Love So Amazing

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3: 16-18)

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As a fledgling writer I find myself often challenged to present a fresh perspective on very familiar Biblical accounts. At no time is this challenge greater than at Easter. After all, the story of Easter is the bedrock of our faith. The account of the events surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ comprise a significant portion of each of the four Gospels. Even after the story had been told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John still devoted almost 40% of his gospel to those crucial eight days. It is just that important.

Churches all over the world will be filled to capacity tomorrow with worshipers who will hear that familiar message, “He is risen!”. Recalling the traditions ingrained in us from childhood, many of us will be arrayed in our finest Sunday clothes, joining countless others in singing those Easter classics, “The Old Rugged Cross”, “Up From The Grave He Arose” “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”, and “Because He Lives”.

We will be reminded by the Scriptures that our Lord gave up the glory of Heaven to make His dwelling among us, only to be rejected by so many whom He came to save. We will recall the agony He experienced at Gethsemane, the excruciating pain of scourging, the humiliation of being mocked at, spit upon, and having His beard plucked out. We will cringe as we imagine the spikes being driven into his hands and feet. And we will mourn as we consider what His death by crucifixion entailed. When I reflect on all that, knowing that He possessed the power to prevent it, it is almost more than I can fathom that he chose to endure it out of His love for us.

But then our hearts will rejoice once again that the grave could not hold Him. Pilate told the guards, “Go make the tomb as secure as you know how.” (Matt. 27:65) How God must have laughed at that comment, thinking “Good luck with that!”.

As we celebrate Easter, it is appropriate to remember those events. Certainly it is fitting to reflect on their implications for our lives as followers of Christ. We can rejoice as we sing to the world that we serve a risen Savior. But while doing so, we should also consider that Easter demands a response from us beyond basking in the glory of the miracle that occurred that fateful Sunday long ago.

On the night of his arrest, Jesus gathered his disciples in the upper room and spoke these words, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35) Later he added, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

With those words, our Lord clearly articulated the appropriate response to the message of Easter. And yet, surveys continue to reveal that love is seldom the first thing that comes to mind when those outside the faith think of Christians. How that must grieve the heart of God. And it should grieve us as well.

My Sunday School class is exploring the early chapters of Acts. Acts 2:47 says “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” What was the key to that kind of growth in the early church? Certainly, the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost played a large role. But I believe another strong factor is hinted at earlier in that verse where it speaks of them “enjoying the favor of all the people.”

What caused the favor they enjoyed among all the people around them? More than anything else, I firmly believe it was the love they had for one another. As we celebrate Easter this year, may the good news of the Gospel be just as real to us as it was to those early eyewitnesses. May the love that was poured out for us on the cross so resonate in our hearts that it overflows to those around us. May it be that love that defines us as followers of Christ. And may it be that love that once again turns the world upside down. (Acts 17:6 KJV)

Happy Easter to you all. He is risen, indeed!

“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” – Isaac Watts, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

Note: Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)

 

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A Miracle At Cana

Series: Reflections From John

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. … When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’” (John 2:1,3)

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The account of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana has provided background material for numerous jokes and generated lively debates through the centuries. Christians disagree over whether the wine that resulted was alcoholic, or simply unfermented grape juice. The answer to that question usually depends upon one’s view toward the social consumption of alcoholic beverages. Personally, I’m convinced it was the real stuff!

On the surface, one cannot help but wonder why John even included this account in his gospel. It seems to be a strange miracle with little divine purpose. No other gospel writer found it worthy of telling. Jesus even seemed initially reluctant to address his mother’s concern that the wine had run out, telling her “Dear woman, why do you involve me? … My time has not yet come.” (John 2:4)

Neither did this miracle appear to serve a great public purpose at the time. In fact, only Mary, Jesus, the disciples, and the servants likely knew that a miracle had even taken place. Jesus generated no great spectacle surrounding the event. He didn’t stand over the water pots, wave his hands over them, or utter some powerful prayer. He simply gave instructions to the servants to fill the pots and serve the contents.

Given that John elected to detail only seven miracles in his gospel, why include this one? Although some have tried to use this account to justify their consumption of alcoholic beverages, I don’t believe John’s purpose was to resolve this debate among Christians.

Mary’s instructions to the servants to “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5) certainly serve a great spiritual purpose, reminding us of the importance of being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives and obeying him promptly when his directions are clear. This lesson has served me well through the years taking me down many worthwhile paths I might have avoided otherwise – a topic I covered in “The Paths Of Life”.

Mary’s actions also provide a picture of effective prayer. All of us are likely guilty of suggesting to God how he should respond to our prayers, as though we know what is best. But we don’t see what God sees and his solutions often far exceed our wildest expectations. I doubt that Mary had any idea what was about to take place, any more than we do when we bring a problem to him in prayer ourselves. She doesn’t suggest what to do or how to do it. She just brought her problem to Jesus, trusting him with the solution.

While these are worthwhile spiritual applications to be taken from this account, I don’t believe John was thinking of either of them when he decided to include this miracle. I believe John’s sole purpose for including this miracle among the seven he details is stated clearly in verse 11. “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.”

