As we gather together to read through the wonderful book of Acts about the very first community of believers, let us be encouraged by the spiritual progression of the Apostles. One of the most obvious progressions in faith is that of Peter.

In Chapter 2 of Acts we read about Pentecost the sermon Peter preached to thousands of people that day. Acts 2:38 is the response to the question from the crowd, “What do we do in response to the Gospel?” (my paraphrase) And Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Peter’s response is repentance and baptism. I could get carried away with the importance of the first part of his response, but it is the second part that I would like to pay particular attention to. “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off.”

I love that the Gospel is Good News for everyone, not just a particular people, age group, racial group or gender. It is for all people. Peter says this now, but I don’t know that he fully realizes the type of rift raft that is involved in “all who are far off.”

In Acts 10 and 11 we see the interesting story of Peter’s vision and visit with Cornelius the Centurion. Cornelius is one you might consider as far off racially as it might get. He was a Gentile that Peter and other Jewish men would have avoided previously according to Jewish law and customs. After prodding from Jesus to take the Gospel to all people, Peter obliged and spoke with Cornelius, who was a godly man in the first place, and baptized and converted his whole family.

When Peter is asked by his friends to give an account for the type of rift raft he was associating with, he retells the story of Jesus coming to him in a vision and what happened. The people are compelled and they respond in this way in Acts 11:18 “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘ So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Peter preached that the promise was for those who were both near and far away from God. It took some strong convincing on Jesus’ part to convince Peter that was true. Three times in fact. And their was Peter’s fellow Apostles, they were uncomfortable with the notion that the Gospel might spread to the likes of the Gentiles, or why else question Peter, their beloved friend? It turns out, “God has granted repentance that leads to life.” When they understand this clearly, I think the whole Christianity and following Jesus thing makes sense. The parables start coming to life when you realize the Gospel is for all people.

The Gospel is for everyone. I am a believer today because of it. I can be a believer because of it. As can you and your neighbor. Your brother or sister may believe as can your mother or father. All can believe and have life in Jesus Christ because God’s love stretches beyond our divisions, yes, “even to Gentiles” like you and me.

It was a process for Peter and his fellow Apostles to realize the Gospel is for everyone. Do you believe the Gospel is for all people? Do your actions match up with what you believe?

These are important questions to ask if we are going to progress in our faith like the Apostles.

The best question might be more of a prayer, asking God simply this, “Where do you want me to take the message of salvation Lord God?” And take some time to listen.

 
 
John 21

Well I wanted to wait to post on John 21 until this morning. It’s been a great journey together through the text. I know that I’ve benefited greatly by reading the scriptures together in community. I’m glad I waited to post until today because something unexpected happened yesterday.

Do you suffer from guilt? I do. From as long as I can remember I’ve always had a guilty conscience. I rarely break rules because my conscience won’t let me (unless its speeding, I do that all the time). The moment I do something I know I shouldn’t, my conscience goes into overdrive.

There are a couple of things from my high school years that I would like to totally forget. One of those moments was in my Senior year of high school. I was having a terrible day after someone was making fun of me endlessly. I shouldered most of it, until one of my good friends said something to me and I totally flipped out. I slammed him up to the lockers and I’m pretty sure I cussed him out.

This was not normal for me. I was typically pretty easy going, but my anger inside overflowed and it hurt someone, someone I considered a good friend.

I almost immediately asked for forgiveness if I remember correctly, but my friend was rightfully angry with me. I didn’t think forgiveness would ever be available.

I have lived with that guilt for a long, long time.

My friend and I got along better, but there was always a degree of separation.

He went to the same church as I did, and one Sunday I had the opportunity to preach. He was in the audience, and I had the guilt of the world on my shoulders that day. I thought to myself, “What will he think? He knows I’m not a very good person.” I felt like I was the most two-faced preacher ever to exist.

We went our separate ways after graduating from high school. I can’t remember a time we spoke since then.

On the occasions that I would go home, I would see my friend’s grandfather. I would ask how his grandson was doing and he often expressed concern for him and wanted me to pray for him and talk to him.

I prayed for him, I didn’t think he wanted to talk to me, and I didn’t know how to get a hold of him even if I did want to call.

It’s been almost eight years since I spoke with him. I’ve carried guilt with me that whole time. My guilty conscience had me thinking that my friend had run away from God because of my sin, my hypocrisy, my hurting him.

