Weekly Bible Study Notes: October20, 2021

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:1-4

This letter was sent to Jewish Christians in Rome during the time of Nero’s persecution, and it has a theme that carries from front to back- ‘Persevere in times of trial! Hold on firmly to what you have in Christ and don’t let go!’ As you might imagine with such a theme, there are several warnings in the letter, and here is the first one.

Like the opening of the first chapter, this one has an opening paragraph that is heavy on content.  The content here is a contrast between the Old and New Covenants

Old Covenant New Covenant
A message spoken by angels Announced by Jesus Himself
It was binding It was confirmed by its hearers and by God Himself
It contained just punishment for every infraction It includes no escape for ignoring it or even for just drifting away

Simply stated, these verses are telling us that we must give our relationship with Jesus Christ (New Covenant) the highest possible priority.  In fact, this is the thesis for the entire chapter.

Now, let’s think about this another way.  The author has included a contrast between the Old and New Covenants here, as well as throughout this entire letter: Why?

I think the reason is a simple one, but maybe not as obvious to the modern reader as it would have been when it was written.  Remember, it is written to Jewish Christians. Of course, they would be interested in this comparison, just on general principle, but there is a deeper reason.  Nero persecuted Christians in his day.  Remember the story of the great fire in Rome that burned out the center of the city, and resulted in a whole new building program by Nero that seemed to be his way of immortalizing himself as a Roman Emperor?  Who did Nero, who probably had quite a bit to do with starting the fire, blame for the fire?

Exactly: Christians!  The Christians were the specific target of his persecution, not Jews.  Thus, a Jewish Christian might have felt pressure to renounce Christ and just be an innocent Jew again to avoid Nero’s persecution. That, dear reader, is the historical context of this letter.  Hold on to what you have in Christ.  The author is constantly reminding his readers how much better their lot as Christians is, in spite of Nero… so this theme is oft-repeated.

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (2:1) 

We need to pay careful attention to what we have in Christ (what we have heard) lest we drift away.  Thus “drift away” would mean going back to the old ways to avoid trouble in this life. He goes on in verse 2 to describe their situation under the Law with its system of rules and punishment for infractions, and then verse 3:  how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? refers back to “drift away”. If they would be ignoring their great salvation and returning to the old system, they would find themselves in a world of hurt with God.  On the one hand, they turned their backs on salvation, and on the other hand, they’d be returning to the condemnation of the Law; a lose – lose situation. Verse 4 underscores the fact that God Himself has confirmed to them the validity of the New Covenant in various ways. As we continue through the rest of the chapter, our author will build this case even more.

We might not have been Jewish, and we might not be living under Nero’s persecution, but are we ever tempted to “drift away?”  Are we ever tempted to slack off, get lazy, not care…? What will be running through your mind if this kind of temptation ever comes your way?

For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying:

“What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that You take care of him?
You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands.
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”

For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2:5-9 (NKJV)

When I was a teenager, this passage grabbed my imagination and really locked me in as a follower of Jesus; “you have made him a little lower than the angels…” Wow!

At any rate, our author is moving on, and he is making the case that Jesus is superior to the angels.  In verse 5 he mentions that the “world to come” is not in the subjection of the angels, but it is made subject to a man.  Then he quotes Psalm 8 which is an amazing journey into God’s purpose. Beginning with the great and wonderful question What is man that You are mindful of him, Or the son of man that You take care of him?  Obviously, questions such as this have gone through all of our minds, but there is an amazing answer, an answer that blows us away every time we consider it. Yes, God made us “a little lower than the angels” but He also put the world under us in His hierarchy.

Recall that back in the Garden, God gave Man “dominion” over all of the creatures of the earth; that “dominion” was not given to angels, nor was it given to any “fallen angel” for it was given to the Man.  Of course, we know that particular man went astray, but there is another Man who would change that.  God put all things under Mankind, but we don’t currently see that having entirely come to pass because of what happened later, when the first man rebelled…

But we see Jesus!

Jesus, that second Man, who has changed everything, yes, we see Him. Yes, He was made a little lower than the angels, so that He could suffer death for everyone, yes, this Jesus is now crowned with glory and honor, for He has tasted death for all of us.  What a glorious sight that is; it is our deliverance. Jesus, remember who He is?  He is the One through whom all things were made, way back in the very beginning. In the fullness of time, when God saw that the right time had come, Jesus was made a little lower than the angels, which is to say that He took on the form of a human body, being entirely human and entirely divine, this amazing Jesus came to earth to take away the problem of sin and shame to restore Mankind to the purpose for which God had created Him to fulfill.

Jesus, who is in every way superior to the angels, allowed Himself to be humbled greatly to accomplish the purpose of God, and soon in God’s time, all will be returned to God’s original design. How is it that God even takes notice of Man?  Yes, it still blows my mind, but He does, for He has big plans for us.

WOW!

 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
    in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again he says,

“Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

Hebrews 2:10-13

This is another section of text that is breathtaking if you’ll relax and let its full significance settle in.  Check out that first paragraph…  Yes, it was quite fitting for God to make Jesus perfect through His suffering, but that isn’t the breathtaking part, at least not for me.  It is the part about bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory.  Jesus attained glory through His suffering; we attain glory through His suffering. Jesus is in glory- we are headed for glory.  Wow!

Note: If you are wondering why I put “sisters” and “daughters” in parentheses, it’s because those words are not in the Greek. It’s “brothers” and “sons”. If you would like to accuse the “new” NIV of being politically correct, I would join with you here, and it is irritating to me too.  However, it does capture the full intent of the original, because while they didn’t come out and say it literally, those were inclusive terms in context.  Sometimes we forget that in Middle Eastern cultures back then, and even today, it is not polite to refer to women in this fashion; the masculine form represents the whole.  By adding those terms, the NIV has captured this and made it clear to modern Western readers that it was intended in the inclusive form. Back to the text…

The one “who makes people holy” is obviously a reference to Jesus. We who are His followers are the ones made holy, and another “wow” moment: Both are in the same family: Welcome to God’s family, we are the brothers and sisters of Jesus! Therefore, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Jesus Christ, as He sits on the throne at the right hand of God, ruling heaven and earth is not only King of kings and Lord of lords, but He is also our “big brother”.  If you aren’t filled with awe right now, please slow down and read that again.

The Old Testament quotes that follow are placed there to demonstrate that this is something that has been foretold in Scripture, even though people may not have comprehended it at first.  Imagine how early Jewish Christians in the circumstances of their time would have reacted to this.  Being the brother of the Son of God, a God whose name it was unlawful to even say out loud: Amazing!

I hope that it strikes you the same way.  So many of us go through our lives filled with guilt, grief and fear, not ever comprehending how precious we are in God’s sight… Brothers, in the family… relations…  Not evil, wretched sinners.  Thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and your acceptance of His grace, all of that is so far away, and God remembers it no more… Brother! Sister! Son! Daughter!

Welcome home!

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Hebrews 2:14-18

Following the last section, in which we saw that we are God’s children, Jesus’ brothers and sisters, our author continues with his theme in verse 14. Since these “children” have flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood too, and then we clearly see why.  Jesus was incarnated so that He could die, to break the power of the devil, by setting us free from the fear of death. Interesting concept isn’t it?  Being set free from slavery to the fear of death, and from the one who holds power over us by our fear of death…

So, how does the author move from the fear of death to Satan holding power over us because of our fear of death?  Here’s a thought: If you are a follower of Jesus who lives in a place where following Jesus is not permitted by law, will you follow Jesus or will you follow the law of that land? If the authorities in power there are seeking to enforce their laws, then they will seek to coerce you into following their laws, right?  What is the ultimate means of coercion on this earth? Death.  If you fear death, you are likely to follow the law.  If you have been set free from the fear of death, you are free to follow Jesus.  Consider who this letter was written to: Jewish Christians in Rome during the persecution of Nero.  The whole book of Hebrews is a persuasive argument to them to hold onto their faith, even to the point of death, a death they have no reason to fear. We also have no reason to fear death, since we know that because of Jesus, we have eternal life. You can destroy my body, but I live on anyway. Yes, dear reader, this is much more than empty talk or an academic doctrine, it is very real.

He continues: Jesus didn’t do this amazing thing for the angels, He did it for “Abraham’s descendants.”  This might trip you up if you don’t keep your covenants straight.  “Abraham’s descendants” is a term used in the Old Testament to refer to the Jews, for they were literally the genetic descendants of Abraham, and were sometimes called the “children of Israel.”  Of course “Israel” was also one of Abraham’s descendants.  In the New Testament, the Gospel changed all of this.  Through having been born again, both Jew and Gentile are saved by Christ.  There is no more Jew and Gentile, there is only “in Christ.”  Thus, this refers to all followers of Jesus, not just Jewish followers, for as Paul says in Galatians 6:16, we are “the Israel of God.” To accomplish all of this, the Son had to become fully human… and so He did become fully human, and in so doing, He became a faithful and merciful high priest in service to God.  There will be much about this “high priest” as the letter continues.

His humanity also made Him subject to every temptation that you and I will face in life, and thus, He is able to help us when we are tempted.  What a great comfort this is!  Jesus had to deal with the same kinds of things that may get to me, and He is able and willing to help in those tough moments.  I don’t know about you, but I find that He is much more helpful when I get out of His way, when I ask for His help, and when I am willing to turn to Him.  When I force Him out of my mind, I always seem to fall… Maybe there’s a pattern there.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: October 17, 2021

Prayer is a very big topic about which thousands of volumes have been written. Yet, not only is prayer a very large subject, it is also a controversial one in many places, for when it comes to the subject of prayer, we often forget one slippery little detail…

There is no “one size fits all” answer to questions about prayer.

Now, before you feel the need to call me a heretic, consider this fundamental presupposition that you will need to address: God is willing to meet us where ever we are.

That statement doesn’t just refer to geography, it goes much deeper. Each of us has a different personality, different expectation, hot buttons, ways of understanding and comprehending things. We have different life experiences, different fears, different cultural backgrounds and theological backgrounds… and God knows each and every one of us better than we know ourselves. He created each and every one of us after all, including our personalities, hot buttons, emotions and so forth. He wants an intimate relationship with each one of us, and thus, why wouldn’t He know us so intimately: He is all-knowing isn’t He?

Since prayer is all about knowing God, relating to God and communicating with God, doesn’t it stand to reason that each of us would relate to Him slightly differently?

When you stop and think about it, isn’t that why there are many classical spiritual practices and not just one?

I have a dear friend, an absolutely wonderful brother in Christ who almost always begins a prayer by saying something like this: “Our most gracious and merciful Heavenly Father…”. I, on the other hand, just say “Lord…” or “Father…”. Which one of us is right and which one is wrong? In general, my friend is a tad more formal than I am; he is also 10 years older. If you think about it, he came of age when formality in social settings was still more or less the norm, while I came of age right around the time informality was coming into vogue; could that have something to do with it? It’s possible.

When I was a little kid, my parents attended the Episcopal church, and looking back, it was a “high” church, rich in tradition, ritual and ceremony. Each week the same prayers were read from the Book of Common Prayer of 1840; there was no deviation. For me at least, and remember, I was a little kid, God was entirely unapproachable, and a really scary dude, always anxious to smite somebody, little boys most of all! “Better mind your P’s and Q’s young man!”

When I came to discover that God was not only approachable, but that He desired a relationship with us, everything changed for me; terror changed to love, and I was eager to approach the throne of grace.

My friend came from a different church background than I came from; maybe that’s where my friend and I grew to have different approaches; still, neither is “wrong”.

This then, is the first lesson about the spiritual practice of prayer: It is perfectly fine if you approach the subject a little differently than I do, as long as we both approach the subject honestly.

Prayer is really the fundamental spiritual practice of the Christian life, and although we often neglect it, we do so at our loss. There are four main types of prayer found in the Scriptures, prayers of praise, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of intercession for others, and prayers of supplication which are personal requests. What follows here is an easy matrix that can be used to begin a deeper prayer life. It begins with a Scriptural foundation, and then moves onto action steps, and if you put it into practice for a period of time, not only will you have a deeper and more meaningful prayer life, you will also have a documented record of all that God is doing in your life which, in and of itself, makes the effort more than worth it.

Of course, this is not the only way to approach individual prayer, not by a long shot, but it has been used for many centuries by God’s people, it isn’t complicated, and once it becomes a habit, it will easily be the favorite part of your day. It will also send you off to school or work or whatever, with a whole different perspective.

Biblical basis for prayer

In General:

The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him. Proverbs 15:8

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:6

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Matthew 6:7

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed

Luke 5:16

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Luke 18:1

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Romans 12:12

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:13-20

Giving Thanks

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

Ephesians 1:16

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Intercession (praying for others)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Mark 11:25

bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Luke 6:28

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.

Romans 15:30

He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:10-11

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

Ephesians 1:18

Supplication (Prayer for yourself; asking for things)

The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

Proverbs15:29

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

Matthew 21:22

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6

Pray in the Morning

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Mark 1:35

How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.

Proverbs 6:9-11

Get Started!

Action steps:

  1. Take a piece of paper and label it “Things I’m thankful for”.  Then list everything you can think of that you are thankful for… don’t leave anything out, no matter how small it may seem.
  2. Take another sheet and label it “Things I want to praise God for” and list everything that you can think of to praise God for.
  3. On a third sheet label it “People I need to pray for” and list everyone you can think of who needs prayer.
  4. Label a fourth sheet “Things I need to pray for” and list anything that you need prayer for in your life.
  5. Select a book of the Bible that you either are currently reading or one that you would like to read.  If you can’t think of anything, pick Matthew, starting with chapter one.
  6. Make time the following morning for prayer, and then pray through your lists in the order from above: Do not deviate from that order, this is important!When you are finished with that, turn to your selected Bible reading and slowly, prayerfully go through it, asking God to open your eyes to see the riches that it has for you.
  7. Do this every day from now on; force yourself if necessary!
  8. As your prayers for yourself or others are answered, take them off of those lists and add them to your thanksgiving or praise lists.  In a few months, you will have a documented record of the amazing things God is doing in your life, and you will never view life the same again.
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Carry each other’s burdens

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Wednesday Bible Study Notes: October 13, 2021

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Here we are at the beginning of a tour of a new book from the New Testament, my very favorite book of all, a book that will show you how the Old and New Covenants come together, a book that will both challenge and encourage each one of us.  I sure hope that you will have the time and inclination to be fed and encouraged on our tour: Here we go!

The book begins with a bang in these four verses!  Take a minute to drink them in; they are simply amazing.  Look first of all at the contrast between God’s former ways, and His ways now.  In the past, He spoke through the prophets.  Now, He speaks directly by His Son.  Can you see the difference?  In the Old Testament, there is always an intermediary, but in the New Testament, God speaks directly to us by His Son; a paradigm shift of massive proportions.  This Son by whom God speaks is not just some kid, He is not only heir of all things, He is also the one by and through whom God created the entire universe.  When God spoke the words “let there be light” it was the Son’s lips that were moving… Just let that sink in… This is a huge statement. There’s more coming, catch this one:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. The “radiance” of God’s glory!  Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory, and God sent Him to be with us, to teach us, to have relationships with us… and to die for us.  It’s one thing to be amazed at God’s unending love for us in sending His Son to die for us, but when you combine that kind of love with just exactly who this Jesus is… WOW!

Jesus is also the “exact representation of His being”:  Jesus is in fact God. This is what Jesus meant when He said “the Father and I are one.”  WOW! If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If you want to know what God thinks, look at Jesus. If you want to know if God loves you, look at Jesus on the cross.

“…sustaining all things by his powerful word.”  Ever wonder why the planets don’t just fly off into space?  Ever wonder why the seasons keep coming at the right time after all of these years?  Ever wonder who made up the laws of physics, of nature, of right and wrong? Ever wonder why your head doesn’t explode?  The entire universe is sustained by His Word!  Ever wonder why so many people seek to denigrate the Bible? Now you know why; it is His Word. It is so powerful that it could call the universe into existence.  It is nothing to be trifled with, as so many philosophers have found out. It is a force that we cannot even begin to fathom, and God sent Him to give us direct access to Him.  If this does not inspire you, then maybe you need to see if you can still fog a mirror!

After He finished His work on the earth, He was returned to the glory from whence He had come, superior to the angels, yes. Superior to all living beings everywhere? Yes. This is our Savior, with whom we have a relationship.  I wonder, do we value that relationship as we ought?

Hebrews is simply an awesome book. I think you’ll see as we continue going through it, that it is like no other.

Hebrews 1:5-14

As we continue through the rest of Hebrews chapter 1, the author is setting about to prove his assertions of Chris’s supremacy by comparing Him to the angels.  Verses 5-13 are quotations from the Old Testament that contrast the Son with angels.

 For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
    today I have become your Father”?

Or again,

“I will be his Father,
    and he will be my Son

Hebrews 1:5

Notice that in these words, God has a special relationship with Jesus, the relationship of Father and Son; this is quite a different relationship than that which He has with the angels.  In the next verse, our author shows that at the Incarnation, the angels must worship the Son:

And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.” (1:6)

As the chapter continues, we can see that the Son will reign, but the angels are His servants (1:8-9 c.f. 1:7).  In vv. 10-12 he quotes  Psalm 102 indicating that the Son will reign over the universe, will destroy it and yet remain the same always. In verse 13 he quotes Psalm 110 showing that God will destroy all of the Son’s enemies and make them “a footstool for your feet” surely God has never made such a promise to an angel!

Finally, comes verse 14 and a curve…

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

As the book continues, we will see the author demonstrate that Jesus is not only superior to the angels, but that He is also superior to Moses, that His sacrifice is superior to the sacrifices of the Old Covenant, that His New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant, and that the promises of the New Covenant are superior to those of the Old Covenant, for they are brought by a superior High Priest (Jesus) who brings a superior sacrifice to establish a superior Covenant.  With this in mind, consider 1:14 above…

By asking the question, the author is asserting its truth: Yes, the angels are “ministering spirits” sent to “serve those who will inherit salvation.”  Slow down, take a closer look; Jesus is the “firstborn” of the Father, His salvation isn’t even an issue, who are these people the author is referring to? Let’s figure it out: Who inherits salvation? Who are called “co-heirs with Christ?”

Let’s see… salvation comes from accepting Christ as savior, by His work on the cross.  Those who are “in Christ” are His co-heirs.  Therefore, the angels are ministering spirits sent to serve you and me.  Again, slow down and let that sink in…

This “in Christ” thing is really too cool!

So, why is it that we waste so much time arguing and complaining?  It seems to me that our author is going to make the point that we really need to grab on to what we have in Christ, and not worry about all of the noise and distractions of this life.

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Proverbs 15:23

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Sunday Sermon Notes: October 10, 2021

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:5-8

For us to properly understand these verses, and the ones to follow, we need to be reminded of what Jesus was talking about in this entire section; He set the context in 6:1:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

If we remember this context, and that prayer is His second illustration for this point (after giving to the needy) then the significance of these verses becomes quite stark, even convicting for many of us.

Prayer, talking with God, the very core of our relationship with God, is not intended to be a public spectacle. It is not something you do to impress your family and friends with how righteousness you are; it is never to be a “look at me” kind of thing in whatever form the “look at me” might take. In fact, there really is no part of our relationship with God that is “public” except that others will see the results of our closeness as He works through us to accomplish His purpose.

I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh; but to be fair, I’m being more diplomatic than Jesus was!

With all of that said, there is of course an important role to be played by corporate prayer and worship, but clearly that isn’t what Jesus is referring to here.

 Let’s be honest, when these verses are considered in context, they really don’t need much explanation, but I would like to add a note on prayer and relationship with God: God created each one of us, He knows each of us better than we know ourselves, and He comes to us where we are, relating to us in the way that He knows is most likely to be meaningful and significant. As a consequence, He relates to each one of us a little differently; there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to our relationships with Him, and anyone who tries to tell you that your relationship with Him must be like such and such is making a mistake, for our God is much bigger than that. In hearing people describe their relational experiences with God, I am often amazed by what I hear, they are so different from my own rather matter-of-fact “conversations” with Him, yet they are precious to the one describing them, just as mine are to me… and this is perfectly fine, perfectly normal, right and proper.

Yet God’s relational method is never just to make us look impressive to other people; that is the point Jesus is making here.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:9-15

Keeping the context of 6:1 in mind, take a look at this prayer- what do you see?

Do you see “look at me”? Do you see “gimme the goodies”?

Hardly.

What we can see here is humility, putting God’s purpose first and foremost, necessities, forgiveness, and overcoming the evil one; it is elegant in its simplicity.

We are addressing the Father in heaven, acknowledging His glory and giving Him honor, and then asking for His kingdom to come in its fullness, where His will be the only will that is done on earth, just like in heaven. Notice that this doesn’t leave all that much room for my own will to be done, in fact, my will and your will are not mentioned at all.

There is a request that God would provide for us, a humble request to be sure, which is an acknowledgement that we are entirely dependent upon Him and not on our own abilities. Next there is a request for God’s forgiveness as we forgive others; a scary thought for many, I might add. Finally, we are to ask God not to lead us into temptation, but to deliver us from the evil one, again a request of supreme humility. When you put this all together, Jesus is teaching us to pray in a manner that is entirely foreign to the religious life of His time, and a lot more foreign in our own time than we might like to think about, with only God’s will being mentioned.

After this, Jesus goes on to expand a little bit on the whole subject of forgiveness making a conditional statement in verse 15, which must have blown the minds of the Pharisees and their gang of friends. Truly, this is radical now as it was back then.

Was it Jesus’ intention that we simply recite these words over and over? I really doubt it; I see this as a model for prayer, the elements to be included in prayer, rather than something to be memorized and recited to the absence of anything else, particularly when we lose what He is actually saying here. Of course, I would never say that there is anything wrong with reciting these, or any verses.