John likely recorded this miracle simply because it was the first miracle he saw Jesus perform, thus sealing in his mind once and for all that Jesus was more than a teacher or prophet – he was the Son of God, just as John the Baptist had proclaimed. John concedes at the end of Chapter 20 that Jesus performed “many other miraculous signs” which he did not record. But he chose seven specifically “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.” (John 20: 30-31)

All of us have a story to tell. If you are a follower of Christ, you have your own “gospel” story – a term that simply means “good news”. You too can point to a time in your life when the veil over your heart was first lifted and Christ revealed himself in a way that was undeniable and that forever changed your heart, renewed your outlook on this life, and transformed your expectations of life beyond this one.

Share your gospel story with someone this Easter season. As Mary commanded the servants at the wedding, do whatever The Lord tells you. Jesus has commissioned us all to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) That hour you first believed might not have resulted from something as dramatic as the miracle John witnessed, but it is no less life-changing. And it is likely just as compelling to someone desperate for the hope they see in you – a hope that only God can provide.

“How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” – Amazing Grace, John Newton

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)

 

 

A Man Called Peter

Series: Reflections From John

“The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 3:41-42)image

Of all the original disciples, Peter is perhaps my favorite. I see qualities in his personality that I often wish were more ingrained in my own. Those who know me and have interacted with me through the years would likely describe me as quiet, introverted, and contemplative – someone who often overanalyzes a situation before taking action. My wife informs me that her first impression was that I was “stuck up”.

Peter was none of those things. Peter was impulsive, often speaking or acting before fully thinking things through. He did not hesitate to say what was on his mind – a trait which sometimes made him the target of Jesus’ rebukes. Upon performing a word search of the New Testament for Peter’s name, I am struck by the number of quotes attributed to him – likely more than all the other disciples combined. In fact, during Jesus’ public ministry, Peter served as the de facto spokesman for the disciples.

When Jesus asked his disciples in Matt. 16:13 “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”, it was Peter who proclaimed “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It was Peter who said what I’m sure the others were thinking when Christ told them of his impending crucifixion, “Lord, this shall never happen to you!” (Matt. 16:22), drawing a stinging rebuke from the Lord. It was Peter who confidently declared “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will. …Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matt. 26:33 -35) But then it was also Peter who later lied when confronted at Christ’s trial, “I don’t know the man!” (Matt. 26:74)

But not only was Peter quick to speak, he was also a man of action. When Jesus called him to become a fisher of men, he didn’t hesitate – he took immediate action. When he saw Jesus walking on the water, Peter was the one who left the boat to walk with him. He was the one who wanted to build shelters for Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. When the crowd came to take Jesus, it was Peter who drew his sword to prevent it. And it was Peter who arrived first at the tomb when the women reported to the disciples that Jesus’ body was missing.

John tells us that before Peter was Peter, he was Simon, brother of Andrew. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, but followed Jesus without hesitation when John pointed to Christ as the “Lamb of God”. The first thing Andrew did was find Simon and bring him to Jesus. According to John, Jesus’ first words to Simon were, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas.” (John 1:42)

Cephas is the Aramaic name for rock; Petros (or Peter) is the Greek equivalent. If our knowledge of Peter were limited to the gospel accounts, it would be hard to justify changing Simon’s name to be synonymous with rock. While he walked with Jesus, Peter was often anything but. He started to sink like a rock when he tried to walk on water. Peter talked a good game, but his actions didn’t always match his rhetoric.

So what did Jesus see that others didn’t? … He saw Peter’s future. God always sees our future. He knows our potential. Peter is perhaps the best Biblical illustration that God knows us better than we know ourselves. When Peter confidently proclaimed in the Upper Room on the night of Jesus’ arrest that he was ready to die with Christ, he likely believed that with all his heart. But Jesus knew that before that long night would be over, Peter would disown him three times. (John 13:37-38)

When God looks at us, he sees beyond our present to our potential and our future. He knows the plans he has for us (Jer. 29:11), and he’s always working things together to fulfill those plans. (Rom. 8:28)  God had great plans for Peter, who would become known as a “pillar” of the early church. (Gal. 2:9) In that sense, he was that rock upon which Jesus said He would build His church. (Matt. 16:18) Jesus foresaw Peter preach that amazing message on the Day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, which resulted in an influx of 3,000 new believers. Peter was the one God first called to reach out to the Gentiles when he was sent to Cornelius’ house in Acts 10.

He might have denied Christ after His arrest, but after he encountered the resurrected Lord, he never denied Him again. He was imprisoned numerous times for preaching the gospel and healing people in the name of Christ. When challenged by the Sanhedrin for those activities, Peter boldly replied “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29)

Did Peter continue to suffer failures? … Absolutely! … Don’t we all?  But just as I’m glad that my wife’s first impression of me did not define our future together, I’m overjoyed that in spite of my long and often halting and erratic faith journey, God never lost sight of my potential. He continued to mold me more into the image of his Son and used me in ways I would never have imagined when he first called me to himself … Especially considering how differently he made me compared to a man called Peter.

“I may not be the man I want to be; I may not be the man I ought to be; I may not be the man I could be; I may not be the man I truly can be; but praise God, I’m not the man I once was!” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV).