach the disciples a lesson, even a lesson as valuable as that. How does this demonstrate Jesus’ love for Lazarus and his sisters?” The answer is in the two letter word, “so.” Let’s read verses 5 and 6 again, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
Jesus loves His disciples, all of His disciples, even Lazarus, and his sisters. He loves them enough that He would not only allow them to die to discover His power to overcome death, but He also invites them to do so. Read the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther's, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. Jesus' summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life. The call to discipleship, the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life.[1]
If the only way to experience life in Christ is to die, it is no wonder Jesus loved Lazarus to death … and back again.
Patient Jesus,
Thank You for being patient enough to allow me to die so that You might raise me to real life. I struggle every day, fighting to hold onto a life that You have called me to release. I am afraid. Afraid of what it may mean to die to self and live for You. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of loss. As You lovingly waited for Lazarus to die, so I beg You, wait for me.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (NY, Touchtone, 1995), 89.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 68 – A Hostile Press

Read:  John 10:22-42

Jesus was at the Temple in Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication.  There the Jews surrounded Him, demanding to know if He was truly the Messiah.  By this point in the story, it is hard to know what kind od answer these people were after.  Jesus had already told them He was the One, and had backed up His claim by performing many signs fulfilling the ancient prophecies about the coming Messiah. After all of this, it's hard to imagine what Jesus could have said to satisfy His questioners.
This scene reminds me of some in the modern press corps, who always seem to be seeking comment solely for the sake of controversy.  No doubt there were some who viewed Jesus and the controversy surrounding Him as an opportunity to promote their theological credentials and purity.  Certain aspects of the human psyche never change.  Even now Christians are parsing the words of other believers, eager to blog about every perceived "error" and "false doctrine."  They, too, hide behind a cloak of religious and theological "purity," the entire time counting the number of people reading their posts or follows on social media!
It is during this encounter that Jesus made one of His clearest statement on His identity. He said, “I and the Father are one.”  Suddenly, what had only been a hostile press became a violent mob picking up stones to kill Him. 
“For which of my good works do you stone me?” Jesus asks.
The crowd continued to miss the connection between Jesus' claims and His miracles.  He repeatedly claimed to be doing the work of God. And, indeed, some of the things Jesus did had never been seen before. A reasonable explanation for the miracles was that God Himself was responsible. Still, many refused to make the obvious connection or believe Jesus claim.
The crowd was not upset by Jesus' miracles or even His claim to be the Messiah. In fact, if Jesus had only claimed to be the Messiah, leaving out the stuff about His unique Father-Son relationship with God, the crowd may have been more accepting.  People prefer a leader to the Lord and spectacle to the Savior.  I can dismiss a messiah I assume to be another revolutionary, but it is much harder to silence the God who demands my allegiance.  Even today some religious people would prefer a priest to a personal relationship with the Living God.  Some in the pews favor a charismatic pastor they can ignore over a God who would speak directly to their hearts.
I want a Savior who will rescue me when I'm in trouble, but not one who claims to be God.  A Savior who claims to be God will save me from myself when all I want is deliverance from the consequences of my sin.

Help me to hear Your Words without filtering them through my preconceived notions of who I want You to be. Help me accept You as the image of the invisible God, allowing You to recreate me in Your likeness rather than attempting to create You in mine.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 67 – Sight and Sound