Here’s some homework: Reflect and pray on this passage, asking Him to reveal them in their fullness to you. I think you’ll find this to be a fascinating exercise in spiritual practice.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: September 19, 2021

Colossians 3:18-4:1

In this section, Paul gives insight to how Christians should behave in the major personal relationships of daily life.  In 3:18-19, he speaks of husbands and wives, in 3:20-21 he speaks of parents and children, and from 3:22-4:1, masters and slaves, or today we would say employers and employees.  If you think about it, we spend most of our waking lives in one of these relationships, at least most of us do.

We can easily sum up all of these relationships by saying that in each, we are to put others ahead of ourselves. This is certainly true in Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives, even though he uses language in verse 18 that isn’t modern.  That wives should put their husbands first may not sound contemporary, but husbands are also to put their wives first; this might be a little clearer in the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:22-33.

The same thing is true of the relationship between parents and children.  Both are to put the other first, giving honor where honor is due and giving love and nurture where they are due.  In the case of master and slave, or employer and employees, we have again the idea that both are to consider the other, with workers doing their very best always “as working for the Lord” and the boss is told to always do what is fair and right “because you know that you have a Master in heaven.”

I think that what is really important in this passage is the principle of putting others first.  This principle is at the very heart of “love your neighbor as yourself.”  All too often, people approach the concept of love looking at what they will get out of it, but this is surely not what Jesus had in mind when He taught us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  We love and serve others because we love Jesus Christ, not because we want something. In short, we serve others because we have been called to serve, and in doing so we are serving our God, because we love Him.

Yes, there are always some who will want to take advantage, but we know that we are serving the Lord, and that “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism” (v. 25).

One final thought, for some this is a hard concept to embrace, but it lies at the heart of Christian discipleship.  It is all so normal to expect that we receive something from our efforts, be it money or appreciation or loyalty, and people often disappoint us.  The key is that we are not merely serving the other person, we are serving our Lord, and He never disappoints.  Seek His presence, seek His love, focus your thought process on your relationship with Him… and follow where He leads.  He will lead you to serve where you should serve, and to avoid what should be avoided.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:2-6

This is a really neat little passage; there’s so much to see.  As Paul closes out his letter, he reminds the people to be devoted to prayer, and while this may seem routine, after all, Apostles talk about prayer a lot, Paul here seems to bring it to life.  I’m always struck by the idea of prayer being “watchful and thankful.”  Maybe thankful, as in giving thanks isn’t so surprising, but watchful?  How often do you hear someone say that we should be watchful in our prayers?

Watchful for what?  Things you want God to give you, like little favors?  “Oh yes, and Father please send me that new Lexus…” something like that?  Somehow, I doubt it. Maybe watchful for someone who needs intercession, maybe an opening for the Gospel, maybe something that is within God’s priority system− yes that seems more like the kind of “watchful” that Paul has in mind.  He continues by asking for the people to pray for him, but again, not in the way we might expect.  Notice, that even though he is in prison, he didn’t ask them to pray for his release, he asked them to pray that he might preach the Gospel effectively.

I don’t know about you, but that gets my attention every time!  When Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:5 ff. He taught us to pray for God’s priorities. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”  Do we remember to do that? Are we watchful for specifics that fit into this category?  Well, I can only speak for myself, but truth be told, I forget or overlook this more often than I’d care to admit. Paul seems to continue in this line of thinking when he advises us to be wise when speaking to “outsiders,” non-Christians.  We are to be ready to make the most of every opportunity, to show them the love of Jesus Christ: Maybe we should pray for those opportunities.  We are to speak to them “with grace, seasoned with salt…” Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor” meaning that we are to deal with them in love; more love than they might deserve.

I have a little secret for you to consider:  Speaking to someone with grace is not telling them that they are wrong, even if they are.  It doesn’t mean calling them names, or being critical of the way they live.  Yes, there is a fair chance that they live as unbelievers, but guess what? They are unbelievers, and that may be just how they are supposed to live.  Our job isn’t to correct the world, it is to save the world for Christ.  This requires grace, not criticism.  Salt is an interesting metaphor; I’ve heard many different explanations for this, so I’ll throw out my thoughts.  When we season food with salt, we add it to bring out the full flavor of the ingredients, and when we speak with grace, seasoned with salt, we are sharing the full love of God who so loved the world that He sent His Son to die to save it.  We need our speech to be so full of His grace, that nobody hears the slightest little bit of condemnation come from our lips.

So, when you put this all together, maybe I should remember to pray that God will bring me opportunities, and give me the words to share, so that some may be saved.  What do you think; do you need to join me in praying this way? If not, I’d love to hear why that is.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: September 5, 2021

 Colossians 3: 5-14

In the last section, we saw Paul tell us how to live our new lives, by setting our hearts and minds on the things that are above, and not on the things of this world.  In this section, he expands on this theme by listing items which are of the old life, and certain items that are of the new life in Christ.  In verses 5-10a we get a pretty good idea of the kinds of things we are to “put to death” in our lives; these are all from our “old selves” and they include… sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed which is idolatry. He says we must rid ourselves of things like anger, rage, malice, slander, lies and filthy language. I’m quite sure that there is no need for me to elaborate on these things, other than to say that when our attention is drawn to any of them, it’s time to set our minds on higher things.

Verses 10 and 11 move in transition to the next part by pointing out that we are to move away from those old practices into a new way of living where there is no Jew, no Greek, nor circumcised or uncircumcised… and no other social or ethnic distinctions: only Christ. Verse 12 provides a summing up and conclusion in an interesting way:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

I hope that you will take notice of two things.  First, who are “God’s chosen people” in the New Covenant?  They are not old Israel; they are the redeemed in Christ.  Recall that in verse 11 there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, and in verse 12 , “God’s chosen people”.  Next, note the listing of things that are attributes of our new selves.  These are coupled with his admonition in verse 13 to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, and then in verse 14 to put love over all of this.

