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Why?! Thoughts on the Texas shooting

Another week, another heart-break! It seems the past two months have brought a concentrated dose of tragedy as we have faced terrible floods, catastrophic hurricanes, a terror attack in Manhattan and two record-breaking mass killings. Tragic news stories and pictures of devastation seem all too common and it feels like this is the “new normal” for our society.

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As a pastor and school teacher, the question about evil, pain and suffering are among the most asked questions that people have. Why does God allow all of this pain and suffering? Why do the innocent suffer? Why aren’t evil people stopped? Why is life so hard? Philosophers and theologians refer to this as, “The problem of evil.” For Christians, evil and suffering is a “problem” because it requires an explanation. How can it be that a good God who is all-powerful allow such terrible things to happen to people He loves? This is indeed an important question and is probably the most common reason people turn away from God. I’d like to take a couple of paragraphs and address this.

Evil is everyone’s “problem”

Before I do, I’d like to point out that the mystery why we experience such terrible pain and suffering isn’t just a “problem” for Christians. It’s a problem for everyone and every belief system. The reason is because we all know intuitively that life shouldn’t be this way. We all know that an 18-month-old toddler shouldn’t be gunned down in a Sunday morning church service. When the famous atheist Bertrand Russel said, “No one can sit beside the bedside of a dying child and still believe in God.” He assumes that tragedies prove that a good God can’t exist. The problem is that the atheist can’t explain why the death of a child is tragic in the first place.

You see, if atheism is really true, then life and death are natural, unsurprising experiences of reality. Living organisms die all of the time. No surprise here. But we all know that isn’t the issue. We all know there’s something fundamentally unfair and wrong going on here. In the atheist’s world, life is a product of random, blind, purposeless chance. There’s no Author of life who fills it with ultimate purpose and design. So, when evil, pain and suffering happen, we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s just random bad luck in a randomuniverse. But we are surprised!! We are shocked! Suggesting all of this misery is simply bad luck, miserably fails to address what we know when a tragedy strikes. It isn’t “bad luck” that people were murdered; it’s an outrageous crime against humanity. Things like this shouldn’t happen!

Faith in the face of evil

So how do I as a Christian hold on to my faith in the face of reckless evil and suffering? Why doesn’t God stop the Hitlers of the world from carrying out their evil plans?Why does it seem that nature itself indiscriminately kills innocent people in earthquakes and floods? Much has been written on this and I will post some links at the end of this article but let me briefly say two things.

First, the Bible makes it clear that God did not intend for us to experience the pain and suffering that we do now. God’s original design was for humankind to continue his work of creation as his representatives on this Earth. (See Genesis 1:26-28). However, the first humans disobeyed God and immediately began experiencing the bitter consequences of the broken relationship between themselves and the Author of life. So, human history is the long, sad terrible story of life cut off from the good Creator. This explains why tragedies are tragic. They cut against the grain of how life was designed. Evil, pain and suffering isn’t supposed to be a part of the human experience. That’s why no matter how long humans have lived and died on this planet, death still feels wrong. Because it is.

Second, the good news of Jesus is that God hasn’t abandoned us to suffer in a broken world. God, himself, came to rescue us from the consequences of our sin and rebellion. The Bible tells us that when Jesus died, that the curse of sin and death was broken. (See: Romans 5: 7-8; Galatians 3:13; II Corinthians 5:21). And the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of God’s new creation. (I Corinthians 15:45-58; Revelation 3:14). As Christians, we are waiting for Jesus’ glorious return when he will restore and finally transform creation (Philippians 3:20-21). Jesus will rule, and we with him, over new creation. God’s original project for life on Earth will be restored. God and humanity will be forever united and evil, pain and death will be forever abolished. (See: II Timothy 1:10; Revelation 21:1-4).

We live in this in between time. Jesus has come. He suffered and died. And in times like these it’s important to know that our God knows suffering. Jesus experienced first-hand our heartbreaks and pain. (John 11:1-44; Hebrews 2:9-10; 17-18) But the story didn’t end there, we have hope! He was raised up in victory over death. He defeated death. So now we wait with expectant hope that the one who defeated death will return and finally bring everything under his feet (Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 2:8). I’ll leave you with this incredible promise from Jesus, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. He has overcome! And when he returns, he will make all things new! (Revelation 21:5).

For more on resolving the problem of evil pain and suffering from a Christian perspective please see:

 

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What is Tolerance?

There was a day when “tolerance” used to mean something like, “the praise-worthy virtue of demonstrating good will toward those you disagree.” Thus tolerance was the cornerstone of civil discourse and good neighborliness in our pluralistic society. However, today this word has been redefined. It now means something close to, “the adoption and adoption of  progressive values.” Therefore, any opinion or view that doesn’t accept what has been labeled as “progressive” is now viewed as “intolerant.” Thus, its seems only those who hold to traditional values can be labeled “intolerant.”

Surely, the insanity of this is obvious. We can’t call this “tolerance” because we are not asking people to “tolerate” anything. We are demanding they accept certain values or behaviors. But it’s impossible to tolerate something you accept, that’s acceptance not tolerance.

Classical tolerance was the ability to tolerate (by demonstrating good will) things you disagree with. Obviously tolerance has limits. For example, I can’t (and shouldn’t) tolerate child abuse that happens in front of me. (My duty to protect the weak and innocent is greater than my duty to tolerate my neighbor’s use of freedom). But in a free pluralistic society, we have to tolerate ideas and a great many behaviors, that we disagree with. We can’t be forced to affirm things we believe are evil; nor should we stop the peaceful demonstrations of ideas we disagree. Instead we must tolerate each other.

In Christianity, we are called to go even further. Jesus taught us to love and serve those whom we disagree. It is a sad truth that there are many examples of where Christians haven’t loved well or even tolerated those they’ve disagreed with. We must sincerely repent of this. However, we must reject the idea that we must accept and affirm things we believe are unwise, wrong or evil. We must be tolerant and loving, not spineless and compromising.

Today, many people do not believe that their values are reflected in the larger American society. Understandably, this has led to division and strife in our nation. But we can’t force people to change their values, and we can’t call people “intolerant” for simply having a difference of opinion. Historically, tolerance helped to keep our nation united and I believe recapturing this virtue will do so once again!

The Book of John Challenge

Around Christmas 2016, our church decided to challenge everyone to read the book of John and comment. As you can see the length of the posts vary depending on how much time I had that day. Enjoy!

