Love

Jesus loved me to the end; I must love other Christians likewise

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Read: John 13

It was just before the Passover festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15)

“A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

Reflect:

Jesus set me an example to follow, and it wasn’t just washing feet. I’ve done that for my children many times, for my husband only once that I remember, and never for people outside my family. This act of foot-washing symbolised love that is willing to humble itself before the other person, to serve them wholeheartedly.

When Jesus told his disciples to love one another in the way he had loved them, he meant them (and me) to love perseveringly and enduringly (v1), humbly and sacrificially (v14), deliberately and intentionally (v3-4), whether the person receiving our love understands our act of love or not (v7). This kind of love has very little to do with sex, as our society sees it, at least.

Crux:

Jesus loved me to the end; I must love other Christians likewise.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You love me! What a marvellous, precious truth. Thank you for loving me.

Thank you that I have been able to carry this truth around in my heart all day today, through the busy intent focussed times and the laughing splashing fun times and the quiet steady peaceful times. Thank you for speaking these words into my soul, deep into my innermost being today:
“You are loved by God.”

This has cheered me, challenged me, encouraged me, exhorted me, softened me and sheltered me as I knew the reality of your love for me. Thank you.

Please help me always to love others. May I see needs and seek to meet them. May I listen patiently and not just be in the room. May I have the right words at the right times – and quietness and a closed mouth when that is needed. May I be generous, ready to share; humble, ready to serve; and kind, ready to comfort.

Amen.

 

Usurpers

I need to believe in Jesus, not seek to usurp Jesus.

Read: John 11

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” (John 11:47-48)

Reflect:

Jesus has just raised Lazarus from the dead. This is not just any “sign”, this is a giant neon broadway sign flashing “Messiah! Messiah! Come begin your Eternal Life Here!!!”

And yet, here are the Top 70 VIP Jews, the Sanhedrin, holding a committee meeting. This scene could have been right out of some present day professional development day (makes me think of that TV show, The Office…) where the HR rep tries to focus people’s attention: “What’s our vision? Are we on task and on track? What are we accomplishing here, people?”

The sad thing is, the chief priests have got their job roles and responsibilities completely mixed up. Instead of using their positions to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, like John the Baptist faithfully did, they’re worried about losing things that aren’t even theirs in the first place.

It’s not “our” temple, it’s the LORD’s, the place the LORD God chose as a dwelling place for his Name. (Check it out: Deuteronomy 12:3,5,11,21 etc and 1 Kings 5:5 and 8:29,35,43 etc.)

It’s not “our” nation, it is the nation the LORD made of Abraham’s descendants, a nation he chose to call his very own (Genesis 12:2, 18:18, 21:8, 46:3), a nation the LORD God calls “my people” over and over and over again (Exodus 3:7,10, 5:1, 7:4, 8:1,20-23, 9:1,13,17, 10:3 as well as Leviticus 26:12 and a gazillion other places).

Surely, what belongs to God cannot be lost by God’s people. Not to the Romans. Not to any pagan non-believers, no matter how strong they might seem in comparison to God’s people. My God is bigger, and he protects his own.

Crux:

I need to believe in Jesus, not seek to usurp Jesus.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I acknowledge and honour you as God Most High, Sovereign Ruler over all creation and over the nation of your people most especially.

You chose to make your Name dwell in the temple in Jerusalem for a time, and you chose to dwell among your people as Immanuel, God with us, for a time. Now you dwell in the hearts of your people by your Spirit, for all time. I honour you with your current temple, my body, and seek for you to be honoured by the body of all believers, the church.

You chose to make a nation of your very own from Abraham’s descendants, and to expand your nation to all who believe in Jesus Christ. This is your new nation, your eternal nation, the church, won with the blood shed by Christ.

LORD, make me (and we, your church) a people who know exactly whom we belong to and do not let us try to usurp your position of sovereign headship. Help me to be a good citizen of your kingdom and not to desire the nonsense of dual citizenship with the nations of earth. May I represent Jesus my King well as an ambassador to those who do not believe in Jesus.

Amen.

Gods?

Jesus is God’s Son and I was created in God’s image

Read: John 10

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:14-15)

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods” ‘? If he called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came – and Scripture cannot be set aside – what about the one whom the Father sent as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (John 10:34-36)

Reflect:

Jesus begins with one metaphor in this chapter, using imagery of shepherds and sheep, gates and thieves. This is fairly simple to understand, especially since I have had the pleasure of hand-rearing several lambs from birth, feeding them from bottles, taking them for walks through our town (tourists would stop and take photos as I led my lamb along by a leash, as one would do with a dog, and later, as the older lamb followed along behind me without a leash). I’ve rolled my eyes when my lambs knocked at our back door with their front hooves as soon as they heard me in the kitchen in the morning, seemingly demanding the milk they knew I was preparing. I’ve laughed at my lambs rollicking frolics and marvelled at the way they have indeed come to my call, recognising and responding to my voice.

