January 10 — John 7

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The problem with looking for a Messiah with a preconceived notion of what he looks like is that you end up never finding him and who he really is.

John 7 may be the most “real” chapter in John’s entire gospel. So far in John’s gospel we have seen Jesus do miracles and teach in some amazing ways. He has drawn a crowd wherever he goes, yet there is something just a tad undefined about him. By that, I simply mean this: If you have never read this story and you know nothing about Jesus, at this point in the narrative you know he is important and he obviously is the protagonist, but you cannot clearly define why he does the things he does. What is his purpose in life, anyway?

If you have these questions about Jesus, you are no different than the characters of John 7. Taking a moment to look closer at what is happening in the text, we discover these questions being asked:

Jesus, are you going to be a public Messiah, rallying the crowds around you?

A Messiah was the person who was appointed by God to rescue God’s people Israel from their current situation in which Rome occupied their land and prevented them from being the truly free nation they had once been in the past. The word, which simply means “anointed” (by God) began to be a catchword for those looking for the political hero who would gain freedom for the once great nation of Israel most likely through military means.

Many assumed Jesus was this person because of the great things we have read about him doing up to this point in the gospel. Even, we discover, his disciples thought of him as one who should be out in the public arena. “You cannot act in secret if you want the people to follow you,” they tell Jesus.

Jesus, are you good or bad?

The people do not ask this question quite so bluntly, but if you read carefully verses 10-13, there were quiet rumblings about whether he was a “good man” or a “deceiver.”

Jesus, how did you learn to teach like you do?

In all of the gospels, we discover that Jesus’ teaching was one that amazed people. It was full of authority. To be a teacher with authority in Jesus’ day, a rabbi would spend his entire life in school, learning what the scriptures said and what other, more knowledgeable rabbis said about the scriptures. Jesus was not a rabbi, in the true sense of the word, nor had he the formal education the rabbis did. On top of that, he spoke in ways that seemed to defy the need for someone to instruct him on how to teach scripture. It was almost as if … God had told him what to say. (Which of course is what DID happen.)

Jesus, are you a demon?

Funny how when people get too powerful, we have to discover other ways to undercut them. If they are too smart for us, then something else must obviously be wrong with them.

Jesus, why do you come from the wrong town?

This seemed to be representative of everything that was wrong with Jesus being the Messiah in the eyes of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, the Jewish religious leaders. According to the scriptures these people studied so diligently, the Messiah would be from the line of David and come from Bethlehem. The problem they had is that has versed as they were in the scriptures, they had not spent any time studying Jesus.

John does not record the birth story of Jesus, but if you look in the first chapters of Matthew or Luke, what you discover is that Jesus was born in … with for it … Bethlehem. It happened during a census where Jesus’ father Joseph (who was a descendent of David) had to go back to Bethlehem to “report in,” if you will.

Truthfully, even if the Pharisees knew this, they would not have believed Jesus was the Messiah. He did things all “wrong.” The Pharisees had already determined what rules the Messiah would follow, what he would and would not do. Certainly, healing on the Sabbath was one of those things you DID NOT DO as a good Jew (see chapter 5) and so Jesus had already disqualified himself from consideration.

The problem with looking for a Messiah with a preconceived notion of what he looks like is that you end up never finding him and who he really is. This was one thing the Pharisees would discover they knew all too well.

Questions:

If you were going to start a religion, what sort of things would you do to advertise or let people know about what was happening? Do you ever wonder why Jesus did not do these sorts of things? At the same time, Jesus attracted crowds wherever he went. How could Jesus have attracted these crowds without the benefit of Facebook, Twitter or the like?

As you have looked through the teachings of Jesus, has there ever been a time when you found yourself amazed at what he had to say? Why do you think this was the case? What sort of things can we do to recapture that amazement at the story of this Messiah?

In what ways has Jesus been unlike anything you expected him to be? We often hear of people who refuse to believe in God because he doesn’t act like they want/expect him to. Why do you think we are so quick to create our own image of what God or Jesus is supposed to look like or do? How can we do a better job of being open to understanding Jesus for who he really is, not for who we want him to be?

January 9 — Isaiah 44

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I belong to the Lord. (Isaiah 44.5)

I am thirsty.

I am dry.

I am worn out.

I see no rest in sight.

No one cares.

No one pays me any attention.

No one wants what is best for me.

I am a no one…

… and I belong to no one.

Not so fast, says the Lord. Listen, he says.

If you have ever felt some of the emotions above, Isaiah 44 may be just the passage for you. It opens with the Lord speaking to his servant, Jacob, and his chosen one, Israel. We may be quick to say: Well, he is not speaking to us, but doing so would miss the point. God is speaking to the one’s he calls and that is you and me. He wants us to hear this message. In fact, I would maintain that the reason this passage even appears in the book of Isaiah might have as much to do with an enduring message to generations of people to come as it does to the literal nation of Israel.

To his people, God says these things:

I formed you.
I will help you.
I will water you.
I will pour my spirit on your offspring (think: I not only guide you, but I will guide your children and children’s children.
And when I do, God says, they will recognize that they belong to the Lord.

If you are like me, there are very few things that give me more pride and joy than hearing someone speak well of my children. While I recognize they may not be perfect, to hear someone tell me that in the future good things will come their way reassures me.

It helps me breathe a little easier.

It makes me worry less.

It causes me to realize that the dryness I may feel does not mean there is no good to come.

My children … and I … belong to the Lord.

If you finish the rest of Isaiah 44 (vv. 6 and following) you discover this. If God is the one to whom we belong, if he is the one who has created the world and us in it, seeking idols is the wrong path. To whatever degree our despair may cause us to think of things beyond God, he is Lord and does not forget us.

Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this;
shout aloud, you earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
you forests and all your trees,
for the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
he displays his glory in Israel. (Isaiah 44.23)

Questions:

Have you ever been so discouraged that your feelings of sadness made you lament not only your own position in life, but also your children’s, as well? How comforting is it to hear Isaiah describe God’s blessing (here told as water and springs for a dry land) for generations to come?

Following idol is a theme we often encounter in Old Testament prophetic writings. For them, the idols may have been tangible objects, even as those objects were symptomatic of hearts far from God. For us, we are more likely to follow after non-tangible items. What are some of the idols we chase and how do they pull us away from God. Compare a life that has “The Lord’s” written on his or hand versus a life chasing idols? How do we prevent the latter while seeking more of the former?

What song would you sing, similar to 44.23 to celebrate God’s provision for you? Pick a song of praise you are familiar with or perhaps you may want to write your own lyrics that communicate the praise you have for God.

January 6 — John 4

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Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again. (John 4.13)

The episode where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well is one of my favorite stories in John’s entire gospel. In it, we discover that Jesus has a heart for those who are outside what we might consider the “appropriate” circle.

Jesus’ whole reason for leaving Judea was rooted in the fact that the Pharisees were beginning to ask questions about the influence Jesus was having in baptizing disciples compared to the number of followers John the Baptist was baptizing. (For more on this, see John 3.) Jesus was not one to shy away from a confrontation with the Pharisees, but I do think his desire was to avoid any unnecessary problems when Jesus had more important things to do. So, he heads to Galilee…

John tells us that Jesus “had to go through Samaria,” which if you had been a good Jewish reader of John’s gospel would have caused you some heartburn. To a good Jew, there was never a reason any Jew should have to go through Samaria. The conflict between these two people was long and complicated. It centered on things like what books should be in included in what we would now call the Old Testament and as a result of including some, but not others, having a difference of opinion on where one could worship God. (Notice the woman’s statements about the mountain on which the Samaritans worshipped in verse 20. This was a nod to these conflicts.) Add the fact that the Jews burned down the Samaritan temple and you can see why there was a tension between these two peoples.

So the question we might ask ourselves is this: Why was it important for Jesus to visit with this woman? It would have been no big deal for him to ignore her. Cultural norms would have dictated as much: she was a Samaritan. Not only was she a Samaritan, but she was also a woman. Women did not have much of a standing in Jesus’ day and in the world in which he lived. Finally, she was a woman who had a “checkered” past. If we were going to list the people we might bring together to start Christianity, women with 5 husbands probably do not rise to the top of our list.