John 1
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“All who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God…” John 1:12

I was reminded that contrary to popular belief, we’re not born as “children of God” in a spiritual sense. God is the father of the human race, but the eternal Son of God came so that we could be born in to God’s spiritual family. That’s what the incredible gift of Christmas means for all those who “receive/believe in him.”

 

John 2
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So today in John 2, we read that Jesus visited a wedding at Cana in Galilee. This is probably a relative of Jesus who is getting married. (Cana was about three miles away from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth.) Running out of wine would have brought dishonor to the wedding and may explain why Mary inserts herself into the situation to find a solution and save the family from embarrassment. Another possibility for Mary’s coming to Jesus is that his disciples came along with Jesus to the wedding may have been partly the reason for the wine shortage.

Regardless of the reasons, Mary comes to Jesus and hopes that he knows what to do. Jesus was her eldest son and it would fall to him to do what he could to protect the family’s reputation. In all likelihood, Mary wasn’t expecting a miracle but rather for Jesus to “figure out something.” (Jesus hadn’t performed miracles up to this point in his life.) But as we will see in the book of John, Jesus will always provide much more than one expects (see John 4:10).

Jesus is Lord over creation, and this first miracle at Cana powerfully demonstrates that fact. Abundance of wine was a prophetic sign of the prosperity that was to be in the Messiah’s rule. This is why it’s the first “sign” (John 2:11) of Jesus as the promised Messiah.

 

John 3
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This chapter needs no introduction. It contains the most famous conversation in scripture, where Jesus elegantly captures God’s salvation plan for lost humanity.

What caught my eye this time through is how bluntly both Jesus and John (the baptist) speak to their respective audiences. Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat his rebuke of Nicodemus’s unbelief (John 3:12) and John rebuffs his disciple’s concern with the success of Jesus’s ministry (John 3:27). Jesus and John were heralds of God’s kingdom. Both pointed to what the Father was doing and this gave both the boldness needed to plainly tell others spiritual truth.

When Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, probably to conceal his interest in Jesus, Jesus didn’t tenderly congratulate his interest. Instead he rebuked his unbelief and was surprised that a “teacher of Israel” didn’t know the things that Jesus was teaching (i.e. you must be born of the Spirit.” As we will see later in John, it’s obvious the direct approach had a tremendous impact on Nicodemus, because he, along with Joseph of Arimathea, ask Pilate for permission to give Jesus a proper burial (John 19:39).

As a pastor, I sometimes struggle telling people the truth boldly and without apology. Not because I am ashamed of the gospel (at least as far as I know my own deceptive heart) but because I want to be tactful and don’t want to drive people away. However, this chapter reminds me that Jesus (and John) the two greatest men to ever be used by God did not fear driving people away. People know the difference between lovingly telling people the truth and being an arrogant know it all. Jesus told the truth but was known by all as a friend of sinner (Matthew 11:19) and a man who loved others deeply (John 13:1). So be bold, be loving, but be bold- we owe people the straight truth (Romans 1:14).

 

John 4

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In this fourth chapter of John, we read about an other remarkable exchange that Jesus had with someone. However, today’s encounter could not be more different from his conversation partner in chapter 3. Instead of a well-respected, morally-upright, Jewish man, that meets Jesus at night, here he talks to an immoral Samaritan woman in the middle of the day. Yet both people are in desperate need of what only Jesus can give. John beautifully contrasts people from both sides of the social spectrum and shows that Jesus cares for all kinds of people. There was no one like Jesus!

This Christmas, let’s remember that Jesus has come from all people. Our God is not a “tribal deity” and Jesus is not some “national messiah.” Our message is for all nations, and our God is Sovereign over all peoples.

 

John 5
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Here we have a third consecutive conversation between Jesus and an individual. The first was Nicodemus (John 3), the second was the woman at the well (John 4), and now a chronically paralyzed man laying at the pool of Bethesda (John 5). Each of these conversations reveal more about Christ’s mission and identity.

In this encounter, Jesus approaches the man, who isn’t seeking him at all. This is similar to the woman at the well and dissimilar to Nicodemus. Jesus sees the paralyzed man, and asks a rather obvious question, “Do you wish to be healed?” After a short conversation, Jesus commands “Get up, take up your bed and walk.” (v.8)

All is fine, except this was the Sabbath day and carrying your mat was forbidden because it was viewed by the religious leaders as a form of “work” and a violation of the 4th command. (See Ex 20:8). This caused a controversy with the “Jews” (John’s shorthand for the Jewish ruling leaders). After some confusion, the leaders find that Jesus was behind this man’s violation and his healing. And it is in this exchange we learn more about who Jesus was and his mission.

Jesus tells these leaders that he is doing nothing of his own accord but only what “he sees the Father doing” (v.19). Jesus essentially says that his authority is derivative– it comes from the Father. He isn’t the source of the healing power he holds. He isn’t working alone. He is simply doing what the Father shows him. So to reject Jesus and the miracle he just performed is to reject the Father who sent him (v.38, 43).

This is yet another wonder of Christmas. The Father sent the Son ( v.37) to live among us and love those far from Him. The Christmas gift of God shows us that God is for us, His heart is toward us. But if we reject that gift, we are in everyway also rejecting the Sender of that most precious gift.

 

John 6
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After feeding a crowd of over 5,000 by miraculously multiplying 5 small loves of bread and two small fish, Jesus sends his disciples across the sea of Galilee. He dismisses the crowd and withdrew into a mountain that evening. Jesus walked on the sea and joined his fearful disciples. (John’s account of this is much briefer than what Matthew records- Matt 14:22-33).

However, the large crowd that had gathered the day before went looking for Jesus. After some confusion on how Jesus left their coast without a boat, they realize that somehow he had traveled to Capernaum. When they find Jesus, he immediately challenges their motivation. They weren’t seeking truth, just a meal. They wanted a Jesus that would take care of them and make their life better. Jesus hadn’t come to make their lives easier; he came to rescue them from the poisonous effects of sin and restore them back to the Father.

So he takes what they are seeking “meat”, and turns it into a grotesque analogy of the salvation he has come to provide. Eternal life would only happen if they ate “his flesh” and drank “his blood.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, you want food, well the only food I’m offering is my flesh! Obvious to us, is that Jesus was speaking of his sacrificial death on the cross and the believer’s participation in that death through faith. Just as the passover lamb was eaten by the Jewish faithful, our passover lamb, Jesus, is received by faith into our hearts.

