john

John 21

Today’s reading is John 21.

After his resurrection, Jesus made several appearances. We read about an important one today here in John 21. The purpose of these appearances, of course, was to demonstrate his resurrection. But although he spent extended time with the disciples, he did not resume his previous ministry, nor did he overthrow the Roman government and establish his kingdom as the disciples expected (see Acts 1:6).

This must have been unsettling to the disciples. Jesus was alive and he showed up at times, but he didn’t stay around; instead, he would spend time with them, then disappear. What was the plan going forward? They did not know.

So, Peter being the natural leader that he was, announced his intention to go fishing (v. 3). The other disciples who were with him followed (v. 2, 3b). We do not know if Peter did this to pass the time, to resume something familiar in his life, or if he was dabbling with the idea of returning to his previous occupation.

Regardless of why, he was no good at it anymore. Verse 3b says, “...that night they caught nothing.” Hard to stay in business if that happens to you often. While it probably wasn’t unprecedented for Peter before he became a disciple of Jesus, it was far from normal. After their failure to catch any fish, Jesus revealed himself by giving them a miraculous catch (vv. 4-7).

Although they now had plenty of fish to eat themselves and to sell, Jesus had already made breakfast preparations for them (v. 9). He fed them (v. 13), then turned to the matter of Peter’s restoration.

While it is true that Peter had seen Christ before this, it is also true that the memory of his denial of Jesus was still fresh in his memory. Until Jesus addressed it, Peter’s denial would be a barrier to Peter becoming the leader Jesus had appointed him to be. In this passage, Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love--his commitment--to Christ three times, one that corresponded to each of his denials of Jesus. Each time he affirmed his love for Jesus, Jesus commanded him to care for his followers. The point was made that Peter’s denial was forgiven; now he must do what the Lord commanded by caring for God’s people (v. 15c, 16c, and 17d). The final command to Peter was to be ready to die for Christ (v. 18) but to follow Jesus anyway (v. 19).

Do you have any failures in your past that are impeding your present ability to serve Jesus? Take a lesson from this passage. Jesus was gracious toward Peter; he knew that Peter was repentant for denying Christ but that he felt lingering guilt about doing it. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention, calling him to commit to Christ in the present and stay committed to him in the future, even though it would cost him his life. The issue wasn’t that Peter had failed Jesus and so he had to go back to fishing because he couldn’t be an effective apostle. The issue is that he needed to focus on following Jesus--doing what Christ commanded him to do today.

So it is for any one of us. If you are consumed with regret or sorrow over failures in your life, let this passage be restorative for you. No matter what you’ve done, it isn’t as spectacularly bad as denying you even know Jesus while he was being treated unjustly. If Jesus forgave and restored Peter to useful service, he will do so for you, too. Forget about the failures of the past; focus today on following Jesus and doing what he commands right now. That’s the way forward if you’re his disciple.

John 20

Today’s reading is John 20.

This chapter recounts the fact of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 1-9) and the proof of that resurrection through Jesus’s appearances to many disciples (vv. 10-29). Despite the unprecedented display of power that was Christ’s resurrection, the disciples were very much afraid of the persecution that could come from being Jesus’s disciples. Verse 19 says that they met “with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders....” Jesus found them, however, and miraculously entered their meeting behind those locked doors (v. 19b). Then he “... breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This refers not to receiving the Holy Spirit in the sense of salvation; it refers to the spiritual authority they would have as Jesus’ disciples once he went away. We see that in the next verse: “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (v. 23). What power did the disciples have to do this? They had the power of the Holy Spirit and the delegated responsibility of the Lord.

There really was no reason to fear “the Jewish leaders” because Jesus had triumphed over them in his resurrection. As his followers, the power that raised him from the dead was now working in them to prepare them to be the leaders of his church.

When we live in fear of others on this earth, we are showing ourselves to be incomplete disciples. We are incomplete in the sense that we do not trust the Lord enough to rescue or preserve us from the hands of sinful men. But we have the Holy Spirit and the promises of God when we serve him, so we need to stop considering the bad things that might happen as we worship and witness for the Lord. Instead we need to remember that Christ has overcome all spiritual powers and sinful powers. We have the ability, though his power then, to serve God, worship God, and witness for God. Let’s believe the promises of spiritual power and go to work harvesting the Lord’s people for his church.

John 19

Today’s reading is John 19.

Pontius Pilate was a Roman. He was assigned a powerful position in the Roman Empire over the area of Judea so he had to keep tabs on potential threats and problems in his region. But there was really no reason for him to fear anyone in Israel. With Roman soldiers at his disposal, any uprising by the Jewish people could be easily squelched. Any political would-be leaders could be dispensed with easily.