John 21 is the concluding chapter of what is an amazing discourse on the identity of Jesus Christ. In this chapter, we see Peter, who undoubtedly was filled with guilt after his mishap from a few days prior.

He denied knowing Jesus, three times. Peter was telling Jesus just days prior that he would never forsake him and the next we know he is denying him when it matters most. The guilt must have weighed heavy on the shoulders of Peter in the days following. Perhaps he was trying to forget about it by going back to fishing, or maybe he didn’t think he was worthy of ministry because of his sin.

God’s grace is sufficient for my sin. John captures this in Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter:

Jesus Reinstates Peter

 15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

   “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

   Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

   Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter would go from this interaction with Jesus and play a significant role in the advancement of the Gospel and establishment of the Church.

Jesus reinstates Peter to ministry, instructing him to “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” and “follow me.”

Jesus reinstitutes Peter with a question, “do you love me?”

Let’s quickly go back to my story. Yesterday, I received a friend request on facebook from my friend in high school that I slammed into the lockers. It turns out, he’s still a Christian, he’s doing well, he’s getting married, he’s going to church. And in our conversation catching up, he said, “I hope all is going well for you and your family. Keep doing the Lord's work and God Bless”

My guilty conscience had him far away from God, never to return. What my guilt was really doing was keeping a part of me away from God. I learned something about the sufficiency of God’s grace yesterday. I cannot put into words the feeling I have today that my friend remains a Christian.

John 21 changed my life yesterday. When I read it the first time, in the morning Peter’s reinstatement didn’t mean nearly as much as when I read it later in the evening.

I’m a new person today because when Jesus reinstated Peter for ministry, he reinstated me too. Because of the forgiveness for Peter I know the guilt and inadequacy I felt because of past sins are forgiven in Christ.

I’m still going to work on my friendship with my friend, and pursue forgiveness with him. I pray it goes well.

I don’t know that my sin is quite comparable to that of Peter’s denial of Jesus, but in my actions towards my friend, I certainly denied Jesus’ Lordship over my life.

That happens from time to time for all of us. But as John’s Gospel has so beautifully reminded me, Jesus forgives. He forgives and he reinstates us to the task of ministry and calls us to follow him.

My prayer is this:

Heavenly Father, merciful  and mighty God,

            I Love you Lord. Your grace is sufficient for my sin. Lord, you well know that I am a recovering sinner, prone to lapses in judgment, hurtful speech and actions. You know that on any given moment I may deny the Lordship of Jesus by my words and deeds. Yet you forgive because you are a patient and loving God. You are longsuffering for your creation to return to you. For that, may my love for you Lord be undeniable.

           I praise you for these things: Your mercy, Your Grace, Your Love, exemplified and poured out for me in the life, sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Forgive me as I forgive others. Lead me Lord and be my help that I may preach of you and your Son Jesus Christ to the very end of my days. I choose to follow you Jesus, you know that I love you Lord, Amen.


 
 
John 20
The resurrected Lord’s announcement to his disciples is “Peace be with you!” (19,21,26) I would also argue that when Jesus calls Mary by name, he offers her peace as well. A result of the resurrection is Peace. The victory over death is ultimately what will bring reconciliation and peace to the entire world. God’s redemption agenda is ultimately made possible because the grave couldn’t hold Jesus. Peace, or as the Hebrew word “Shalom” means “Peace, Wholeness.” That wholeness, not previously available because of the brokenness of sin, is made possible in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (see also, Colossians 1:20)

My thoughts for today turn to John’s Gospel as a whole. John gives a summarizing statement to his writing: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:30-31)

John’s intention of writing is so people would believe in Jesus Christ and have life in his name. We’ve gone through quite the journey to get to this point. John has painted a beautiful picture of who Jesus truly was. The question is for those who have gone through this text, if you haven’t responded to Christ, will you now? Will you believe in Jesus and respond to that belief in obedience? Will you seek out a community of believers (a church) who will cultivate and encourage that belief in Jesus?

