God has no beginning.
And now we come to one of my favorite books in the Bible. John has always been my most favorite gospel because he has such a different perspective from the others. It’s not that the others are lacking in some way, it’s just that—of all the disciples—John was the closest to Jesus, and I think it shows in his understanding of the salvation story.
Take this first chapter, for instance. John starts his gospel with this declaration: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (vs 1) On the surface, it’s such a simple statement, but it really speaks volumes.
Here’s what it said to me.
All the other gospels begin with the “beginning” of Jesus’ story. Matthew and Luke tell the story of Christ’s birth, and Mark (while he leaves out the birth narrative) starts with “the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” (Mk 1:1) But John is totally different.
The way he begins his gospel makes it clear that the arrival of Jesus as a baby on this planet was most definitely not the beginning of the God-story. Jesus arrives in the middle of the story. In fact, arriving in the middle is the only way God can ever arrive, since He has no end and no beginning.
That’s why I love John’s statement that the Word was “in the beginning.” In the beginning of what? Why, the beginning of everything else, of course! God precedes every other beginning. In fact, He defines beginnings. For what does the beginning of every thing in this entire universe have in common? God was there (at least) a split second before.
As John so adeptly points out, the gospel isn’t the beginning of God’s story, because God’s story doesn’t have a beginning. That must be why He describes Himself as, “I Am.” No matter the date or time, He is always in the middle of His story.
God is doing a new thing.
There is something lovely in this story of turning the water into wine that we don’t normally focus on because we’re too busy admiring the miracle! And certainly, the miracle is to be admired—as well as the servants. For all they knew, they were drawing out water to take to the host. They really put themselves on the line to trust in Jesus!
But before we even get to that part of the story, there’s this: “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.” (vs 6-7)
To my simple mind, the message here is clear: God is always doing a new thing. Was it simply coincidence (or convenience) that Jesus used the ceremonial washing jars as the vessel for His wine? I don’t think so. After all, if you’re going to work a miracle, I’m pretty sure you also have the power to do it any way you want to. Jesus could have produced that wine in any number of ways.
I think He chose to use the jars on purpose, and I think His purpose was to help us understand that He’s always doing something new. Sure, these ceremonial washing jars were used for a good purpose. In fact, they were used for the purpose God had designed! But the purpose of the ceremonial system was to help point the Jews toward the Messiah who was coming. Once He was with them, the party could begin!
Jesus took a symbol of what had come before and transformed it into something brand new. This is what God does. He is always transforming, always making something new—including us. Just when we think we’re old, used, relegated to the corner, Jesus will transform us into something new, something good.
He alone has the power to work those kinds of miracles!
God leaves no one in the dark.
Even from the earliest moments of Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees knew who He was. Over the course of the next three years, they would try to trick Him and trap Him and claim that He was some psychotic phony, but Nicodemus had already unwittingly outed them at the very beginning: “Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.’” (vs 1-2)
This is the way God works. We may live in darkness, but nobody is ever left in darkness. What does that mean? That nobody, and I mean nobody, is ever “lost” because of a lack of knowledge. Nobody is ever “lost” because they happened to live in a time or place where they didn’t encounter a missionary or have access to a Bible.
Jesus is the Light of the World, and that means that no matter who you are or where you’re from, God will send light to you in the course of your life. Of course, how you respond to that light is totally up to you, but everyone gets the light.
Jesus also affirmed that in His conversation with Nicodemus: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (vs 17-19)
Among others, Jesus was certainly describing the Pharisees in these statements. They were condemned, not because God punishes people who don’t believe in Him, but because they chose to not believe in something they knew was true. Can you imagine what that kind of choice does to a person’s own intellectual integrity? To reject something you know to be true must do nothing less than destroy reason.
And that’s how people end up “lost” in their darkness. It’s not that they never see the light, but as Jesus said, it’s that they love the darkness more than they love the light they’ve been given. Thus, they choose the darkness over the light.
So when it all comes down to it, we are the ones who determine our eternal destiny—nobody else does that, not even God! We may all have been born into darkness, but God doesn’t leave anyone there. As He shines the light of truth into our hearts, He gives us the freedom to decide what we’ll do with the truth we’ve been given.
And if we end up condemned, we have condemned ourselves. For it is still true that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.
God knows your thirst.
The story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well is remarkable for so many reasons. Of course, John mentions the most obvious reason—because Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans. The woman herself seemed attentive to that. (vs 9) Another reason this story is remarkable is because this is the very first time Jesus declares that He is the Messiah, and He did so openly, and to a woman!
But nothing can top the remarkableness of Jesus knowing the exact thirst of the woman’s heart: “Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’ He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’” (vs 13-16)
That’s what I love about Jesus. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He doesn’t mince words. He cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Whatever our true need is, He knows it, and He is more than able to satisfy it!
We live in a very chaotic, turbulent world with a lot of people who have a lot of needs. And we shouldn’t exclude ourselves from that list! We all have needs—some of which are unknown, even to us. And every single one of us, just like this woman at the well, has a thirst that can’t be quenched by anything else other than God. Oh, that doesn’t mean we don’t try to satisfy it in other ways. We are very good at using a myriad of things to try to quench that thirst, but as Jesus said, whoever drinks from the world’s wells will be thirsty again and again and again.