Again, I doubt that I should need to expand this picture any further, other than to point out that love is over all things in the Christian life.  How we interact with others, is all about love.  How we relate to God, is all about love… and the old way of living is loveless, for it is all about self.

Overriding love amongst Christians is where unity can be found.  We often wonder why it seems that the Church is divided; can you see why after reading this section?  It’s because we are more interested in disputes about doctrine, tradition and being first, than we are on loving our brothers.  May we all come to the day when we can live our lives as new creations, when we finally get that “old self” put into the grave for good.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:15-17

God has called us to peace, in community as the community of believers, and in that community is where peace and love and healing should be found in Christ. So, as we enter His presence today, let His peace rule in your heart… and give thanks.  Next, let’s let His word dwell within us, as we teach, admonish and sing spiritual songs to our Lord.  Note the teaching and admonishing are for us to do with one another… as His Body so that all will benefit by it. This isn’t really for the lost; they need the Gospel of the love of God through Jesus Christ.

Finally, whatever we do this day, let’s do it in the name of Jesus our Lord, filled to the brim with thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all that He has done for us, and in our lives.  What a great recipe for living, what wisdom and simplicity for a life that is not only godly, but that is a testimony to the world of what it is to dwell in his love.

You know what?  Whatever this day may bring, I think it’s going to be a good one!

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Sunday Sermon Notes: August 29, 2021

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Colossians 2:16-19

Remember that we left off with God’s triumph over the law, the authorities and powers at the cross, and now we draw some conclusions.  Since we are newly alive in Christ, have died to sin and have our sins forgiven, and since we have the fullness of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are not to allow people to criticize us for what we eat, drink, or observe, as they might have done under the Law.

Pay careful attention to verse 17: These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. All of these festivals, customs and regulations were at best but a shadow of what was to come in Christ, and we often miss that fact.  Many elements found in the Old Testament are like that, but we want to focus on them… and that includes the Temple itself, according to the author of Hebrews.  Jesus is the reality, and all the old forms were a mere shadow of what He would bring us, and He has now brought us the reality.

In verse 19, Paul refers to the kinds of people who are always critical of a person who has found the liberty that is in Christ.  They are puffed up, falsely humble, etc., etc.  At the end of this brief passage comes the part that will really give us insight about this sort of thing.  People who are hanging on to the forms of religion and seeking to impose them on their brother or sister have sadly cut themselves off from the Head of the Body.  

If I might add something here, the same is likely true of those who would have us tied to new “Christianized” forms, rules and observances.

Since we know that Christ is the Head, these poor folks who seek to impose rules are not growing with the Body, being cut off.  Maybe God has put them in our path so that we can help them get back in touch with the Head.

Oh, that would bring us back to the concept of relationship, love, serving and making disciples, wouldn’t it?  

Yes indeed, most lessons come right back to that.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:  “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Colossians 2: 20-23

My Mom had this great story.  It takes place when she was a high school student in a little town in West Texas over 80 years ago.  It seems that the school had a street dance one Friday night, and all of the kids were there.  There was also a Youth Pastor from a nearby church who was seen there.  Well, as she told the story, his attendance at the street dance came to the attention of the church board, and since everyone knows that dancing is a very wicked, sinful activity, the Youth Pastor was fired.  To her last day, my Mom had nothing to do with that denomination.  Her reasoning?  If his job is taking Christ to the youth, shouldn’t he be where the youth are?  I can’t argue with that kind of reasoning, can you?

I recall a conversation with an irate lady who was upset because a couple of members of our church were smokers.  She wanted them straightened out or kicked out because smoking is a sin.  When I asked her how she knew that, she replied that it’s a sin because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  I thought that was interesting and asked her about the context of that verse (1 Cor. 6:19). She had no idea, but everybody knows it means you can’t smoke.  She turned bright red when I pointed out that in context, Paul was talking about sexual immorality in general, and sex with a prostitute in particular.  Sorry, smoking may be crazy, but it isn’t a sin (I’m a non-smoker and always have been: no axe to grind here!).

These are the kinds of things Paul is addressing in this paragraph.  We have all sorts of “rules” that come from culture, from society and from religious traditions that have nothing to do with any Bible teaching.  Now it may be that there are certain things my conscience won’t permit me to do, but that doesn’t make it a “rule” for everyone else. Paul’s logic is simple and clear: We have died to sin, the Law and the ways of this world.  Why do we linger?  Stop it and follow Jesus Christ.

The end of the passage is quite interesting. All of these rules and traditions lack any value in restraining “sensual indulgence.”  Let’s try not to have our minds go straight to the gutter here, for “sensual indulgence” covers a lot more than just sex.  

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

In the previous several verses, Paul has been writing about things such as the fact that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ, that our old life was buried with Christ and we are a new creation.  Then he went on to challenge us to leave the old things behind and live new lives, free from the old silly rules and traditions.  In these verses, Paul moves from the what to the how.

As these things usually are, the answer is simple: Set your hearts and minds on things that are above, not on earthly things. I’ve been told that this is very difficult, and that only a small number of people can really accomplish this ‘looking above’ kind of life… but I totally, completely and utterly reject that notion.

Does that surprise you?  Does it irritate you?

Have you ever noticed that you usually find what you’re looking for?  Well, OK, yes, sometimes you might look for your keys and not find them, but that isn’t really what I mean.  Have you ever gone somewhere looking for trouble?  How about a fight?  Have you ever gone in search for a bad relationship, bad company… or a good relationship or good company?  OK, if that didn’t grab you, let’s try this one:  Have you ever bought a new car, and then noticed that it seems like everyone has the same kind of car?