I find it easy to understand the figurative language which describes a Christian knowing Jesus’s voice and following him in the same way a lamb knows and follows her shepherd.

The second metaphor in this chapter is much more opaque. Jesus refers to himself as God’s Son, and to those “to whom the word of God came” as “gods”. The psalm Jesus is quoting (Psalm 82) describes a scene of God’s judgement and rebuke of “gods” who are unjust fools, not like the One True God at all. They are described as “all sons of the Most High” who will still die, just as every mortal dies.

As Jesus stated, this Scripture cannot be set aside. So how do I understand it and what do I do with it?

I can’t accept that it is right to think that those who receive the word of God (people who read or hear the Bible’s message, generally) are literally gods in the same sense the Father, Son and Spirit are God. This understanding would be completely at odds with the rest of the entire Bible, starting with Genesis 1, which related the creation of people by an uncreated God. And this understanding is also at odds with Psalm 82 itself, which is clearly portraying these so-called “gods” in contrast to the One True God who sits in judgement on them and disciplines them.

So I have to understand that this use of the word “gods” by the psalmist Asaph and by Jesus in quoting the psalm, is a metaphor. It is a use of figurative language, just like the use of the word sheep to describe God’s people in other parts of John 10.

One way the imagery can be understood is to say that the people to whom the word of God has come are idolaters who worship themselves, just like each and every person does a little bit of self-worship at some time of their lives or another. If Jesus is using the passage this way, then he is condemning his hearers for their religious hypocrisy in condemning him as a blasphemer when he proclaims himself as God, while at the same time they are acting as if they are their own little self-proclaimed gods. This makes sense with the passage.

Another way the imagery can be understood is as a reference to the fact that when God created people, he made us in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27). We are, in some senses, replica gods, image-bearers of God himself, like God but not God. So why should we (or Jesus’ hearers), who are made in God’s image, be surprised when we meet the One who bears the image of God perfectly? This too makes sense with the passage.

I am convicted of my sinfulness and convinced of my need for Jesus and my potential for glory.

Crux:

Jesus is God’s Son and I was created in God’s image.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are perfect and I am far, far less than that. Your Scripture says that I was made in your image, yet I frequently do a very bad job of making your glory known.

You are love, You constantly had compassion on others during your Immanuel years. You care for your sheep, of whom I am one. I frequently am not loving, compassionate or caring. I’m not gregarious or extraverted, which isn’t a fault in itself, but my selfish ignoring of others is a problem. I know if I push myself to hard to be friendly and chatty I will melt down or burn out. Please help me find balance, especially with my church family at Camp this weekend.

Please help me to know you and respond to you just as a good sheep does her shepherd. Please help me to follow in your steps as a good sheep follows her shepherd. May I bring you glory as I show your image clearly to the world.

Amen.

Workers

God is always at his work and it is good for me to be working also.

Read: John 5

In his defence Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:17-18)

“I have testimony weightier than the of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:36)

Reflect:

According to this passage, God is a worker. He didn’t stop work entirely on the seventh day of Creation, when he rested from his work of creating new things. Rather, God is living and active, at work accomplishing his purposes and achieving his goals, fulfilling his will and finishing his works.

The Father works. Jesus his Son works. The Spirit also works, giving new birth (John 3:6) and making true worshipers (John 4:23). God is good at his work! So it is entirely appropriate that I, who love God and seek to follow Jesus, living like him, should also work. And I should work hard and well until the work God gives me is finished.

What a brilliant encouragement from God to me as I head off to my first day back for another year of paid employment.

Crux:

God is always at his work and it is good for me to be actively working as well.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for your renewed words of encouragement to me this morning as I headed out to my job for the beginning of another year.

I am reassured to know that you are always at your work: you are not lazy, not a slacker, not asleep in charge of the universe. No! You are diligent, disciplined, powerful, strong, active, committed to your work. I honour you as the perfect worker.

Thank you for your work accomplishing my salvation, work which Jesus completed, which you, Father, sent him to do.

I ask your favour in my work for the coming term and year, for my students in their studies and for me as their teacher, tutor and trainer. May I be a hard-worker, showing them your love by my service to them. May I open their eyes to read words so they may read your Word. May I be successful in my work of teaching, and may they be blessed in their work of learning.