God knows your thirst, and He wants to quench it! I don’t know about you, but I am weary from trying to satisfy my needs in ungodly ways. Though Satan keeps whispering that his way is better, I have seen time and time again that his ways only lead to misery and despair . . . and more thirst.
Only God can quench that thirst. Only He can dig a wellspring of living water within so that we never have to go to the world’s wells ever again.
God does all the work.
Once again, we encounter a story of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, which led to a strong reaction from the Jewish leaders. But this story is a little different from the others. First, the objection of the Jewish leaders wasn’t to the healing (which they may not have even realized took place), but to the fact that the healed man was carrying his mat on the Sabbath, which was considered work and was therefore forbidden.
The second thing that makes this Sabbath healing story different from others is what Jesus said in response to these Jewish leaders when they discovered that He was behind the healing: “In his defense 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.” (vs 17-18)
I think it’s difficult for us to understand the extent to which the Jews made “not working” on the Sabbath a full-time job. So, when I read these two examples provided by Bible commentator David Guzik, I knew I had to share:
The absolute devotion to the traditions of man surrounding the Sabbath can’t be understated. For example, Deuteronomy 23:12-14 tells Israel to practice good sanitation when their armies are camped. Ancient rabbis applied the same principle to the city of Jerusalem, which they regarded as “the camp of the Lord.” When this was combined with Sabbath travel restrictions, it resulted in a prohibition against going to the bathroom on the Sabbath.
This devotion to the rabbis’ interpretation of the Sabbath law still goes on today. An April 1992 news item: Tenants let three apartments in an Orthodox neighborhood in Israel burn to the ground while they asked a rabbi whether a telephone call to the fire department on the Sabbath would violate Jewish law. Observant Jews are forbidden to use the phone on the Sabbath, because doing so would break an electrical current, which is considered a form of work. In the half-hour it took the rabbi to decide “yes,” the fire spread to two neighboring apartments.
I don’t know about you, but both of these examples seem unbelievable to me. Yet this is what the sinful mind is capable of doing even to the blessings God has given us. Instead of resting in God and His work (which is precisely what the Sabbath is all about!), we are intent on “taking charge” of our relationship with Him.
But what, exactly, does God want us to rest from on the Sabbath? The original commandment suggests that no “work” was to be done within a person’s gates, but do you think God was simply concerned (or even primarily concerned) about physical work?
No. Regarding the Sabbath, I think—as with most things in the Old Testament—that God began with a concrete concept as a means of moving His people toward another, more abstract concept. For example, the point of the sacrificial system wasn’t that God likes a good lamb roast; the whole purpose was to help His people internalize forgiveness. And the point of the Sabbath wasn’t that God wants us to stay in bed one day of the week; the whole purpose was to help His people stop trying to save themselves.
That’s right. As Jesus said to the Jewish leaders in this chapter, it’s God who does all the work. It’s God who does the healing. It’s God who does the saving. It’s God who does the transforming. Our only job is to accept the healing when it is offered—just as the man at the Pool of Bethesda did.
Physical rest on the Sabbath is wonderful. (I look forward to it every week!) But it doesn’t and shouldn’t trump the spiritual rest that God wants us to experience as we remember that He is the one who saves us. Anytime we lose sight of that, we are in danger of doing what the Jewish leaders did, of doing what the sinful mind always does—turning rest into work.
God wants to REALLY feed you.
It didn’t take long for the people to realize that they had a good thing going in Jesus. Of course, they weren’t seeing the “good” that Jesus actually came to provide; they had other things in mind. Verse 15 says that after Jesus fed the multitudes with a minuscule amount of food, the people were ready to make Him king by force. And why wouldn’t they? They had seen Him manufacture food and drink, heal diseases, and raise people from the dead.
If you had a king who could do all that, overthrowing the Romans would be a piece of cake!
But, as the people quickly found out, Jesus was as interested in overthrowing enemies as He was in feeding hungry people. Well, I guess Jesus was interested in both those things—only the enemy He wanted to overthrow and the food He wanted to give weren’t exactly the same ones the people had in mind.
Did you notice what Jesus said to the people who came back the next day looking for another meal?
They asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (vs 30-35)
The thing about these people was that they were interested in their stomachs, but Jesus was interested in their souls. They wanted to satisfy their temporal hunger, but Jesus wanted to satisfy their spiritual hunger. And why? Because filling up our stomachs means nothing if we are left eternally hungry.
That’s why God is interested in meeting our ultimate needs. Sure, He meets temporal needs too. He did it when He walked the earth, and He still does it today. But meeting our temporal needs is not His primary concern; meeting our spiritual needs is, for filling hungry tummies is a piece of cake for God. Filling hungry souls is an entirely different thing.
Jesus could have fed that crowd meal after meal after meal, but He didn’t. He had more important things to feed them. And the same is true for us. God has nothing against our eating food to satisfy our hunger, but He wants to really feed us. He wants to give us the spiritual food that will ultimately change our lives.
He doesn’t just want to give us bread; He wants to give us the bread of life.
But maybe we’re also thinking only of our stomachs.
God's blessing create blessings.