Read:  John 10:11-21

I have a friend with whom I disagree on just about every political topic imaginable. Since we are friends, we can enter into debates and freely disagree without fear of damaging our relationship. We often read the same news story, from the same source, agree on all of the facts as they are laid out, and come to opposite conclusions. There is something deeper than our ability to comprehend basic vocabulary and the events of a story that causes us to respond in very different ways. Throughout the Gospel of John, people see and hear Jesus, but have different interpretations of His words and actions. This disparity is especially noticeable in chapters 9 and 10.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus promises to go to any extreme to protect and care for His sheep. He is even willing to lay down his life for them (John 10:11 & 15).  While this is a striking statement of Jesus' commitment toward His followers, it is not controversial or unprecedented.  There have been many throughout history willing to be martyred for a cause. What is unusual about Jesus' statement is that He also claims to have the "authority to take up" His life again (John 10:17-18).  To claim authority over one's death is conceivable. A person may choose to sacrifice his or her life in an act of valor, refuse life-saving treatments, or even make the tragic choice to end life by suicide. But to claim to have the ability to "pick [life] up again" after death, is as inconceivable as it is controversial.  It is no wonder the crowd listening to Jesus split between those who said He was demon-possessed and those who believed Him.
It is amazing how the crowd's divided response so accurately reflects their willingness to acknowledge the miracle Jesus has done among them. Those able to "see" that Jesus restored sight to a man born blind (Chapter 9) are also able to "hear" Jesus' voice and believe His radical claims.  Those "blind" to the fact that the blind man isn't, cannot understand Jesus' words or accept His assertions.
To see the miracles of Jesus is to believe His words.  To believe Him is to see His miracles. And so, the church must not only promote the teaching of Christ but must continue His ministry of healing in the world.  The powerful combination of the words of Life and the evidence of Grace will impact many, but not all.  There are always the "blind" among us who will see what we see and hear what we hear but will not recognize by sight or sound the Savior standing right before them.
Good Shepherd,

You have spoken, help me hear.
You have healed, help me see.
You have come, help me welcome.
You have called, help me respond.
You have saved, help me to be saved.
In Jesus Name,


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 66 – Double-Edged Words


John 10:1-10; Ezekiel 34 & Psalm 23

The writer of Hebrews compares the Word of God to a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). This phrase has come to be used when referring to something that can have both a favorable and unfavorable consequence.  It certainly applies to Jesus' words in John 10. This chapter is a continuation of Jesus' response to the Pharisees after the controversy surrounding the healing of the man born blind.  Through the use of an extended metaphor, Jesus addressed the Pharisees' questions about His legitimacy (John 9:24-29) by drawing a comparison to sheep-tending. In this metaphor, Jesus declares Himself the "Good Shepherd" and insinuates that His accusers were hired hands who do not have the best interest of the sheep at heart.
Jesus' words are likely a direct response to the Pharisees' decision to throw the healed man out of the synagogue because of his refusal to deny Jesus.  Those who had been called to care for God's flock were not only failing in their responsibilities but were taking advantage of the sheep.  Neither the metaphor nor the allegation was new. The prophet Ezekiel spoke out against religious leaders who took advantage of God's "sheep." Through Ezekiel, God promised that He would Himself, "tend my sheep and have them lie down .… I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak" (Ezekiel 34:15-16).
Jesus, by declaring Himself "The Good Shepherd," claimed to be the fulfillment of God's promise. By healing the blind man, Jesus demonstrated His ability to bind up injured sheep and restore them into God’s fold. As further evidence, this once blind sheep, while unable to see Jesus, had recognized His voice and obediently followed Him.
Jesus’ words have a dual implication. By revealing who He is and what He has come to do, Jesus exposes the true nature and motives of His accusers. While His words are an indictment of those in the crowd posing as Israel’s shepherds, they also bring comfort and hope to the sheep looking for a Good Shepherd. The difference lies in the ears and hearts of the listener.
The words of Jesus continue to have this effect. What may bring hope and comfort to one is just as likely to implicate and convict another. The person who finds consolation in His words today may be rebuked by them tomorrow. The Good Shepherd protects and corrects His sheep with the same staff. For those willing to listen to His voice, it is the staff and rod of His word that still brings comfort in the darkest valleys of our journey.

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need Thy tender care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use Thy folds prepare:

We are Thine, do Thou befriend us,
Be the guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us,
Seek us when we go astray:

Thou hast promised to receive us,
Poor and sinful though we be;
Thou hast mercy to relieve us,
Grace to cleanse, and pow'r to free:

Early let us seek Thy favor,
Early let us do Thy will;
Blessed Lord and only Savior,
With Thy love our bosoms fill:

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still.