So why did Jesus spend time sharing with this woman (whom we do not even know by name)? I think quite simply, it was because this is what Jesus did. To him, she was a woman in need, a woman who needed to hear the good news, and a person for whom Jesus cared. While the “important religious leaders” were dickering over how many followers Jesus or John or the Pharisees might have attracted, Jesus was attracting people who he knew needed him. And in the midst of this woman and many of her friends following Jesus, we discover that he really was “the Savior of the world.”

Questions:

If Jesus came back today, who do you think would be the “Samaritan woman at the well” that he offered living water? How well do we reach out to these people you have identified? What things can we do to exhibit more of the attitude Jesus did to this woman?

How surprised are you to find that a Samaritan (remember: these would have been people despised by the Jews) is one of the first in John’s gospel to proclaim Jesus as “Savior of the world?” When you consider what you have read in John’s gospel up to this point, how important is this proclamation? How important is it that it comes from a Samaritan?

Jesus is said to have performed two signs up to this point in John’s gospel: turning the water into wine at the Cana wedding feast in John 2 and now healing a royal official’s son who was ill (there will be seven total signs). Why are these signs important? How do these signs affect the people of John’s gospel? While we may not have Jesus here on earth healing people, how have you seen signs of his presence with us/you and how have these things helped your belief in him?

January 5 — John 3

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Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life… (John 3.36)

Along with Psalm 23, John 3 may be the best-known passage in all of scripture, or at least one verse from John 3 can lay claim to this distinction. While many of us probably do know John 3.16 (For God so loved the world…) and can also most likely say it from memory, there are other significant ideas found in this chapter.

The chapter opens with Nicodemus, a “Pharisee” and a “member of the Jewish council” coming to Jesus at night. Why at night? John never tells us explicitly, but a safe assumption would be that the darkness of night provides a cover so that Nicodemus’ other council members would not know he went to Jesus.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be “born again” to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus finds this confusing and truthfully, reading this passage literally would result in the same reaction from us, as well. The confusion lies in the fact that Jesus is speaking of a spirit rebirth, not a physical one. What does it mean to be born again in the spirit? It means believing in Jesus, or more specifically, believing that it is through Jesus that we have eternal life.

John goes on to explain this in the next section of this chapter, verses 16-21. Here we find that famous passage, but do not miss the other parts of the section. For instance, John tells us that Jesus came not to judge the world, but save it. Many people have a view that Jesus’ (and God’s) only job is to smite down those who sin or fall out of line. John’s words here should be a comfort and a correction against such thinking.

John also explores a theme he uses often in his gospel: light versus darkness. Jesus, John says, exposes evil because he is the light. Those who love evil prefer darkness; they do not want to be exposed for who they are.

Finally, we wrap up the story of John the Baptist within John’s gospel. There is a moment in the conversation where it would appear that John might be expected to take a defensive stance against the actions of Jesus and his disciples, who were baptizing and having the crowds come to Jesus. Had John not understood his role as the one preparing the way for Jesus’ coming, it might have been easy for him to feel slighted, or like he was losing his influence. Instead, he rejoiced in the coming of Jesus. Like a best man helping a groom get ready for his wedding, John recognized that what was happening was what was supposed to happen. The things he had been preparing the people for was coming to pass.

John concludes this chapter with a reminder of what we read in John 3.16: Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.

Questions:

Why do you think Nicodemus wanted to ask Jesus the questions he did? In what ways should have Nicodemus already known that answers to these questions? In what ways do you think Jesus was creating a new definition of what it meant to follow God?

As you read through John 3, what stands out to you that you have not read or seen before? In what ways does the famous passage of John 3.16 come to life more when you read the chapter in its entirety?

How hard would it have been for you to have the same attitude of John when he sees the crowds beginning to follow Jesus? In what ways might we be called upon to prepare others for a greater role in the kingdom of God than we ourselves have? How can understanding the importance of God’s kingdom help us to see things more important that just our role in that kingdom?