It is surprising, then, to read in verse 8 that “Pilate... was even more afraid” when he heard that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. I would expect a man as Roman and as powerful as he was to laugh at such a claim. Pilate, however, did not laugh. He seems to have taken the charge very seriously. In verse 9b he asked Jesus where he was from and in verse 10 he scolded Jesus for not answering him. When Jesus finally did answer Pilate, stating that all the power he had was allowed him by God (v. 11), Pilate did not react as one who was insulted. Instead, “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free” (v. 12). It took some political bullying by the Jewish leaders (v. 12bff) to get Pilate to send Jesus off for crucifixion (vv. 13ff).

What caused Pilate to be so fearful of Jesus? Remember that anything Jesus said was God’s word by definition. Since it was God’s word, it had the power of God behind it. That power, plus the witness of the Spirit, gave Jesus’ words self-authenticating power. Pilate knew that he was hearing the word of God and, on some level, knew that Jesus was the Son of God.

Do you understand the self-authenticating power of God’s word? Unbelievers like Pilate may resist God’s word and evade accountability to it. But, because it is God’s word, they feel the conviction of sin within when they heard God’s word. They know through the convicting work of the Spirit that Jesus is truly God.

Let’s harness this power of the word and share frequently and scripturally the message about Christ.

John 18

Today we’re reading John 18.

In today’s chapter, Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane and tried by Pontius Pilate. Simon Peter moved like a pendulum from defending Jesus violently (v. 10) to denying him three times (v. 17, 25-27). Peter’s denial is famous because Jesus foretold it and because it was seemingly out of character for such an outspoken person. It seems to me that Peter’s attack on Malchus is less well known than Peter’s denial but his attack is important to the story in a few ways.

First, when he rebuked Peter in verse 11 for the attack Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” This language of the “cup” you may recognize from the other Gospel accounts which recorded Jesus’s prayer in Gethsemane. In that prayer he asked God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). He then repeated that prayer twice more according to Matthew 26:42, 44. So three times Jesus asked for release from drinking the “cup” which is a reference to the OT description of God’s wrath. Each time, however, he indicated his submission to the Father’s will.

Here in John 18:11 when Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” we see that he was reconciled and even resolved to do the Father’s will. Although he expressed his desire to avoid it in his prayer, he would not tolerate the use of force as a means of avoiding the Father’s will.

Later, when asked about his kingdom by Pilate, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (v. 36b). This testimony to Pilate, then, explains even further why he rebuked Peter. The kingdom of God is not a political entity. We do not send armies to conquer foreign nations and forcibly coerce them into becoming “Christians.” Christianity is about listening to Jesus (v. 37: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”) and waiting for him to supernaturally establish his kingdom on earth, as verse 36e says, “But now my kingdom is from another place.”

America was founded on many Christian principles, but it is not a “Christian nation” in the sense of being the kingdom of God politically. So we should never be so proud to be Americans that we fail to identify as Christians--citizens of Christ’s coming kingdom--first. We also shouldn’t spend so much energy and time in American politics. This republic will not last for eternity. It will be superseded by Christ and his kingdom. As citizens of that kingdom, we should spend more time and money on evangelism, church planting, and missions than we spend on elections and politics. Don’t look to engineer God’s will on earth through military and political action. Instead, offer the gift of eternal life in the kingdom of God to others. That will give them eternal life, a far better result than winning an election.

John 17

Today we’re reading John 17.

This chapter records Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and the disciples who would believe through their witness (v. 20). The main subject of his prayer was unity (v. 11f, 21) and the standard for that unity was high: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a). It is hard to imagine any group of Christians being as tight as the Father, Son, and Spirit are, but that’s what Jesus prayed for.

Such unity would be powerful, too: “...so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). The unity of believers in Christ would be a powerful witness to the truth of Christianity.

I have heard many people bemoan the lack of unity in the body of Christ, and I understand and sympathize with them at times. Usually, though, the prescription that is given for a lack of unity among Christians is to dumb down our faith to the common essential elements. It is like ordering a cheese pizza for 5 people because nobody can agree on anything more than that.

There is a place and a value to discussing what theologians have called the “irreducible minimum” that anyone must believe to be considered a Christian. But Jesus did not pray that we would unify around the irreducible minimum. His prescription for unity was not about finding the least common theological denominator; his prescription was for us disciples to know the truth.

Just before he prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21a), he prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). What sets us apart and unifies us is truth--the revelation of God’s word. What we need as disciples to unify us is not to avoid disagreements but to press into the scriptures together to find the truth.