See?  You really do find what you’re looking for!

To set your heart and mind on the things that are above, you need to start looking for such things.  Now Paul, in the next sections will get into which things are which, so we’ll be talking more about that as we go, but the quick version is that we can seek His presence by just entering it.  We can focus on the things that are above, by thinking about them and looking for them… as opposed to things of the earth.  Look, if all we think about are our bills, then bills and finances will become our lives.  The same is true if we look only for other problem areas of this life. If we think about the things of God, then what will our lives be about?

This passage ends with the reminder that we died with Christ, rose with Christ, and now our lives are hidden with Christ. Now that we have died with Him, to our old way of living, and have arisen with Him as new creations, the focus of our lives, and the very reality of our new lives, are “hidden” with Christ in God. Our new creation status is an entirely new kind of life that isn’t simply physical and biological; it isn’t discerned simply by the physical senses.  It is Spirit and Truth. It is eternal.  It is about much more than bodies, senses and things, it is the life God created humanity to live. As long as we are focused merely on the things of the earth, the world around us and problems and hassles of this world, we are missing out on that which is wonderful in Christ, and… our lives on this earth will be much more difficult as we are pulled in multiple directions at the same time.

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Weekly Bible Study Notes: August 25, 2021

John 20

Last time, our lesson closed when Pilate finally sent Jesus away to be crucified.  Now we pick up the story after the crucifixion has been completed, on the first day of the new week with Mary Magdalene who went to the tomb very early, while it was still dark and found that the tomb was open and the body of Jesus was gone.  John has already used “darkness” in this Gospel as a metaphor for disbelief several times, and this is no different, for upon discovering the empty tomb neither Mary nor Peter and John believed that it indicated Jesus had risen from the dead, for they had not grasped this concept in advance. As the sun rose and light began to spread across the land, this would change…

The drama begins early in the morning, before sunrise when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty.  She rushes to tell the disciples that the body has been moved or stolen and Peter and John race to the scene where they confirm that the body is gone.  John completes this part of the story by pointing out in v. 9 that none of them understood from Scripture that Jesus would rise from the dead.  I might point out that they also didn’t understand this from the things that Jesus had told them.  It would be beneficial for all of us to understand that we have the same problem today very frequently because we are used to thinking in earthy terms.  Very few Christians today, at least in America, have what could be called a Biblical world view, instead most of us have a cultural or secular world view which inhibits our ability to see things as they really are, and we need to be aware of this to avoid misinterpreting not only Scripture but the world around us. As for Scripture in this regard, take a look at what Peter said in Acts 2:25-32: Obviously, he understood what Scripture taught on this point by the Day of Pentecost.

Mary had found the tomb empty, had run back to tell the disciples, Peter and John had come running and confirmed the tomb was empty… and had in turn gone back to their homes leaving Mary at the scene crying.  Still crying, she looks into the tomb again and this time sees two angels inside; there is nothing in the text to tell us that she understood that they were angels.  They ask her why she is crying, and her reply demonstrates that she has no concept of their double meaning; she is crying because someone has stolen the body.  She did not comprehend the second meaning that there should be no cause for crying any longer: He has risen! She turns and sees Jesus standing there but does not recognize Him.  Her lack of recognition is interesting, for it shows us that there is nothing remarkable in His appearance.  That she doesn’t realize who He is shouldn’t be that shocking, for I cannot recall a time in my own life in which I would ever expect to see someone walking around and talking when I had gone to visit their grave.  She assumes He is the gardener.

Jesus asked her why she was crying and then who she was looking for, a question He had already asked twice on the night He was arrested.  She answers Him by asking about the whereabouts of the body.  Jesus calls her by name; the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads then out” (10:3). Immediately she is “called out” of her unbelief!

Jesus says a curious thing at this point, “do not hold on to me.”  A close look at this reveals that His meaning is something like: Do not try to hold me here on earth for I have to return to my Father (go to prepare a place for you 14:2) go and tell my brothers that I am going to prepare their co-inheritance.  She returns and tells them these things; note that John goes to lengths to make sure we know who was the very first to give testimony about having seen the risen Christ.

The scene shifts from the tomb to a place in town where the disciples, excluding Thomas, are gathered behind closed and locked doors: Suddenly Jesus is in their midst. He simply says “shalom” and lets them see His wounds; they are thrilled!

This is no social call; Jesus is all business, giving them three pieces of vital information.  First, He tells them that He is sending them out just as the Father has sent Him.  They are to carry on His mission of salvation into the world, now that they have seen all that they had seen.  Second, He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit.  This appears to be a foreshadowing of the Day of Pentecost.  It appears to be a foreshadowing as there is no apparent reaction to this act yet, but when the Spirit is poured out in Acts 2 the reaction is dramatic. Third, He gives them an awesome charge saying that if they forgive anyone their sins they are forgiven, if not they are not forgiven.  Obviously much has been written and speculated upon with regard to this, but I can’t help thinking about what Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 16:18 ff. saying that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” I can’t help noting that it was Apostles who wrote what would be required to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus in the New Testament…

20:24-31 is the story of “Doubting Thomas” who had stated that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had arisen from the dead until he put his fingers into the wounds on His body.  Jesus suddenly appears in the room and offers Thomas the chance, Thomas replies with a hugely significant statement of faith: “My Lord and my God.” This is of course the highest statement of faith found in the New Testament, theologically speaking, equating Jesus not only as Lord but also as God.  Jesus quickly bursts his bubble by pointing out that anybody with a brain would understand that with what Thomas has seen, but many more will come to that understanding based only upon the testimony of others. John ends the chapter by telling the reader the purpose for the book:  Many wonderful things were done by Jesus that are not recorded here, but what is recorded is recorded so that the reader might come to the same conclusion based upon John’s eyewitness testimony, that Thomas came to by seeing Jesus after the resurrection.