January 2 – John 1

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Jesus became human and built a house on our block.

John 1 tells us three big ideas about Jesus.

First, he is both fully God, but also became human. John begins his gospel writing about the beginning (you get echoes of Genesis 1 here). While John does not immediately identify the entity he is writing about as Jesus—he calls him the Word—we read that he was with God from the beginning and through this Word, all things were made. There is a sense of sovereignty in these words. This man helped create the world, meaning he has a hand in ruling the world, as well.

After a brief interlude about John who would witness to this one called the Word, we read that the Word became flesh and “made his dwelling among us.” I like to say that Jesus became human and built a house on our block. Think about the people who live around you. While we live in an increasingly disconnected society, my guess is that some of your neighbors are friends and you through the years have learned about their families. Perhaps you even do things socially with someone who lives on your street. This kind of relationship is a far cry from knowing “about” someone or even just reading a description of them. Jesus came to be one of us. As a result, he knows us and what it means to live a human life. We cannot dismiss that as just trivial information.

Second, we learn that while John is not the Messiah, Jesus is. When the Jewish leaders seek out John to ask him who he was, he is emphatic in his response denying himself as Messiah. (In the Greek, you can create an understood subject just by using a specific verb form. However, when the speaker or writer wants to be emphatic, you include the subject, so it reads more like: I, I am… or in the case of John: I, I am not the Messiah.) Why would John be so emphatic? Because he wanted all the attention to go to the one who WAS the Messiah, and that was Jesus. As great as John was, there was one even greater coming after him.

The last thing John tells about Jesus in the first chapter of his gospel is that the role of Messiah—remember this is Jesus we are talking about—was to be the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (v. 29, and also in 36) Lambs were used as a sacrifice, including a sacrifice of atonement. Lambs were also central to the Jewish Passover, which was a celebration of a moment in Israel’s history when God rescued his people from slavery and bondage in Egypt. (See Exodus 1-12 for more.)

Why is Jesus as Lamb of God important? Remember yesterday we discussed Isaiah describing a voice calling in the wilderness to prepare for the coming glory of the Lord? Well John (the Baptist, not John the author of this gospel) describes himself using these same words. He is, he says, the one who is preparing the people for the One to come. This Jesus, in flesh and living among us, offers us salvation from sin. He rescues us, much in the same way that the people reading Isaiah would have seen God’s rescue in Isaiah 40.

Questions:

How does the thought of Jesus living on the same block as us affect the way you think of him? In what ways does it bring you comfort? In what ways does it cause you to want to do better?

When you hear the term “Messiah,” what are your first thoughts? Do these describe the ways you typically thing of God? Why or why not?

How have you discovered attempts to rid your life of sin to be much like New Year’s Resolutions: great ideas in principle, but a lot harder to accomplish than you originally thought, perhaps even impossible? How does the idea of Jesus being the Lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world” help you better approach an understanding of salvation from God? What would be one way you can live more of an understanding that Jesus saves you, versus you save you?

For Your Family:

Ask you children to describe to you their picture of God. In what ways does their image include an understanding of God/Jesus becoming flesh? How can you do a better job of living a life that shows them Jesus acting in and through you?

 

January 1 – Isaiah 40

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This year, how are you making preparations for his coming?

Isaiah 40.1-31 is often called the “Book of Comfort.” After 39 chapters of discussion about the coming destruction of the Lord on both Israel and her enemies, chapter 40 strikes a word of hope about the future.

To be fair, all of Isaiah prior to this chapter is not gloom and doom. There are moments when the coming of the Lord and the restoration of his people are mentioned, but by and large, the first section of Isaiah serves as a stark warning to God’s people of the punishments to come.

To gain a sense of the importance of Isaiah 40, it is good to look at the chapter in outline form. You see a flow of God’s restoration better this way.

The very first word of this first section (vs. 1-2) is “comfort.” Yes, Israel is punished for her sins (of turning away from God), but those sins had been paid … in fact, Israel paid double for her sins. This is good news. Punishment was coming to an end.