On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (when drink offerings were being poured out on the altar in the temple), Jesus stood up and said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (vs 37-38)
This rather simple statement by Jesus reveals two wonderful things about God. First, God is more than able and willing to meet our needs—and not just our temporary needs, but our deepest, most persistent hungers and thirsts. Whenever we come to Him, we never remain unsatisfied. He touches places in our lives we didn’t even know were in need of being touched!
But, the second wonderful thing about God is that He doesn’t stop there. Although He wants to bless us in mighty ways, He doesn’t only want to bless us. He also wants to make us into a blessing. That’s right. Notice that Jesus said the living water would not only flow into us, but eventually, it will flow from us too. As we are blessed by God, we are enabled to become a blessing for others.
And, in that way, God shares a little bit of what it’s like to be Him with us. We get to join in the experience of blessing others, just as we have been blessed by Him. We get to do for others what He has done for us. Of course, being a blessing to others is—in itself—a blessing. So, in blessing others, we find that more blessings come back to us . . . and it’s a never-ending, self-perpetuating cycle.
How awesome is that?!
God does not condemn.
There is nothing I love more than what I call “plain talk.” That is, a simple statement (about anything) uncluttered by jargon or terminology with hidden or double meanings. With politics and religion and folks with personal agendas, “plain talk” is sometimes hard to come by in our day. But it seems Jesus was rather fond of it.
He did a lot of “plain talk” in this chapter on a great many subjects! But I decided to focus mainly on this statement He made to the woman caught in adultery: “Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (vs 10-11)
Jesus didn’t only make this plain statement to the woman. Later, when He was talking to the Pharisees, He told even them that He did not judge them. (vs 15) Contrary to what Christianity has taught for a long time, God does not stand in condemnation of anyone. God does not judge anyone. This doesn’t mean that judgment doesn’t occur. It simply means that by our response to God, we judge ourselves. God doesn’t have to condemn us, nor does He want to.
On the contrary, God wants to free us. If we are judged and condemned, it is because we are slaves to sin. But there is a way out of that bondage: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (vs 31-32)
This is the other side of the “Neither Do I Condemn You” coin, and it’s one that folks who are interested in preaching “tolerance” often overlook. To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus offered no condemnation. But neither did He offer a condonation of her conduct. Instead, He told her the truth about what she had been doing—that it was a life of sin—because He wanted to set her free.
It cannot be said loudly enough: God absolutely does not condemn us! Ever! He doesn’t condemn us, because He loves us. And because He loves us, He also wants us to be free of everything that holds us down and harms us. To that end, we can trust Him to always tell us the truth regarding our condition. Just like any good doctor, He won’t sugarcoat our diagnosis.
Neither will He withhold the remedy.
God reveals Himself in and through us.
This chapter begins with a question that betrays an assumption which I believe many people still have today: “Later, as Jesus walked along he saw a man who had been blind from birth. ‘Master, whose sin caused this man’s blindness,’ asked the disciples, ‘his own or his parents’?’ ‘He was not born blind because of his own sin or that of his parents,’ returned Jesus, ‘but to show the power of God at work in him.’” (vs 1-3)
I think this is one of the ways we “judge” people most often. I know I have certainly been guilty of this type of thinking! It’s easy to look at someone’s predicament and simply assume that they did something to bring it on themselves. And, that’s not to say that there aren’t many times in life when the consequences we suffer come as a direct result of our own actions.
But Jesus makes it clear that that’s not always the case. And whether it is or not, God can use all of our suffering to reveal His glory in us.
Have you ever thought of your suffering that way? Have you ever been hit by a crisis and thought, Here is an opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed?! Probably not. But you should, because if there’s one thing the Bible testifies to over and over and over again, it’s that all of our suffering passes through God, and as it does, He transforms it into something He can use to restore us and those around us.
So, the next time you get hit with suffering, be on the lookout for the glory, too. It’s never far behind.
It is in our darkest places and deepest hurts that God reveals Himself in us.
God is an open gate.
As I read John 10 today, the first thing I thought about was how God is totally committed to freedom. For in His discourse on being the Good Shepherd, Jesus said, “I am the gate.” (vs 7) But He didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (vs 9)
It’s ironic that, somehow, we think of God as being interested in restricting our freedom, as being some kind of cosmic killjoy, when just the opposite is true. We are never more free than when we are in God’s fold. But we usually think it’s the other way around, don’t we? When we are living life as we want, doing what we want without giving a thought to God, that’s when we think we are “free.”
But the reality is, the closer we come to God, the freer we are. When Christ is our gate, we will find that we are free to come in and go out. He is always working to break the chains of sin that bind us and bring us out into a true, free life. The image of the door is used again in Revelation 3:8 where Jesus says, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.” When God says He is a gate, when He pictures Himself as a door, it is an open door. God doesn’t hem us in and enslave us. We have freedom to come and freedom to go.
This was especially meaningful to those who heard Jesus’ words, because the gate area in the sheepfolds of Israel was also open. There was no wooden gate. The shepherd was the gate. At night, instead of closing the sheep in with a gate that locked, the shepherd laid down across the entrance to the sheepfold. The shepherd became the gate, and that meant that He was aware of everything. Nothing could come into the fold to hurt the sheep without first having to go through him.
As the shepherd literally laid down to protect the sheep, so Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I lay down my life for the sheep.” (vs 14-15) And in His ultimate act of selflessness, Jesus laid down His own life for us. This is how we know—in those times when we feel like we’re not being protected—that God hasn’t abandoned us. How do we know? Because we have seen Him sacrifice Himself, lay down His own life, for us.
He didn’t have to do this. He had a choice. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus could have decided that He wasn’t going to go through with it, that He was going to protect Himself instead . . . but He didn’t do that. Instead, He went to the cross and sacrificed Himself for our protection.
And, for us, the death of Jesus is the gate. It’s the gate to a new understanding of God, because in the death of Jesus, we see that we have nothing to fear from God. And it’s also the gate to a new understanding of sin. Because at the cross, we see that sin—not God—causes death and destruction. And we see that sin—not God—brings hurt and suffering. And we see that it is God who is always working to relieve suffering, even to the very point of laying down His own life.
Today, Jesus says to us: I AM the gate, I AM the open door, I AM the Good Shepherd, and I AM freedom. When we come to God, we will find safety and security. We will find true freedom, an open door that allows us to go in and come out. We will find release from our fear and rest for our souls.
For we have a God who came so that we might have life, and have it to the full. (vs 10)
God doesn't define death like we do.
If you haven’t gone over John 11 with a fine-tooth comb in a while, I invite you to do just that. I could write a series of blogs on this chapter, and maybe someday I will. For now, it’s sufficient to say that we become so familiar with portions of the Bible, that I think we often read right over things that might pique our interest if we were reading for the very first time.
If there’s any overall theme in John 11, I think it must be that God doesn’t define death like we do. In fact, what we call death—this thing where we stop breathing, turn cold, and get put into the ground—isn’t what God seems to call death at all. Certainly not in this chapter. Or did you “read right over” this part?
After [Jesus] had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” (vs 11-15)
Did you notice how Jesus did not refer to Lazarus’ dying as “dying”? He referred to it as “falling asleep.” It was only when His disciples misunderstood what He was talking about that He had to clarify it for them using the language and terms they were familiar with.
Now, on its own, this may not seem remarkable or out of the ordinary. But consider this: He used the same terminology when He raised Jarius’ daughter. “When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’” (Mk 5:38-39)
Furthermore, on more than one occasion, Jesus claimed that those who believed in Him would never die: “‘I am not possessed by a demon,’ said Jesus, ‘but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.’” (Jn 8:49-51) And Jesus said something similar to Martha while standing at the tomb of her brother: “Whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (vs 26)
It seems pretty clear to me that God doesn’t define death like we do. In fact, Jesus could have healed Lazarus from afar with a simple thought, but He didn’t. Instead, He let Lazarus “die,” and then He told His disciples, “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” (vs 15)
This “death” we all try so hard to avoid, this “going to sleep” is like the end of the world to us, but it is of little matter to God. He can wake us up from this sleep with a word. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been in the grave for four days or four thousand years. When He says, “Come out!” we will open our eyes and emerge from that grave as if we’d only been playing hide-and-seek.
But there is such a thing as real and lasting death, and that is what God is trying to keep us from, because He can’t wake us up from it. If, in the end, we choose death instead of life, there’s nothing God can do except let us go.
In the meantime, we will all “go to sleep,” and when we do, it may well be because God allowed us to (as in the case of His friend, Lazarus). But none of us has to die, and I believe that God reserves His grief for true death—which comes as a result of being totally separated from Him.
So, try not to be sad over this thing we call “death.”
Falling asleep isn’t sad. The sad thing is, some people will choose to die.
God wants to transform your worship.
Well, I couldn’t let this chapter of John go by without making an impassioned plea for an overhaul of worship in our churches. For in this chapter, I believe Jesus reveals the key to passionate, soul-satisfying worship: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (vs 32)
Of course, when Jesus first said this, He was referring to the death He was about to undergo. But utilizing this principle in worship will revitalize your church in no time, because whenever and however Jesus is lifted up, He still draws all people to Himself.
You may be thinking, But my church does lift up God in worship. After all, isn’t that why we go to church? Indeed it is. But I would like to suggest that we often place God in the “Best Supporting Actor” category. We don’t completely ignore Him in church, but our worship is seldom about Him. Instead, God takes more of a supporting role. He is the side dish to our main course, which is usually a message on how we can improve something about ourselves or our lives. Ideas about God are often used to support the main point of our church service, but seldom is God the point of our church service. He seldom seems the main focus of worship.
To try to explain better, let me share with you an exercise author Kathleen Chapman suggested in her book, Teaching Kids Authentic Worship:
Worship is all about Him! Every instance in Scripture that involves the word worship speaks of an action or attitude where thoughts are directed toward God: who He is, what He’s done, why He exists, how He thinks, where He is, why He came, and what He wants. It has nothing to do with me. He is everything! He is . . . whether I am involved or not.
Okay, now try it. Just adore God alone. Don’t mention yourself. Be totally smitten and awed by God—who He is and what He has done—without using any personal pronouns.
Step away from your computer and try worshiping (focusing on) God. Set a timer or check a clock. Spend the next five minutes focused and fixed only on God, every thought adoring Him. Don’t mention yourself once [I, me, my, us, we, our] as you talk to Him. Keep your mind, eyes, and heart on Him.
Did you try it? How did you do? Probably better than I did when I tried it! I found this nearly impossible to do the first time, because focusing on ourselves is so natural and so ingrained, we often do it without thinking.