John 21

Chapter 20 is John’s record of events concerning the risen Christ in Jerusalem; chapter 21 is John’s story from Galilee.  Why the disciples had traveled there isn’t given, but it makes sense that they wouldn’t be staying on in Jerusalem after all of the recent events.  I would imagine that the disciples weren’t entirely sure what to do with themselves after following Jesus for over three years…  The scene opens with a cast of seven disciples near the Sea of Galilee when Peter announces that he’s going fishing.

Note that John refers to the “Sea of Tiberius” which is another name for the Sea of Galilee in those days.  Tiberius is the name of a large town, which in those days was a new Roman town located on the shore of the lake.  Today it is the largest city in the area.  The guys all joined Peter in the boat for a night of casting the fishing net, but their results were lacking entirely, and by early morning there was a man on the shore who noticed their bad luck.  John identifies this man as Jesus, although they could not yet recognize Him from the boat.

From the beach, Jesus calls out to them and recommends that they cast their net on the other side of the boat.  A fishing boat of the time would normally remain close to shore and cast on the shore side to get the best catch of fish, so most likely Jesus was telling them to try the lake side instead, and what a payoff!  They caught so many fish that they couldn’t haul it into the boat.  John realizes that it was Jesus who was on the shore, and Peter grabs his clothes and jumps into the water swimming to shore leaving the others to tow the nets to land. When they arrive, it seems that Jesus had a campfire going and was cooking breakfast. Jesus had a menu of bread and fish, something that we’ve seen Jesus do before, but this time, instead of the disciples rounding up fish and loaves that Jesus multiplied, Jesus has fish and loaves and the catch of the disciples will be the multiplier; Jesus has passed the torch, you might say.

John provides us with some eyewitness details in this portion of the text: there were 156 large fish in the net, Peter drags it ashore and Jesus is not only the cook, but the server.  Interesting, isn’t it?  A guy who was executed, dead and buried is putting on a fish fry!  He is no ghost, for I can’t recall a single time when I’ve ever heard of a ghost eating fish:  Jesus had arisen from the grave bodily.

After their meal, Jesus walks off a distance with Peter and asks him three times if he loves Jesus.  Each time Peter assures Him that he does, but by the third time Peter’s feelings were hurt because Jesus kept asking.  Much has been made of the Greek used here, but it seems to me that Greek nuance isn’t the point that Jesus is making.  Peter had denied Jesus three times on the night of His arrest, and Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him.  Could it be that that had dawned on Peter?  Could it be that Peter felt terrible guilt over his cowardly denial?  Let’s not forget that this is the first time that they had been off together since Jesus’ death, and Jesus has some business to settle with him.  Peter must learn to care for the other followers of Jesus, His “sheep,” and this means taking the charge seriously and selflessly, a lesson that must not be lost on all leaders of the church today.

In v. 18 Jesus gives Peter some insight into the manner in which he would die as a martyr for the Gospel, as John points out in v. 19, and then says: “Follow me!”  This is the same imperative with which Jesus began His ministry in 1:43 and sets the tone for the conclusion.

At this point, Peter notices John following behind them and says “What about him?” Jesus is not having any of this; it would have been better if Peter had said something more like, “Yes sir!” Jesus lets Peter know that whatever He has in mind for John is none of Peter’s business, for Peter’s call is to follow Jesus.  None of us is in a position to know what adventures we will experience in following Jesus, but we must know that our call is to follow Him, and not to question whether or not someone else might have an easier time of it, and Jesus makes this abundantly clear. Peter’s imperative was to “follow” Jesus, and so is ours.

A Final Thought

When I was a boy, I read a book about the life of Jesus, and it really got my attention. As I thought about it, and as I thought about this Jesus guy, I really had no problem believing that He was the Son of God, and it occurred to me that I should try to be more like Him, but there was one thing about Jesus that kind of bothered me: He cheated!

To my nine-year-old mind, Jesus cheated when He went to the cross because after all, He was God… and He knew how the story was going to end; that’s cheating! It was almost as if it didn’t count if He knew all the things that He clearly knew before He allowed Himself to be taken prisoner. Gee whiz, I would do the same thing if I knew all that stuff.

Yes, to be young again…

When I was a teen, that attitude stuck with me, in fact, I didn’t really see the implication of this until I was in my 30’s; yes Jesus knew how the story ended, and He went to the cross knowing that the story wasn’t nearly over yet. He would suffer greatly for a time, and then…? Victory, honor, glory, reigning…

John says that he wrote the gospel so that many might come to believe in Him, and many have done so, but how deep is our belief? Ah yes, an uncomfortable question, surely, for some of us might believe like I used to, accepting the basic facts, and still holding something back.

My thinking changed one day when reality hit me like a freight train: Yes, Jesus knew how His story would end… and so do I know how my story ends; victory, honor, glory!

Jesus knew He would rise from the grave, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would ascend to Heaven, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would suffer for a short time, and so will I.

Jesus knew He would reign as King of kings and Lord of lords, and I know that I am co-heir with Him.

Because Jesus knew these things, He did His Father’s will, will I do the same?

Dear reader, this is where we come to the always inconvenient question: Do we really believe that what we believe is really real?

It is one thing to accept the basic facts on an academic or theoretical level, but will we allow them to affect who we are on a fundamental level?

Well, will we?

We will if we really believe that what we believe is really real.

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