Next (vs. 3-5) we hear of the passage most often tied to John the Baptist in the New Testament that a voice is calling in the wilderness for the people to get ready for the coming of the Lord. After punishment was over, God came to recall or re-gather his people Israel. Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes these verses in his “I Have a Dream” speech; referring to the ways the coming of the glory of the Lord would ease the burdens of the oppressed people. In King’s day, it was people of color and in Isaiah’s day, it was Israel whose punishment would soon be over.

We cannot forget, however, another way in which the mountains being made low and the valleys raised up are significant: When John the Baptist describes the coming of the glory of the Lord, he is referring to Jesus who would give God’s people salvation. It was impossible to find salvation in God without the coming sacrifice to which Jesus fulfills and John refers.

The next section of verses (vs. 6-20) contrast the life of people, who wither and fade like grass, with God, who created the world and rules eternally. When the Old Testament refers back to the creation story and more specifically God’s role in creation, it most often is describing the sovereignty of God. (Sovereignty meaning the one who has all power due to his creation of the world and his current ruling over that same world.) We should not see God in the way we see one another in that we have limited lifespans. God, as creator of the world, is also the sustainer of the world and reigns forever. God is also not an idol, crafted by human hand. Idols, Isaiah points out, are inferior to God’s sovereignty.

The last two sections of Isaiah 40 both begin with the same text: “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” (v. 21, 28) Similar to the section above, the first of these two sections (vs. 21-27) describe God as the creator of the universe and asks the question: “To whom will you compare me?” The answer is obviously, “No one.” There is no comparison to the God who not only created the stars, but also knows each one by name.

Finally, the last section of Isaiah 40 (vs. 28-31) reminds the reader that because God is the creator of the world and because there is no comparison to him, he does not grow tired or weary. Remember the original opening of this chapter: Isaiah is writing to a people who have completed their punishment and I would assume who are extremely weary and extremely tired. Isaiah goes on to say that while humans do get tired—even youths get tired and weary—God (because he does not) is the one who provides renewal for their strength. They soar like eagles, Isaiah says, because of the Lord.

So, we see in Isaiah 40 a progression of comfort given to a people who were at the end of their punishment and who would be revived by the coming glory of the Lord. When the Lord comes, when he is revealed, those who see him are renewed.

Questions:

In what ways have you seen the glory of the Lord revealed to you? How would you contrast the glory of the Lord with things here on earth today that are competing with God’s position of sovereign king?

If God is the one who created the heavens and brought forth the starry hosts (v. 26), why do you think people are so quick to focus on inferior things (Isaiah would call them idols) as their “gods?” How can we be reminded to focus more on God’s coming glory than for these “gods” who clamor for our attention?

Why does the “voice calling in the wilderness” describe valleys being raised and mountains being made low, etc.? What connection do these things have with the coming of the Lord? Since this is the case, what can you do in your own life to prepare for the glory of the Lord to be revealed?

For Your Family:

What obstacles prevent you and your family from receiving fully the glory of the coming Lord? What specific steps can you do today and in the days to come with your family to better receive him?

The more important you make God a priority in your own life, the more your family understands the coming of his glory because they focus more on him. What things can you do with your family to show the importance of God in your life and in the life of your family?

Week of November 5 — Text List

The 1 Home Bible Study texts for the week of November 5 are as follows:

Psalm 43
Micah 3:5-12
1 Thessalonians 2:9-20
Matthew 23:1-12

Daily Bible Reading Texts are:

November 6 – Psalm 56, 57, 58; Nehemiah 6:1-19; Revelation 10:1-11; Matthew 13:36-43

November 7 – Psalm 68:1-35; Nehemiah 12:27-47; Revelation 11:1-19; Matthew 13:44-52

November 8 – Psalm 72; Nehemiah 13:4-22; Revelation 12:1-12; Matthew 13:53-58

November 9 – Psalm 71, 74; Ezra 7:1-26; Revelation 14:1-13; Matthew 14:1-12

November 10 – Psalm 69; Ezra 7:27-8:36; Revelation 15:1-8; Matthew 14:13-21

November 11 – Psalm 75, 76; Ezra 9:1-15; Revelation 17:1-14; Matthew 14:22-36