Archive for December, 2009
The New Testament uses two words for life. The first one is bios (as in biology). The second is zoe. Bios has to do with physical existence. Zoe, on the other hand, is life as God has it. Max Lucado writes that bios is life “extensive,” while zoe is life “intensive.” As you might have suspected, the word in John 3:16 uses for life is zoe.
Can Jesus really deliver on his promise?
The eternal life that God offers to us begins now, not when we die and get to heaven. The uncomfortable alternative to finding life in Jesus through belief is summed up in one word: perish. The bios we enjoy is a gift from God. It’s our opportunity to discover zoe through Jesus Christ. That’s the purpose of life. Death freezes the moral compass. Wherever death takes you, eternity will keep you.
This is why Jesus extends invitation after invitation to us to believe. In one of his more passionate pleas, he said “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” (John 5:24, NLT)
“Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness,’ they complained. ‘There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!’
So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.’ So Moses prayed for the people.
Then the Lord told him, ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!” (Numbers 21:4-9, NLT)
Nicodemus would have been familiar with Jesus’ illustration. Do you find it interesting that God didn’t solve the problem by removing the snakes? The snakes remained in the camp and people continued to be bitten. God’s plan wasn’t to remove the problem. God’s plan was to overcome the problem through faith. The bronze replica was made, impaled on a pole, and lifted up. Anyone who looked to the replica was healed.
Another interesting aside is that the text reveals that “anyone” who looked was healed. The choice of words allows us to meditate on the fact that though this remedy was available to all, not everyone took advantage of it. Like their modern day counterparts, there were some who preferred to kill snakes than express faith by looking to the replica.
Jesus then made a bee-line to his own purpose and forthcoming sacrifice.
“And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, NLT)
In my mind’s eye, I can see Nicodemus scratching his head as he connects the dots. The Israelites’ problem points out Nicodemus’ problem, and ours for that matter! We are bitten from birth and the poison of sin runs through our veins. What is the solution? Look to the crucified God! Believe!
How can God extend the opportunity for us to simply believe? We can respond to God’s salvation by faith, which is made possible by God’s grace. Or said another way, faith is my response to God’s grace. Grace is the way God gives himself to us. Grace is God extending his kindness to us in our impossibility for his glory in spite of our unworthiness.
I served on a church staff once with a guy who viewed grace as a license to excuse every responsibility in life that he didn’t want to undertake. Whenever he dropped a ball or let something slip through the cracks, he’d plead for others to extend grace to him. The grace of God isn’t opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning. By God’s grace we are offered the opportunity to believe. It’s not done through earning. We could never do or be enough.
“There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you’.” (John 3:1-2, NLT)
Nicodemus presented to Jesus an impressive resume of religious duty and devotion. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, an ancient equivalent to our modern day Supreme Court. He would have committed the Torah to memory (the first 5 books of the Law that we call Genesis, Exodus, Levitcus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). He would have dutifully kept all 613 laws within Torah. He had done everything he knew to earn his way and pay his dues to gain the favor of God.
But he was still looking for more.
Rather than engage Nicodemus in a long theological discussion, Jesus cut to the quick. “I tell you the truth,” he replied. “Unless you are born again you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
Born again? What sense does that make? In birth, the baby is a passive participant. The baby contributes nothing to the birth process. The mother does the work. The baby is along for the ride. In a nation where 75% of people believe that “God helps those who help themselves” can be found in the Bible, this kind of simplicity flies in the face of pride and self effort.
Belief is accepting something, not doing something. Authentic faith acknowledges that God is who he said he is, that he has done what he said he’d do, and that he will do what he promised to do.
Why is it so difficult to just believe?
I remember one poignant moment in particular. As I had been unloading my feelings on God about how unfair I thought life was (as well as questioning His wisdom in this matter), I was telling God how much I loved my son. I told Him how angry I was that this disease was ravaging his little body. I was scared to death because we didn’t know the disease’s outcome with certainty. I was in tears one night as I shared with God my inmost hurt and I said something like, “How can anyone understand what it’s like to watch my son go through this?” I didn’t hear a voice, but God’s reply reached deep in my heart and I sensed Him saying, “Trust Me. I understand what it’s like to watch a Son endure a lot of pain.”
I sat in front of the Christmas tree, on the floor with my little boy (still unable to walk) leaning on my shoulder. With tears streaming down my face, I gazed at the fire in the fireplace and the Christmas tree, and then back to the face of my small son. He was sleeping like an angel on his dad’s shoulder. I wondered how God must have felt watching His Son, Jesus, come into the world on that night so long ago. How He must have hurt knowing that Jesus’ love and death on the Cross would be rejected by so many in our world. I realized anew that God understood what it’s like to watch someone you love endure a lot of pain. I’m sure now God was concerned not only with my son, but also with me.
Nine Christmases have come and gone since that Christmas season. I’m more concerned these days with how much time I’m spending with people than how much money I’m spending on them. And while I still don’t understand why God allows some things to happen, I am more certain of His love. As for my little boy and the illness . . . let’s just say we’ve got some Christmas shopping to do and yes, he’ll be walking through the mall. And yes, his dad is very grateful. Merry Christmas.
One day I walked in the door and Lisa greeted me with a big smile. She began to relay a story about a phone call she received that day that offered a free $25 gift certificate to Bennigan’s restaurant. She was so excited about the possibility of holding a menu and eating food someone else cooked off of plates that someone else would wash.
“What’s the catch?” People usually don’t randomly offer meals unless there’s some form of hoop to jump through.
“We have to go a listen to a time share presentation, but we don’t have to buy anything. Look! I’ve made an appointment.”
So we loaded up the kids and drove to the hotel conference center in Arlington to listen to a presentation about vacation packages we were not going to buy to places we were not going to go.
