Our sense of worth, along with our fundamental self-identity, comes from what we believe people think of us. And it colors everything we see, feel, think and do. That’s too bad! We ought to rather base it on what God thinks of us! And what does he think? How does he see us? Just look at the cross of Christ. God loves you so unconditionally, unstoppably, inexhaustibly much that he gave his one and only Son to redeem you and bring you into his forever family. You are not loved because you are valuable; you are of inestimable valuable because Who loves you!
Being With Jesus:
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
The disciples were reeling with the resurrection—in both delightful and disappointing ways. That Jesus rose from the grave was the ultimate game changer for them. This proved beyond all doubt that Jesus was who he claimed to be—God in flesh, the Lord of life and Savior of the world—and it removed any question that he would do what he said he could do—forgive sin, cure disease, deliver the demonized, give abundance and in fact, grant eternal life. For them, this was the truly greatest news ever!
Yet Jesus wasn’t quite fulfilling their expectations of a resurrected Lord. He wasn’t throwing off the yoke of the Roman Empire and reestablishing Israel as the world’s super-power. He hadn’t wiped out sin and instituted the rule of God’s kingdom on earth. He didn’t set the disciples up as ruling governors in his ascending government. To their disappointment, the disciples woke up post-resurrection to the mundane realization that they needed to go back to work to make a living—and even that wouldn’t be easy:
Simon Peter told his fellow disciples, “I’m going out to fish.” And they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:30)
And even while Jesus kept appearing in the banal grittiness of their post-resurrection reality, both proving his sovereignty over life and death as well as providing fresh miracles in their daily toil, he also kept forcing difficult conversations on them. Jesus was continuing to ferret out their selfish desires and false expectations and limiting ideas of what was next.
Peter, in particular, was getting roughed up. In order to restore Peter after he denied Jesus three times on the night of his arrest, Jesus sat with Peter and point blank asked him three times if he truly loved the Lord—much to Peter’s discomfort. (John 21:15-17) Then, when Jesus was satisfied with his response, he revealed to Peter the cheery news that he was going to die a very undignified, unpleasant death:
“When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)
Then we are told something that is most unusual, although, which at this point, should come as no surprise, either to Peter back then, or us right now: “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” Then Jesus followed that difficult statement up by saying to Peter—and to you and me, by extension: “Follow me!” (John 21:19)
As we have seen all along in the Gospel of John, the glory of God was the most important theme in the life and message of Jesus. There has been no more passionate pursuit, no greater focus, no greater investment than to use his earthly time to promote God’s glory. And it is clear that he expects his disciples to take up this very theme in their lives, through their message and even in their deaths. Yes, even in the way that Jesus will arrange for them to die, with their dying breath they will lift glory to Almighty God.
What we learn from this, among other things, is that sooner or later, to be an authentic follower of Christ, we must come to grips with the fact that God’s agenda is quite different than ours. Peter had to learn it; so must we. Truth be told, until our dying day, we will wrestle with a sin nature that continues to insist on our own way, that our will be done, that God fulfill our ideas of how his kingdom should play out.
Yet the Resurrected Lord will remind us, for as long and as often as it takes, that we are not the center of the universe, God is, and that God does not exist for our sake, but we exist for his glory alone. And when we get that—as Peter ultimately did—we will be well on our way to living out the ultimate purpose for the transference of Christ’s resurrection power and life to us: for the glory of God alone.
The Gospel of John ends with the reminder that all the books in the library of human language can never contain the story of Jesus—not by a long stretch. (John 21:25) Truly, how could the glory of God ever be contained? It can’t—especially when untold myriads of fully devoted Christ followers every day throughout the world for the rest of time are living out their lives for the glory of God alone!
As Jesus said to Peter, he says to you and me, “Follow me—in life and in death—soli Deo gloria!”
“When you draw on God’s grace to put off your self-centered attitudes and act on His principles, you put His glory on display. Your life points to His vast wisdom, compassion, and transforming power, and as you look for God’s glory, the impact reaches far beyond yourself because you give everyone around you reason to respect and praise God. Glorifying God is not about letting others see how great you are. It’s about letting them see how great the Lord is.” (Ken Sande)
Getting To Know Jesus: Go about your day today with this purpose: To let others see through you how great God is. Make “Soli Deo Gloria” your life’s theme!
Being With Jesus:
Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
We get it backwards—understandably. The advancement of the scientific method in our day has taught us that empirical proof must come first, then we can place belief in the certainty of something. There is no room, or even need really, for faith, which requires trust rather than evidence. We have been steeped in that dogma for generations now, so it is no wonder that we wrestle with not having physical, visual proof for our faith in Jesus Christ.
According to our line of thinking, Peter, John, Mary and Thomas were most fortunate. On that first Easter Sunday, Simon Peter ran with John to the tomb, and seeing that the stone had been rolled away, he pushed past John and went straight in, where he saw the strips of linen lying where a body should have been, just as if the corpse had magically risen through them, leaving them to float silently back to earth, sans body. Then John, who had reached the tomb first, followed Peter inside. He then saw what Peter saw, and he believed. Mary Magdalene was at the tomb as well, and after Peter and John left, she encountered Jesus. Mary then went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” Later that day, the disciple Thomas responding to the dubious news that Jesus was alive, said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later, Jesus suddenly appeared before his very eyes, and Thomas exclaimed, “I believe!” (John 20: 6,8,18, 25)
They had literally, physically and visually seen the resurrected Lord. No wonder they all believed!