Evangelical Christians have a remarkable amount of unity when it comes to the doctrines of the faith, if you think about it. We may disagree about baptism or eschatology, but we fully agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the depravity of humanity and our absolute need for grace, the importance and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and other factors. This unity has been worked out over the past 2,000 years or so, not by avoiding issues of conflict but by studying, discussing and debating, and accepting the scripture’s teaching on these things.

I keep thinking of more to say about this, but that’s enough for now. God is answering Jesus’s prayer here in John 17 but we need to keep coming to the truth--the word of God--to find our unity there.

John 16

Today’s reading is John 16.

Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for life without him. He spoke the words of this chapter just shortly before he was betrayed. He made disturbing prophecies about what they would face in the days ahead (vv. 2-3, 20-21, 32). Yet he also promised that they would not be alone; instead “the Advocate” (the Holy Spirit) would come and empower their work (vv. 7-11).

One aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work would be to guide the disciples as they wrote the Scriptures. That’s what the promise at the end of verse 13 meant when Jesus said, “he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” The disciples would not lead the church from their own mistake-prone thinking and human judgment. Instead, the Holy Spirit would guide them.

This is one reason why we value the Bible and believe it to be without error and fully reliable. It is not the collected opinions of a few good men. It is the written word of God recorded by godly man as they were guided by the Holy Spirit of God.

I’m glad you’ve been reading these devotionals and hope they have been truly helpful to your life. But my words are only correct and helpful as they correctly describe and apply THE WORD, the spirit-inspired scripture. It is what we need to become who Jesus called us to be, so value the Word and learn it for your own growth in godliness.

John 15

Today we’re reading John 15.

This section, John 13-16 records the final extended teaching Jesus gave to his disciples before his death. Here in chapter 15, Jesus told the disciples that they would bear fruit for him (vv. 1-17), be persecuted because of him (vv. 18-25), and testify for him (vv. 26-27). Each of these is demanding. However, Jesus does not command any of them. Instead, he describes them as products of being “in him.” If disciples “remain in me,” Jesus said, “you will bear much fruit” (v. 5b). Likewise, the world would persecute them “because of my name” (v. 21b) and they would testify “for you have been with me from the beginning.” So Jesus does not command us to do these things. Rather, his command is “remain in me” and all these things will flow out of that.

So what does remaining in Jesus mean? It means to keep believing in him, to maintain our faith in him and continue following him as Lord. This is another way of describing the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. That doctrine teaches that all those who are genuinely saved will continue from the time of their salvation until the end of their lives in faith and good works. Anyone who does not “remain in Jesus” then, goes to hell (v. 6). That person’s attachment to Jesus was superficial not genuine.

If you belong to Jesus, then, it will show in your life. Not every branch has the same level of fruitfulness but all the branches bear some fruit. Do you see the evidence of Christ’s work in your life? is there spiritual growth in your life so that you know Christ better and trust in him more now than in the past? This is a fulfillment of Christ’s promise in this passage. We can’t produce spiritual fruit on our own because “apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5b). Cultivate your connection to Christ by faith, then, and God will work on your life (“he prunes” v. 2) and through your life to make fruit through you for his glory.

John 14

Today’s reading is John 14.

We usually don’t expect a leader’s followers to be more successful than the leader himself. In the NFL, a great coach like Bill Walsh has had a number of his assistant coaches go on to become head coaches. None of them, however, had the kind of sustained success that Walsh had. Not even close.

Bill Parcells was another great football coach whose assistants became head coaches themselves. One of Parcells’s assistants, Bill Belichick is an exception to the principle I’ve been talking about. Belichick has been more successful than his mentor, Bill Parcells, but Belichick’s assistants who became head coaches have been failures. Being tutored by a great coach, then, does not necessarily set one up for success. Athletics is just one example. I think you will find this to be true in music, in business, and in ministry. It is rare that a student surpasses his master.

It is surprising, then, to read Jesus’s statement here in John 14:12b, “...whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these....” Jesus prophesied that his disciples would do greater things than he did, that we would be more successful than he was. What was he saying, exactly?

First of all, the next phrase explains why Jesus said this: “...because I am going to the Father.” Disciples do greater works than the Lord himself because the Lord himself did not remain here physically. That’s one reason, then, why Jesus said his disciples would do greater works than he did. Jesus preached to thousands early in his ministry, but only a handful of disciples remained even after his resurrection (see Acts 1:12-14). By contrast, the disciples of Jesus would reach thousands with the gospel (see Acts 2:41), so the raw numbers of believers were greater.

But verses 13-14 give a greater answer for why the disciples of Jesus did greater works. The answer is not that they were greater than the Lord but that their works were empowered by the Lord. As verse 13 put it, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” We are capable of doing more than Jesus did because he will work through us when we ask him to use us for his work. We have his empowering promise and we need it because he is almighty and we are weak and incapable without him.

Do you live and serve God in light of and based on this promise? Do you expect God to use you in service to him? Do you ask him to use you, in his name, to do great works for God? If something is lacking in our ministry for Christ, maybe it is that we just don’t ask the Lord to use us and keep his promise to do greater works through us. But Jesus said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Live by this promise when you share the gospel or open the word or do any kind of ministry. Ask Jesus to do powerful work through you that only he could do. He promised that he would! All we need to do is claim that promise by faith and serve God accordingly.

John 13

Today’s devotional reading comes to us from John 13.

How could the disciples ask Jesus who would betray him (vv. 21-25), see a very clear indicator that Judas would be the one who betrayed him (vv. 26-27), but not be able to understand (vv. 28-29)?

One reason is, of course, spiritual blindness. There were many events in the life of Christ that were clear but not comprehended by the disciples of Jesus. This is, in one sense, merely one more of those.

But another reason is that Judas sure seemed like an authentic disciple. He did all the works the other disciples did. He seemed as genuine and pious as them all. This is why no one stood up and said, “I knew it!” when they saw Jesus hand Judas the bread (vv. 26-27). Instead of seeing who the sign Jesus gave them pointed to, they devised a more plausible explanation (v. 29).

This shows us how difficult it can be to distinguish genuine believers in Christ from the impostors masquerading among us. Some impostors will be revealed by sin and a lack of repentance as we saw here in Judas’s life. But other impostors, the scriptures seem to indicate, will successfully deceive everyone else and even themselves right up until the day of judgment (see Matt 7:21-22).

This should make us careful about questioning the salvation of others. Judas betrayed Jesus but Peter denied him (vv. 37-38). Those were not the same sin or even equivalent in wickedness but they both looked like unbelievers in the moment. So when people we love and respect sin, watch for repentance rather than assuming or suspecting unbelief in Christ.

These stories should give us pause, though. While assurance of salvation is real and really important, the Bible teaches that there are impostors among us. Search your heart and soul and be certain of your own faith in Christ. Then love other Christians and live for Christ to demonstrate your genuine faith in him (vv. 34-35).

John 12

Today, read John chapter 12.

There is a strong contrast between a disciple who loves Jesus and is unashamed of being his servant and those who believe in Jesus but want to follow him secretly.

We can see the contrast right here in John 12. It opens with Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with “about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume” (v. 3a) which she poured on his feet then removed with her hair (v. 3b). Her appreciation for who Jesus is, her gratitude for what he had done, and her desire to glorify and worship him overcame any inhibitions she had. Giving this gift of anointing to Jesus was far more important to her than blessing the poor with it (vv. 5-6), not because the poor were unimportant but because she was devoted to Jesus.

The opposite of her unique act of worship was exemplified by the “leaders” (v. 42a) who “believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue” (v. 42b). They wanted to follow Christ in secret. Why? Because “they loved human praise more than praise from God” (v. 43). Mary was unashamed because she was devoted to God and, therefore, worshipped his Son openly without shame. These men who were leaders feared God but they feared social ostracism more.

Most, if not all of us, go through phases in our lives where we want to hide our faith in Christ because we fear people. It is a common spiritual issue, one that even the great Simon Peter experienced when he denied our Lord three times. So if you’ve ever hidden your faith or been embarrassed to admit that you’re a Christian, that does not automatically mean that you are not sincerely saved.

Eventually, though, the time comes when we must confess Christ openly. We must do so to become part of the local church through baptism. We must confess him openly to tell others about salvation in him. And, some of us must confess him openly by giving up our lives to follow him. As Jesus said in verses 24-25, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

Are you willing to die for Jesus? Then why are you afraid to talk about him in your workplace? Why are you unwilling to sacrifice financially for his work? May God use this chapter to pull us out of our protective shells, to teach us to fear Him more than we fear others and even to love him more than we desire the praise of men. Then we will show ourselves to be his true disciples.

John 11

Today’s reading is John 11.

We consider people heroes who risk or give their lives to save the lives of others. On the other hand, we don’t think much of someone who could save the life of another--without risking his own--but just wouldn’t do it. If you could donate a kidney to save a friend’s life or donate bone marrow for the same purpose, your love for that friend and strong social pressure would urge you to make that gift and save that life.