The crowd couldn’t understand his parable and many turned away (John 6:66). Jesus knew their corrupt hearts didn’t want salvation from sin, only to be saved from hunger. So they walked.

How many times do I see Jesus as someone who should save me from my trouble and meet my need instead of the one who made the way back to the Father possible? God does meet our needs but his provision is always secondary to His presence. So, as followers of Jesus, we must always seek Him, and not simply what He can give.

As Keller asked, “God gave everything to be with us, what are you doing to be with Him?”

 

John 7

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Jesus’s ministry has been primarily confined to Galilee and now his unbelieving brothers challenge him to go to Jerusalem and show the world that he was the messiah. After a while, Jesus did go to Jerusalem to observe the feast of booths. Here, he comes into conflict once again with the Jews who accuse him of leading the people astray.

His works have spoken for themselves. He has healed someone on the Sabbath. Yet the religious leaders could not see the good work only the “legal violation.” In the final day of the festival Jesus stand and loudly proclaims that he alone is the source of living water. There can be no clearer offer to the Jews. Jesus has come to rescue them, who will come and believe?

This is the same today. The Christmas celebration is widespread and yet many ignore what is really offered– rescue from sin and reunion with God.

 

John 8
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“Who do you make yourself out to be?”

In John 8, we have the 4th major conversation between Jesus and someone. This time it is a group of Pharisees or simply “the Jews” as John was disposed to call them. In each conversation that John records we learn more about the true mission and identity of Jesus.

Here the Jews are questioning Jesus’s claim to be the “light of the world” (v12). They doubt this rather bold claim and accuse Jesus of bearing false witness about himself. Jesus claims that his witness is true and that His Father is the required “second witness” to substantiate his claims (See Deuteronomy 19).

They take issue with this further audacious claim– that God was his “Father”. And here Jesus launches in a very “un-Jesus-like” attack upon his antagonists. He essentially calls them children of the devil (v.44). He claims those who hear his word and abide in it will be set free from sin. The Jews accuse him of being demonically controlled.

Jesus and these Pharisees could not be further apart. Unlike the other conversations we’ve looked at in John, this conversation ends with these Pharisees trying to kill Jesus. In frustration, they ask him who he makes himself out to be and Jesus’s answer couldn’t have been more inflammatory– the great I Am.

So we are forced to take seriously Jesus’s claims. He is making it impossible to remain neutral regarding his identity. He has revealed him to be Israel’s messiah in John 4, now in John 8 he is claiming to be the Son of the Father and Israel’s God. Each of us, are going to make a decision regarding Jesus. Jesus says that if we abide in his word, we will be set free. If we reject him, then we remain enslaved to our father the devil. Jesus offers the only way out from the bondage and slavery of our sin.

 

John 9
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Why do some suffer with terrible diseases or disabilities?

Jesus was asked by his disciples why a blind beggar they were passing was born with this condition. They assumed, as did many of that day, that it must be a judgment for some sin. It seems that most of the Jews believed God was involved in actively judging people’s sin by bringing calamity on to themselves or their children (see Ex. 20:4-5).

Jesus knew better. God wasn’t judging this man or his parents. But God was going to use this tragedy for a far greater purpose than anyone could imagine. As Jesus and the disciples were discussing this man, Jesus spat on the ground and placed the mud in the blind man’s eyes. Jesus told the man to go and wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam.

This was another “Sabbath day healing” and so the Pharisees were upset that someone had “worked” on the Sabbath. The formerly blind man didn’t know who Jesus was but knew that it was a man named Jesus who must be, at the least, a mighty prophet from God. Eventually the Pharisees come face to face with Jesus and this healing becomes a spiritual metaphor for what Jesus came to do– to open the eyes of those who do not see and blind those who claim they see (v.39). Jesus confronts these “blind guides” (Matthew 23:16) and exposes them as the frauds they are.

Application:
Each of us could be as these Pharisees were. We could be self-deceived and think that we “see” when in fact we’re blind to the truth. Their blindness was revealed in the fact they were unable and unwilling to recognize the work of God in the miracles of Jesus. We, too, must be open to seeing God at work around us and avoid closing ourselves off to His work. Humility keeps our heart tender and our estimation of ourselves appropriately small. Hubris is the hallmark of spiritual blindness.

 

John 10

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Jesus is the good shepherd. There is no one else like him. In this passage, Jesus uses the familiar metaphor of a shepherd for his role as spiritual leader. Ezekiel had denounced Israel’s spiritual leaders as those “who have been feeding themselves” but neglecting their responsibility to Israel (Ez. 34). However, God promised that He will be Israel’s shepherd and will “seek the lost, and bring back the strayed…” (Ez. 34:15). Here Jesus proclaims himself as the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy.

Jesus assumes a close intimate relationship between himself and his disciples. They will hear and respond to his voice. Those who are not his will not believe (John 10:26). The question I must face today is, “Do I hear and obey his voice?” This question comes to us again and again for it is the root of our discipleship to Jesus. Our shepherd is calling us, will I obey?

John 11

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Of all the incredible healing stories that are recorded in the gospels, the resurrection of Lazarus is my favorite. All of the great questions about pain, death, God’s purposes and His plans are addressed in this magnificent chapter.

First, Jesus is told that his close friend is ill. It was no small feat to get word to Jesus because he was several days journey away. But to the surprise of many, he makes no great effort to run to his ailing friend. Sometimes it seems that God is in no hurry to rescue us.

Second, when Jesus does finally arrive, he immediately promises victory and life. The word of God is sure but at times “unbelievable.” Martha, the dutiful disciple, confesses belief but like many of us, she struggles to let her heart believe what her mouth confessed.

Third, Jesus weeps! God’s heart is engaged with our human suffering. It is so easy to assume that God is indifferent to our cry and suffering when He seems silent. But here, we see that Jesus weeps! Up to this point, he hasn’t “done” anything but he weeps. God enters our suffering. He weeps with those who weep (see Romans 12:15; Isaiah 53:4).

Finally, God acts! In mighty, inconceivable power, God does the unthinkable and unforeseen– He raises the dead. He has made all things new.

As I reflect on this chapter, I can see the four major “acts” of the human drama on display.