The time to respond is now. Thomas, he wouldn’t believe until he touched the wounds of Christ. But Jesus tells us “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (29) Jesus is talking about me. I haven’t seen him, but I choose to believe. He’s talking about the Church over the last 2000 years, those who believe, even though they do not see. The Bible teaches us that one day, “every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2) The question is, will you believe in response to this Gospel? Will you believe in Jesus now or later? Jesus offers us an incentive for believing now, blessings. He does not elaborate specifically of what that blessing is, but with the help of Peter, we see that that at least one of those blessings is joy. 1 Peter 1:8-9 “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Are you filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy? Do you want to be?

Genuine joy is available to those who believe in Jesus Christ.

We’ve been reading the book of John with a few questions in mind: what does John reveal about Jesus, what do we learn about Godliness from the text, how does it apply to our world and how does it apply to our life.

In summary, we learn that Godliness is Jesus, and Jesus is Godliness. When we want to know what a God-honoring manner of life looks like, we look to Jesus. What John ultimately reveals about Jesus is that Jesus truly is the Messiah the Son of God. The Gospel of John is an overwhelming discourse on the character, nature and identity of the Messiah.

Ultimately, the application for all of us is belief. There is nothing of benefit here for those who do not choose to believe in Jesus. The New Life in Jesus is available for those who believe. If people refuse to, there is no life in him, period.

What will our response be to the Gospel of John, is it faith and belief?

We have one more day left in our reading. It’s hard to believe that our 21 day challenge is nearly over. My hope and my prayer is this:

Heavenly Father, you have given us your Word in human form, in the person Jesus Christ. I’ve spent 20 days reading of Jesus Christ, who he was, where he went, what he said, what he believed, what he endured and who he kept in his company. I’ve read of miracles and the wonderful miracle of the resurrection. I choose today and each and every day to follow, to believe in you and your Son, Jesus Christ. Because I believe I know that I have life in Jesus. May I be formed into his image and into his likeness. May my ways be conformed to His ways. I desire to believe in more than my word only, may my whole life be conformed to Jesus’ way. I pray for those who are on the brink of believing but want to see the scars of Jesus. I pray for those who desire more proof. Let the word of God lived out in your church be enough evidence of the Savior. Let the church be a witness to your love revealed in Jesus Christ. I pray this, and for my fellow believers to hold strong in the faith, in the powerful name of Jesus, Amen.


 
 
John 19

Even with all the preparation on John’s part, preparing his readers for the crucifixion, it still arrives suddenly. You are left wondering and hoping “Is he going to get out of this?” Jesus doesn’t get out of the crucifixion. Chapter 19 is the last story of the last hours of Jesus’ life before the crucifixion.

John does an excellent job capturing his readers and pointing them to the fulfillment of prophecy. There are too many things to be chalked up as coincidental. Conspiracy theorists may conspire of cover-ups, but you cannot deny the evidence compiled in John’s Gospel alone.

On a different note, but regarding the crucifixion, Pope Benedict has written a new book, and in it he briefly describes who is responsible for the death of Christ. He places the blame squarely on all of our shoulders. It wasn’t the Jews alone that crucified Christ, but the crowd who shouted for the release of Barabbas, not Jesus. It was the Roman soldiers who carried out the punishment and built the cross that held him as well. And above all, it was all of our sin. The Pope only affirms what I viewed anyways. But it was a helpful reminder that my place in the story is among many who turned on Christ and let him die on the cross.

Something new jumped out to me in this all-too familiar story. I never noticed what Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had in common. They both were, in a way, ashamed of being a follower of Jesus. It’s speculation on my part for both. But Joseph feared the Jewish leaders (39) and Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (I suppose so he wouldn’t be seen by fellow Jewish leaders). I don’t know the implications here, I’m just saying it jumped out to me that these two men would take it upon themselves to bury Jesus. Was his death what needed to happen to overcome their concerns? Was the gruesome nature of the previous hours enough to bring about true conviction in Christ? I don’t know the motivation; all we see is a dramatic change from borderline ashamed private following to an honorable public burial. They both honored Jesus by following the burial customs of the day. They ensured the body of Christ was given full respect.

Perhaps this is the spiritual journey we join together in pursuing. We go from infants in the faith, not so certain about who Jesus is, to full-fledged devotion where we serve Christ in the most honoring of ways. John doesn’t unpack their spiritual journey, he merely shows an inquisitive Nicodemus who later discovers what it means to truly be born again (John 3).