Knowing all of this makes Jesus’s actions in this passage perplexing. Verse 5 told us, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Verse 3 told us that Lazarus’s sisters informed Jesus of Lazarus’s need for healing. Verse 21 conveyed Martha’s faith that Jesus could have healed Lazarus if he wanted to and verse 37 shows that even people in the crowd thought so.

Why did Jesus delay, then? Why did he allow Lazarus to die when he could have easily saved his life, without even coming to Judea? Did he not love Lazarus? Of course he did (v. 5). Did he not hear the sincere request of his sisters and see their faith in him? Yes, he heard them and knew that they believed (vv. 21, 32).

So, why? Verse 4b told us: “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And how was God glorified? Most importantly, God was glorified by how the resurrection of Lazarus authenticated the claim of Jesus to be Messiah (v. 42). Second, God was glorified when “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” Third, God was glorified in that Mary and Martha learned to trust Jesus even when they didn’t get what they wanted (v. 27). Finally, God was glorified as their faith in Christ grew.

Let’s focus on that last one a bit more: “God was glorified as their faith in Christ grew.” Although Martha affirmed that Jesus could raise the dead (vv. 22, 24-27) she tried to talk him out of opening Lazarus’s tomb (v. 38). Her understanding of the resurrection and her faith in Christ’s ability to raise the dead was all focused on the future, not in the present. Without discounting her faith in Christ for the end times, it is a lot easier to believe that something will happen in the future than it is to believe that it will happen today. By allowing Lazarus to die and be buried, Jesus exposed some areas of unbelief in his dear friends Mary and Martha. When Jesus did not answer their request in the way that they wanted, it revealed to them how much doubt still remained in their hearts about Christ. Allowing Lazarus to die then raising him from the dead allowed Jesus to take their faith in him to an even deeper place.

Are you asking God for something that is precious to you today? What if he chooses not to answer in the way that you want but, in order to bring greater glory to God, allows the thing that you fear to happen in order to teach you to trust him more? Will you trust Christ no matter what and believe that whatever happens will ultimately bring more glory to God? Is it enough for you that God is glorified even if you don’t ever get the answer to prayer that you wanted? That’s what real faith in God is all about--absolute surrender to the will of God.

John 10

Today, read John 10.

There have been so many religious leaders throughout human history and they have spawned so many different religions. Some of these are connected to Jesus in some way, denying some biblical doctrines about him while affirming others. How does someone know that they have found the truth?

A big answer to that question is given to us here in John 10. Jesus described to the religious leaders (v. 1--“you Pharisees”) many truths about himself and his followers. Using the metaphor of shepherds, sheep, and the pen those sheep are kept in, Jesus taught that the true sheep know the difference between him--the good shepherd (v. 14) and false leaders (vv. 1, 8, 10, 12-13). Because they are true sheep, they know Jesus, Good Shepherd (vv. 3, 14). Because they are true sheep, they enter through Jesus, the true gate (v. 9). All of this describes the spiritual life that God gives to those who genuinely come to Christ. Following Jesus is not a matter of rationally choosing him over other leaders and instead of other religions. It is the result of the new life that God gives by faith. That new life--we call it regeneration--causes us to recognize Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only way to the Father (to paraphrase 14:6).

Do you ever wonder why some people follow Jesus intensely for a time, then are diverted by the voice of another shepherd? It is because they are not really sheep. Do you ever wonder why some sincere people don’t receive Jesus as the one the Bible describes him to be? It is because they are not true sheep. Anyone you meet who tells you that they are spiritual, that they love God, and/or that they like Jesus but don’t think he was really God is telling you that they are not part of God’s flock (vv. 25-26).

One of the benefits of being part of God’s flock is eternal security, which is taught here in verses 27-30. Verse 28b says, “they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” The reason is given in verse 29, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” There is no need to worry about losing your salvation. Your salvation is not up to you because salvation is a gift given by God that makes you a sheep. It is not dependent on you to remain saved because Jesus and the Father are holding on to you. So, take joy in the gift of eternal life and follow the voice of the shepherd. Continuing to follow him--the doctrine we call preserving in the faith--is evidence of your genuine nature as one of his sheep. Like literal sheep, you may stray at times, but when the shepherd calls you in repentance, you will listen and follow him. This is how you can know that you have eternal life. Let it give you confidence and joy as you serve him today.

John 8

Today’s reading is John 8.

This chapter presents to us an extended argument between Jesus and the Pharisees (v. 13a). The argument began with a promise of Christ in verse 12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Think about the implications of that promise. Without Christ, very little in this world makes sense. Why are we here? What happens after we die? Is this life all that there is? If so, why should I do anything other than what I want to do? Why should I do anything for others if it does not benefit me? Why should I respect their rights and avoid hurting others? But, if I just do what I want, then do I feel unfulfilled, even guilty? If this life is not all that there is, how can I know that?

Life is maddeningly strange without Christ and nothing really matters but your own pleasure, but living for pleasure is ultimately unsatisfying. Jesus came along and said, “Whoever follows me... will have the light of life.” Why? Because he is “the light of the world.” Knowing him, believing him, receiving his teaching and obeying it give you hope for the future and purpose for this life.

But how can you know if Jesus’s promise is true before you commit to it? There are several ways but the main one in this passage is the witness of the Father (vv. 14-30). Those who knew God (like Abraham) looked forward to the coming of Christ and prophesied about it (vv. 33-41, 54-59). Those who know God now recognize the authentic word of God in Jesus the Son (vv. 42-47). This is why the gospel brings conviction of sin and stirs the heart of those who hear it, even if they don’t receive it. It is the witness of the Father to the light-giving person of the Son.

If you’re reading this and, for some reason, have never received Jesus, this is God’s offer to you. Trust in Jesus, follow him, and he will give you the light that brings life (v. 12c). Only he can do this because only he is “the light of the world” (v. 12b).

For those of us who have received Jesus, this is why we must continually remind ourselves to trust God’s word in obedience instead of believing the lies of the devil and the world around us. They are not legitimate sources of light; following them means “walking in darkness.” Jesus rescued us from that, but we must continue to follow him to have his light illumine our path through this world.

John 6

Today’s reading is John 6.

This passage records two of Jesus better known miracles--the feeding of the 5,000 in verses 1-15 and his walk on water (minus the part about Peter) in verses 16-21. When Jesus multiplied the bread and fish, he met an immediate need to eat that he, his disciples, and the crowd had. Many of the people he fed lived near the edge of starvation. One big drought or natural disaster would put many lives in peril and make a hard life even more difficult. When they saw how easily he could meet their need to eat, they “intended to come and make him king by force” (v. 15b).

Surprisingly, Jesus withdrew (v. 15c) instead of embracing their monarchial intentions. I say that this is a surprise because Jesus came preaching a kingdom and offering it to people, so why would he withdraw when they seemed ready to accept is offer? The answer comes later in verses 26-27: “Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Instead of seeking that eternal life, however, they asked for a sign in verses 30-31 which demonstrated their unbelief. They did not want a genuine relationship with God; they wanted an easier, more prosperous life.

Many people come to Jesus like this today. They want to be prospered not to give praise. They want revenue instead of wanting to repent. Even genuine believers can, at times, fall into the temptation to look to God for health, wealth, and happiness instead of seeking his glory and to become holy like he is.

Do you find yourself there today? Are you looking to Christ for to give you something instead of thanking him for the eternal gift he’s already given you? Remember that God cares more about your eternity, your holiness, and your walk with him than anything else. Seek those things and, as Jesus said in another context, the rest “will be added to you as well” (Matt 6:33).

John 5

Today’s reading is John 5.

Every year, some of the funeral homes in our area drop by the church building at Christmas time and leave me a gift. The one that does this most consistently gives me a tin of mixed nuts. I snack on them in my office for weeks--it’s a big tin--and I’m grateful that they brought me something healthy and not just more Christmas cookies. Or shudder fruit cake.

I guess it is good business for them to keep in touch with pastors. The truth is, however, that they are in a recession-proof business. People are dying all the time, so there are always needs to be served in their industry. Everyone likes referrals, as weird as that sounds when talking about funeral homes, but they’re going to get “customers” no matter what.

Doing funerals and attending funerals that I’m not involved in are part of the life of being a pastor. I am always grateful for the opportunity to serve families when they have a funeral. But, I hate the pain and sorrow that death brings. I also hate that many families only get together and reminisce about old times when someone dies. That’s the reality of busy lives and people who live in different parts of the world, but it is still sad.

Jesus promised to end all of this here in John 5. He promised life to those who believe in God through him (v. 24). “Eternal life” is such common terminology in our faith that we sometimes go numb to what it means. Jesus’s promise to us, however, is that God will raise the dead and that all believers will live with him forever.

