Are You Loving One Another?

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Rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 on how well you love one another.

1____________________________________ 10! 10 is that you are a very loving person and people tell you this all the time. 1 is that your own mother has a hard time loving you. Loving one another is one of the easiest teachings to say and memorize, but one of the hardest to do. Now if you are here today for the first time, I suspect that you expect that as followers of Jesus Christ we are loving toward one another. You may not have heard much about Jesus, but you have probably heard that He promoted that we are to love one another. So how are you doing with that? Are you loving the people around you? Could there be some room for improvement? How would your new college roommate rate you? What score would your spouse give you? How about your siblings? Your parents? Frankly, if you get a low score at school, work or out in the community, you have some issues because those are the areas where we are most concerned about our reputation. Out in the public eye, people usually see the best version of us. We can appear pretty loving and kind.

I gave myself a score of 6. I know how I can be fairly loving to people in our church and community, but then sometimes fail miserably at home with loving my family. I also know that I don’t always respond in love when I have poured myself into a task, project or somebody’s life and then at the moment that they should be most grateful, they tear a strip off you. I can easily want revenge by giving the cold shoulder or gossiping about them or giving up on the relationship. I am loving only a little bit more than half of the time.

This is why this message is so important. Some of you are on the verge of being so unloving that you could do irreparable damage to your relationships. This is why, in part, our church has been studying through the Gospel of John since Easter in order to understand our new identity in light of who Jesus is. Our Leadership Team took time out of our busy schedule last week to seek the Lord in prayer and to discuss the future. We also tried to do some self-evaluation. We see God changing us to be more like His Son Jesus in so many ways and are so thankful for His work. We have moved past a lot of our traditions and barriers to ministry and instead have more of a care for our community just like the BBQ we put on for Centennial Public School this past week. We have embraced grace, but hopefully not at the expense of truth. We have a discipleship pathway that is our measuring stick for effectiveness rather than just numbers. In other words, we care more about whether you are reading God’s Word, praying every day and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ than how many people come here on a Sunday. These are all good things that God has done in our midst over the past 5 years.

God is growing us, but the area that we think we can continue to grow in is our love for one another. Love is the mark of a Christian. This is our new identity – our love for one another. Jesus teaches His disciples that their love for one another will set them apart. It still does. Our love for one another is compelling. In fact, our memory verse for the month of September is John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” But here is the thing: Jesus gives this command not at the beginning of His ministry! He doesn’t proclaim it on top of the mountain with thousands listening like He did at the beginning of public ministry but instead in the darkly lit room on the night that He was betrayed. Jesus started out His ministry in Matthew 5:44 telling His followers to “love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them,” but the night before He died He is more focused on how His disciples should aim their love at one another. He was so concerned that He spent the last day before His death taking the form of slave and washing His disciples’ feet including the one who betrayed Him. After practicing what He was going to preach before He preached it (which is always a good strategy for preachers), Jesus finally got to some final words. Let’s read about those words in John 13:21-38! Read John 13:21-38!

If I had to say in a sentence in summing up this passage and what it means to love one another, I would put it like this: To love like Jesus is to love those who betray, misunderstand, deny and leave you. We read in this passage Jesus was betrayed by Judas, misunderstood by all the disciples, denied by Peter and left by all but John at the Cross. Jesus knows how hard it is to love one another. He can relate to any hurtful relationship you have had. You may have been betrayed, misunderstood, denied or abandoned, even by followers of Christ, but Jesus commands us to still love one another. No other club or religion teaches such love. But this doesn’t mean it is easy to apply. That is why D.A. Carson says, “The new command to love one another is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, but profound enough that the most mature believer is repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.”[1]

Maybe part of the reason why we have a hard time loving one another is some misunderstandings about what it means to love. I’m focusing today more on the application under the banner to love like Jesus is to love those who betray, misunderstand, deny and leave you. I will try to correct 4 misunderstandings about love. Here they are:

  • Love comes naturally – There are many people who think that love comes naturally and easily. That it is in our nature to love. However, this is not true. We are naturally selfish. Most of our days are spent looking after our own wants and needs. Even when we are acting loving, it often masks our selfish desires to be well thought of or for people to do what we want. This is why Jesus actually has to make the call to love one another a commandment and not just a good idea. Did you notice that Jesus says loving one another is a command in verse 34? This means that if you call yourself a Christian and you choose not to love other Christians, then you are disobeying Christ. You are in fact not loving Christ when you neglect to love one another. This does not mean that obedience equals love. You can obey without love. Judas did! “Sold out to Satan though he was, Judas had no recourse but to obey the word of Jesus”[2] and so Judas left the upper room when Jesus told him to. You can do the right thing without having the right heart – one full of love. Which raises the question what does it mean to love somebody? I heard somebody tell me long ago that love is doing what is best for the other person even at your expense. That type of love doesn’t come naturally. It comes supernaturally. It comes from God. The writer of the Gospel of John also wrote another letter in 1 John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Love doesn’t come from within ourselves, but from God. Some of you have been trying to will yourself to love that difficult person in your life and it really isn’t working. Love comes from God. Ask God to give you His love for that other person. There is a second misunderstanding about love…
  • Love doesn’t have favourites – This sounds really good, but actually undermines love and is unChristlike. What do I mean? First, notice that Jesus had a favourite. We know that He loved all His followers, even Judas. However, one of Jesus’ followers had a greater place in His heart. Verse 23 identifies the man, “There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” Richard Lenski observes, “The hearts of most were near to Jesus, yet young John’s was nearer.”[3] John, the writer of this Gospel, was Jesus’ favourite disciple. John was like a son to Jesus who broke through the usual invisible barrier of personal space and hung on Jesus. You see, to love is to have favourites. I liken this to how a marriage works. Lori and I love each other in a way that we don’t love others. We became exclusive so that we could become inclusive. In fact, out of our love we bore four children, but I am not just talking about sexual love, now that I have grossed out my children. Our love for each other has helped us to love people in more profound ways. We have been able together to care for our neighbours in ways that I certainly couldn’t have done alone. We have been able to counsel people together. We have become more loving and inclusive of others because we have been exclusive. And so, I want to address an issue that almost every church and school and team is accused of – cliques. Temple has cliques. We have seasoned singles here at Temple who shortly after this service will gather together at some local restaurant. That is a good thing and I’m sure they would invite you to come along if you wanted to come. We have groups of young adults who go and have a nice home-cooked meal after the second service. We have groups that know more about the inner workings of the church than others – we call them leaders (Staff, Deacons, Elders). We have even intentionally created small groups of people who meet together weekly to discuss God’s Word and pray. We believe these groups rather than becoming insulated cliques actually help people love others outside their groups. For example, someone might be having a hard time at work and then they go to their EPIC small group where they are reminded of Christ’s words and love and they are emboldened to go back to work with a new love for their co-workers. And then we have hundreds of cliques called families. The problem is when we are friendship sufficient and don’t care about those outside the group. This leads to people feeling that they are left out. This is where we can grow as a church. But the problem is in being exclusive. We need exclusivity because we don’t have the time to be equally loving to all. In being a friend to all, you will be a friend to none. In fact, if you don’t have a group that you can appropriately be more intimate and loving with, you won’t be very good at sharing that love with others. Jesus had a clique – 12 disciples and we should be thankful that He did because out of the Twelve, He formed the church and you and I have Christ’s love. Their love for one another attracted many people to Christ (Acts 2:46-47) And eventually those Twelve were scattered to the four ends of the earth to spread the love of Christ. We must do the same, but it all starts by forming into groups! I challenge you to join a small group. (Talk to Pastor Aaron or write your name in the info card in front of you and take it to the Welcome Centre afterwards.) Love is a two-way street: invite others into your groups and strive to become a part of a group. I saw that beauty of exclusive love, of having favourites, two weeks ago when a small group at the end of the service formed a circle and prayed for Dale Bowyer as his father lay dying. Their love for one another reminds me of another misunderstanding…
  • You must feel like loving others – Many think that you must feel like loving the other person. Again, loving others is a choice to do what is best for the other person. There are many times that you don’t feel like loving the other person, but you still do what is best for them. At that moment, you may be loving them more than if you did when you felt like it. Jesus did! Verse 21 makes it clear, “When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit and testified and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.” Jesus was troubled in spirit and yet He taught and loved people to death – His own death. Peter in the story promised to love Jesus until the death. Peter says in verse 37 that he would lay down his life for Jesus, but “sadly, good intentions in a secure room after good food are far less attractive in a darkened garden with a hostile mob.”[4] Feeling like you are loving may not be loving at all. Maybe you came here today with a grudge for something somebody did to you? You don’t feel like loving the other person at all. May I not only remind you that Jesus commands you to love, but that He loved you even when He didn’t feel like it. After supper, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and to ask God to give Him another way to redeem you than the cruel Cross, yet Christ still went through with it. Ask God to help you love when you don’t feel like it! He will! And yet this does not mean you turn a blind eye to sin, which is the fourth misunderstanding …
  • Love means ignoring the truth – Notice that when Jesus was asked about who would betray Him, He revealed who it was. In fact, He could have just have kept the whole betrayal bottled up. Instead in verse 21, He unloads the burden and tells the truth of one who was going to betray Him. Love means telling the truth. Now some of you may still have a nagging question and question the truthfulness of Jesus’ statement: how is this new when the command to love your neighbor as yourself was written around 1500 years earlier by Moses in Leviticus 19:18? “The new command is not ‘new’ because nothing like it had never been said before. Its newness is bound up not only with the new standard (‘As I have loved you’), but also with the new order it both mandates and exemplifies.”[5] Those five little words elevate loving others so much. We must love as Jesus loved. And to love like Jesus is to love those who betray, misunderstand, deny and leave you and this includes telling the truth. Telling the truth in love may be the most loving thing you can do.

Now that we have corrected some of these misunderstandings it is time to put love into action. You need to pray and ask Jesus what you can do that would be best for the other person even if and when they betray, misunderstand, deny or leave you. But loving like Jesus is not just a grit-your-teeth kind of love and be kind to others because that is what we nice Canadians do. No! As Max Lucado reminds us, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it … face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.” How can we move to that type of love for others? Where instead of driving yourself crazy over those who betray, misunderstand, deny and abandon you, what if you had a crazy love for them? Crazy in comparison to the world’s response to those who betray, misunderstand, deny and abandon you. Their response is to ignore or shout or attack or seek revenge. No Jesus calls and empowers us to love. And not some sick way, like the pretty girl who sticks with the total loser who abuses her because she gave way too much of herself to him. The only way is to ask God to give you a love for one another!

This is critical as we enter into Communion. Some Christian traditions extend this Lord’s Supper to a full meal and call it a love feast. I think we can call it a love feast too and it isn’t dependent on the type or amount of food. It is a love feast because we remember Jesus loved us. He even dined with people who betrayed Him, who misunderstood Him, who denied Him in front of a little slave girl and who abandoned Him so that the only disciple left when He was crucified was the one He loved as His favourite. This love feast requires that we love each other. I wonder if some of you have a grudge that has prevented you from loving others. As John Ortberg has said, “A grudge is like a baby, it has to be nursed if it’s going to survive.” It is time to get rid of that “grudge baby” and be born of God who will fill you with His love. “Judas shows how close a person can come to salvation and yet be lost forever.”[6] He was filled with Satan! Christ was filled with love! Only Jesus can help you truly score a 10 and love one another.

[1] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 484.

[2] Carson, 475.

[3] R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Columbus: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1942), 944.

[4] Carson, 486.

[5] Carson, 484.

[6] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 348.


What are You Risking for the Resurrection?

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How are you responding to the resurrection? You might be thinking that I have had too much sun and forgot that this is summer and not Easter. The Resurrection is something we talk about in the springtime when the crocuses are just starting to pop up, not when we are in the full bloom of summer. But in reality, the resurrection must be near and dear to our thinking all the time. Why? It is what we are staking our lives upon. The resurrection is the reason for our faith, the power for our living and the hope for our future. The Apostle Paul, a guy who at one time thought Christianity was a harmful myth that misled people and did everything in his power to destroy it including hunting and killing Christians, said this about the resurrection, But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14) Some translations say our preaching and faith is useless. So if we don’t think about, preach, cherish and put all our hope on the resurrection, we should stop what we are doing right now and instead eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die and become worm food. There are better things you and I could be doing with our time than believe in a guy who died almost 2000 years ago naked on a Roman Cross.

However, if the resurrection is true; if Jesus really did rise from the grave, then this is what is the most important thing you can believe and think about. To use a gambling term (I bet you don’t hear that from too many Baptists), you need to put all your chips on the resurrection. One woman did and we are still talking about her 2000 years later. Let’s read her story in John 12:1-11! Read John 12:1-11!

How are you responding to the resurrection? Before you even attempt to answer that question, some of you faithful students of God’s Word may be wondering why I am focusing on the resurrection in John 12 when it seems to have little to do with the resurrection. I mean this story is before Jesus rose from the grave. This is about a dinner party who was interrupted by an outlandish woman doing the work of a slave and washing Jesus’ feet with her hair. Well, context is king when we study the Bible so we need to understand that this story of Jesus’ feet being anointed by the woman is sandwiched between Jesus raising His friend Lazarus from the dead, then the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and finally Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. It is a story sandwiched between Jesus showing Himself Lord even over death, Jesus showing Himself King even riding on a humble donkey and Jesus showing Himself Servant even washing His disciples’ feet.

All this to say that this story has much to do with the resurrection, particularly how Mary responds to Jesus after her brother has been raised from the dead. As a side note that requires clarification, there are other Mary’s mentioned in the New Testament: Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, the woman who Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Mark 16:9). Now, don’t confuse Mary Magdalene with Mary, Lazarus’ sister, the Mary in this story. Clearly, John wants us to know that this Mary is Lazarus’ sister as we read in John 12:1-2, “Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary…” Mary is obviously Lazarus’ sister, not a former prostitute.

Also, notice John gives us timelines so that we don’t confuse this story with another anointing of Jesus by an immoral woman as described in Luke 7:36-39, which happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry. The story we are studying happened six days before Passover as John 12:1 records. This story happened six days before the Angel of Death would once again take the life of a Firstborn, the difference being that instead of the blood of a little lamb painted above the doors of the Israelites protecting them from the Angel of Death like in the move The 10 Commandments. Jesus, the Lamb of God, would give His blood to protect us from death. In fact, “the one who raised Lazarus from the dead is about to go to His own death, as a sacrificial lamb, a Passover Lamb.”[1]

All of this is backdrop into this story of a woman who put everything on the line as a response to Jesus’ resurrection. She put her riches, her reputation and her relationships! Are you risking your riches, your reputation and your relationships for the resurrection? Mary started with risking her riches. The pure nard that she put on Jesus’ feet was extremely expensive. Most scholars believed that this “nard came all the way from India.”[2] I’ve been to India a couple of times. The smells there are incredibly rich and exotic. Nowadays, we can get things from India pretty quickly. Back then you didn’t have Fedex or U.P.S. It would take a long time to get such perfume from India to Palestine. And you would have to be very rich to get it. But Mary had a full pound of it. We know how much it cost per pound. How? Judas! Judas was an accountant. He could quickly tally the cost of such goods and in verse 5 he assesses the value at 300 denarii. Now, one denarii was worth one day’s wages, so 300 denarii was at least 10 months wages and possibly up to “a year’s wages.”[3] Now, I don’t know how much any of you make but I know the annual average household income in Cambridge is over $85,000. So I tried to think about what this amount would be like in today’s terms. This would be like one of us guys buying a brand new pickup truck valued at over $60,000 and giving it to Jesus without ever driving it. Or putting in a whole new kitchen with the latest appliances and gadgets and then giving it to Jesus without ever cooking a meal in it.

However, this was not just a donation by Mary, this was adoration. You see, Mary didn’t just risk her riches, maybe what surmounted to her retirement savings, but Mary risked her reputation. Mary didn’t just lay down her gift at Jesus’ feet like the Magi did so long ago when Jesus was a toddler in Bethlehem. No, Mary took the nard and put it on Jesus’ feet. Then she did something scandalous, she undid her hair and washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. As D.A. Carson asks, “Why would anyone wipe off perfume that had just been applied? And why would a respectable woman let down her tresses in male company?”[4] “Jewish women did not undo their hair.”[5] Even today, Jewish Orthodox married women wear wigs so that their hair is not seen by men other than their husbands. So think about that! Could it be like Oprah Winfrey or Kim Kardashian, very rich and powerful women, going to a homeless man and washing his feet with their hair? Why would Mary do such a thing? “She lays her own woman’s honor at the feet of Jesus. She takes that honor and makes it a towel for His holy feet.”[6] Warren Wiersbe reminds us, “She was misunderstood and criticized, but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord.”[7] Maybe you are giving your best to the Lord and nobody seems to understand or appreciate your sacrifice? Be encouraged! Jesus does! Keep going! Jesus wants more from you. Jesus wanted more from Mary. She had sat at Jesus’ feet before when Jesus visited their house at an earlier time (Luke 10:39-42). Long before Lazarus had died and rose from the grave! At that time, she had chosen the better dish over her sister who was wanting to do a lot for Jesus, but not just be with Jesus. Mary had always adored Jesus. Now, Mary goes from being a student of Jesus to giving a sacrifice to Jesus. Why? Why would she risk her riches and reputation for Jesus? Well to answer that question we need to remember that Jesus gave her brother back to her. Her beloved brother Lazarus had died. That’s tragic because Lazarus was possibly her only source of protection and income. So when Jesus arrived for Lazarus’ funeral, Mary fell once again at His feet. John 11:32-33 records what happened, “Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled.” In fact, Jesus wept! (John 11:35) But then Jesus rose Lazarus from the grave! How would you respond if somebody rescued your loved one? You would be filled with gratitude. You would want to give them a hug. You would want to give them an expensive gift. You would want to take them out for an outlandish dinner to celebrate. All these things are what Martha and Mary are doing for Jesus.

So let me pause and recap. Mary risked her riches and reputation for the resurrection or to put it a different way in tracking with her spiritual journey. She went from listening to Jesus at His feet when He first came to visit, to lamenting to Jesus at His feet when her brother died to lavishing on Jesus at His feet when Jesus raised her brother from the grave. This is the journey that you might be on as well as you encounter Jesus. This journey will give you such a deeper appreciation for the resurrection, even cause you to risk everything for believing in it. You may go from just listening to Jesus because He is such a compelling Teacher, to lamenting to Jesus over the loss of a loved one that you believe Jesus could have done something about to lavishing on Jesus your love and worship for His death and resurrection. So are you just listening to Jesus or are you lamenting to Jesus? That could be a massive step forward in your trust of Jesus. Take your complaint to Jesus! Or are you at the point of lavishing your love and worship on Jesus because you are placing all your hope on the resurrection of Christ? When loved ones die and you get past the devastation of it, you begin to realize that the resurrection is where you put all your hope for the future. I have watched some of you grow so much since your spouse died because you are placing your hope in the Lord and the resurrection to a new heavens and new earth. I have been there standing over the single casket of baby twins, not knowing what to say at first, but then appealing to the only hope there is – Jesus and His resurrection.

And yet, risking riches and reputation for the resurrection may not be the most difficult thing you have to risk for the resurrection. No, the greatest risk for the resurrection may be your relationships. We see this in Mary’s life with her brother Lazarus. Her act of washing Jesus’ feet brought more attention to her brother Lazarus, even if that was not her intent. Risking ourselves for the resurrection will cause those you love to face greater questions. In Mary’s case, Lazarus was at that dinner too. And this caused the crowds to gather. Lazarus had become a sideshow. But as soon as the crowds ballooned, the jealousy of the Pharisees ballooned along with them. And this was cause to not only want Jesus to be killed, but as verses 10-11 tell us, “But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” You see, Warren Wiersbe reminds us, “If you will not accept the evidence of Christ, you must try to get rid of it.”[8] Maybe today you have not accepted the evidence of Christ and His resurrection and so you are trying to get rid of it? Many in our culture and educational system are trying to get rid of the evidence of Jesus and His resurrection. Jesus will prevail. He has for 2000 years. Think about the fallacy of trying to get rid of Jesus and His evidence. The Jews wanted to get rid of Lazarus by killing him. Which raises some questions? Wouldn’t have Lazarus just said, “Bring it on”? What was the worst thing that you could do? Kill me?” He had already died once and been resurrected. And who would the religious leaders kill first Lazarus or Jesus? If Lazarus first, Jesus might raise Lazarus again! So they chose Jesus! They went after the bigger prize. Little did they realize that killing Jesus first meant that Jesus would someday cause Lazarus to rise again! This fulfills Jesus’ promise in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?

If you believe, this will turn into a sweet aroma for this stinking world. In Matthew 26:13 Jesus promised, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” Mary’s offering and risk for the resurrection still has a fragrant smell. What a contrast to Judas! Nobody names their son Judas, but many name their daughters ‘Mary.’[9] “The very name ‘Iscariot’ exhales an evil odor, the absolute opposite of Mary’s ointment.”[10] And here’s the thing, Judas made a great business and socially just decision, at least on paper. It would have been smart to take a little ointment for Jesus’ feet and give the rest to the poor. He might have even got a tax deduction for giving to charity. But if you are just thinking about the financial impact or even the social impact in trying to help people and not considering Jesus, you are always aiming lower than you should. Jesus has to be the focus of our decision-making. Ask yourself, “What is best for Jesus?” If you do, He’ll take care of the rest! It is never just business. You know that scene in the 1972 movie The Godfather where Michael Corleone wants to order a Mafia hit on NYPD policeman. He says the famous line, “It’s not personal; it’s strictly business.” Well, Michael Corleone is wrong – it’s always personal! It’s always about relationships. And who can fix our relationships? JESUS!

Let me put it this way. Lori and I were discussing this week that a lot of people’s behavior, including our own, is driven by what other’s think of them. This is why people can be pretty good at work, school or in the community and then be selfish, inconsiderate and down right mean at home. We wondered whether real change can happen without community? Listen to what Paul Tripp says in this lengthy but worthwhile quote: “I understand why people, after experiencing the hurt and disappointment that so often mars our relationships, decide to live in isolation or in a comfortable collection of terminally casual relationships. I understand why people say to themselves, ‘I’ve been taken once and I won’t be taken again.’ I understand why married couples choose to live in long-term cold war relationships that lack intimate friendship and unity. I understand why ministry people often choose to live in functional isolation from the body of Christ. I understand why adult children choose to live a great distance away from their parents. I understand why many people dread the extended family gatherings that accompany the holidays. I understand why people hide their hurt and refuse to talk about painful topics with one another. I understand why people don’t ask for help or give help when asked. I understand that none of us have ever lived in one single relationship that hasn’t disappointed us in some way. I understand that relationships are hard … But for the believer, relationships are not a lifestyle option. No, they are an essential piece of God’s calling between your salvation and your final resurrection.”[11] Mary understood this truth and her story is the Gospel in action. She no longer was driven by what others thought, but what Jesus thought. And this has become a beautiful fragrance that has lasted 2000 years and gives us hope for our relationships today. Relationships are often repelling; Jesus’ can make them attractive once again. He can make us attractive again!

Maybe this is in part what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life? You see, Mary had a focus on preparing Jesus’ body for burial, but something happened. “It is significant that Mary of Bethany was not one of the women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus.”[12] Why? Because she already had! She had prepared Jesus’ body for burial and probably wasn’t surprised when she heard about Jesus’ resurrection. She had seen resurrection before with her brother! And now her Lord, who claimed that He was the Resurrection, experienced it Himself. He was the reason for her faith, the power for her life and hope for her future. Jesus can be that for you too if you will trust in Him and risk your riches, your reputation and your relationships for Him!

[1] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 427.

[2] R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Columbus: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1942), 839.

[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 339.

[4] Carson, 426.

[5] Wiersbe, 339.

[6] Lenski, 840.

[7] Wiersbe, 339.

[8] Wiersbe, 340.

[9] Wiersbe, 339.

[10] Lenski, 841.

[11] Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies – August 20 (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2015)

[12] Wiersbe, 339.


I was Blind, But Now I See

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I have to confess something. It is rather embarrassing, especially as a pastor who goes and visits people in the hospital at their most desperate times. I get very squirmish when it comes to anything to do with people’s eyes. I think I would prefer being branded with hot coals than get eye drops. If somebody has an eye problem, I have a hard time looking at them. My eyes start to water and I just want to run away. So I consider it a great privilege to visit you in the hospital. If you are having open heart surgery or a sucking chest wound and need me to be there to pray for you, I’m your guy. But if you have your cataracts replaced, one of our other Elders would be happy to visit you. Here is the thing: Problems with your eyes affect what everybody else sees and experiences!

Let me give you an example, but in order to do so I need a volunteer today. Come on up here! Please put this blindfold on. How many fingers am I holding up? Can you see? No! Okay, so I have under this cloth something for you. These are the keys to my van. Now, all you need to do is find some people who are willing to drive with you as you remain blindfolded and you can take my van for a spin in the parking lot. Anybody willing to go with this blind man for a drive? No takers! Okay, how about if I asked if anybody was hungry? Okay, I have an apple here. You just have come up and our blind leader will cut it up for you. You just have to hold it. Wow! I guess none of you are really hungry. The point is summarized in a phrase that you might be familiar with and is a major problem in our world: “The blind are leading the _________.” (To the volunteer: You can now go sit down! Let’s give this person a clap for being my volunteer.)

The blind leading the blind! We see this truth (pardon the pun) in a story found in the Bible, particularly in the Gospel of John 9. It is the story of a blind man Jesus encounters. Jesus really cares for blind people as we will find out. Let’s read this story in John 9! Read John 9!

Have you ever had to take an eye test? You know where they make you read all these letters starting with the largest fonts at the top and then the letters get smaller and smaller with each line as you go down the page. What you are hoping for is 20/20 vision. Well, today I want you to take a spiritual eye test. This will help you know what your vision is in light of what is of utmost importance. It is really important because problems with your eyes affect what everybody else sees and experiences. This is especially true with what you see spiritually. As Paul Tripp has said, “Spiritual blindness is worse than physical blindness because you are unaware of your blindness.”[1] Think about that! If you are blind spiritually and leading people (it could be your team at work or at play; it could be your friends; it could be your spouse or God forbid your children), then you are leading them only into greater darkness. That is why this spiritual eye test is so important.

So what are you focused on? To be considered as having 20/20 vision on Snellen’s eye chart, you have to be able to accurately read 9 lines of letters. The test for your spiritual vision is not as long. In fact, there are only four questions I want you to answer. Are you focused on other’s sins? Are you focused on always needing explanations? Are you focused on the rules? And are you focused on other’s opinions?

The first question was what the disciples asked in verse 2, “And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’” Jesus’ disciples were religious people. One thing religious people are usually pretty good at is seeing other’s sins. We religious people are experts at sniffing out other people’s sins. We care about right and wrong. But to be fair, so does everybody else. You may not even be a person of faith and are listening today, and yet you are quick to see when a wrong has been committed. Do you know what we call such people who see other’s sins and wrongs? A judge! However, the disciples went beyond judging, they were prejudging. They were prejudice. They thought, like “some Jews in that day did, that congenitally blind people sinned in the womb.”[2] The Jews read and formed a theology from Psalm 58:3 that says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth.” Now, some of you might think that is crazy. How could a little baby sin while it is still in utero? Here is the truth. Even the esteemed King David confessed in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” We are born with what theologians call original sin. It explains why a little baby, as cute as they are, is selfish and wants to be “a little self-appointed sovereign” as Paul Tripp calls them. And then we grow-up as self-appointed sovereigns and we love to see blame for a problem. Actually, this is one of my biggest problems in my family. I love to assign blame and responsibility for a problem so we can evaluate it and never do it again. Anybody else do that? I guess it is just me!

But do you ever think when you see somebody homeless or sick and wonder what he or she did to deserve that? That’s called prejudice! And that is what the disciples did with the man born blind! Of course, we should call sin “sin” when we see it! That is not what I’m talking about. I am talking about getting people out of trouble rather than into trouble. You might even save their life if they are caught in sin. (c.f. James 5:19-20) However, too often we are looking at other’s sins and not our own! We have 2 X 4 vision. That is why Jesus commanded in Matthew 7:5, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” As Paul Tripp reminds us, “Not only does sin blind, but as sinners, we participate in our own blindness.”[3] It would be like me walking around with 2 X 4 coming out of my eye complaining about a little stain on your outfit. This is why we must take the 2 X 4 out of our own eyes.

Taking the 2 X 4 or log out of our own eye will not only help us see better ourselves as well as help others, but most importantly, it will help us see God’s work. This is what Jesus redirects His disciples to gaze upon. John 9:3 records Jesus correcting His disciples’ vision, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Let’s not fail the spiritual eye test anymore with the first question. Are you focused on other’s sins? Sound impossible? How can we not notice the sins of others? Of course, we are going to notice sin around us. However, the only way to pass this first question is by staying focused on what God can do in a person? Can God heal the broken and blind? Is God bigger and His grace greater than our sin? Keep your eyes on God in eager anticipation of what He could do, even with people who have been broken from birth and are in darkness. Jesus goes onto say in verse 5 that He is the light of the world. He actually repeats this self-identification because in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Having our eyes on Jesus is the only way to see spiritually and to actually live in the light and not see everybody as dark, unlovable and against us.

The second question in the spiritual eye test is are you focused on needing explanations? In the story, we find a second group of people, the man’s neighbours, who fail this spiritual eye test. Verses 8-9 record their musings, “Therefore, the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, ‘Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?’ Others were saying, ‘This is he,’ still others were saying, ‘No, but he is like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the one.’” Have you ever met somebody who has doubted who you are or worse that they doubt you have changed from who you once were? That is what these neighbours were doing to the formerly blind man. They didn’t recognize him and more importantly, God’s fresh miracle! Do you know what we call such people? Skeptics! Doubters! If the first group of people were prejudice, making a presumption before they saw it for certain. The second group of people could only see the past. They only have eyes in the back of their head. They have no foresight about what God could do or has done. They live only in the past. They never see a preferred future. They are puddleglums and Eeyore. Nothing good ever happens! Who enjoys being around such skeptics? They fail the spiritual eye test. The remedy for skeptics, or those who focus only on the past, is to hear a fresh testimony of God’s miracle. That is what the man born blind did. He told them his story. How Jesus came to him, spat on the ground, made clay and put it on his eyes and then he washed in the pool of Siloam and was healed.

Why use clay? There are many scholarly opinions as to why, but here are two of the best that also show who Jesus is: 1) JESUS IS THE CREATOR – “God made human beings out of dust of the ground; Jesus in an act of creation, used a little dust to make eyes that were otherwise lacking”[4]; and 2) JESUS IS THE LORD – Pain can lead to obedience. “The man would quickly obey to get the irritant out of his eyes.”[5] What happens when you have something in your eye? You actually and ironically become focused. Your physical vision may be blurry, but your personal vision becomes clear. It becomes your priority to get that irritant out of your eye. Jesus may sometimes irritate our vision so that we will obey Him as Lord. We will stop pursuing our own vision and pursue His.

The third question in the spiritual eye test is are you focused only on the rules? Which group of people in the story was worried about the rules? Answer: The Pharisees! Check out verse 13-16, They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight. And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.” The irony is that these are the people who should have been most excited about a man being healed by God. In fact, this is one of the great ironies in the Gospels. Those who should have been most excited about Jesus because they were waiting expectantly for their Messiah weren’t excited and those you would think would want nothing to do with Jesus because they were sinners encountering His holiness actually embraced Him. The Pharisees were definitely the former lot. They should have been captivated by this new believer’s transformation. You see, “Watching a person see Jesus for the first time and discover Him for themselves is like watching a child see the bigness of Disneyland for the very first time. There’s nothing like it to keep your faith energized.”[6] The Pharisees were not energized by the man’s growing faith. They cared more about Jesus healing on the Sabbath than a man finally being able to see again. Why? They cared more about the rules! We could call them “legally blind.” What is scary is that legally blind people often get worse. If you are legally blind, you can become blinder. You see, “The only people who cannot see the light are blind people and those who refuse to look make themselves blind.”[7] We see this truth in verse 18, “The Jews then did not believe it or him, that he had been blind and had received sight.” The Pharisees lived in denial.

What is the treatment for being spiritually legally blind? In other words, how do you stop being a legalist? You see your own sinful heart and you stop using the rules as your report card in the school of life. Instead, you receive Jesus and recognize life is to be only lived by His grace! Sadly, most of the Pharisees, like legalists today, never do! They argue with the man born blind. I love this part of the story because the student actually becomes the teacher. The Pharisees are fuzzy about how the man gained vision, but the formerly blind man only gets a clearer picture of who Jesus is. My favourite line is in verse 27, “He answered them, ‘I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” What a contrast! The former blind man is seeing clearer and clearer spiritually. In fact, he becomes an evangelist. He does what each of us should do, especially if we are new believers in Christ. He simply says in verse 25, “Whether He (Jesus) is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know that though I was blind, now I see.” If you are a new believer (or a more seasoned believer), we don’t have to have all the answers. We just have to tell how Jesus changed us – we were blind and now we see.

However, this does not mean that everybody will believe us, even those in our own family. This leads us to the last question in the spiritual eye test: are you focused on other’s opinions? Sadly, it’s the man’s own parents who fail the test. They leave him twisting with the deadly Pharisees because they didn’t want to be seen as acknowledging Jesus as the Christ and thereby kicked out of the synagogue (v. 22). The man’s parents were people pleasers and ultimately, selfish. They are more focused on other’s opinions than their own son. Why? Well, you need to understand that the synagogue was not just the place you worshipped, but it was the heart of the community. It is where you went to get a job. It was the place where you fellowshipped. It was the employment office, church, school, coffee shop or bar all rolled into one. To be kicked out was not just losing your status in a club, it would cost you big time financially, socially, relationally and spiritually. Nevertheless, this was the man’s parents. How could they distance themselves from their own son? Maybe they felt the stigma of being considered sinners like the disciples echoed back in verse 2? Maybe they were ashamed of their visually challenged son? Some of you know how that feels. You can relate to Psalm 27:10, like this man, could, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up.” Here is Good News for you: Jesus fulfilled that Psalm. He took up the man. All that he had lost, Jesus regained for him. He lost his sight; Jesus restored it. He lost his family, Jesus would give Him a new family – God’s forever family. He lost membership in the synagogue and place to worship, Jesus gave him a reason to worship and a membership in heaven. You see, caring more about Jesus’ opinion than anybody else is the only way to see spiritually.

And how do we know this? It is actually subtle. It goes back to when Jesus asked him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. I struggled to understand why Jesus would send him to wash at Siloam. That was until I was reading Leviticus 15:8 in my devotions this week. Or if the man with the discharge spits on one who is clean, he too shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening.” The Law was that if an unclean man spit on another person, they would be unclean until they were washed. Well, what does this have to do with Jesus? Jesus was perfect and clean and wasn’t discharging fluid … at least not yet! Recall 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Could this command to wash in the Pool of Siloam not only fulfill this one law, but point to a time when Jesus would fulfill all the requirements of the Law by discharging His blood from His head, His hands, His feet and His side, becoming sin for us?

You see, all of us have failed the spiritual eye test and this is why we needed Jesus to heal us to give us sight once again. Jesus’ question to the blind man in verse 35 still stands for us, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” If you do, you can truly say, “I was blind, but now I see!” And not only will you see, but others will see Jesus too! Go tell the world, “I was blind, but now I see!”

[1] Paul Tripp, “Parenting Conference” (New Hope Community Church, March 17, 2017).

[2] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 362.

[3] Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies – July 17 (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

[4] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 364.

[5] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 324.

[6] Chris Sonksen, When Your Church Feels Stuck (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017), 80.

[7] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 327.

Constant Craving?

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Who here likes fast food? I doubt many of you will admit that you like to grab hamburgers, pizza, chicken sandwiches, subs, fried chicken, and tacos as you taxi your family from one event to another. I guess we don’t want to admit to being one of the billions of people in the world who go to McDonald’s. It reminds of when one of my sons was young and he was just learning to read and he saw the McDonald’s sign and exclaimed, “Billions and Billions survived,” which is probably more accurate than “Billions and Billions served.” But what I am seeing is that none of you admit to casting your lot with the billions served at Mickey D’s. Actually, I love you, but you are liars! I have met too many of you at McDonald’s, especially after church on Sunday nights. We don’t like to admit it, but we often choose the quick meal that accommodates our busy and fast-paced lives.

My wife does not like fast food and eats it only out of necessity. However, there was a time when she liked fast food. Well, one type of fast food and for only a short season. Any guesses when that season of her life was? When she was pregnant. When she was expecting, she would get a craving for a whopper from Burger King. For a while in our marriage, we ate a lot of whoppers when babies were coming every few years. I even put on some sympathy pregnancy weight to identify with Lori. I would get so excited when she starting wanting a whopper and we hadn’t taken a pregnancy test yet. I just knew whoppers, both the burger and the baby, were on their way. Now in our family, there are no babies and no whoppers! No more constant cravings for whoppers – it was just temporary.

I am wondering if your cravings are just temporary like Lori’s were during her pregnancy and I am not just talking about what you put in your mouth. Do you have a daily hunger and thirst for Christ or do you have just temporary cravings for Christ? Maybe you are like Nancy Leigh DeMoss who once confessed, “A number of years ago, after going through an 18 month period in which my schedule had been unusually grueling. I woke up one day and realized that I had become a spiritual fast-food junkie … Oh, I usually managed to get in some sort of spiritual meal by reading a passage or a devotional or listening to a sermon. But all too frequently that meal had come to consist of hurriedly reading a short passage of Scripture just before running out the door to accomplish one more thing for God. Spiritually, I was living in fast-food drive-thrus. I was having my devotions, if you could call it that. But I wasn’t having devotion.”[1]

Maybe today you resonate with Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ confession? If you had to admit it, you are not fully devoted to Christ. Join the club! Let’s read about a group of people who followed Jesus to the point that they chased Jesus back and forth across the Sea of Galilee. They even wanted to make Him king! But there was a problem. Let’s find out what the problem was as we read John 6:22-71. But there is also warning. You and might need to go on a different diet where your spiritual appetite and palate will grow to replace things you are consuming now! Read John 6:22-71!

Did you catch the problem as I read John 6? I’ll form it in a question: do you just have temporary cravings for Christ? Here is how to find out if your cravings for Christ are just temporary. I call these the symptoms of making Christ just a temporary craving:

  • Chasing after the next big thing (v. 26). And this can even be very spiritual. You are looking for signs – signs that Jesus is doing something miraculous. You look back to that miracle in your life or in church and want to go back to that day. It could be that camp experience or Vacation Bible School when you first Christ saved you. It could be that worship song that helped you through a hard time. It could be the so-called “glory years” of your church experience. The Jews who chased Jesus around the lake wanted another sign. Jesus says this explicitly in verse 26, “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” Jesus was referring to the day before when He miraculously fed 5000 men and their families with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Are you chasing after the next big thing or success? That is the first symptom of having Christ just as a temporary craving in your life. The second is that you are…
  • Working for your food instead of receiving grace. (v. 27) My Grampie Knowlton instilled in his family, which was passed onto his children and grandchildren that a person is to work hard and not to be dependent upon others, while at the same time helping others in need. I guess you learn, like my grandfather did, that you have to fend for yourself when you are just 14 years old and are sent out from your house during the Great Depression because you are getting to be too big a mouth to fill. In some ways that work ethic has served our family well as most of Grampie’s children and grandchildren are teachers, nurses, and doctors. But Jesus makes it clear that life, eternal life, is so much more in verse 27, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Before I explain further, I need to address a question that you might be asking: Is Jesus teaching us that we must work for our salvation? We can find the answer by reading this verse very carefully, especially the second part of the verse. Jesus says, “Work … for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” Don’t miss that last part because the Jews did. They focus on the working part, but not the giving part. But it begs the question: what is Jesus giving us? ANSWER: Everything! Eternal life! Food! Even the work! An example may be my daughter who recently got a job. How did she get the interview? I heard about it from a friend and told her. Who had to drive her to the interview? Lori and I did. Now who has to drive her each morning to work? I do! And who picks her up each workday? Her mother or her grandparents! Who provides the food for her lunch? I do! But who is the one working? She is! And who provided the job? God our Father! This helps us to remember that all we have is because of God’s grace! But grace has to be received and acted upon. This is critical and will not only help us understand the rest of what Jesus is teaching, but also how we live our lives. Jesus gives us grace to receive or reject. If we receive it, it will nourish us to do God’s work and will. If we reject it, we will walk away from the only thing that will truly nourish and sustain us. And it is in the leaning hard on Christ and receiving His grace that you will be able to make it through the difficult times – the times when nothing else will satisfy. That is your work each day – your most important work. We see this clearly when the Jews ask Jesus in verse 28, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” and Jesus responds in verse 29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Your most important work each day is to wake up and pray for God to help you believe in Jesus whom He has sent. And at lunch, you need to pray, “Father, help me to believe in Your Son Jesus whom you have sent into my life and into this school or workplace or community or home.” Are you going to receive and act upon Christ’s grace or you going to buy into the fallacy that you are working for your own food? That is the second symptom of Christ just being a temporary craving in your life. The third is this…
  • Wanting “comfort food” over coming to the Father. (v. 32, 44-45) I have to admit this is very convicting for me personally. I love my food and my comforts. Have you settled for the belief that a good life is to be married and have children, to have a nice house, a good paying job, some nice vacations, a comfortable recliner or two to watch your favourite flick or show and to eat whatever you want? We may even pursue being the upper crust of society. I recently watched a show about the history of bread. Ironically, to become the upper crust of society is to choose a less nutritious bread. The aristocracy would get the bread that wasn’t burnt, but also was fluffier than the hearty bread served to the common worker. There is a lesson in that today. Our pursuits of comfort may fatten our bodies, but they also bring leanness to our soul. Proof is that these pursuits of comfort consume more of our time than coming to the Father. Now food is not all bad! It gives us energy to make it through the day. God created food as good, but also to teach us so much more. The best times of life involve food – think of celebrations – they always have food. It was the physicist Richard Feynman who said, “All life is fermentation.” Yeast ferments to make bread and grapes ferment to make wine. These staples, bread and wine, are the center piece of our fellowship meals and what so often enriches our bodies and souls as we eat and drink them together. But there is something even more than bread and wine that sustains us as Jesus taught us when He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3, “God humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (c.f. Matthew 4:4) You see as Nancy Leigh DeMoss reminds us, “The more you taste of the Word of God, the more you will long for it. The more you partake of Jesus, the Bread of Life, the more you will hunger for Him. If you do not have an appetite for spiritual food, there is a good chance you have not been fueling that appetite.”[2] Instead, Jesus wants us to know in John 6:32, “Truly, truly I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.” And what is that bread? It is the Word of God – both the Incarnate and written Word of God! Jesus goes onto explain in verses 44-45, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.”