Act #1- Creation: The intimate relationship between God and man. Jesus had a close, intimate relationship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
Act #2- The Fall: The death of Lazarus represents our great fall. God is on the move but his work is slow and unseen.
Act #3 The cross: Jesus enters our suffering. God comes to us! He suffers and weeps with us!
Act #4 Consummation: The resurrection of Lazarus represents the final mighty act of God when suffering will be no more. As Mary and Martha experienced, our tears will be wiped away (See Revelation 21:4) and a joyous reunion awaits the faithful.

So as we think about this chapter, we are living between “act 3” and “act 4”, we are exactly where Martha was when she doubted. We’ve seen God’s love displayed at Christmas but our faith can fade as we await his final mighty act of resurrection and our final redemption. We are tempted to doubt as Martha did. Take encouragement from John 11, remain steadfast in your faith, God is going to act.

 

John 12
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The focus of the book of John now turns toward the final days of Jesus’s life. Mary, sister the Lazarus, anointed Jesus’s feet and wiped his feet with her hair. This “waste” offended Judas Iscariot who claimed this expensive perfumed could have been better spend feeding the poor. False piety is as old as the human race.

It was near the feast of passover and the pilgrims were flooding into the ancient city of Jerusalem. The news of Lazarus’s resurrection was spreading and the fame of Jesus was growing. The Pharisees and the religious leaders were now seeing Jesus as a legitimate threat to their position. They were so desperate to stop this, they even plotted to kill the recently dead Lazarus!

John tells us that even Greeks were seeking to see Jesus; his fame was transcending the Jewish community, indeed the whole “world [had] gone after him” (John 12:19). It is ironic that in less than a week this same crowd would be chanting “away with him, crucify him” (John 19:15).

Jesus begins to predict his own death in parables. He spoke of grain falling to earth and dying so that much fruit could come from that fallen seed. He spoke of being “lifted up” and how that this would “draw all people to him” (v.32). The chapter finishes with Jesus plainly crying out to the crowd that, “whoever believes in me, believes in the Father.” To receive Jesus was to receive the Father, but to reject him was to reject the Father as well. Jesus was the elect one of the Father. He alone was God’s choice for man’s salvation.

Application:

In this chapter, we see two examples of false religious piety that completely miss God. Judas’s false concern for the poor and the religious leader’s attempt to kill Lazarus. It’s amazing how dark our deception can be! God save me from the blindness of my own heart.

John 13

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If you or I had walked in the upper room that final evening, we would have seen a slave the washing feet of the dinner guests. Not entirely odd or out of the ordinary, except for the fact the guests were already reclining for dinner. However, If we asked where the master was seated, we’d be in for a complete shock.

In that time, social status was everything. The clothing one wore, the place at the table where one sat, the food one ate, all pointed to social status. So what Jesus does this last night he spends with his disciples is absolutely unthinkable. As John says, “having loved his own… he loved them to the end” (v.1).

The famous foot washing of the disciples is actually the perfect analogy for the entire life and mission of Jesus. The Master gets up and “lays aside” his outer garments and “puts on” a servants towel. Jesus, perfect deity, lays aside his divine privileges (Phil. 2:5-8; II Cor 8:9) and put on flesh (John 1:14) and human weakness to serve (Mark 10:45). He does this to save humankind from sin and to show them how to love each other.

Jesus of Nazareth forever changed human history. Prior to Christmas, the world was locked in brutality, hatred, and human oppression. Even in the “greatest” civilizations, human slavery and exploitation were considered to be part of the natural order. Certainly there were some thinkers who questioned some of these abuses, but no one but Jesus actually changed the entire world. He was God’s great “Christmas gift” of healing, hope and salvation to the entire world.

Like a vaccination from Heaven, Jesus entered the dark, sin-sick world and it began to slowly heal and change. There is certainly much more work to do and this world is far from its final redemption, but the effect of Christ on this world is undeniable. We, the disciples of Jesus, must follow his command and “love one another, just as I have loved you” (v.34). We must never rest until all oppression has ceased. We must never stop until love for all is universal. Jesus gave us a great commission. All must hear and know of the good news–Jesus saves. He is the light of the world. (John 8:12)

Merry Christmas.

 

John 14

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It must have been a complete shock to hear Jesus say, “Where I am going, you cannot follow” (John 13:36). There had never been anyone like Jesus and these disciples couldn’t imagine life without him. He was incomparable, invincible, peerless, wise, completely faithful and now… he was leaving?

Jesus sensing their dismay responds with some of the most comforting, hopeful words in all of the Bible. “If I go…I will come again and take you to myself…” (v.3). Confused, Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?” To this, Jesus famously declares, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (v.6).

Later in the text, Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans” (v.18). Jesus knew the relationship that he had with his disciples. His absence would be a tremendous blow. Yet, go he must, and so the promise of a “Helper” (v.16,26). John has mentioned the Holy Spirit before. At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was seen descending upon Jesus. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born of the Spirit (3:8). Also when Jesus offered a drink of living water and that those who believe would, “out of [their] heart will flow rivers of living water (7:38)”, John explained that this was a prophecy of the out pouring of the Holy Spirit. And now Jesus clearly explains that the Holy Spirit would come and fill the his absence in their lives.

As I consider how the disciples must have felt and all that Jesus said here about the Holy Spirit, I’m compelled to think about the role the Holy Spirit must have played in their lives. The intimate relationship these men had with Jesus was to be continued with the Holy Spirit. This makes me think there’s more available to me in the Holy Spirit than I am currently enjoying. So that’s what I will consider today.

 

John 15

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It’s significant that right after Jesus tells his disciples that he is leaving, he tells them they must continue to “abide” in him (John 15: 4-5). Obviously, Jesus isn’t contradicting himself. So what did he mean? It is certain that Jesus intended that his disciples would continue their relationship with him after his absence. (see John 21:22) How was this to happen?– the Holy Spirit.

The disciples had been following Jesus for three years and had seen his relationship with the Father. They knew that the Spirit had descended upon Jesus at his baptism and knew that he spake of being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8). So now, Jesus was calling his disciples to continue their relationship with him just as he had with his Father.

The evidence that they are “abiding” in Christ is that they will “bear fruit”, principally love for one another (John 15:17). Supernatural love for one another is the evidence that we are in communion with the Spirit, abiding with Jesus Christ. Jesus, himself, loved in this way. He had kept his Father’s commands and so modeled what it means to “abide in his love.” (John 15:9-10).