Dorothy A. Thrupp

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Day 65 – I Can See Clearly Now

Read:  John 9: 13-41

To this point in John 9, the man born blind had not claimed to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  When questioned by the Pharisees, he said he knew nothing about Jesus other than the fact that He was the One who had healed him.  This experience was, however, enough to lead the healed man to assume that Jesus was at least a prophet (John 9:17) and was certainly from God (John 9:33). The Pharisees had already warned that anyone caught saying that Jesus was the Messiah would be kicked out of the synagogue (John 9:22). While both of this man's claims fell short of declaring faith in Jesus as the Christ, he was, nonetheless, put out of the synagogue.
Following his caustic encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus found the healed man.  Not having seen Jesus, the once-blind man had no way of knowing that this was the Man who had healed him.  He had heard Jesus' voice during their first encounter, so it is safe to assume that when Jesus began to speak, the healed man may have at least suspected that this was his Healer.
Jesus’ question to the man was simple, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 
“Who is he, sir?” The man’s response was earnest. “Tell me so that I may believe in him” (John 9:36).
Jesus then completed the “blind” man’s healing by allowing him to see what to this point had only been a faint hint of faith. “You have now SEEN him;” Jesus declared, “he is the one speaking to you” (John 9:37).
The man responded to Jesus in much the same way those of us who have never physically seen Jesus respond to Him today, “‘Lord, I believe,’ and he fell down and worshipped him” (John 9:38).
The Bible tells us that faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1).  We are also assured that there will come a day when all dim reflections will be made clear (1 Corinthians 13:12).
A day when our faith will become sight.  On that day, "every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:11).

When my life work is ended
And I cross the swelling tide,
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see,
I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side,
And His smile will be the first to welcome me.
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand.
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
I shall know Him by the print of the nails in His hand.

- Fanny J. Crosby

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 64 – A Tale of Two Miracles, part 2

Read:  John 9: 8-34

As mentioned on Day 61, one of the similarities between the third and sixth signs is that they both took place on the Sabbath.  On both occasions, this led to a major confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees.  In both instances, the Pharisees begin an investigation, not to confirm Jesus’ identity as the Christ, but to prove that Jesus’ willingness to violate the Sabbath law was proof that He could not possibly be the Messiah.
In neither case was Jesus present when the Pharisees conducted their interrogation. He did, however, reappear to both men after their interviews.  In the case of the blind man, this is especially significant because the blind man had not seen Jesus during their initial encounter.  After Jesus made and applied His sacred saliva salve, He told His patient to go and wash. It was only after the man had obeyed this command that he regained his sight, and by then Jesus was gone. Therefore, when the Pharisees questioned him, the once-blind man was not able to identify Jesus, having never actually seen Him.  When the Pharisees asked who had healed him, he responded, "the man they call Jesus." Unlike the blind man, the paralytic man from chapter 5 had been able to see Jesus during their encounter, but could not identify Him by name. When questioned about the identity of his Healer, the paralyzed man "had no idea who it was" (John 5:13). It was only after Jesus reappeared to him that the man was able to identify his Healer by the name, "Jesus."
Of the two investigations, the Pharisees seemed to be more concerned with the healing of the blind man. Their concern may have been because of the clear messianic implication of such a miracle.  There seems to have been a general understanding among the Jews that the ability to restore sight to the blind would serve as a sure sign of the arrival of Messiah (see Matthew 11:4-6; Luke 7:21-22; Isaiah 61).  The healed man may have been referring to this when he told the Pharisees, "Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind" (John 9:32). The Pharisees first attempted to deny that this was the same man who had been blind. After interviewing the man's parents, they were forced to abandon that approach. Rather than recognizing the significance of such a sign, the Pharisees just ignored the implications of this miracle and instead questioned the method and timing of the act itself.  They also attempt to deflect the meaning of such an event by asking the man to answer questions they were unwilling to entertain themselves: "What do you say about him?"  "Don't you agree this man is a sinner?"  "How can this man do something like this when we don't even know where he comes from?"
The Pharisees' interrogation methods have an interesting effect on the formerly blind man.  He starts out reasoning that Jesus must be a "prophet" (John 9:17) but ends up acknowledging that Jesus must be from God or He would not have been able to do the things He did.  The irony of a "blind" man seeing what the Pharisees were unwilling to acknowledge is one of the most beautiful aspects of this passage.
The parallels between these two encounters serve to highlight the main difference between them. The paralytic man bows to the pressure of the religious leaders and turns Jesus in for violating the Sabbath law. The blind man, however, chooses to stand up for Jesus and ends up cast out of the synagogue.
Both men were in need Both men were helpless. Both men received a miraculously cured. Both men faced a challenge over the source of their healing and the identity of their Healer. Only one was willing to accept the truth.