And it is here that we get a new diet. We move from temporarily craving Christ to find our daily sustenance in Him. And like all new diets, it is going to hurt. We think that if it’s good for you, it tastes bad, This is why we need to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). I learned recently about a woman who had to go through a cleanse in her body. She stopped eating the foods she was used to and it shocked her system requiring her to not get too far a distance from a restroom. Apparently, there is a term for trauma in cleansings called a “healing crisis.” That is what is happening to us when we stopping feeding on things that don’t last and start a diet of feeding on Christ. Our bodies may literally rebel as we crave the old things that we were use to. However, those things that we have been gorging ourselves on are in fact killing us. That rebellion in our flesh is called withdrawal and it is like going through a death as anybody who has tried to stop smoking or drinking can attest to.

Here is the truth: To experience spiritual life you need to feed on Christ! We must want Jesus Himself! Spiritual growth requires spiritual hunger and consumption of God’s Word! Your real work is to find what your soul craves for! You have to know what it is like to be hungry and have an ‘empty spiritual stomach’ to want to eat. Once you have found this “soul food,” it will last for all eternity. And you can only find this “food” in Jesus and only He can give it to you. To experience spiritual life you need to feed on Christ! Jesus says this repeatedly for emphasis. In verse 35, “I am the bread of life, he who comes to Me will not hunger and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Again in verse 48, “I am the bread of life.” And then again in verse 51, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…” If you grew up in church or around the Bible this is familiar enough that it doesn’t weird you out, but it sounds strange at first glance. Eating things that aren’t food is actually not as weird a concept as you think and is actually part of our everyday vocabulary. George Beasley-Murray reminds us, “We are more familiar with this kind of ‘eating’ metaphor than we may realize: We devour books, drink in lectures, swallow stories, ruminate on ideas, chew over a matter and eat our own words. Doting grandparents declare they could eat up their grandchildren.”[3] To say that you are going eat somebody is not necessary a desire for cannibalism or something sensual – but has the idea of consuming a person and for them to become an integral part of your life. Most of us can get past this metaphor.

But here is where it gets weird. The last part of verse 51 Jesus declares, “… and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” The Jews not surprisingly respond to Jesus in verse 52, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” If you know anything about the Jews, they are very particular about what they eat and they do not eat or drink blood. Kosher steaks are always ordered extra well-done. But Jesus steps it up in verses 53-57, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.” No wonder the disciples said, “This is a difficult statement, ‘who can listen to it?’” It was scandalous and a stumbling block. And we can’t just pass this on to referring to the Lord’s Supper ceremony as our Catholic friends do. They believe if you take the bread (host) and the cup as a sacrament, this is part of your salvation. Colin Brown explains, “John 6 is not about the Lord’s Supper; rather, the Lord’s Supper is what is described in John 6.”[4] This is more than an event. It is about an entire life. That you become what you eat! Having Jesus as your daily bread – He is real food and drink! As D.A. Carson teaches us, “The true bread from heaven, the true Torah, is Jesus Himself.”[5]

So the question still stands: Do you have a daily hunger and thirst for Christ? The truth and problem is that we don’t, at least not every moment of every day. We choose to consume other things. In fact, some of you will walk away today just like in Jesus’ day. He actually “got rid of the crowd in one sermon.”[6] This may be a church emptying sermon as well. That is okay because those who are true followers will be like Peter who respond to Jesus after most everybody else left Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life. And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67) All that Father has given Jesus will come to Him, and Jesus will not certainly cast out. (John 6:37) I don’t know who here is going to experience eternal life by feeding on Christ and His Words and who may be like a Judas and betray Christ. I don’t want any of you to have a temporary craving for Christ. So maybe there are some of you here today who need to respond, “I want to believe on Jesus wholeheartedly and find my satisfaction in him alone. I want to consume Him. I don’t want just His bread and other stuff. I want Him.” We are going to a sing a song in a moment that describes bowing the knee to him. Would you bow in your seat to the Lord Jesus? Others of you have felt empty lately and your soul needs to be filled by Him. You too bow! And during the singing, when you sense the Lord wants you to come up, you can come and take Communion to symbolize that you believe in Jesus and are satisfied with Him and His sacrifice. Just dip the bread in the cup. This far table has gluten-free only. If you can’t make it, just raise your hand and our Elders or Deacons will bring it to you.

[1] Nancy Leigh DeMoss, A Place of Quiet Rest (Chicago: Moody Press, 2008), 104.

[2] DeMoss, 130.

[3] George R. Beasley-Murray, John – WBC (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 99.

[4] Colin Brown, NIDNTT, 535.

[5] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 286.

[6] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 311.

No Longer Afraid

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What are you afraid of? Are you agoraphobic and fearful of being somewhere with no support and away from home – homesickness on steroids? Are you aerophobic or aviophobic and afraid of flying in an airplane? You can’t stand when that plane engine takes off. That’s my favourite part!

FullSizeRender.jpgDo you have arachnophobia and are afraid of spiders as they crawl up the walls? There is also dentophobia (being afraid of dentists), chiroptophobia (fear of bats), cynophobia (fear of dogs), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), ornithophibia (fear of birds probably from watching that 1960s Alfred Hitchcock horror movie The Birds) or some have ranidaphobia (fear of frogs). Are you afraid of the dark? Are you claustrophobic and afraid of being in constricted and confined in small tight spaces? The good thing with all of these phobias is that we can often avoid the sources of these fears. I’m afraid of heights and you would never catch me on the top of the CN Tower with my daughter like one of our elders did this past week. I’m particularly afraid of roller coasters, which should be easy to avoid until your children can’t go on without an adult. So here is a picture of me showing my bravery on a roller coaster for the sake of my son. Notice how spiritual I am crying out to God in prayer!

On a more serious note, it is the fears that we carry around us all the time which are more debilitating. Are you afraid of failing? Maybe you are perfectionistic and failing is the worst thing imaginable? Or maybe your fear of failure is not so much about your performance, work or art, but your fear of failing your family, your church or God Himself? I have good news for you today, you don’t have to live in that fear of failure anymore and the anxiety that accompanies it. Jesus has paid the price for all your failures. But maybe you have a different fear and you are afraid of being exposed. If people knew what was really going on in your life, you think they would brush you off like yesterday’s dandruff. By the way, we here at Temple want you to know whatever you have done, God can forgive you and we will love you through the brokenness. You might ask, what if I am struggling with same-sex attraction or gender confusion? We here are not homophobic, but theophobic as my father says. We don’t fear man, but God. You can tell us your story and we will listen and come alongside you to care for you. We believe Christ enters into our darkness and into the storms of life and brings us safely through.

But what if the storms of life are caused by others? You were just trying to follow Jesus and now you find yourself in the storm of your life. Let’s read about such a predicament that Jesus’ disciples found themselves in John 6:16-21. Read John 6:16-21!

What happened that the disciples would find themselves in this predicament? It all began as they went on what we might call vacation. John 6:1 says, “Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.” It was time for Him to go to the other side of the lake. Then a large crowd of 5000 men and their families followed Him. Jesus, instead of sequestering Himself, taught the people until it was suppertime. The problem was that there was no fast food restaurants or any restaurants of any kind to feed the people. In fact, there was no food except what a young boy brought in his lunch – 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. And then the first miracle occurred as my dad pointed out to me last week after I preached on this story, that the young boy gave up his lunch to Jesus. Not too many young boys give up their food easily. I know I wouldn’t have, but this boy did. And then Jesus took the boy’s small offering and multiplied it so that everybody ate to their hearts content and there were 12 full baskets leftover. It was amazing, except that the people’s hearts weren’t content. They wanted more. Verse 15 tells us their true hearts, “So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king.” The people knew Jesus could be the ultimate breadwinner and they wanted Him to be their king … king of their stomachs. The people had been programed by Rome that bread and entertainment would pacify them. As Warren Wiersbe says, “Bread and the circuses were Rome’s formula for keeping people happy.”[1] Things haven’t really changed. No, we don’t have the Roman circus where animals and gladiators killed captives anymore, but we certainly like to watch fights still today like in action flicks. We put in the calendar the latest release of our favourite superhero’s movie. We think peace comes from a nice dinner and a movie. But it doesn’t fix everything in a marriage nor in our lives. Jesus refuses to be a king to just give us our daily bread. Recall the prayer He taught us to pray! “Your kingdom come” needs to be prayed before “Give us this day our daily bread.” Until we recognize this, Jesus needs to make us hungrier for His total reign in our lives. This is why He, “withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” And where did the disciples go? Verse 16 records the answer, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea.”

So let me summarize, Jesus’ disciples went with Jesus for some R & R and then they become waiters and busboys for 5000 men and their families. They pick up the leftovers and then the crowd starts to press in on Jesus trying to make Him their king. All of a sudden, the pursuit of rest became a political firestorm and Jesus escapes – alone. If you were the disciples, what would you do? You do what you always did – you would go back to the lake. Most Canadians understand the lake is what we retreat to! The disciples went to the lake, not only to escape the crowd, but the lake was what they know best. Many of the disciples were fisherman and practically lived on this lake. But let’s remember that the disciples are on the lake because they sought rest with Jesus, then they ministered to people and because the crowd wanted more from Jesus than He was willing to settle for, Jesus leaves His disciples and goes off by Himself. The disciples are alone and I’m sure tired. It’s dark! They wanted to go home. That is what we find at the end of verse 17, “they started to cross the sea to Capernaum.” Can anybody relate? Have you ever gone away for some much needed rest and then found yourself serving others? It maybe became a crazy vacation. Work and ministry actually increased rather than decreased. And you find yourself in a controversy and in the middle of a political firestorm maybe at work, school or church. And all you were doing was trying to follow Jesus and serve the people. You just wanted some time with Jesus. But then Jesus seems to have abandoned you. So you try to go home. I can relate to the disciples. Can you?

In the case of the disciples, it was already dark. Verse 17 goes on to report, “It had already become dark and Jesus had not yet come to them.” The Gospel writer John, the same John in the boat that night, gives some hope – Jesus would come, but not yet. In fact, we learn from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 14, verse 22 that after feeding the 5000, “Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.” So the disciples were actually being sent by Jesus to escape the political firestorm; only to be cast into another storm that threatened their lives. And Jesus was gone! Do you feel the tension? D.A. Carson writes, “The darkness of night and the absence of Jesus are powerfully linked.”[2] Recall that Jesus was called the Light of the World. John starts off his Gospel in John 1:4-5, “In Him was life and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.” But where was Jesus? The light was gone. It was dark! Matthew 14:23 tells us where Jesus was, “After Jesus had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray, and He was there alone.” My friends, you may feel abandoned by Jesus, even sent into the storm, but Jesus is drawing close to His Father and interceding for you. You don’t just see it yet. The Light of Jesus is coming!