Do you remember diagramming sentences in elementary school? We had to do that for English class our entire sixth-grade year. Even if you never had to diagram sentences, at the very least—when you learned about the basic parts of grammar—you probably spent time finding and circling the subject and verb in a variety of sentences. And I hope you also learned that everything else in a sentence is there to support thesubject of the sentence. The sentence is all about the subject.
In the same way, worship has a sentence, and God should be the subject of our worship sentence. The subject of the worship sentence should never be anything other than God, because God is the only subject worthy of our worship. Of course, we can and will add some other things to the sentence. Since we’re in a relationship with God, we will make reference to ourselves from time to time, but the worship sentencemust revolve around who God is and what He does. Everything in the sentence should relate to Him.
Let’s take the issue of forgiveness, for example. If we want to build a worship service on the theme of forgiveness, our worship sentence could look something like this:
God immediately forgives.
Even while hanging on a cross, God immediately forgives.
Even while hanging on a cross, God immediately forgives those who hurt Him.
Even while hanging on a cross, God immediately forgives those who hurt Him, regardless of whether or not they repent.
The subject of the worship sentence reveals our primary focus. And what if we are the subject of the worship sentence? What if we only use God as supporting evidence to talk about who we are and what we do? Is it possible that this is what routinely happens in churches all across the country? All across the world? Could it be that the church in our society is declining because we have removed the only Person worthy of worship from the subject of the worship sentence? Are we beginning to see, in our churches, the effect of focusing on ourselves instead of on God?
We don’t have to do that anymore. What if we stopped worrying about the declining membership and the budget and the “style” of worship and just worried about lifting up Jesus? After all, He said that if He was lifted up, He would draw all people to Himself. Could there be a better evangelism program?
God wants to transform your worship. Are you willing to let Him?
God has all the power.
There is a passage in this chapter that I absolutely love, and I think it’s one that is prone to being overlooked: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (vs 3-5)
This is a remarkable statement, and it’s also a remarkable insight into what it really means to be all-powerful. I mean, can you imagine being in a position where all things were under your control? Can you imagine being the one person in authority over the entire world? There have certainly been many human beings who vied for that position—and a few have come awfully close to achieving it—and what do you suppose they would have done with such power?
I think most human beings would use that sort of position and power for their own personal advantage. We’ve seen that on a smaller scale time and time again—especially in Communist countries, where leaders claim to care about the “good of the people,” yet somehow they and their friends live in mansions while the common man starves in the street.
Jesus displays the opposite attitude, and I really like how John connected these two things: It was because Jesus knew He had the power that He knelt down to do the servant’s job. And the fact that He willingly humbled Himself in this way proved that He indeed had the power. For someone who truly has the power doesn’t need to flaunt it or lord it over those who don’t.
True power always manifests itself in service. If someone claims to be powerful but does not serve, then they are not powerful at all. They may have some quality that is masquerading as power, but when a person is truly powerful, he serves others.
This also explains why God is all-powerful. Quite simply, He is the greatest servant the world has ever known. Nobody will ever be more powerful than Him, because nobody will ever out-serve Him. God truly has all the power, and His power manifests itself in service to His creatures and His creation.
I want to adore and worship (and embody) that kind of power.
God is one.
It is one of the oldest prayers in the Bible—the Shema. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deut 6:4) This is one of the main tenets of Jewish belief. It means not only that God Himself is unified and consistent in His character, but also that He is the one and only God.
Jesus expanded further on this in today’s chapter of John:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (vs 6-9)
At the beginning of this blog, I noted that the idea that “God is one” is a main tenet of Jewish belief. I might have said it is also a main tenet of Christian belief; however, I’m not sure that’s always the message we proclaim to the world. For instance, I often hear about how Christ is our High Priest and is up somewhere in the heavenly courts, pleading with the Father to love and forgive us.
Does that sound familiar?
Or how about the idea that Jesus is “the God of the New Testament,” while God the Father is “the God of the Old Testament,” as if they are somehow . . . different. None of this squares with what Jesus plainly said to His disciples that day so long ago.
If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.
To me, what this means is that if the Father had somehow come to Earth instead of the Son, we would have the exact same historical record in the Bible. The Father wouldn’t have condemned the woman caught in adultery. The Father would have spoken forgiveness over those who were crucifying Him. The Father would have healed diseases and cleared the temple and driven out demons.
The Father is the same as the Son and the Spirit. And the Father loves us and accepts us just the same as the Son and the Spirit. No one member of the Godhead has to “work on another” to be forgiving. Jesus is not pleading with God to accept us. Just the opposite, actually. Jesus is pleading with us to accept God!
Hear, O Christians: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Isn’t it time to make this a central tenet of our belief?
God is your friend.
I almost wanted to just leave it at the blog title today. God is your friend. Period. End of story. What is there to say after that? Well, apparently there’s a lot, because this very plain and bold statement came straight from the mouth of God Himself, and we are still questioning whether it’s really true.
As I read this very familiar chapter once again, I contemplated the idea that people who are about to die usually choose their words very carefully. After all, we immortalize a person’s “last words,” and while the words in this chapter weren’t Jesus’ final words before His crucifixion, they certainly came in the hours leading up to those final events—and Jesus certainly knew what was coming.
And with the time winding down, I find it significant that Jesus didn’t choose to try to explain points in the law to His disciples, and He didn’t unravel the mysteries of prophecy in Daniel for them. Instead, He wanted them to know, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (vs 15)
He didn’t stop there, but went on to say, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (vs 16)
That’s important, because it indicates that God hasn’t decided to be friends with us based on anything we’ve done to attract Him into such a relationship. He just wants to be friends. He chose us, even before we knew He existed. And though there have been many times when we assumed we would only be servants in God’s house (like the Prodigal Son thought as he journeyed home), He assures us that we’re wrong.
God didn’t create us to be His servants.
He created us to be His friends.
And whether you’re a friend to Him or not, He is a friend to you.
This is the gospel.
God invites questions.
There was a line in this chapter that intrigued me: “I have much more to say to you, but right now it would be more than you could understand.” (vs 12) What do you think about that? Do you wonder what those things were? Don’t you wish the disciples had spent a little more time asking Jesus questions instead of fighting over their positions in the kingdom?
Of course, this caused me to wonder if Jesus is still saying this to His followers today. Is there more that God would like to tell me, but He can’t because I’m not interested in hearing it? I have a lot of answers for a lot of things, but how many questions do I have?
God invites our questions. And not only does He invite them, but I think He longs for them. He waits eagerly for them! He knows us through and through, and He is anxious for us to know Him just as He knows us. But, of course, that requires interest and investigation and discovery.
Many of us don’t give enough thought to the questions we should be asking. But all throughout the Bible, God keeps inviting us to come to Him with questions. And to come directly!
Did you also catch that in this chapter? If we needed any further exclamation point given to the idea that one member of the Godhead doesn’t have to plead with the others, how about this statement of Jesus? “The day is coming when you will make a request in My name, but I will not represent you before the Father. You will be heard directly by the Father. The Father loves you because you love Me and know that I come from the Father.” (vs 26-27)
What a remarkable statement from Jesus! “Oh, by the way,” He says, “I won’t be presenting any of your questions to the Father. I won’t be a go-between for you with Him. I don’t have to be, because He loves you just as much as I do. I am God, and so is He. We are exactly the same.”
So, what questions do you have for God today? Whatever they are, bring them directly and with confidence right to the throne room of heaven. Talk to any or all members of the Trinity—Father, Son, Spirit: You will get the same hearing, understanding, compassion, and attention from each of them.
God wants to give you life.
This chapter contains one of Jesus’ famous sayings about eternal life: “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (vs 1-3)
Simple. Straightforward. To know God is to have eternal life. But what may be a little more ambiguous is the definition of the word know. It doesn’t mean to have acquired information through study. After all, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their obsession with studying about God while they refused to have a relationship with God.
And that is the kind of knowledge the Greek word used here—ginosko—connotes. It’s experiential knowledge. It’s relational knowledge. It’s not distant book knowledge. It’s knowledge that is gained close up. Actually, very close up.
Ginosko is a Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman. It is the same word used in Matthew 1:25 to claim that Mary had not slept with (known) her husband Joseph before Jesus was born. And here, Jesus uses it to describe the quality of the knowledge that leads to eternal. It is knowledge which is acquired intimately, in the course of a close relationship, in total honesty.
This is the only way for us to have eternal life, because the only Source of Life in the entire universe is God. He alone is immortal, and if we want to share in His immortality, we must be connected to Him. This isn’t something He can just give us—in the sense of handing it to us and walking away. It only comes through having a close, personal relationship with Him.
Some people don’t want to have a close, personal relationship with Him, and that’s okay. He has given us the freedom to decide whether we want to be connected to Him or not. But if we choose not to be connected to Him, we can’t have eternal life either. There is no other way for us to live than to be connected to the Source of Life.
But if you ask God what He wants, He’ll tell you that He doesn’t want to be disconnected from any of His children. The gift of God is eternal life, and He wants to give that gift to everyone.
God is not a victim.
John’s account of the happenings in the Garden of Gethsemane is extremely interesting. For starters, he completely leaves out the spiritual struggle Jesus faced in those final hours. He doesn’t record the anguished cry of “Your will be done.” (Perhaps that was because he was sleeping at that time.)
But he does record something that none of the other Gospel writers mention:
Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (vs 2-6)
I think a lot of people believe that Jesus went to the cross as a victim. Oh, there are disputes as to whose victim He was—did Satan kill Him, or was it the Jews, or was it the Romans? Who’s responsible for Jesus’ death?
I’ll tell you who’s responsible for Jesus’ death: Jesus. What I mean by that is that if Jesus was interested in not dying, if He was interested in getting away, He demonstrated right there in the Garden of Gethsemane that He certainly had the power to do so. (All He would have had to do was keep shouting “I am he!” over His shoulder as He ran away.)
But Jesus never ran away from the cross; instead, He was moving toward it His entire life. He didn’t die a victim, but a victor. As He said Himself, long before He was “taken” in Gethsemane, “No one takes my life from me. I give my life of my own free will. I have the authority to give my life, and I have the authority to take my life back again.” (Jn 10:18)
None of this negates the evil actions of the Pharisees, the religious leaders, the people who demanded crucifixion, and the Roman soldiers who carried it out. But, to me, it indicates that God was nobody’s victim. If He didn’t want to die, He didn’t have to.
He chose to.
Which begs an entirely different question: Why did He do that?
God is in control.
Continuing in this chapter is the evidence that Jesus knew He was not going to the cross as a victim: “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” (vs 10-11)
Even in such dire circumstances, Jesus could see right through the mob mentality and political maneuvering to see God’s hand on Him. No matter how far the forces of darkness closed in, Jesus knew that His Father wasn’t surprised by anything that was happening. He was still in control.
This has to be an important life principle—especially for those of us who wish to follow Christ and, as such, are promised persecution in this life. No matter how dire our circumstances become, we can be assured that God hasn’t abandoned us or that He somehow doesn’t know what’s happening to us. In fact, believing that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him” (Rom 8:28), we can trust that people and situations would have no power over us if it were not given to them from above.
I’ll admit, this isn’t always an easy truth to swallow. In this world, there’s a lot of suffering to go around, and often, things don’t work out the way we want them to or the way we think is fair. But what happens in this world isn’t the last word. Jesus rested in that truth as He was headed to the cross. And we can rest in it too when things seem to be more than we can handle.
You’ve probably heard it said that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” On the contrary, listen to this testimony from the Apostle Paul, who learned differently: “At that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear, in fact we told ourselves that this was the end. Yet we believe now that we had this experience of coming to the end of our tether that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead.” (2 Cor 1:8-9)
Let’s face it: There are many circumstances in life that feel like more than we can bear! But what Paul was saying (and what Jesus said first) is, “That’s okay.” You don’t have to handle it all. You don’t have to figure it out. God is still in control, and He has His hand on you.
He is causing all things (yes, all) to work together for your good. And though it may not seem like it now, and though you may not be able to see the big picture now, you will someday see how He took everything that was meant for your harm and turned it around for your benefit.
Evil may pretend to reign, but God is in control. Always has been. Always will be.
God's word is as good as His touch.
The last three verses of this chapter hold a stunning revelation for followers of Christ who have lived in the centuries after His life on Earth: “Jesus said, ‘Thomas, do you have faith because you have seen me? The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!’ Jesus worked many other miracles for his disciples, and not all of them are written in this book. But these are written so that you will put your faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. If you keep having faith in him, you will have true life.” (vs 29-31)
Poor Thomas has gotten a really bad rap over the years. We have all labeled him Doubting Thomas, and why? Didn’t Jesus teach His disciples that there would be many false Christs who would arise, and that they shouldn’t just believe because someone said so? It seems to me that we should call this disciple Smart Thomas. After all, do we really want to teach our kids that to have faith means we believe without evidence?
Jesus never rebukes Thomas for his need to see the evidence. On the contrary, the very first thing Jesus does is supply the very evidence Thomas demands! We have read the rebuke into the story. I can’t find it there. Not only that, but did you notice the sequence of events during Jesus’ visit to the disciples the previous week? “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.” (vs 19-20)
It makes no sense to suggest that Jesus would rebuke Thomas for requesting the very thing He provided for the other disciples. But what’s going on here? If Jesus wasn’t rebuking Thomas, why did He say that those who believed without seeing were the ones who were really blessed?
Is Jesus saying we should believe without evidence?
Not at all. In the very last verse, John wrote, “But these are written so that you will put your faith in Jesus.” (vs 31) Jesus wasn’t advocating for “blind” faith—if, indeed, there is such a thing. Rather, He was explaining that the generations to come would have to consider a different kind of evidence as the basis for their faith. They wouldn’t be able to see with their eyes and touch with their hands, as the disciples had.
We would automatically assume that these generations to come would be at a severe disadvantage, right? I mean, how can you compete with having God in the flesh with you? But this makes Jesus’ statement all the more shocking: “The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!” (vs 29)
Jesus wanted us to know that we would be at absolutely no disadvantage because we happened to be born in the 20th century instead of the 1st century. Jesus wanted us to know that God’s word is just as good as His touch, and we can expect all the blessings—even more!—of being His disciples now as the Twelve did in days of old. Jesus can be just as “real” to us now as He was to Thomas and the others in that upper room so long ago.
And if there’s anything in this chapter that illustrates this point, it’s the encounter Mary had with Jesus in the garden after He had risen from the dead. Did you notice the exchange between them?
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you’re looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” (vs 14-16)
With this word, Jesus revealed Himself to Mary. What an awesome moment! Here she was, face to face with God Himself, although she didn’t recognize Him. Yet, when He spoke her name, her eyes were opened. She knew His voice, and even though we’re not physically standing face to face with God right now, we can know His voice just as Mary did.
Nobody else can speak your name the way God can. And that’s why we are at no disadvantage for not being able to see the nail prints in His hands and feel the hole in His side. God’s word is just as good as His touch, and two thousand years after He walked the Earth, He is still speaking.
God wants YOU.
Author Colin Quek once said that “love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning.” Haven’t you found that to be the case? We use the word love in a surprising number of ways in our culture. We say we love our children, but we also say we love pizza. The “love” in both of those statements means something different! Love is just a word until someone comes along and gives it meaning.