Today, I must consciously abide with Christ, via the Holy Spirit and live as a conduit of the Father’s love. This is the only job of a Christian, for without him we can do…. nothing. (John 15:5)

 

John 16

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Jesus knew that what lay ahead would rock his disciples to their very core. They would witness the messiah surrender. For a Jew, this was unimaginable. Messiahs conquer, but soon it would appear to all that Jesus would be conquered. Not only would he be conquered but all associated with Jesus would be vulnerable, subject to the same fate as him. This had happened before in Jewish history and it would happen again. Would-be messiahs would rally followers, only to be brutally dispatched along with their disciples.

Yet even in these sad moments, Jesus confidently proclaims that he has “overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus predicts sorrow and great trouble for his disciples, but he promises that sorrow would not have the final word. Their sorrow would turn into joy. Just as a mother’s labor pains are forgotten when she holds her baby, their sorrow would be forever eclipsed by the tremendous joy ahead.

None of this makes any sense without a historic, bodily, resurrection of Jesus after his public crucifixion. Without a real resurrection, Jesus is a delusional messiah unable to deliver himself much less anyone else. Without a resurrection, the hope that concludes this chapter is baseless; his promise to return is empty. There would have been no “Jesus the Messiah” movement post-crucifixion and the very book we’re reading would have never been written. The resurrection of Jesus is the linchpin for everything. Without it, following Jesus isn’t just foolish, it’s immoral- for it promises a false hope (See I Corinthians 15:15,17,19). Oh, but with the resurrection, everything changes. Jesus is Lord of Life. He is God’s Messiah. Death has been defeated, there is ultimate hope. We are not lost, we are not forgotten. God has come. He has won and we will one day forever share in His victory!!!!

 

John 17

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Eternal life is knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent. This has been the expressed mission of Jesus– to open the door to eternal life (John 5:24).

As Jesus prepares to leave his disciples, he prays for them. There are four main things that Jesus prays over his friends. First, that the Father would “keep” them (v.11). Second, that they would be one (v.11). Third, that they would be protected from the “evil one” (v. 16). Finally, that one day they would be “with me where I am” (v.24).

This prayer gives us a window into the special relationship that Jesus had with his Father. He speaks of his “pre-bethlehem glory” that he enjoyed “before the world existed” (v.5). As Jesus finishes his earthly mission, he anticipates his return to the Father. However, his love and care for his disciples has not faded. He has truly loved them until the end (John 13:1).

As Jesus finishes the prayer, he reiterates that the world does not know the Father, but that the Son knows the Father. Knowing the Father can only come from the Son. Only the Son reveals the Father (John 1:18; 14:9). When we see the Son, we have seen the Father. This is why we must always have our ideas about God filtered through the love and grace displayed in Jesus. When we face a difficulty and wonder, “Does God care about me?” We must immediately ask, would Jesus care? The answer is obvious… of course he does. Although, there were times Jesus did things (or didn’t do things) that sometimes confused his disciples (e.g. John 11) but what was never questioned is his steadfast, perfect love for them.

God loves us. This has been forever settled when He sent His son and Jesus shows us clearly the kind of God He is. There was no one like Jesus and there’s certainly no one like our God!

 

John 18

#bookofjohnchallenge
#thechurchatlakemead

The two most significant moments in human history take place in a garden. Adam’s surrender to sin in the garden of Eden and Jesus’s surrender to pay for sin in the garden of Gethsemane. Both gardens were places where intimate fellowship between God and man took place. And both gardens saw the horror of that fellowship broken by sin.

As the other gospels record, Jesus had been praying, pleading, surrendering and submitting to the final steps of his earthly mission. Suddenly the Temple Guard led by Judas arrest Jesus and take him to the court of the High Priest.

Nothing about the legal proceedings that took place followed Jewish law. The Jewish leaders were corrupt. They had secured a favorable position with Rome and weren’t about to allow Jesus to threaten that, with his talk of “Messiah” (John 11:50; 18:14).

Simon Peter had bravely tried to defend Jesus at his initial arrest, only to be rebuked. Now he follows from a distance as Jesus as he seeks to overhear how the midnight kangaroo court unfolds. As Jesus predicted, Peter denies that he knows Jesus three times. John is less descriptive of theses denials and doesn’t record Peter’s “bitter weeping” (Matthew 26:75). The entire episode here in John is less descriptive than the other gospels as it seems John wants to hurry us to the cross.

There is unique dialogue recorded here between Jesus and Pilate. Jesus confesses to Pilate that he is indeed a King– something that is less explicit in the other gospels. Pilate famously asks, “What is truth?” and the irony isn’t lost on us who know that Jesus himself is the “Truth” (John 14:6).

The chapter tragically ends with the Jews choosing Barabbas instead of Jesus. This is in some ways the entire human drama in a single choice. How many times to we choose a “Barabbas” in our life. Barabbas was a robber (probably a rebel), a symbol of our desire for independence and rebellion. We reject Love in favor of Rebellion, we choose Barabbas instead of Jesus.

Today’s application is to consciously choose Love. I must step into God’s love and reject our natural desire to walk in pride and rebellion.

 

John 19

#bookofjohnchallenge
#thechurchatlakemead

“It is finished.” These are the last words that John records before Jesus’s death on the cross. The death of Jesus signifies the end of Jesus’s earthly mission. He was faithful to the Father and gave his life for the sin of the world.

It is interesting how John “certifies” the death of Jesus. Notice the carefully worded statement, “But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs but one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (And here’s the interesting bit.) “He who saw it has borne witness– his testimony is true, and he knows he is telling the truth– that you also may believe.” (John 19:32-35).

John takes great pains to say, “He really died. I saw it, I am telling the truth.” All this of course anticipates the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It would be completely unnecessary to”certify” the death in such emphatic ways unless something incredible was to come. This not only anticipates Jesus’s resurrection but it also demonstrates that the empty tomb of Jesus must have been a publicly known fact. John knows that his readers have heard of Jesus’s resurrection and the empty tomb of Jesus required an explanation. So John emphatically certifies himself as an eyewitness to the death of Jesus on the cross.