Amen.

True Worship

If I met Jesus face-to-face, would I be willing to ask for his advice?

Read: John 4

“The fact is, you have had five husbands…” (John 4:18)

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-20)

Reflect:

This woman may have had a backstory littered with widowhood and broken marriages, and a reputation that left her an outcast drawing well-water in the hottest part of the day, but she blows me away with her spiritual perspicacity.

She meets a bloke at a well and he starts a conversation about being thirsty and drinking water… so far, so ordinary.

But then he tells her one thing about herself that he had no human way of knowing and BAM! she knows straight away he’s a prophet. And she’s got a religious question right on the tip of her tongue, on a topic of deep spiritual significance, and she just goes ahead and blurts it out.

Maybe all that social exclusion gave this woman time to think some deep religious thoughts, but it’s certain that her outcast status didn’t keep her from wanting to get right with God.

She knows she’s found a prophet and she knows what she doesn’t know. She’s determined to know the truth so she may live in obedience to that truth. Wow! That’s the kind of woman I want to be.

Crux:

If I met Jesus fact-to-face, would I be willing to ask for his advice on worshiping God rightly – and then act on his advice?

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I delight in the irony of you sovereignly ordaining that I should meditate upon this story on a Sunday, the day on which I have gathered with other Christians to publicly worship you.

Even more, you foreknew that today would be a day when our church’s order of service was changed out of the ordinary routine, to help the little ones sit with the whole congregation through the whole service, including the sermon. And next Sunday we’ll be worshiping in a different place, as part of our Church Family Camp weekend.

How appropriate that I should read this today, and be shown that the necessary thing about my worship is not location nor order of service, but that I worship you in Spirit and Truth. And another delicious connection: this morning our Sunday School and sermon were on the Spirit of Truth who testifies about Jesus, as Jesus spoke of him in John 15:26-16:33.

O LORD, I love your ways!

Amen.

Conscious > Righteous

Through the law I become conscious of my sin

I’m pretty sure I got a speeding ticket a few days ago. I was driving in an 80 km/hr zone, about 100m from the 110 km/hr zone boundary when I saw the black camera on the side of the road, partially obscured by leaves. I glanced down at my dash and saw, to my dismay, that the speedo had crept up without me noticing and it was presently hovering just below 90 km/hr. Drat! I was breaking the speed limit law.
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There was no point slowing down; by the time I’d realised I was going too fast, I was almost into the highway speed zone and it was time to accelerate, not brake. For the rest of the drive home, an entire hour, I fumed at myself and at the police. Mostly the police, in accordance with my sinful nature.

When Jeff met me at the door ready to hug me and offer commiserations, I burst into tears. I told him I felt like Job – under unbearable examination every moment (Job 7:17-19), found guilty even though I try my hardest each and every time I drive not to break the speed limit law.

For a bit of perspective, it’s been almost 12 months since my last speeding ticket. Living in the country, driving several hundred kilometres up and down a long, straight highway most days of the week, I’ve earned a ticket every year or so for the last few years. The truth is, no matter how hard I try to keep within the law, I do, occasionally, break it.

There have been lots of times I’ve passed one of those roadside cameras confident I was doing a legally correct speed. But when I get one of those dreaded envelopes in the mail with its smug photos of the side of the car and the number plate, I know there is no getting around it. My inability to perfectly keep the law  is exposed by the law itself.

I shouldn’t be surprised by my inability to keep the law. Nor should I be surprised by the law’s ability to make me conscious of my failure. This is, after all, the ultimate purpose behind all laws, from the least societal convention to the most profound commandment.

Romans 3:19 and 20 tells us, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law… through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

When I see those cameras, symbols of the law in Australia (whether they are currently taking my photo or not) I am reminded that I am, by nature, a sinner. I am not naturally perfect, pure, blameless or righteous*. Far from it! I cannot keep the laws of Australia – how much more do I fail to uphold the perfect standards of my holy God!

When I contemplate the seemingly easy to attain standards of road rules in Australia, I become conscious of my sin. When I think about the oft-misunderstood social mores of my peers, the rules of propriety, I become conscious of my sin. When I meditate upon the 10 commandments, I become conscious of my sin. “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” as David wrote in Psalm 51. The law makes my sin obvious.

A few days ago, when I saw that camera, it was too late to act and slow down to a safer speed. Paying the fine I’ll be getting in the mail sometime soon won’t take away the fact that I was speeding, either. Waiting out the loss of a few more demerit points from my licence won’t make me a better driver.

In contrast, God’s law is not ineffective. God’s law makes me conscious of my sin for a far higher purpose than revenue raising or road safety. When I am conscious of my own sin, I turn away from my sin and repent. I seek God’s mercy and clemency. I ask for God’s forgiveness.

Whenever the law makes me conscious of my sin, I realise just how unrighteous I am and how very much I need God’s righteousness. Instead of thinking I can become righteous through my own efforts to keep the law, I seek Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness that “is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). I learn to trust God’s promise that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24).

I realise that obeying Jesus and being like Jesus is only possible because I have faith in Jesus Christ, whom I know and love.

crux: Jesus Christ is righteous. On my own, I am not righteous. Through the law, I become conscious of my sin so I will have faith in Jesus Christ and be given his righteousness.

* Righteous means morally perfect. Other words with similar meanings are pure, upright and blameless. Good and godly also mean the same thing. Another related word is justified, which means that God has judged you, removed your guilt, and announced that you are righteous.

[This musing is based upon Romans 3:19-26. The Holy Bible, New International Version 2011.]

Christology

Why study Jesus Christ?

Acts 11:26 tells us, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” What led to the people of this city taking a new name, a new identity?

A story to share with children:

After Jesus was crucified, rose to life again and ascended to heaven, his disciples* were persecuted. One man, Stephen, was even killed with stones. Many of Jesus’ disciples fled from Jerusalem. But everywhere they went, they told people the good news about the Lord Jesus.

In Antioch, lots of people, including non-Jews, believed what they were told about Jesus. The book of Acts says they turned to the Lord. God changed their hearts through his grace. The people of Antioch gave up their old religious practices and turned away from their previous religious beliefs. Instead, they believed the truth that had first been declared at Pentecost (Acts 2:3): “God has made this Jesus, whom [the Jews] crucified, both Lord and Christ.” They became new disciples of Jesus.

The apostles in Jerusalem heard about these new disciples in Antioch, and sent Barnabas the Encourager to the city. Barnabas was glad to go, and even more glad to meet these new disciples. He was very excited to see that God’s grace was helping the people of Antioch to believe in Jesus Christ.

Barnabas stayed in Antioch for a while to encourage the new believers to stick with their new faith. They had lots to learn. Who was Jesus? Why was he called “the Christ”? What had Jesus taught to his disciples while he was on earth? What should they do to obey Jesus? How could they follow Jesus, now that he had gone up to heaven to be with God the Father?

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Illustration copyright Chrissie D.
Permission to print this image is granted to families or churches for use in teaching children about Jesus Christ. This image must NOT be sold or used for any commercial reason. Please do NOT copy it to your website or blog.

The Holy Spirit was in Barnabas’s heart. He was full of faith in Jesus Christ. So Barnabas had answers for all their questions. The believers at Antioch learnt about Jesus. With Barnabas’s help and encouragement, even more people in Antioch believed in Jesus. Together they became a church, a new gathering of God’s people. Barnabas taught them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

After a while, it seemed as if there were too many believers in Antioch for one man to teach them all. So Barnabas went to find Saul, to bring him to help. Barnabas found Saul in his hometown, Tarsus, and brought him to Antioch.

For a whole year, Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught big crowds of people. The disciples of Jesus at Antioch spent twelve months studying all about Jesus Christ, with Saul and Barnabas as their enthusiastic teachers. As the new disciples learned about Jesus Christ, they came to love Christ, to obey Christ and eventually, to be a bit like Christ.

Barnabas and Saul taught the people in Antioch that Jesus had commanded his disciples to love one another, in the same way Jesus had loved them (John 11:34). The new disciples obeyed Jesus’ command. They loved one another very well. They showed compassion and were kind, humble, gentle and patient with each other.

In time, other people noticed how well these Antioch disciples loved each other. They commented, “They are loving other people just like Jesus Christ did.”

Some said, “They must belong to Christ.”

Other people said, “They are just like little Christs!”

So they gave the Antioch disciples a nickname, calling them Christians, which means little Christs. Ever since, the disciples of Jesus have been known as Christians. This was just what Jesus had said would happen (John 11:35).

crux: Like the believers at Antioch, I am a Christian. I am a disciple – a student – of Christ. So I study Christ. I seek to know Christ so I may love Christ, obey Christ and be like Christ.

I hope you will enjoy studying Christ with me at crux.live.

* Disciples are students or followers. Jesus’ disciples were the people who followed him to learn from him all the wonderful things he had to teach them about knowing, loving and obeying God.

[This text is based upon Acts 11:19-26. The Holy Bible, New International Version 2011.]