Here is what I want to you believe today: Jesus may have sent you into the storm, but He will come and calm your fears to reveal Himself in new ways – receive Him today! I’ll say that again, Jesus may have sent you into the storm, but He will come and calm your fears – receive Him today! You no longer need to be afraid – Jesus is coming! The sea may be stirred up and the winds blowing as we read in verse 18. Our lives can mimic the weather we have recently experienced – storms coming up out of nowhere. It may be a stormy time Temple, but Jesus is coming!

Jesus says 7 words (4 words in the original) that change everything, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Don’t confuse this with another story when Jesus is asleep and wakes up to calm the storm. No, this time, He just mentions His name and says don’t be afraid and the storm flees. That is the power that Jesus has. Those three words in English, “It is I!” are often so calming and chase our fears away. Recall when you were little and were scared at night and one of your parents would come into the dark and say, “I’m here; don’t be afraid!” The presence of somebody more powerful, especially the presence of one you trust, calmed your fears. That was what the disciples must have felt. But Jesus is actually revealing more – His name! And His name is power! His name causes the storms to flee!

Now you might be wondering why I said that Jesus revealed or mentions His name. It seems He just uses personal pronouns “It is I!” There is more! I believe when Jesus uses the word “I am” (ego eimi), He is revealing that He is the great I AM! And that harkens back to when He revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 2:14 and Moses asked what he should tell the Israelites was God’s name, “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God’s name is I AM! Think about that! He is I AM! The name is in the present tense. He is always present! But there is more and this particularly relates to the Gospel of John. John highlights that Jesus is the I AM! We are just about to enter a series of declarations by Jesus as to who He is. He says, “I am the Bread of Life” in John 6:35, 48 & 51. He says, “I am the Light of the world” in John 8:12. Jesus then says in John 10:9, “I am the door” or the entryway for salvation. Then in John 10:11 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus also says my favourite I am, “I am the resurrection and the life” in John 11:25. And you probably can quote the caucophony of “I am’s” in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” And then Jesus says, “I am the vine” in John 15:5. This storm kicks off a new understanding of Jesus. That is often how Jesus still uses storms in our lives. He wants to reveal something new about Himself to us – provision, guidance, protection, salvation, and growth. I don’t know what storm you are in and I don’t know what new characteristic or aspect that God wants to show you about Himself, but I do know that He may put you in a storm, even make you feel like you are abandoned, but He will come to your rescue. All the while Jesus is praying for you.

You see, the disciples needed to know something very important that was going to happen the next day when the crowds come back after Jesus. Jesus in John 6:32 says to the crowd when they wanted to know how to get more of the bread Jesus gave them the night before, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives the true bread out of heaven.” The disciples would have already had a clue from the night before that Jesus was greater than Moses. Moses could only hold out a staff and let the Israelites cross the Red Sea on dry land. Jesus could just show up, and the storm ceases and they are automatically on the other side. Moses could only pray for God to send forth manna and there would be none left over than the daily need. Jesus could give thanks, break bread and multiply it so that there were plenty of leftovers. Jesus is not only greater than Moses; Jesus is the great I AM!

And as the great I AM, Jesus will often interrupt your rest, maybe allow you to go through some intense ministry and send you into a storm in order to reveal Himself in new ways. Jesus may send you into the storm, but He will come and calm your fears to reveal Himself in new ways – receive Him today! You see on the other side of the storm, Jesus can take you places fast. What you need to do is receive Him! Verse 21 reveals the application, “They were willing therefore to receive Him into the boat and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” When you receive Jesus, He can take you places fast. Now some of you Bible scholars know that there was this little interlude in this story of Peter walking on water to Jesus according to Matthew’s account. However, that is not John’s focus. He wants us to emphasize that Jesus is the great I AM and that we must simply receive Him.

What does receiving Jesus look like? First, you must receive Him into your life for the first time surrendering your life to Christ. This will be a daily surrender. For others of you listening today, maybe who have been hanging around with Jesus for sometime, seeing Him do miracles, serving with Him and for Him, but you are in the storm and Jesus seems far off. You need to trade the fear of the present storm and welcome Jesus into the boat of your life once again. So second, you must receive Him as the great I AM. We need to be reminded that He is the I AM – always present! He is always in control and as the Good Shepherd, “not only makes us to lie down in green pastures (John 6:10), but also leads us to still waters. (Psalm 23:2)”[3] Jesus sends us into the storm so we can know Him better. Is He cruel to do so? Well, how many of you have taken your families camping? It is purposely putting yourself in a situation with less luxuries and amenities. And when the storms came during your camping trip as they always do, did it not reveal more about those who went with you? Did you learn about how you can work together and overcome the stress of a storm? Were you cruel to go together on a camping trip despite knowing that you most likely would encounter a storm? No! Like, Jesus, you were not cruel to go into a place where storms come. Jesus sends us into the storm so we can know who He is and receive Him. This is the only way to overcome your fears. You and I have lesser fears and phobias. Remember all those fears I mentioned at the beginning. You no longer need to be afraid of those lesser fears, but only need to fear the Lord!

[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 310.

[2] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 274.

[3] Wiersbe, 310.

What’s Your Problem?

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What’s your problem? I don’t say that in a snarky way, but sincerely. What is your problem? Maybe you are here today with a problem that was self-inflicted? You gave into temptation at a weak moment when you were tired, hurting and bored. Or you gave in at a strong moment when you were proud. Maybe that problem has led to many other problems including destroying most of the once held dear relationships you had. Or maybe you are here today with a problem that you didn’t cause? You were born into a family with a lot of brokenness. Or maybe you stepped into a mess? Maybe the mess was not your doing? You were actually doing something good and you find yourself with an overwhelming problem and it appears there are no resources to help you.

That is exactly what happened to Jesus one day. Jesus was trying to get away for a little R & R (almost like the start of His summer vacation) and the crowds started following Him. So Jesus started to teach them many things. In fact, Mark 6:34 describes Jesus’ heart for them, “He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus had the heart of a true pastor – He wanted to lead and teach them. He didn’t want them to wander away and be lost. The trouble was that they had some physical needs too, particularly that it was late in the day and they were getting hungry. I find it interesting that the people either lost track of time or just wanted to be with their Shepherd. However, they were hungry. If you are a parent, you can identify with Jesus’ problem. When your children or family are hungry that becomes your focus no matter how great an experience you are having or where you are going. For example, recently our family was at Canada’s Wonderland for the Christian Music Festival Wonder Jam. Yes, we had to battle the weather, but the greater battle I found was trying to fill my beautiful wife and children’s empty stomachs. As a father, I know it is my job to make sure they are fed when we are away from the house. So I found myself standing in the middle of a torrential downpour soaked to the bone waiting in line for chicken nuggets, fries and beavertails while the family found shelter. When people are hungry, obtaining food becomes the focus of your life. Jesus found Himself in a similar predicament. Let’s read about what He does with His problem and how we can trust Him with our problems in John 6:1-15 and then use the other accounts in the other Four Gospels to supplement our understanding of the story. Read John 6:1-15!

There are three possible solutions to the problem in this story according to Warren Wiersbe[1]:

  • Get rid of the problem.
  • Buy your way out of the problem.
  • Look for a solution to the problem.

Lots of people choose the first solution – get rid of the problem. They spend their energy and effort thinking of how they can get rid of their problems. If you have pain, pop a painkiller. If you have a problem employee, you use Donald Trump’s favourite words, “You’re fired!” If your marriage is in trouble, you end it. Or worse, if you believe you are a burden to your family, then you end your life even now with the help of a doctor. Getting rid of your problem is probably the most popular solution to our problems. It was the “go to” solution for Jesus’ disciples. Mark 6:35-36 records their attempted solution to the problem of the hungry people, “When it was already quite late, His disciples came to Him and said, ‘This place is desolate and it is already quite late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’” From all appearances, the disciples’ solution seems reasonable, even responsible. The people were the ones who chased after Jesus when He was trying to get some rest, so it should be their responsibility to feed themselves. It wouldn’t be good to enable them. They could come back after supper for some more teaching if Jesus wanted to make it a teaching conference. But that is not how Jesus felt. Remember Jesus saw this group of people as His flock. Shepherds, at least good shepherds, don’t send their flocks to another shepherd to be fed. No, Jesus wanted to feed His people. He made them lies down in green pastures (the grass as verse 10 tells us) and there Jesus fed them. Jesus knew that you cannot really get rid of your problems. You have to deal with your problems; otherwise the problem will keep resurfacing. Haven’t you found this to be true? If you are in pain and the source of the pain is not dealt with, once the painkiller wears off, you will need another pill. Sadly, this scenario has played out to the point that some are addicted to painkillers and have overdosed on drugs like Fentanyl. Or think about problem employees who get fired. What happens? Often they come back with a lawsuit or their replacement isn’t as good. Problem marriages? Divorce doesn’t solve the problem because you usually have some form of relationship with your ex-spouse, especially if you share kids with them. And suicide, which I call self-murder, never takes into consideration how much it affects those left behind. I say all this not to make you feel bad or rub it in your face again because we have all tried to get rid of our problem to no avail. However, I use these examples to remind and warn us that trying to get rid of the problems doesn’t work. I heard a pastor once say, “Sin does not evaporate.”[2] We can’t get rid of our problems. In the disciples’ case, in a few hours the people would be back and starting to feel hungry again.