The burial scene supplies us with more details than the other gospels as we learn on here that Nicodemus was also involved in Jesus’s burial. As a member of the Sanhedrin (the very council that convicted Jesus the night before), it is unlikely that John would have invented this. It certainly does not put the 12 disciples in a good light for none of them to have offered to bury their beloved master.

So John tells us that Jesus was publicly killed and that his burial was attested by at least two witnesses– a fact important in Jewish law. There is no denying that John is carefully testifying to the events surrounding Jesus’s death and burial. Why do this unless what happens next is so remarkable, so incredible that most people wouldn’t believe it. But it happened. Jesus rose from the dead!

 

John 20

#bookofjohnchallenge
#thechurchatlakemead

The first witness to the resurrection of Jesus is Mary Magdalene. I never realized the significance of this fact until I took a course on the resurrection. To us today, it makes no difference who was the first to see Jesus, Peter, John, Mary; we don’t really consider the gender of the person before we decide to believe them. However, in antiquity women were discounted. Sexist views against women continually minimized their testimony in all legal proceedings. They were simply viewed as inferior to men.

So when we read that Mary (and the other women) were the first to see the empty tomb and what’s even more– that Jesus first appeared to her, it is remarkable. It’s not remarkable that it happened, it’s remarkable that John recorded it. You see, we have to remember that this book had a particular first century audience in mind. John (or any other biblical author for that matter) wasn’t thinking about us. They were writing to their contemporaries. And in that day, to say that a women was the leading witness to the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus would have been met with laughter and scorn.

Obviously, as John tells us, the men ran to verify what the woman reported but nevertheless for all time, it will be women that first saw the empty tomb and a women who first saw Jesus alive after his public execution. My professor told us that historians look for certain features in ancient texts that raise the credibility of the recorded event. One of the features is when an author records embarrassing facts about themselves or the event they are testifying. This would have been extremely embarrassing for the first disciples and yet here it is– a strong proof of truthfulness.

As I conclude, I want to think about why Jesus chose to appear to Mary. Why did she have the blessed privilege to bring the good news to the men? There are probably many reasons. Is Mary kind of a “reverse Eve”? The serpent lied to Eve in a Garden and believing this lie led to the death of mankind. Jesus speaks wonderful, glorious truth to Mary in the Garden Tomb (John 19:41) and this is the beginning of New Creation redemption of mankind. Is Jesus signally that women evangelists have equal standing in his Kingdom? Does this anticipate Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28, where there is no more “male or female?” Finally, is Jesus, once again, rewarding those who are faithful? Remember, the men were still in hiding. It was the women who wanted to anoint their beloved master’s body as soon as the Sabbath restrictions were lifted. And so early in the morning (probably demonstrating some fear of being seen) they nevertheless went to the tomb. This act of faith and courage was rewarded with the most incredible blessing of all– the first to see the resurrected Jesus!

 

John 21

#bookofjohnchallenge
#thechurchatlakemead

“Follow me.” As John concludes his gospel the last words of Jesus are recorded as, “follow me.” It’s interesting that one of the first things that Jesus says in this book is the same, “follow me” (John 1:43). This summarizes the life of a disciple– one who follows.

In the churches I was raised in nearly each week a call was made to believe in Jesus. I am thankful for this, but I don’t think that went quite far enough. We’re not called to simply “believe in” Jesus, the consistent call is to follow him. Perhaps I just missed this growing up, but I think it was easy for people to get the idea that Christianity was all about just what one believed.

Following Jesus, of course includes believing certain things about him, you’d hardly surrender everything and follow a person if you didn’t believe the claims he made. But following Jesus includes much more than mere belief. It means– to imitate him, to live surrendered to him, to commune with him, to think very hard about how Jesus would live his life in 2017 and do that. Following Jesus requires a complete 24/7 orientation of your life as a DISCIPLE of Jesus. Believing in Jesus always results in following him.

I think it was easy in the churches I grew up in to think that you could be “saved” but not really a follower of Jesus. Notwithstanding contentious hypothetical theological debates about eternal security, there really is no biblical evidence of someone who was considered a “disciple” of Jesus but didn’t actually follow/surrender to him. Were there cases, when a disciple was over taken in sin? Yes. Were there cases where a disciple turned back for a period of time? Yep. But the overall teaching in the New Testament is to help the struggling get back on track. The goal of a believer is to “finish the course” (See II Timothy 4:7). As theologian Scot McKnight said, “faithfulness can’t be measured in the morning of faith, but only in the evening of life.” In the gospels, a disciple is someone who persists in following Jesus despite difficulty (see parable of the sower Matthew 13).

In fact as we saw in John 6, there were a group of disciples that decided not to follow him any longer. It was then Jesus asked his 12 if they would continue to follow. To which Peter famously answer, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68) Following Jesus matters. It is the essence of Christianity and it bookends the gospel of John.

Jesus’s parting words to his most trusted disciple is… follow me. No, it’s actually, “Don’t worry about the other guy, YOU FOLLOW ME!” It’s as if Jesus says, “You’ve got to get all of the distractions out of your head, and FOLLOW ME!”

How might 2017 be different if we simply took what Jesus said to Peter and totally applied that to our life? FOLLOW ME.

 

Parenting Organic and gluten-free Choosing schools and carrots!

Some might think we’ve got a pretty strange  routine at our house. Just about each morning, I get up and make my girls a smoothie. Now this smoothie isn’t the same each day, sometimes I like to experiment and let’s just say that Jamba Juice won’t be stealing my recipes anytime soon! But, we’re pretty committed to giving our girls a healthy start to their day, so spinach, carrots, apples, and some protein mix usually finds its way into each of my “creations.” If you’ve had kids in the past decade you too have probably educated yourself on the benefits of going “organic” and maybe have even experimented with going gluten-free. I laugh when I think about the frozen bean burritos I consumed just about every day as a kid, and I can’t imagine how my girls would react to seeing that microwaved monstrosity on their plate for dinner. We truly live in a different age!

I was thinking about other areas in life where our generation is pretty thoughtful and protective for our kids. We’re much more likely to organize “play-dates” for our kids than our parents were. We’ve already told our girls they can forget about sleepovers, and I’m currently in negotiations with a few prospective families about arranging marriages (ok maybe not 🙂 ). The world is just different today, or at least that’s the prevailing idea that drives our parenting. We love our kids and so we try to get them to eat healthy, develop healthy friendships and hopefully learn to make healthy choices. But there is one major area in our kid’s lives where I think many of us aren’t being as attentive to what’s best for our kids as we should—schooling.