That’s also what’s going on in this chapter of John. You see, in the English language, the exchange that Jesus had with Peter about “love” looks pretty boring and repetitive. Jesus sounds a little bit like a broken record, asking Peter over and over if he loves Him. But it all looks a little different as soon as someone comes along and gives the word love a meaning.
There are two Greek words for “love” at play in this dialogue. The first is phileo—a word that indicates a mutual exchange of affection which is based on the characters of the two people involved in the relationship. The second word is agape—a word most often used in the New Testament to express God’s love for man. This type of love is not based on the character of the person who is being loved, but on the person doing the loving.
Agape love chooses to love in spite of the other person involved, not because of them. That’s why John 3:16 says “For God so agaped the world that He gave . . .” God’s giving is based on who He is, not who we are.
So now, if we read Jesus’ dialogue with Peter using the Greek words for “love,” all of a sudden, we see a little drama taking place. This is the first time since His death and resurrection that Jesus has addressed Peter personally, and the first thing He says to him is, “Peter, do you agape me?” (vs 15) In other words, Jesus is saying, “Peter do you love me more than anything else in this world, in this life? Would you totally sacrifice yourself for me? Would you lay down your life for me?”
Now, consider the position Peter is in. He’s been through a lot in the space of a few weeks. From the very beginning, Peter was a bold, brash, cocky disciple who frequently let his mouth run ahead of his better judgment. And it was that self-confidence and boldness that had led him to declare that he was ready to die with Jesus. “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away,” he said (Matt 26:33). And it wasn’t long before he found out just how wrong he was.
And now, he’s face to face with the friend he ended up denying instead of dying with. So, when Jesus asks him point-blank if he loves Him more than anything else in the world . . . Peter is not about to boldly declare anything any longer. He knows better. And that’s why Peter responds by saying, “Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo you.”
Men, imagine getting down on one knee and proposing to the girl of your dreams. And she says, “Awww, you’re so sweet. It’s so nice to be your friend.” Jesus asks Peter if he’s ready to “go all the way,” and Peter says, “Well, Lord, you know I like you an awful lot.”
So, Jesus asks Peter again: “Peter, do you agape me?” (vs 16) And Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo you.” Peter knows that agape love is all about the character of the one who is doing the loving, and he just can’t bring himself to say something he’s not sure of. Say what you want about Peter, but you have to admire his honesty here.
And then, Jesus does something wonderful. The third time he asks Peter the question, He says, “Peter, do you phileo me?” (vs 17) That’s why it says that Peter was grieved that the Lord asked him the third time. He wasn’t sad about being asked a third time. He was sad about what Jesus asked the third time. He was sorry that Jesus lowered the standard, that He “gave in” and came to him.
But what a wonderful statement about the love of God! God is not limited by our limitations! He doesn’t wait for us to attain some level of loyalty or love for Him in order to build a relationship with us. On the contrary, He is always pursuing us, always coming after us, even when it means He must “come down to our level,” so to speak. If Peter is unable to meet Him on the level of agape, Jesus is ready to start with phileo.
This means that, with God, there is no such thing as wearing out His patience. There is no such thing as running out of chances or “not measuring up.” Wherever you are today, whoever you are today, God desperately wants YOU! He sees you, He knows you, and He loves you just as you are. And He will take you in any capacity you are able and willing to come to Him. He’ll start with us wherever we are.
And that’s the great thing about the way this story ends. In verse 18, Jesus gives Peter a glimpse of his future, about what will happen to him. Jesus tells Peter that he will die for the Lord. And by the way, this is wonderful in itself, isn’t it? This was the very thing Peter had so boldly declared before denying Jesus—”Yes, Lord, I will go and die with you.” Then, Peter found out that he shouldn’t be so cocky. He found out that he really didn’t know his own heart.
But God knows our hearts, and He knew that as Peter continued to follow Him, He could turn Peter into the kind of man he was longing to be! He could turn Peter into a bold, self-sacrificing friend who would lay down his life as a loyal friend instead of running away like a coward.
And after He told Peter about the kind of person he would become—even getting to die in a way that would glorify God—Peter turned around and saw John and said, “But what about him?” (Oh, Peter! Don’t you just love him?) Doesn’t that just sound like a child? What about him? How come he gets something I don’t?
And I love Jesus’ response. I like to think that He took Peter by the shoulders and laughed and said, “Why should it matter if I want him to live forever until I come back? Peter, you must follow me.” (vs 22) In other words, Jesus is saying that in His relationship with Peter, it was just the two of them. Peter and Jesus. Jesus and Peter. Not Jesus, John, and Peter, but one on one.
All of us together aren’t in a relationship with God. He is in a relationship with each one of us individually. The relationship God has with you is unlike the relationship He can have with anyone else. That’s why God asks us—almost begs and pleads with us—to follow Him. Each one of us is a unique creation. He can’t replace me with anybody else, and He can’t replace you with anybody else. If we choose not to follow Him, if we choose to completely reject Him, He will have to live with that loss forever. And He doesn’t want to lose His children anymore than we want to lose ours.
The good news of God in the story of Peter is that, because of the way He agapes us, God doesn’t let anything—even our limitations—get in the way of our relationship. He will come to meet you where you are, because He wants you. And He will come to meet me where I am, because He wants me.
In God’s eyes, we are irreplaceable, but we are not irreparable. As we follow Him, He is more than able to make us into the people we long to be.