Teach me to see Your hand at work and to acknowledge You as the worker of all miracles. Give me the courage to declare Your name with the confidence of knowing that those who are willing to confess You before others, You will confess before Your Father.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Day 61 – A Tale of Two Miracles, part 1


Read:  John 9:1-7

Chapter nine opens with the sixth of seven signs recorded in this Gospel. John specifically recorded these seven “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). John selected these particular miracles with great care, each unique in nature and execution, but with poignant and significant similarities.
One such similarity can be seen in the sixth (chapter 9) and the third (chapter 5) signs. Both miracles resulted in physical healings. In chapter nine sight was restored to a blind man, and in chapter five, a paralyzed man regained the use of his legs. Both miracles took place on the Sabbath, resulting in conflict with the religious establishment (more on that tomorrow). In both cases, Jesus gave a directive that required action. In both encounters, Jesus recognized the need and took the initiative to perform the miracle without being directly asked. Both meetings highlight that while Jesus focused on the task His Father had given Him, He was not unconcerned with the needs of people He met along the way.  In fact, Jesus never viewed such encounters as distractions from His mission but demonstrated that they were the very essence of His mission.
Just before the sixth sign, as the disciples encounter the blind man, we hear them engage in a theological debate about the cause of suffering and the nature of sin. Before the third sign, we find the paralyzed man desperately clinging to a pointless tradition with the hope that it will result in his healing. Both the disciples’ theological debate and the paralyzed man’s dependence on tradition look pointless and small after Jesus’ intervention.
With all of their similarities, it is important to note one significant and striking difference between these miracles and their recipients. Following each miracle, the healed man is questioned by Pharisees. Through the course of the once blind man’s interrogation, he acknowledges faith in Jesus as Messiah, but the paralyzed man betrays Jesus to the Pharisees and appears unaffected by his encounter with Jesus despite his physical healing.
Many of us look to theology and tradition for something only Jesus can provide. Then, when we least expect it, He interrupts our debates and disturbs our traditions. He doesn't ask our permission nor does He seek our approval. He finds us in our hopeless, helpless condition and speaks words of healing and life, leaving us with a directive to "get up and go." To rise from our mats which have, for too long, been resting on the traditions of men. To go and wash the mud of spiritual blindness out of our eyes. After such directives, we must make a choice. We can fall on our knees and recognize Him as Savior and Lord, or we can return to our pointless debates and fruitless traditions. Two men. Two Miracles. Two choices. One Savior and Lord of all.
Jesus Messiah,

I confess I have for too long been paralyzed on the mat of man's tradition. I have been blind to my true condition and helpless to change it. I have been debating the problem, depending on the wrong solutions. Thank You for finding me in my broken condition and healing me despite my fruitless efforts.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Day 60 – Who’s Your Daddy?