So if you can’t rid of your problem, another solution is to try and buy your way out of it. Now, this solution is not quite as popular because most of us do not have enough money to fix our problems, but we still try. Think about that little fender bender when a person asks you not to go through insurance but pay out of pocket for the body shop repairs. Or think about an insurance settlement with a disgruntled former employee. Or on a smaller scale and closer to home, think about how parents may promise an ice cream cone to their child if they stop throwing a tantrum and behave properly. Paul Tripp calls this “Moral economics, which teaches children to do a cost-benefit analysis to weigh out if the bribe is worth the requested behavior.”[3] It doesn’t work! Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, started down this path of a solution to the problem, but then comes to a dead end. Look at John 6:7, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” Two hundred denarii in Jesus’ day equalled two hundred days wages. Think about that number. Philip was saying it would take over half a year’s salary. I don’t know what your salary is, but think about working hard for 6 months and all your wages going to feed a large crowd of people for one meal that lasts only a few hours. No wonder Philip quickly figured out that buying your way out of the problem was not the solution! But notice Philip wasn’t the one to suggest buying your way out in the first place. Who did make that suggestion? Jesus! Check out verse 5, “Therefore, Jesus lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that they may eat?’” Why would have Jesus planted that solution in Philip’s head? Verse 6 gives us the answer, “This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.” I love how when Jesus asks His followers questions, He already knows the answer! But the answer was not for everybody it appears, it was specifically for Philip. Why Philip? Well, Philip was good at assessing situations. We first discover this back in John 1:43-46 when Philip is first called by Jesus to follow Him. Philip tells his friend Nathanael in John 1:45, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip quickly identified Jesus as the Messiah. It appears Philip had good perceptive reasoning, but also was a concrete thinker. Turn to John 14:8 to see what I mean, “Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’” Jesus had been talking about knowing the Father through Him. But Philip was a realist. Any Philips in the room? No one is going to mislead you, right? But the problem with only being a realist is that you don’t see what God is doing behind the scenes. This is why Jesus said to Philip in John 14:9-10, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?” Philip continually needed to have his eyes of faith opened. Maybe you do too?

Jesus did that for Philip back in John 6. He opened Philip’s eyes of faith and He can open your eyes as well. Jesus taught Philip that even if there is enough money to buy your way out of a problem, you don’t ultimately solve it. That lesson was learned when Philip and the rest of the disciples started collecting all the leftovers and verse 13 tells us they filled twelve baskets full. “Jesus wasted nothing”[4] and this was not lost on Philip and the disciples. He wanted them all to tangibly remember that Jesus alone provides abundantly for them and solves their problem.

But what about the third solution to the problem? Jesus didn’t just magically produce food out of nothing. It appears that Jesus waits for others to look for the solution to a problem. Andrew finds it … sort of in the lunch of an unnamed boy. Andrew says to Jesus in verse 9, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fishes.” This would be equivalent of a buy one get, one free filet o’ fish deal at a Mennonite McDonalds. No, airy white bread here, just hearty bread! But then Andrew says to Jesus, “… but what are these for so many people?” “Andrew’s point was that this tiny meal was ludicrously inadequate to the need.”[5] Nevertheless, Jesus wants to teach Andrew and everybody there that little is much with God; we just have to look for the little and trust God for the much. Jesus will take that small offering you have and multiply it. Maybe it is a little bit of money the Lord wants you to give? Maybe it is a few moments of your lunch break that you could share and listen to a hurting co-worker? Maybe it is cleaning up the table that your family made a mad dash out the door and didn’t get a chance to put things away? Whatever God is saying you to offer to Him, do it quickly like this little boy!

But the offering is not the solution. Looking for a solution to your problem is not the ultimate solution. Why? Because the bread and fish would have remained 5 + 2 and not 5 + 2 = 5000+ if it weren’t for Jesus giving thanks and breaking the bread. As best-selling author and local farmer’s wife Ann Voskamp reminds us, “The miracle happens in the breaking … brokenness gives way to abundance.”[6] And now we are getting to the true solution because we never understood the true problem. What was the problem? It was late at night! That was what the disciples’ thought! But that wasn’t the problem! What was the problem? They didn’t have enough money? That was what Philip thought, but they didn’t need money. Money would have only been a temporary fix. I’ll say that again in the present tense for us today: Money is only a temporary fix! So what was the problem? Andrew thought the problem was a lack of resources. But the 5 loaves of barley bread and two small fishes were not enough. No, the problem was that they were sheep and they didn’t have a shepherd to feed them. This becomes apparent in verses 14-15, “Therefore, when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, This is truly the Prophet, who is to come into the world.’ So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” This whole episode reveals the true problem. We think the problem is that we don’t have enough food, or money or friends or love or you fill in the blank. These problems are only consequences of our first problem. And so, we are looking for solutions to secondary problems. Our problem is that we want Jesus to fix our temporary problems, and not our ultimate problem! What is that ultimate problem? Not knowing the future? The crowds thought that Jesus was the Prophet that Moses mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15-18 (c.f. John 5:46). And so they were ready to take Jesus by force to make Him king. But you can’t force Jesus to be king in order to take care of your secondary problems. As Paul Tripp makes the point in his question that will stop you in your tracks: “Do you want Jesus to be your king for all the wrong reasons?”[7] Do you want Jesus to be your king so that you will have enough food and money? Do you want Jesus to be your king to save your marriage? Do you want Jesus to be your king so that you can know the future and avoid the potholes up ahead on the highway of life? There is nothing wrong with wanting these needs met, but Jesus may walk away if that is all you are settling for. Jesus wants to change your heart! He wants to be the King of your heart, not just your stomachs or your wallets or your detective work to find a solution! He wants to be the King of your hearts and all of your life!

And the only way that this could happen is for Him to become broken. As Ann Voskamp says, “No one is ever wholly fed – unless someone becomes holy broken.”[8] And so the problem was not a lack of money or food or resources, but people who wanted Jesus to settle for being a king that would provide bread for the masses. Jesus instead walks up the mountain alone pointing to a time when He would walk up another mountain alone. This time carrying a cross and being executed on it! He had to lay down His life for the sheep!

He had to be broken because the miracle always happens in the breaking. Jesus had to separate or dis-member. He had to leave the members of the crowd so that someday they would be re-membered. In the future, they would need to be put back together again. You probably know the old nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty. Say it with me, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpy Dumpty had a great fall, All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, Couldn’t put Humpty back together again.” The crowd of now satisfied people were like that Humpty Dumpty’s army – an army for a new king. As D.A. Carson says, “5000 men were a potential guerilla force of eager recruits willing and able to serve the right leader.”[9] But Jesus knew that he was like Humpty Dumpty. He was going to take a great fall and no army of 5000 men could put him back together again. Instead, He needed to take the great fall so that He could put all of us back together again. And this is why we need to take Communion again this Sunday. We need to be re-membered because our hearts and its problems cause “dis-memberment.”

Is Jesus the King of your Heart? Has He taken care of your ultimate problem? If you have come to Jesus with your ultimate problem – your sin problem and you believe that He climbed another mountain to die on it for those sins, then you are saved. You are now re-membered. He has gathered you into His flock. But if you are still looking for Jesus to just take care of your secondary problems, He won’t until you confess your ultimate sin problem. So the question I asked you first still stands: what’s your problem? It will determine what you want Jesus to do for you – give you bread for a day or bread for all eternity as you find your solution and satisfaction in Him alone.

[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 309.

[2] Dennis Wiedrick, A Royal Priesthood (Oshawa: Wiedrick & Associates, 1997), 92.

[3] Paul Tripp, “Parenting” DVD Series, Session 2: Targeting the Heart.

[4] Wiersbe, 309.

[5] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 270.

[6] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 29-32.

[7] Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies, June 18 (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2015)

[8] Voskamp, 40.

[9] Carson, 270.

An Unexpected Miracle

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Have you ever experienced a miracle that you weren’t looking for? Sure there are miracles that we long for – healing from cancer, a baby born after battling barrenness, or finally getting out of debt. But what if you experienced a miracle that you weren’t looking for and that you weren’t praying for. I’ve had many of those miracles, maybe some I didn’t even realize, but two of those miracles I can recall come to mind. The first was when I wasn’t looking for a girl to come in my life. In fact, I had kinda swore off girls after they kept breaking my heart and my life was becoming fodder for a country western song. Then God brought this beautiful girl with wavy black hair, warm eyes, a vivacious personality, and a ministry heart and mind from Kansas into my life. This girl eventually even agreed to marry me and has given me four amazing children. She is a great mom and I want to honour her today!

The other miracle that I wasn’t looking for, but surprised me was what happened to my own mom. In order to understand what happened to my mom, I need to give you a little background information. I was 18 years old, in my final year of high school, when my parents sat me down and told me that God was calling my father to serve in a new church in London, Ontario as their pastor. We were going to leave the town of Chatham where I had grown up for the past 13 years. This meant leaving my friends, the youth group and the church that I loved. I certainly didn’t think this was the right timing. Why couldn’t God just wait one more year and I would be able to make a clean break without having to start over in a new place before heading to Chicago for college? Have you ever had to live somewhere temporarily? You wonder whether to put down roots when you may be soon transplanted. If you do an emotional and relational energy audit, the output seems to outweigh the input. I have learned though that putting down roots even for a short season can produce fruit. I learned that lesson as we ended up moving to London. In so doing, we had to get all new dentists and doctors. It was during her first exam with her new doctor, my mom discovered that she had a mass in her abdomen. It turned out to be a precancerous cyst and she had surgery to remove it. That unexpected miracle has given my family and I twenty-four more years with my mom and she is sitting here today as I preach. I can’t even imagine what our life would be like with my children not knowing their Nana or our church not having my mom’s kindness to encourage us. God gave us a miracle that we were not looking for.

This reminds me of another mom who was not necessarily looking for a miracle. In fact, a whole group of people were celebrating a special day and not looking for a miracle when it happened. What happened? Let’s read John 2:1-12 to find out. This story will help us see our new identity through Christ – an unexpected miracle. Read John 2:1-12!

The story starts out with a description of Jesus and His disciples being invited to a wedding along with His mother. In fact, the Gospel writer John makes it clear that this was the third day. This miracle gives us a glimpse towards the future of Jesus’ ultimate third day miracle, when He would rise from the dead, but in this case the third day is referring to three days after Jesus recruited His new disciples. Warren Wiersbe explains, “The ‘third day’ means 3 days after the call of Nathanael.”[1] What does Wiersbe mean? The Gospel writer John loves to focus on certain weeks in the life of Jesus. In John 1:43, we find the calling of Nathanael as Jesus’ disciple. Three days later, Jesus shows up at a wedding, probably on His day of rest. That day of rest was to be a day of celebration, but like all mothers know, even a day of rest and celebration turns out to be work. If you have had to work today in any way, maybe even correcting your children and picking up their messes, you are in the same company of Jesus on His day of rest. Interestingly, John 1-2 seems to parallel Genesis 1-2. They both include a wedding – the first wedding with Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and this unnamed couple in John 2. Jesus, as the eternal Son of God (John 1:49), was at both ceremonies. Which is a good reminder, “Wise is that couple who invites Jesus to their wedding.”[2] (Warren Wiersbe)       

So Jesus shows up and His mother tells Jesus about a major problem. What does she say in verse 3? “They have no more wine!” That is a major problem because it was the expected drink at weddings. It would go beyond a debate about whether to have alcohol served at your wedding. It meant committing the gravest of sins in the Middle East – not being hospitable. In fact, as Warren Wiersbe explains, “A family guilty of such ineptness could actually be fined. So to run out of wine could be costly both financially and socially.”[3] No wonder Mary feels bad for the couple. Actually Mary’s response may be surprising because Mary doesn’t seem to have had a wedding herself. She and Joseph probably eloped because of Jesus. The Virgin Mary was pregnant with Jesus and didn’t even get a shotgun wedding – just a bumpy ride on a donkey down to Bethlehem. But instead of being bitter, she felt for this young couple. And so she goes to Jesus! “Like any widow, Mary had leaned hard on her firstborn son.”[4]

In fact, leaning hard on Jesus is good for all mothers to do, and fathers and everybody else. It is good for you to do! But in Mary’s case, it almost sounds like Jesus is being snarky with her in verse 4, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” D.A. Carson clarifies that Jesus was not giving the snide response of a young teenager, but was saying, “Ma’am, how can we help you?”[5] This was actually a respectful response. Ma’am is the Southern U.S. way of saying Madam. However, as submissive as Jesus was, He also was more concerned about His Heavenly Father’s agenda. This is why Jesus says, “My hour has not yet come.”