In fact, I think there may be a useful analogy between school and diet that might help make my point. We all know that healthy eating is a long-term commitment. There’s really no measurable health benefit from eating one organic apple or one “hormone-free” chicken dinner. If we want to really benefit, we need to have a long tern commitment to eating healthy. Similarly, one donut isn’t going to ruin you. Thankfully, our health isn’t usually that fragile. However, over the long haul that processed food is gonna catch up to you!

I think it is the same with school. My girls have been at the Christian school where my wife and I work since they were 6 weeks old (actually earlier if you count the time they napped in my wife’s office before they were eligible for the nursery). My oldest, Taryn is now in 5th grade. As I’ve seen my girls grow up, my deep appreciation for this community has grown as well. The years of love and nurturing that my girls have received has played an inestimable role in their development. The constant investment from this loving environment is shaping them in countless and surprising ways!

What confuses me is when I hear of parents that carefully choose their kid’s lunch, warily arrange play-dates, wisely limit their Netflix access, but then let their kids drive the decision about their school. I’ve been teaching at this school 18 years now and I can’t even recall how many times I’ve seen this happen. Since I’ve mostly worked with high school students, the reasons for leaving were usually connected to better educational, extracurricular or athletic opportunities offered at public high schools.  Now that my kids are getting older, I can begin to imagine how difficult this must be for parents. My girls seem to naturally know how to manipulate me! And it’s because we love them so much, we’d hate to think we’re limiting their opportunities.

Here are three quick things to consider: First, Remember, we may get what we want, but we’ll lose what we had. We usually tend to maximize what we think we gain and minimize what we think we’ll lose. This is especially true with the young and inexperienced. There are so many intangibles that we’re walking away from, that I’m not sure we’re simply considering all we’re losing.

Perhaps, what’s most often overlooked is the strong social network in the Christian school environment. The close relationships of parents and students form a robust community that help as all as we raise our kids. And while it may be impossible to pick all of my kid’s friends, I can influence the pool of friends they’ll likely choose from.

Second, larger schools might have bigger, more developed programs, but that doesn’t guarantee your child will be nurtured and developed. We all love being a part of successful programs and who doesn’t want their kids on the biggest stage possible? However, in my experience, the bigger programs often fail to offer the individual attention and mentoring available at the smaller Christian school. Conversely, I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve had with our alumni who tell me just how well they were prepared for college and life beyond.

Finally, don’t fall for the, “it won’t affect my kid” lie. As I said earlier, eating one Twinkie won’t kill you, it takes time for poor diet to really show up. I think this same thing applies here. If your kid transfers to a public school, you probably won’t see them shooting up drugs or joining a gang anytime soon. It’s not going to happen. But what will happen is their worldview will be slowly shaped by a potent, toxic cocktail of secular academic instruction and an unhealthy social environment.[1]

I honestly don’t think most of us really grasp the current condition in our public schools. My context is only in southern Nevada, where admittedly the public school district is failing.  However, each year as I hear from new transfer students discuss their previous experience at public school, I get the “inside scoop” of what’s really going on. Many times I’ve wept as I heard of the horror stories they’ve been through in those environments. It’s truly unbelievable.

For some, public education seems like the only option for your family. Don’t be so sure! I’ve seen God open up doors for those who never thought a Christian school would be possible. You may have to sacrifice, but isn’t that what we do for our kids anyway? But if you must send your children to a public school, you must be intentional. You must work hard to counter that toxic environment. I certainly believe it is possible for children to remain solid in their faith in the public school but parents must remain constantly vigilant. In one sense this could actually be a good thing because if there’s a weakness in a Christian school it’s that the parents and students take Christianity for granted. When a student is exposed to the hostile environment in a public school, both the parent and the child will constantly need to keep up their guard. If done well, this can be a good thing!

We all know the nutrition our children absorb during their formative years is critical, but equally critical is what their minds absorb during these vital years. They’re only young once and these years fly by. How they turn out will be largely connected to the decisions we make now. A Christian school can’t fix everything and our school certainly isn’t perfect (I probably know more of its flaws than most), but I for one, am so thankful it’s in my children’s life.

[1] I certainly do not want to disparage anyone working in the public school system. There are many thoughtful, loving teachers there. My issue is a systemic one. The toxicity I mention derives from the secular philosophy that drives modern public education. In my view, school-age students aren’t equipped to thrive in that environment. Perhaps a well-trained student can be successful in a secular college, but even then I’m not optimistic. I’d prefer my girls complete their undergraduate work at a Christian college and then go to a secular graduate school if needed.

Life requires interpretation

Many times our circumstances confuse us. At times, God seems distant or indifferent. We pray and heaven seems silent. We need to make a decision and we are left alone.

The problem is that we can’t discern God’s love or care from life’s circumstances alone. Whether we realize it or not, we interpret every situation through the condition of our heart, and that’s the problem.

When our heart is cold, sinful, and loveless, God can seem cruel or absent. Conversely, when I’m drawing upon the Spirit for my strength, I can see God’s loving hand even in the most difficult of times. This is why two people going through two similar situations can have two completely different beliefs about God’s goodness. A person who is sustaining themselves with the truth of scripture interprets God’s silence as a loving test that will develop their faith (See Romans 5:1-5). While another person who feels abandoned responds with anger after God hasn’t healed their sick or moved their mountain.

Life requires interpretation. God never changes but our interpretation does! God is always present and forever good, regardless of how I’m currently “seeing” my circumstances. Look to the cross of Jesus and to the empty tomb and believe.

 

Reflections on Temptation

Even the most devoted follower of Jesus will experience times of temptation. Jesus himself experienced two intense times of temptation at the beginning of his ministry in the wilderness (Luke 4: 1-13) and at the end, in the garden (Mathew 26:36-46).

There are two questions I want to address: What’s the best way to overcome temptation? and Why does it seem like there are times in my life when temptations look stronger? Let’s look at these in reverse order.

Why does temptation seem to strengthen at different times in my life?

There are at least two reasons for this. First, as in the case of Jesus, strong temptation can simply be brought on by a spiritual attack from the enemy. When Jesus was tempted, satan was allowed to test Jesus. A close reading of the text surprisingly reveals that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by satan (see: Luke 4:1-2). Since nothing happens outside of the permission of the Father, we can take comfort from the fact God is aware of our temptation.