Read:  John 8:39-59

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out that a father does not "make" a child in the same way a sculptor "makes" a statue.  A father "begets" a child, meaning that a child is made of the same substance as his or her parents.  While a sculptor may create a statue in his image -- similar in size and appearance -- that statue does not share substance with its creator.  A biological child not only resembles his father and mother but also shares their DNA.
Jesus frequently referred to God as his "Father."  This habit was unsettling for most of His Jewish audience. While they often referred to Abraham as "father," (something Jesus never did) they viewed such familiarity with God as not only disrespectful but blasphemous. While it is true that God created humans in His image, to call him "Father" is to claim to be of His same essence. That is the radical claim Jesus was making and His audience was questioning.
When the Jews called Abraham "father," they were referencing their biological, religious and cultural heritage. Jesus, however, does not define son-ship in terms of biology, but in terms of obedience. So what we have at the end of John 8 is a dispute over paternity. The Jewish leaders are questioning Jesus' right to call God "Father," and Jesus is challenging the religious leaders' claims to be the children of Abraham (John 8:39).  He instead suggests that their real father is the devil (John 8:44-45)! Abraham, after all, was a portrait of obedience, a trait that did not define this crowd.
For many years I struggled with the knowledge that my biological father was a deeply troubled man.  My attempts to ignore or deny him were, in many ways, an effort to avoid admitting that I am of his same substance.  Perhaps all sons or daughters, including my own, struggle with this reality.  We are all sinners and pass that curse on to each subsequent generation.  Jesus, however, says that before Abraham was, “I Am.” John declares that Jesus is the “only begotten son of God” (John 1:14 & 3:16). Paul says that Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation” and is “before all things” (Colossians 1:15 & 17). Because of Jesus’ status as the Only Begotten, and because He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,” we have been invited to share in His inheritance and can be adopted as the sons and daughters of God (Galatians 4:4-7). Before that can happen, one must first recognize his or her need for adoption. As long as we are content with our religious or biological heritage, we will never see our true status as orphans, and will remain unwilling to accept Jesus’ invitation to call His father, “our Father.”
Abba, Father,

Thank You that because Your Only Begotten Son was willing to forsake His rights I have been adopted as Your son. Thank You for the generosity of Christ and His willingness to share His inheritance with me. Thank You that, despite my sinful nature and my willful disobedience, You have called me your own. Help me to live worthy of such a title and to honor You as my Father and my Lord.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Day 59 – Truth

Read:  John 8:31-38

It has been said that a lie believed as truth will affect you as if it were true. In seventh grade I was bussed across the city to a notoriously rough seventh-grade center. The rumor in sixth grade was that anyone who went into the boy's bathroom at this school would get beat up. Believing this rumor, I proceeded through my entire seventh-grade year without ever going into a restroom. Looking back, I do not recall a single person getting beat up in any of that school's bathrooms. I had believed a lie, and because I believed that lie, it affected me (and my bladder) as if it were true! Believing a lie is a form of bondage.
The truth is the only key that can set a person free from the bondage of a lie. The prophet Isaiah said that the Messiah would come to set captives free (Isaiah 61:1). When Pontius Pilate interrogated Jesus before the crucifixion, he famously asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Pilate’s question came just hours after Jesus told the disciples that He was “the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). The truth is not a concept; it is a person, and His name is Jesus. Therefore, any rejection of truth is a rejection of God, and every rejection of God is not only a denial of truth, but of freedom. When Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32), He was inviting His audience to believe in Him and by so doing, to find ultimate freedom. 
The audience's response to Jesus' invitation not only revealed a lack of faith, but the level of their own self-deception. "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free'?" (John 8:33). The claim that they "had never been slaves to anyone," was untrue on two levels. First, it was historically inaccurate. The Jews had been slaves in Egypt, had later been carried off into captivity by the Babylonians, and were, even as they made their claim of freedom, being occupied by the Roman Empire. Second, their claim was also spiritually untrue. "Everyone who practices sin," Jesus said, "is a slave to sin" (John 8:24). Because the Pharisees believed the lie that they "had never been slaves," they couldn't see that they were, in fact, living in bondage. A lie believed as truth will affect you as if it were true.
Jesus then calls Satan the "father of lies" (John 8:44). This infamous title is a reference to the very first lie ever told. In Genesis 3, Satan deceived Adam and Eve by convincing them to reject God's command by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  As a result of this deception, Adam and Eve not only rejected God's authority but truth and freedom as well.  Believing Satan's lie, they hid from the truth and entered into a state of denial.  Jesus explains that this is the reason His audience will not accept Him and His claims.  They, like many of us, live in a state of denial, blinded to the truth.
Like the religious leaders of Jesus' day, our self-deception often begins in areas of our perceived strength. The "experts in the law" were deceived into thinking that they knew God's plan and therefore missed God standing in their midst. Because they lived in denial of their need for a savior, they could not see the Savior standing at their prison doors with the keys of truth in His hands. What lies do you believe that are affecting you as truth? What have you come to accept as true, that God may be inviting you to see as a lie? "Remain in my Word," Jesus beckons, "and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
Truth of God,

Apart from You, I cannot know what is true. I am easily deceived and am unaware of my own self-deception. Be the lamp for my feet and the light on my path. Illuminate the Truth; Your Word is truth. Jesus, set me free and I will be free indeed.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Day 58 – Condemned

Read:  John 8:12-30

I have a friend who was an inmate in the Florida state prison system. He was convicted of a crime in the 1990’s when he was a teenager. After spending almost 15 years in prison, he was released on probation. When I first met him, he was working hard to change his life. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances he was found to be in violation of his parole and was immediately sent back to prison. There was no trial, no jury, no judge, no hearing, just prison. He would have to serve the remaining years of his sentence without a second opportunity for parole. I was heartbroken and shocked by this turn of events. Not only by the accusation that my friend had violated the terms of his parole, but also by the fact that there would be no opportunity for him to defend himself and avoid being sent back to prison.
I spoke to a lawyer friend who explained that this man was already condemned under the terms of his original conviction. The time he was on parole was grace (my attorney friend knows how to speak "pastor") and could be revoked at any time for any reason without a trial. The old conviction stood. My friend was a condemned man.
In John 8:15 Jesus reminds the Pharisees that He did not come to judge. He had explained this to Nicodemus on the night of his visit (see John 3:17). This does not mean judgment hasn’t already taken place, however. Jesus tells the crowd that they have been condemned to die in their sin. Sin is its own judgment and produces its own consequences. We have all died in our sin. Jesus did not have to pass judgment because, like my friend on parole, we live under the penalty of a pre-existing conviction. Instead, Jesus came to exonerate us by taking the punishment in our place. It would be as if someone had offered to switch identities with my friend the night before he was to return to prison. My friend’s willingness to accept the offer or his decision to reject it wouldn’t have changed the fact that he was already convicted. Nor would the person’s offer make him my friend’s judge.
Would you live differently if someone went to prison in your place? How would it affect your attitude and demeanor to know that a punishment that was rightfully yours had been executed on another who willingly took your place? Someone has. Jesus stands ready and willing to take your place. If we reject His offer, we already stand condemned. For those who think it too narrow a worldview to believe Jesus is the only way, I would ask, "How many people are standing in line to take your place in prison?" My guess is there is only One. You should take Him up on His offer.
Mercy of God,

Thank You for taking the punishment that was rightfully mine. Thank You for coming in grace and mercy to rescue me from the prison of sin and shame. Help me to live as one set free. May my gratitude be evidenced by the grace and mercy I show to others.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Day 57 – Black and White

Read:  John 8:12-20

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” If these words sound familiar, they should. John used this description to open his gospel (John 1:4-9). John also foreshadows the Pharisees’ response to Jesus’ claims when he says, “but men loved darkness” (John 3:19). The theme of light and darkness is clearly related to the creation account. The first words of God in the Bible are, “Let there be light.” God’s command dispelling the darkness continues into the New Testament as Jesus arrives to dispel the darkness of sin.
The Pharisees insist that Jesus' witness about Himself is not valid. Jesus claims that His witness about Himself is valid because "I am not alone." He means that His divine nature and membership in the Godhead represent all the witnesses need to verify His claims. Since the Pharisees didn't accept Jesus' claims to be "from God," nor that He was "one with the Father," it was impossible for them to accept Jesus' "divine witness" argument.
Here we are brought back to the fundamental dilemma of faith. A simple reading of Jesus' words leads us to the stark reality that this man is either speaking truth or is completely delusional. C. S. Lewis said that Jesus is either the greatest lunatic the world has ever known, or He is who He claimed to be. There can be no other alternative. There is no room for a mediating interpretation of Jesus' claims. There is no safe middle ground. In a world that prefers shades of gray, Jesus paints Himself in bold contrasts of black and white. There is light, and there is darkness. There is sight, and there is blindness. Each of us must decide.
Do not think that one is a choice of faith and the other is not. It will require faith to believe Jesus is God, but it will require just as much faith to believe He is not. Jesus leaves us no alternative but to jump off the ledge of faith. 
Light of the World,

Thank You for dispelling the darkness of sin that separated me from the Father. I praise You because You are the Light and in You there is no darkness at all. Shine Your light in my heart and dispel the darkness of fear and doubt.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Day 54 – Jesus and a Naked Woman


Read: John 8:1-11

Unable to overcome Jesus' testimony about Himself or disprove the miraculous signs He performed, the Pharisees developed a plan to trap Jesus. They found a known adulteress, caught her in the act, and brought her to Jesus just like they found her -- naked. The plan was simple and would force Jesus to either deny the Law of Moses or agree with the Pharisees' interpretation of the law and condemn this woman to death. His accusers would have welcomed either response. If He denied the Law of Moses, He could not be from God. If He condemned the naked woman, the people would reject His fundamental teaching of grace and forgiveness as hypocrisy.
Instead, Jesus did what no one expected: He held a mirror up to the woman's accusers and invited them to judge her using their reflection as the standard. This was a dangerous ultimatum. The woman cowered in fear expecting the rocks to begin flying at any moment. But the rocks never came. Slowly the accusers left, one by one. They were unable to reconcile their own sin with Jesus' standards for passing judgment on this woman.
On another occasion, Jesus taught, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37). When teaching the disciples how to pray, Jesus included this phrase: "And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). These verses and the story John retells in chapter 8, should be enough to convince any serious Jesus follower to avoid passing judgment on others. Why then do so many people believe Christians are judgmental? Is this an unfair stereotype or have we so deviated from this fundamental teaching of Jesus that we more closely resemble Jesus' accusers than Jesus Himself?
Perhaps the stereotype is undeserved and is only used as a weapon to silence Christians. Our culture's bent toward permissiveness rarely aligns with the core teachings of Jesus. Wouldn't it be just like Satan to try to use Jesus' warnings against passing judgment to silence His teachings on holiness?
On the other hand, maybe the reputation is deserved. Christians sometimes excuse away Jesus' warnings against judging others as if Jesus would understand, given the severity of sin in the world today. After all, "Things have never been this bad!" Maybe so, but let me ask you: when was the last time a naked prostitute was thrown at your feet? The reality of this woman's sin was never in question. Sin has changed little in two thousand years. If Jesus could make such a radical statement in the midst of such a blatant violation, can we imagine any scenario in which Jesus would have thrown the first stone?
The reality is that sin is tricky, both for the one who commits it and those tempted to pass judgment on it. Perhaps the best thing to do is to follow the advice Jesus gave the Pharisees -- take your eyes off the naked woman and look in the mirror.
Sinless Son of God,

Forgive me for accepting Your grace and mercy, and failing to pass it on to those around me. Help me see the sin of others in the light of my own without using it as an excuse to permit sin to claim any victory. You, Lord Jesus, are the only One worthy to pass judgment. I lay naked at Your feet. Thank You for inviting me to leave my life of sin. Thank You for Your grace. May I take it and give it away to others who are cowering in fear.