Another thought from the text regards the three languages written on the cross. For some reason, I don’t remember this, or I thought it was just one. But John’s gospel records the cross having a sign that stated “Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews” in three languages; Aramaic, Latin and Greek. I am uncertain of the importance of this. Matthew, Mark and Luke fail to mention that it is written in three languages. Why does John feel it necessary to add that to the story? Something inclines me to think that it’s John’s way of drawing our attention to the comprehensive and inclusive nature of the gospel. The sign said “King of the Jews”, but it was written for everybody to read. Why? What Pilate may have meant for harm, God used for his glory. Jesus of Nazareth would prove to not only be king of the Jews, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Today, that is written in hundreds of languages (maybe thousands, I don’t know) and it increases in number each day.

Today’s text has me eagerly waiting for Easter Sunday. It also has me thinking about a song that I’m in love right now, “Christ is Risen” by Matt Maher. I love the line in it, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death, Come awake, come awake! Come and rise up from the grave!”

Our hope today is simply this: Jesus dies on Friday, but Sunday’s coming.

My Prayer: Heavenly Father, I am so thankful that each time I return to the crucifixion story you open my eyes to more of your incomprehensible grace and love. I may spend the rest of my days dwelling on your Word and I will only scratch the surface of understanding the depth of your love. You revealed that love for the world through the death of your Son. I praise and thank you for the Good News that Christ is Risen, that the Gospel of John doesn’t stop at Chapter 19. There is more to the story, of Christ conquering death and bringing salvation for all. I, Father, am on a journey like Joseph and Nicodemus. May I be willing to honor Christ with my life, just as they did with theirs. Thank you for the victory of Jesus. We all put Jesus on the cross, and You raised him from the dead. Thank you that you have made the spoils of Jesus’ victory over death available to his persecutors. For That I praise you. May all glory and honor be given to you. Amen.  

 
 
John 18

My thoughts today gravitated towards Peter. When Jesus is arrested, or about to be arrested, John tells us, “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (18:10-11)

Violence wasn’t an answer for Jesus. To this point in Jesus’ ministry he hasn’t condoned violence, and it wouldn’t fly here either.

We see that Jesus is of a nonviolent sort of Kingdom. His throne wouldn’t be established through violence, rather through love and peace. He explains to Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (18:36)

He tells Pilate also that his purpose is to “bear witness to the truth.”

The way that Jesus responds to the interrogation of Pilate and the violence of Peter reveals the unusual nature of God’s kingdom. We need this reminder that the kingdom of God is unlike the kingdoms of the world. God’s kingdom is not a kingdom of force, but a kingdom founded on the Truth in peace and love.

Pilate appropriately asks, “What is Truth?”

I find his response almost humorous. Modernity is defined by absolutes and objectivity. We live in what is being described as a Post Modern world, where absolutes are absent and objectivity is replaced with subjectivity. There are many more generalizations of Post Modernity to be had. We have Pilate asking a Post Modern question here, “What is Truth?” He wants it to be defined, held onto.

I think our world still desires for truth to be defined. And we have the shining example of truth in the life of Jesus Christ. Pilate, has the audacity to ask the Truth, what truth is. Pilate doesn’t know what truth is, even though it was staring him right in the face.

Jesus’ job was to witness to the truth. He was the truth, he spoke the truth and he led people to the truth. When we want to know what Truth is, we turn to Jesus.

One of the important aspects of Chapter 18 then is what Jesus reveals about the Kingdom of God. The Truth tells Peter to put down the sword and as far as I can tell, the church is never asked to pick it up again. Are their Christians who believe that the Kingdom of truth will come by way of the Sword? Certainly. But the Kingdom prevails because of God’s love, not the sword.  Anyone can come to power through the sword, but the kingdom Jesus brought is not of the world. His kingdom is of God and his kingdom is incredible and its founded on love.

My Prayer: Father, I am so prone to picking up the sword. It is my human default to think that your kingdom comes through my efforts, strength and power. But your kingdom isn’t like the kingdoms of this world. While they come and go, your kingdom lasts forever. And you kingdom has come by the love of Christ on the cross. Your kingdom is not of this world. Let me see the truth that is Jesus Christ and bear witness to that truth with my life. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.