However, Scripture is clear; God is not the one tempting us (see: James 1:13). Since we know that God is for us and not against us (Romans 8:31), he stands ready to help us overcome temptation (see I Corinthians 10:13; I John 5:3-5). Why God permits temptation isn’t entirely clear, but there is a clear biblical theme that times of testing matures our faith (see: James 1:12; II Corinthians 1:3-9; Romans 5:3-5).

Second, temptation strengthens when my delight in God has weakened. In this way, a wise disciple can see that growing temptation helpfully reveals increasing spiritual hunger. The simple fact is that human beings are spiritual beings. All of us crave spiritual satisfaction and temptation offers us counterfeit satisfaction. This leads us to our second question.

What’s the best way to overcome temptation?

There’s a helpful passage referenced above in James. He tells us, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). Desire is mysterious. Why do we want what we want? How do we control our wants? We all know that desire eats willpower for breakfast!

Jesus delighted in the Father’s love (John 17:23, 26). He nourished this delight constantly. (Mark 1:35). His prayer life was so intimate and powerful the disciples curiously asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). His relationship so tender, he called God “Abba”, an unthinkable address to God for pious Jews. Many times we think Jesus didn’t fall into temptation because, “he was God.” Yes, he was. But nowhere else in his ministry does Jesus live, “as God.” (See: Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:9-10; 5:7-9). That’s why I think, Jesus’s life shows us that when we delight in the Father’s love temptation loses its power over us.

So whether, we’re experiencing temptation as an extraordinary attack from the evil one, or it’s the regular, ordinary effect of drifting from the Father’s arms, the solution is the same. Run from temptation, to Jesus. Determine to delight yourself in God’s promises and love. Remain in his love (John 15:1-5). The truth is, desires often simply reflect what we’ve been feeding ourselves.

 

For another blog on temptation see:

https://bradblakeleysblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/overcoming-temptation/

 

 

 

Jesus, the Good Samaritan

Jesus, the Good Samaritan

Arguably, the parable of the Good Samaritan is Jesus’s best-known story. It has all the classic elements of a great tale—tragedy, tension, a surprising twist and, most importantly, a happy ending.

It’s also difficult to overstate the effect this parable has had on western culture. In a sentence: this short story radically and permanently redefined the word “neighbor” to include even our most despised enemy. After the Good Samaritan, a neighbor can no longer be narrowly defined as someone living in close proximity. Before Jesus’ masterful redefinition the command to “love one’s neighbor” (Leviticus 19:8) just made good practical sense. Even the ancient pagans understood this. As the Greek poet Hesiod remarked, “Especially be cordial to your neighbor for if trouble comes at home a neighbor’s there.”[1] So before Jesus, to “love your neighbor” was really to “love your self”, since it was in your best interest to have good relationships with those who lived nearby.

The Good Samaritan changes all of this. There was no chance of reciprocity in what the Samaritan did for the helpless Jewish victim. Let’s think back to the story. A traveling (and presumably) Jewish man is ambushed by thieves, assaulted and left for dead. A Jewish priest and then a Jewish Levi both ignore the man and walk a wide path around the helpless victim. Now the unexpected turn in the story, a Samaritan, the long time enemy of the Jew, sees the wounded man and lavishly pours out his oil and wine upon the bleeding injuries of the stranger. Further, he places him on his own animal and tends to his wounds throughout the night at a nearby inn. Even more incredibly, the next morning the Samaritan prepays lodging for the man as he recovers and offers to pay for any future expenses the wounded man incurs during his recovery.

Ethical Application

Jesus’ piercing question: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers”?, changed history. (Luke 10:36) To love my neighbor isn’t based on utility or reciprocity or self-interest; it’s based on the principle of unconditional love for our fellow man. It’s based on the idea that human beings should receive unconditional love from one another.

Why? Why should we love our enemies? Why did Jesus teach this? Our enemies certainly don’t deserve our love! There are two answers. First, imago dei (The image of God)—human beings were created in the image of God. The imprint of the Creator places immeasurable intrinsic value on humankind. This is why crimes against humanity are so heinous. Secondly, and more significantly, incarnation (God in the flesh)—God, in Jesus Christ, took on human flesh (see John 1:14; Philippians 2:6-8). As the classic Christmas hymn Oh Holy Night beautifully sings, when Jesus came, “the soul felt its worth.” God demonstrated His appraisal of our worth when He became flesh in order to save us.

Theological Application

And this brings us back to the Good Samaritan story. Where is Jesus in this story? Is there a “Christ figure” in this parable? Appropriately, he’s at the center. I think we should view Jesus as the Ultimate Good Samaritan. His rescuing love was lavished poured out upon us. We were the helpless, dying man wasting away in our sin and despair. Jesus, like the Samaritan, binds up our wounds and carries our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). However, unlike the Samaritan, rescuing us cost Jesus his very life. You see, the Good Samaritan story doesn’t simply teach us to love our neighbor; it doesn’t just teach us that our neighbor includes our enemy, it teaches even a grander lesson. It teaches us the lengths God will go to save us. It shows us our helplessness, the ruin sin has caused, and powerfully demonstrates the lavish, self-giving love of our Great God!

Pastoral/Personal Application

As a Jesus follower, I am called to follow in his steps (I Peter 2:23). I am called to be a “Good Samaritan”. Obviously, there is a unique way in which only Jesus can save the human race but that doesn’t mean there’s not a role for me to play. But how can I be a “Good Samaritan” today? I haven’t seen too many wounded strangers bleeding out on the side of the road lately. These things happen and certainly if we see that, I have a moral obligation to help. But in order to apply this story, I must expand our understanding of the wounded and hurting. If Jesus told the story today, he would likely address the cold indifference I show to those with silent struggles and messy addictions. Surely, he would address the non-verbal cues that I loudly shout when I’m too busy to get involved with someone’s struggle. The truth is the wide path I walk around difficult people mirror the indifference of the Jewish Priest and Levi in the story. I must ask God for His compassion and love to embrace my neighbor’s struggle and “bear his burden and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Ephesians 4:2; Galatians 6:2). God, in Christ Jesus, bore my burden; he carried my sorrow. I am called to do the same.

[1] As cited in Paul and the Gift, John M. G. Barclay p.25