And it is here that we find the true meaning of this story. This story is not about coming to Jesus so you don’t have to go to the LCBO store and purchase wine. It is not about Jesus’ validation of marriage, though that is a side point. This story is not even about having compassion for people in a difficult situation. This story is about redemption. It was about falling short of the glory of God and Jesus making up the difference for our lack of glory. We fall short of the glory of God and Jesus miraculously makes up the difference! Yet, we fall short; Jesus makes up the difference. We run out – out of energy, out of time, out of patience, out of grace, out of forgiveness, out of love for others. When we run out, Jesus runs in!

You might wonder where I am getting this idea of falling short of the glory of God! Check out John 2:11 as the summary statement: “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him.” Jesus was hesitant to do this miracle, even if Mary was possibly just asking her boy and his new friends to go get some more wine. Mary might have been saying, “Go get some more wine!” But she probably had learned by now that Jesus could do more. And Jesus wanted to do so much more. As D.A. Carson remarks, “Mary is apparently asking Jesus do something to remedy the shortage of wine; He replies that the hour of His death/exaltation has not yet come.”[6] In other words, like a time bomb, the clock starts ticking as soon as Jesus does this miracle. He particularly would be fighting deadly legalism. And the bomb would be the explosive power of the Cross, which would start destroying evil by a ripple effect. I call this the ripple effect of redemption. No wonder this phrase “My time has not yet come” is repeated 7 times throughout the Gospel of John but always in reference to the Cross. For example, Jesus prays in John 17:1, “Father, the hour has come!” Jesus shows throughout this Gospel how He would make up the difference for us falling short of God’s glory. That difference that Jesus made changes our identity through Him giving us a new identity! But we first need to recognize our own shortcomings.

In the story of John 2, we find two shortcomings: 1) The inability to provide enough for ourselves and others; and 2) The inability to keep the rules. The first shortcoming is obvious! The Bride and Groom and their family did not provide enough wine for their guests. And yet, this was supposed to be when they were to present the best possible for others. The wedding would have been planned for years, not unlike weddings in India, where the parents begin saving and planning for a lavish wedding for their child almost from the time the child is born. Middle Eastern weddings are one of the great events on the social calendar, especially in small towns like Cana. Nevertheless, the couple despite all the planning, didn’t even realize their shortcoming. They didn’t realize they were out of wine! Maybe you are in a situation where you are not even aware of your shortcomings? It is like little Billy that Paul Tripp talks about. “If Billy pushes Suzy, causing her to fall and hit her head, and you come into the room and ask Billy why he did it, he won’t talk about himself. He’ll talk about what Suzy did or how he tripped over the toys in the room, but he won’t say: ‘I’ve got sin in my heart that makes me selfish, so I push others when they get in my way. Please pray for me, Mom.”[7] We laugh, but it isn’t just Billy who doesn’t know what is really going on in his heart – it’s all of us unaware of our selfishness and shortcomings. The Bride and Groom in the story were also headed for a deep sense of embarrassment and shame because they simply hadn’t planned and organized well enough. Jesus rescued them from their shortcomings – lovingly and quietly! They actually get a lot of credit. In verse 10, the headwaiter gives credit to the groom for saving the best wine until last. This is akin to me saying today that without me, my mom would not be a mother and my wife would not be a mother so would shouldn’t I be honoured today? How ridiculous! And yet, this was Jesus redeeming the situation and their impending lack of glory. When we have a shortcoming to provide for ourselves and others, Jesus will provide for us if we turn to Him!

The second shortcoming in the story is more subtle. You have to read the story carefully to find it. However, if you read and used our Study Guide this week, you will have a leg up because we highlighted the significance of stone pots in verse 6 representing Jewish religion. These 30 gallon stone water pots were used “for the Jewish custom of purification.” The Jews were extra sensitive about cleansing. This was way more than your mom making sure that you washed your hands before coming to the dinner table. This was an effort to make yourself pure before God. But the first problem was that this ceremonial washing was not specifically mandated in Scripture for everyday life; only during sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. Yes, cleanliness was a principle mentioned in Leviticus, but nothing specific about washing with this “holy water.” So this meant that the Jews were taking a principle and making it a pathway to God. It became a man-made rule and tool. Oh how many of us have tried to get closer to God by adding rules found beyond Scripture – don’t eat this, or drink that, or watch this or wear that. We think such actions prove we are godly and that God will accept us. It doesn’t! In fact, these water pots reveal a bigger problem, maybe our biggest problem. The jars were empty! You can’t get to God through the rules. Instead, you will find yourself empty – you will have fallen short of the glory of God! This is bad news. You and I try our best to keep the rules, often self-imposed, but we fall short. The Good News is that Jesus comes to redeem our short-comings with the rules and our lack of glory. We run out, Jesus runs in! How? Jesus came to fulfill the Law! (Matthew 5:14) The Law had always been condemning. Think back to Moses before Pharaoh in Egypt. Warren Wiersbe points out, “Moses’ first miracle was a plague – turning water into blood (Exodus 7:19), which speaks of judgment. Our Lord’s first miracle turned water into wine, which spoke of grace.”[8] Jesus was the only one ever to live a perfect life and keep all of God’s commandments without fail and because of that the judgment of water turning into blood pointed to when Jesus’ blood would be our judgment for sin and then Jesus exchanged that blood for our grace, which represents the wine at the Communion table. Without Christ and His blood we fail!

This is what we must admit – we do fail; we fall short! We run out! Nobody would dare claim to be perfect here. We need Christ to miraculously make up the difference, whether we are those who are living in ignorance like the Bride and Groom just enjoying the party, or if we are like the religious who are always trying to make themselves clean by keeping man-made rules. Both groups need Jesus to make up the difference to experience His glory! And here is how we practically see Jesus make up the difference. If you want Jesus to make up the difference for your shortcomings, then ask yourself these questions each day:

1) Do you go to Jesus first with your problem? (v. 3) Do you go to your friends, family, teachers or boss with your problem or to Jesus? Jesus is the only real solution to your problem!

2) Do you trust Christ for the impossible? (v. 3) Is there something impossible in your life right now? Something you can’t fix. Are you trusting Jesus with it?

3) Are you doing whatever Jesus tells you? (v. 5) What is Jesus telling you to do? Love that person? Forgive that person? Stick with somebody and work out the problem? Or do what Jesus did and serve a person who will take credit for your work?

4) Do you believe that Jesus will always give you His abundant best? (v. 7)

… Even if it breaks all the “rules” you have been taught? (v. 6) Maybe you have a preference or tradition in your family or church. Do you believe Jesus will give you His best?

… Even if it is delayed? (v. 10) What if Jesus doesn’t give it to you today or this week? Or in this lifetime? Will you still trust Him?

… Even though it means bearing a Cross? (v. 4; cf. 19:25-26)  What if it means suffering for a little while?

5) Do you desire Jesus’ glory to be revealed in your life? (v. 11)

UnknownMaybe today, you came and were not expecting a miracle! You came for your mom’s sake. But God has been impressing upon your heart that you have fallen short of God’s glory and you need Jesus to miraculously make up the difference. Today, you need to be like the servants who were told by Mary, “Whatever He says to you, do it!” For some of you, this means surrendering your life to Christ. You can do that by asking Jesus to take over for your shortcomings. I will pray for you and for us all in a moment. And yet, there may be others, those who have had some serious pew time that also need to come to Jesus for your shortcomings. One of the indicators that you might need to come to Jesus is if your heart is stuck on the rules and you are wondering why I didn’t take a stand against alcoholism today. Remember, that was the first question some of you asked me 5 years ago this weekend when I candidated here to become your Lead Pastor. Many of you were very concerned about the use of alcohol. I told you that the Bible does not teach abstinence, but for the sake of those struggling with alcohol I forego that liberty to create a safe haven for alcoholics. I am more like the people in this photo.  So let me answer those questions and I’ll conclude with a question of my own. Was it really wine? Yes, it was wine – the best wine, not just the higher alcohol content stuff many people drink today. D.A. Carson explains, “Wine in the ancient world was diluted with water to between 1/3 and 1/10 of its fermented strength – something less strong than American beer. Undiluted wine, about the strength of wine today, was viewed as ‘strong drink.’”[9] So did Jesus encourage drunkenness? (I mean now a days you are responsible for the alcohol you serve, especially if people are leaving your place to drive home.) No, Jesus was not aiding their drunkenness. Many were far from being drunk and probably some hadn’t had any wine to drink – remember, they ran out! Furthermore, I love Warren Wiersbe’s response to those who use this passage as license to drink, “If you use Jesus as your example for drinking, why don’t you follow His example in everything else?”[10] Right now, in heaven Jesus is a teetotaler according to Luke 22:18, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” Jesus is waiting to drink with us (including Baptists) in the new heaven and new earth when our glorified bodies will not be given to drunkenness.

For now, it would be better to be like the drunken coal miner who experienced Jesus make up the shortcoming in his life. “One of his friends tried to trap him by asking, ‘Do you believe that Jesus turned water into wine?’ ‘I certainly do!’ the believer replied, ‘In my home, He has turned wine into furniture, decent clothes and food for my children!’” You see, Jesus wants to redeem us! He wants to make up the difference whether our shortcomings are through being bad or through being good (just not good enough). We fall short of the glory of God and Jesus miraculously makes up the difference! That is a message for all mothers and all children, of which all of us fall into one of those two categories. It is a message for the sinner and saint alike. Jesus has come to give you a miracle you weren’t looking for – a new identity as His Child and His Miracle! Will you do whatever He says for you to do right now?

[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – Volume 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 290.

[2] Wiersbe, 290.

[3] Wiersbe, 290.

[4] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John – The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 170.

[5] Carson, 170.

[6] Carson, 172.

[7] Paul Tripp, New Morning Mercies, “May 14” (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014).

[8] Wiersbe, 291.

[9] Carson, 169.

[10] Wiersbe, 292.