 
 

John 16
The message of John 16 is all about the eventual departure of Christ from the earth to return to the Father. We get the strong sense now that Jesus’ days on earth are numbered. The final words of the chapter offer us considerable hope: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

As for Godliness, and living a God-honoring life, we see that his disciples believe. They were happy that Jesus finally was speaking clearly, they were like, “we get it, you spoke plainly, yippee!” Jesus’ follow-up question is  borderline troubling in verse 31 “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.”

Everything the disciples came to know, love and appreciate about Christ was about to be taken from them. They were soon to be scattered. Jesus comforts the disciples with these words “I have overcome the world.” What is interesting, the “overcoming” hasn’t happened yet and Jesus expresses a confidence that he will overcome. For the godly, those who choose to follow Christ, there will be scattering. But Jesus gives his disciples hope, he will send an advocate (the Spirit), and he has overcome the world. We have both our help and hope in Jesus Christ.

That then is our application for the world and individually. We may find strength and hope in Jesus. Whatever struggles we may face, whatever persecution we hear on the news for Christians, whatever heartache we may face in our life, we know we have help and hope in Jesus. He is our strength and he has overcome the world.

Prayer – Father, in this life there is heartache. I can look on the news and hear horrific story, one after the other of the effects of sin. The pain, heartache and suffering that happens is often overwhelming. I read of Christians who are in far off areas of the world who face persecution daily. Give them peace and strength in Jesus Christ. I thank you that I have help in Christ through his Spirit. Jesus is my Peace and Strength, may that peace and strength be of sustenance and help to those facing persecution daily. In Jesus Name, Amen.

John 17

How comforting it is that Jesus prayed for me while he was on the earth “I do not ask for these only (his disciples), but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” 17:20-21

What a mission we have from this prayer, to be united together that people may know the Truth about Jesus and where he came from. Our unity as Christians reveals the unity of the Son and the Father and proves Jesus is sent from God. A question that might come from this is “Why would God want us (the church) to be his representatives of the unity and relationship of the Father and the Son?” It seems like a poor strategy. Not that I want to tell God what to do, but it just seems like a poor plan to rely on me and my relationship with others to be unified together to show the unity of the Father and the Son. Our unity as fellow believers in Christ is to show that Jesus is from God. I hesitate because Christians sometimes aren't so good at being unified. But I think God chose our unity together as Christians to be a sign of the Father and Son's unity for the glory of God. When we do experience earthly unity, the perfect unity Jesus prays for, it’s beautiful. Yeah, the process, may at times, be ugly, but when we work through our relationships and find love for one another and raise our hands together for Christ, there is nothing more beautiful than unified believers together called the bride of Christ.

That’s our hope, unity. It gives us purpose to pursue unity and to work through difficult relationships. I’ve had to work on a lot of relationships, trying to find unity and mutual love for one another. I tell you, it doesn’t come easy, but it is my vision that I wouldn’t have an enemy who is also a Christian. Certainly, as Jesus mentioned earlier that the world will hate his followers because it hated him too; I won’t avoid having no enemies at all. Christians though, ought be driven towards unity. Denominationalism seems like a compromise to me. A compromise from doing the hard work of seeking unity and love. We may never find total agreement on everything, but the heart of the Restoration movement (Church of Christ, Christian Church) and the prayer of John 17 are the same thing: unity and love in Jesus Christ.

Let us strive together to bring about unity and do what all we can to seek unity and love. Let us not resolve to “agree to disagree,” rather “agree to unify” and pursue common ground in Christ. Thank goodness this is not only our prayer, but also the prayer of Christ. One day we will find unity in Jesus Christ. His prayer will be answered. I eagerly wait for the day we may all find ourselves in perfect unity with one another. We have reason for hope that this is possible. Paul’s vision for the church was for unity as well, he often described it as a community of believers where what formerly was cause for division was overcome because of life in Christ: “Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave or free.”

Let’s continue our Lord’s Prayer: “O Righteous Father, we eagerly await the unity of all believers. May we taste together in our church the unity that is shared between You and your Son, Jesus. As you and the Son are one, may we have unity and love with one another who are Christians. In an age of denominationalism, we long for unity. We ask for  more than just community cooperation, but mutual love and affection for fellow believers. Let our love grow together towards unity in Christ. Undeniably, there will be times of great struggle and disagreement, may we be compelled by the prayer of Christ to seek unity and love in him. In Jesus name, Amen.