Visualize this promise: “...a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.... Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” There is an end to death coming and it will be a great day for those in Christ and an absolutely horrid day for everyone else. Each of us will be judged according to what we have done: “those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (v. 29b). All of us would be in that latter category and would rise to be condemned if it were not for the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to us by faith (v. 24) and the payment that his death made for our sins. This is the hope of the dying, the living who will die someday, and those who live who have lost someone they love in death. Because of Christ’s mercy and grace, death will end and eternal life will reign forever.

The funeral business may be recession proof, but it will be disrupted and made obsolete by the final resurrection. Are you ready?

John 4

[Sorry. I accidentally posted yesterday's devotional from John 3 twice--once yesterday under John 3 and once today under John 4. Here's the real one that was supposed to go out this morning, Thursday, October 26, 2017]

Today’s reading is John chapter 4.

Who knows what was on her mind when she came to the well that day. The Samaritan woman (aka “the woman at the well”) certainly knew that she needed water. What else was she thinking about? We have no idea.

Jesus was thinking about her and in ways that were different from most of the men (v. 17b) she had encountered in her adult life. She came seeking water and what she received was internal, spiritual life that was satisfying to her and life-giving to others (v. 14, 23-26, 29-30).

What’s more striking to me as I read this text today is the attitude Jesus had while he waited for her to return with the people of her town. There was more than enough time for him to eat and strengthen himself physically as the disciples wanted him to do (v. 31). But Jesus was so energized by the spiritual life he was about to give that he had no interest in food at the moment (vv. 32-34a).

He shared this excitement with the disciples and tried to wake them up to the reality of the spiritual harvest around them (vv. 35-38). His words were an invitation to be part of what God was doing, gathering in new believers by his grace. They saw Samaritans--whom they were taught to hate--who had mundane lives with daily needs like water. If they had known about the Samaritan woman’s romantic life, they would have rolled their eyes and thought, “Typical ungodly pagan.” Their inability to focus on the spiritual work going on around them caused them to miss out on the harvest Jesus enjoyed.

Do we find ourselves in the same place as the disciples? We’re busy gathering food and daily provisions and see others doing the same around us, but we’re unaware (and unconcerned?) about the spiritual hunger of those around us that makes them ripe to be reaped for God’s kingdom.

I don’t start spiritual conversations with people because I’m afraid I will say something awkward or won’t know what to say. I also don’t do it because I’m preoccupied with my own life, my own schedule, my own responsibilities, needs, and desires. If that describes you, too, then Jesus wants to open our eyes. People around us need God and God is working on many of them, getting them ready for harvest day. When we wake up to the eternal opportunities in front of us, we’ll be ready to talk to people who need to desperately need some Good News.

John 3

Today read John 3.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Actually, it is a big ugly secret but I don’t think most Christians know about it. The secret is: envy and jealousy are not sins that church members struggle with only. Pastors and ministry leaders struggle with it, too. I have--more often and more recently than I would like to admit.

On the outside, we are glad for the ministry success of others. And, when we’re thinking biblically, we are genuinely glad for God’s blessing on other churches. I really don’t think that we are in competition with other churches. Our competition is entertainment, relaxation, sleeping in, working extra weekend hours, materialism, secularism, and all kinds of other noise that distracts people from church attendance and, ultimately, from the gospel message.

I want all my friends to succeed and I want other gospel preaching churches in our area and elsewhere to be reaching people in salvation, baptizing them, discipling them and, therefore, growing in numbers and in spiritual life.

But I want our church to prosper as well. I want us reaching people and baptizing them. I want to see the people who attend and are members of our church to be showing up enthusiastically ready to worship and grow on Sunday. I want to see you bringing friends, too, and to see others coming for the first time.

So, when our church attendance is up and down but others I know are adding additional services to accommodate all the growth, it is hard not to want what they’ve got. So the latter half of John 3 is just for me today. John the Baptist’s disciples are concerned about Jesus’s success. They were alarmed that Jesus was preaching and baptizing and that “everyone is going to him” (v. 26d).

John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived--apart from Jesus, of course--had a godly response: “ To this John replied, ‘A person can receive only what is given them from heaven’” (v. 27). Jesus’s success--anyone’s success--results from God’s blessing. John was happy to see Jesus doing well because he understood who Jesus was (vv. 28-30). John served faithfully in the role that God called him to fill. Now that role was nearing completion (v. 30) and John couldn’t have been happier about the attention Jesus was receiving.

Are you jealous of anyone, envious of anyone else’s life? There is a lot that could be said about that. On one hand, appearances are not always reality and, when that’s true, reality always emerges eventually. Also, there is the whole matter of “sowing and reaping” and sometimes our struggles result from what we’ve been sowing.

But we all need to remember the sovereignty of God over this life. He has different purposes and plans for each of us. If we are faithful to what God commands us to do and calls us to become, if we are sowing good seed and doing it consistently, then we need to trust God with the results.

John 2

Today read John 3.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Actually, it is a big ugly secret but I don’t think most Christians know about it. The secret is: envy and jealousy are not sins that church members struggle with only. Pastors and ministry leaders struggle with them, too. I have--more often and more recently than I would like to admit.

On the outside, we pastors are glad for the ministry success of others. And, when we’re thinking biblically, we are genuinely glad for God’s blessing on other churches. I really don’t think that we are in competition with other churches. Our competition is entertainment, relaxation, sleeping in, working extra weekend hours, materialism, secularism, and all kinds of other noise that distracts people from church attendance and, ultimately, from the gospel message.

I want all my friends to succeed and I want other gospel preaching churches in our area and elsewhere to be reaching people in salvation, baptizing them, discipling them and, therefore, growing in numbers and in spiritual life.

But I want our church to prosper as well. I want us reaching people and baptizing them. I want to see the people who attend and are members of our church to be showing up enthusiastically ready to worship and grow on Sunday. I want to see you bringing friends, too, and to see others coming for the first time.

So, when our church attendance is up and down but others I know are adding additional services to accommodate all the growth, it is hard not to want what they’ve got. So the latter half of John 3 is just for me today. John the Baptist’s disciples were concerned about Jesus’s success. They were alarmed that Jesus was preaching and baptizing and that “everyone is going to him” (v. 26d).

John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived--apart from Jesus, of course--had a godly response: “ To this John replied, ‘A person can receive only what is given them from heaven’” (v. 27). Jesus’s success--anyone’s success--results from God’s blessing. John was happy to see Jesus doing well because he understood who Jesus was (vv. 28-30). John served faithfully in the role that God called him to fill. Now that role was nearing completion (v. 30) and John couldn’t have been happier about the attention Jesus was receiving.

Are you jealous of anyone, envious of anyone else’s life? There is a lot that could be said about that. On one hand, appearances are not always reality and, when that’s true, reality always emerges eventually. Also, there is the whole matter of “sowing and reaping” and sometimes our struggles result from what we’ve been sowing.

But we all need to remember the sovereignty of God over this life. He has different purposes and plans for each of us. If we are faithful to what God commands us to do and calls us to become, if we are sowing good seed and doing it consistently, then we need to trust God with the results.

John 1

oday’s reading is John 1.

I have often puzzled over and even lamented John’s use of “Word” in John 1:1. It is clear to me that John 1:1 and 14 indicate that Jesus is the “Word” and therefore “was God” (v. 1). But I have talked with enough people who don’t think it is clear that, at times, I wish John has written something like, “In the beginning was the Father, Son, and Spirit. The Son and Spirit were with God and each of them is God.” That phrasing would help us with the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

But, that’s not what John wrote. Instead he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Why did John use the title, “the Word” to refer to Jesus?

First of all, “Jesus” refers to the man--the human named Jesus. The Son of God was not called “Jesus” until he was born, so it would be incorrect and improper for John to say, “In the beginning was Jesus....”

Although John did want to establish the deity of Christ, that purpose--in this passage, at least--was secondary to describing the function Jesus performs in the Trinity. By calling him “the Word,” John taught us that Jesus’ role was communication. This is why he was the one who created (v. 3) and why he “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (v. 14a). He did these things because his “job” in the Trinity is to communicate, to reveal God.

That’s a very important role because verse 18a says, “No one has ever seen God....” We know the Moses saw God and that Isaiah saw a vision of God. Jesus himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). So what does John mean in verse 18 when he wrote, “No one has ever seen God...?” The answer is that no one has ever seen God in his essence, as he truly is. God is invisible (Col 1:15), so anyone who “sees” him has seen only a manifestation of God, a presentation that God has chosen to make, not the true essence of God. Nobody has seen that.

Except Jesus, for verse 18 goes on to say, “the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

It would be impossible for us to know God or understand a thing about him on our own. Unless God choses to reveal himself, all we can do is see the result of his existence--creation and his power--not God himself. But God has chosen to reveal himself “at many times and in various ways” (Heb 1:1) and Jesus is the ultimate expression of that.

Want to know what God would say about anything? See what Jesus said about it. Want to know what God would do in any situation? See what Jesus did in that situation.

Anything that is true about God is true about Jesus because Jesus is God and he came to reveal God to us. So, give thanks for God’s personal, powerful revelation of himself in our Lord Jesus. And, watch as we read through the Gospel of John to see what God reveals about himself through Christ.