It was pretty hard sell. With each indication of resistance, a new sales person was summoned to offer with a new tactic. With each refusal, our kids grew more and more restless. After 2 hours of intense guilt induced pressure the final sales person leaned over the table and sneered, “You’re not going to buy anything, are you?” “No,” I wearily replied. “You’re just here for the gift certificate, aren’t you?” he said. “Yes,” I uttered. Thirty minutes later, the company made good on their offer and handed over the coveted prize. I had imagined that moment as something akin to Charlie finding the golden ticket in the chocolate bar, but it was not nearly as climactic as I envisioned.
By this time it was late at the kids were absolutely a wreck. Ironically, the hotel conference center that held us hostage for the better part of three hours was located next door to Bennigan’s restaurant. So we pulled into the parking lot to cash in. I muttered something about the 12 “man hours” our family had put in to get the gift certificate, and added that we had been paid roughly $2 an hour for our time and trouble.
While Lisa ate her meal I wrestled my screaming son in the parking lot. When she finished eating she tagged me and took care of him while I ate my meal. It was cold.
Our life experiences tell us there are no free lunches. With sharply trained senses we constantly look for the hook, reading the fine print as closely as possible.
Then we come to a verse like John 3:16 that declares, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (NIV).”
How do we receive the gift of Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life?
That’s the way we receive the gift.
With only 11 shopping days left until Christmas, I thought this reminder would serve you well! Enjoy!
Last weekend I said that every gift reveals something about the giver and the receiver. But there’s one more thing that the gift of Jesus reveals. It reveals something about our responsibility to our community.
Our incarnational presence in the world doesn’t just meet human needs. It awakens faith. We stand in judgment of no person. But we are to assume the role of a priest in a world that desperately needs priesting.
In 1 Peter 2, Peter says that in God’s new order we function as a Kingdom of Priests. In the Old Testament, the priest and the prophet were two clearly distinct roles. The priest went to God on behalf of the people, and the prophet went to the people on behalf of God. Jesus operated with a dual function. He served as both prophet and priest. He is our model for life in the Kingdom of God today.
We cannot limit our interpretation of the doctrine of the “Priesthood of the Believer” to that of our personal ability to hear from God and speak directly to God without further mediation. The doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer is a doctrine for missional Christians and the missional church. We have been sent by God into the world bearing The Gift of Jesus.
Who are you “priesting” this Christmas season?
Every gift reveals something about the giver, and every gift reveals something about the recipient. Kind of like when someone offers you a breath mint or a stick of gum. What does the gift of Jesus reveal about you?
Everything Jesus is, you are not.
Sometimes we are tempted to congratulate ourselves on our approximations of Christ-likeness, but that’s like comparing a preschool watercolor to the Mona Lisa.
Everything Jesus is, you are not.
The gift of Jesus reveals how deep our need for God truly is. Recently our family upgraded our television experience to include a DVR. Wow! No more commercials! I can fast forward right through those appeals. The rest of my life has been enslaved to these marketing vignettes. If you think about commercials today, you can see that we Americans are obsessed with five things: food, money, sex, amusement, and our appearance.
Those commercials are telling. They disclose our desires and the measure of our vanity. A fair appraisal concludes that we’re trying to find satisfaction at the price of our own souls. We engage in belly busting binges and budget busting shopping sprees that reveal the emptiness of our shallow lives. We’re feeding desires that are relentlessly unsatisfied leaving us nothing more than addicted and compulsive.
This is why the Bible speaks so passionately against idolatry. I’m not suggesting that we’re erecting statuary made of stone that we bow before. We’re more sophisticated than that. Our idols are often nothing more than the good things of God’s creation that we value more than the creator (see Romans 1:25). These good things become functional saviors in our lives which we use to deliver us from our private “hell.” They disappoint us because they do not and cannot deliver what they promise.
So into the world is born a baby, the gift of God. What does the gift say about you? God proposes that we exchange all of the idols that disappoint and fail us and find real life.
I remember getting a hot wheels race track one year. With joy I snapped those yellow plastic sections of track together and clamped the end to the kitchen counter. With delight I raced those cars down the track into the family room, barely hearing my father’s admonition to keep the cars picked up so that no one would step on one and “break their neck.”
Another year I got G.I. Joe’s. And yet another one of those electric football games complete with the plastic players that ran circles on thin sheet metal. Those memories are ever present in my mind.
My present sermon series is titled Regifting Christmas. It’s meant to be an Advent take on the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. The Bible proclaims that “God loved the world (the object of his love) so much that he gave (love implies action) his one and only Son (the gift)…”
Every gift reveals something about the giver of the gift. What does the gift of Jesus reveal about God? I think it tells us that God is loving. He’s generous and extravagant. He’s thoughtful and aware of our needs. When God gave Jesus he took the initiative and gave first. He didn’t give as a response to anything we have given or done. And God certainly gave the best and the most. When we think of Jesus, we realize that the gift is extravagant. And the gift is extravagant to awaken our faith.
What do you think the gift of Jesus reveals to you about God?
“For God so loved the world he gave…” — John 3:16
I posed this question last weekend: True or False – Jesus never spoke the phrase, “I love you.”
That statement is true, as far as the biblical record is concerned. There is no evidence that Jesus spoke those important words to anyone. Yet is there any doubt that each person who came in contact with Jesus was aware of his love for them? Jesus didn’t speak his feelings. He demonstrated them.
“Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.” – John 13:1 (NLT) How? The next 20 verses describe Jesus’ act of foot washing and the corresponding explanation he offers to the disciples. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, including the feet of one who was swift to run to betray him.
Paul’s take goes something like this, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” – Romans 5:8 (NLT)
When you genuinely love someone, the demonstration of that love will follow naturally and freely. How are you demonstrating your love?