Yet their belief is not met with the highest praise that Jesus would offer in that encounter. Rather, he said to them, “You have seen me—and for that, you have experienced something most blessed. Now I want you to go and tell others what you have seen. And those who hear and believe will in turn tell others. But here’s the deal: Those who believe your eyewitness testimony will be telling my story not based on their own visual proof; their witness will be on the basis of pure faith. They have not visibly seen, yet they have spiritually believed. And for that, they are even more blessed than you who have literally seen.”
Did you catch that? You and I want so badly to hold the literal evidence of resurrection in our hands, believing that physical proof will somehow make our case for Christ even more rock solid than it already is. Jesus begs to differ. He says the strongest proof of all is to believe, for out of believing faith comes indisputable knowledge of the resurrected Lord, evidenced in the transformed life of the one who has believed.
In the eleventh century, St. Anselm, arguably the most brilliant Christian thinker of all time, wrote, “Credo ut intelligam”; that is, “I believe, in order that I may understand.” Two centuries later, Thomas Aquinas said, “In order that men might have knowledge of God, free of doubt and uncertainty, it is necessary for divine truth to be delivered to them by way of faith, being told to them as it were, by God himself who cannot lie.” In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal wrote, “Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things that are beyond it. The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know at all.” But it was another brilliant thinker in the fourth century, the North African bishop, Augustine, who best captured the essence of what Jesus meant when he said, “Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”
After Jesus revealed himself to his disciples, he said to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) He sent them out with the story of his life, death and resurrection, and with the commissioned authority to invite those who would believe their message into an experience of the Kingdom life, both in time and for all eternity.
Since you have believed their message, you, too, have been commissioned to tell the story of the resurrected Jesus. And while you did not see the risen Lord with your own eyes, you have something even more powerful: indisputable faith evidenced in your transformed life. You are a satisfied customer, and there is nothing more indisputable—and blessed—than that.
You have believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now tell your story. As you do, your faith will be increasingly rewarded with the evidence of things not seen.
“A good witness isn’t like a salesman, emphasis is on a person rather than a product. A good witness is like a signpost. It doesn’t matter whether it is old, young, pretty, ugly; it has to point in the right direction and be able to be understood. We are witnesses to Christ, we point to him.” (John White)
Getting To Know Jesus: How has Jesus changed your life? Tell someone about!
Being With Jesus:
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
The great essayist, Dorothy Sayers wrote, “What does the Church think of Christ? The Church’s answer is categorical and uncompromising and it is this: That Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the God ‘by whom all things were made.’ His body and brain were those of a common man; his personality was the personality of God, so far as that personality could be expressed in human terms. He was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; he was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be ‘like God’; he was God.”
Yes, as Christians we believe that Jesus was God. But why would a God “by whom all things were made” permit what he had made to treat him thus: to brutally beat him to within an inch of his life with the barbaric Roman cat o’ nine tails, to press into his brow the crown of thorns, to slap him and spit upon him? What kind Creator would give the created even one second to mock him as they did? Where else could we find Deity submitting to the humiliation of the cross? What kind of God would allow that?
Only the one, true God! No other real god would do that—could do that—not a god that had any power, or goodness or love or divinity. The fact that Jesus surrendered to the pain and shame of the cross is evidence itself that he was not merely a man so good as to be like God; he was God. What kind of God who would allow that? Jesus!
Jesus was, and is, a God of patience. The fact is, it should have been sinful man who was brutally beaten, mocked, humiliated and publically executed like a common criminal. Our common sin made us offensive to a holy God. He had every right to wipe us out and begin anew—as he did in the days of Noah, or as he threatened with Moses on Mount Sinai—or to never make another creature with the freedom to choose. But so great is the patience of this God that he would submit to our utmost defiance. Thank you, O Lord, that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness; one who relents sending the calamity we deserve. (Jonah 4:2)
Jesus was, and is, a God of mercy. Rather than giving us what we deserve, he took what we deserved into himself as he was punished on the cross. We deserved the cross; he became the crucified. Thank you, O Lord, that you were wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities and that the chastisement that brought our peace was upon you. (Isaiah 53:5)
Jesus was, and is, a God of justice. Sin requires punishment, else God is not holy, righteous and just. Yet that sin was not atoned for by the guilty, but by the innocent. Jesus received the punished, endured the humiliation of a trial and hung upon the cross in our place not as a victim of man’s anger, but to satisfy the wrath of God. Thank you, O Lord, that the Father laid on you the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
He was, and is, a God of love. It should never cease to amaze us that God, the holy One, wanted us, unworthy, guilty sinners, to live so much that in an act of extreme love he provided a way of escape from eternal death into eternal life. Thank you, O Lord, that you loved a sinful world so much that you gave your only begotten Son, so that by belief in him, sinners would have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
Jesus was, and is, a God who is for us. What more could Jesus do to prove his love for us, and thereby convince us that he has set himself to help us than by his substitutionary, sacrificial death on the cross. Should we ever again doubt that God is for us, that he will help us, that he will fulfill all his promises to us and bring us through the trials and tribulations of this life and one day bring us into his eternal Kingdom? Thank you, O Lord, that you who did not spare your own life, but delivered it up for us will also certainly and freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32
What kind of God would allow his created ones to inflict the cross upon himself? Jesus, that’s who—the God of patience, mercy, justice and love—the God who is for us and therefore, the One whom we should love, serve, trust and follow shamelessly and without reservation now and every day until the end of the age.
“The heart of salvation is the Cross of Christ. The reason salvation is so easy to obtain is that it cost God so much. The Cross was the place where God and sinful man merged with a tremendous collision and where the way to life was opened. But all the cost and pain of the collision was absorbed by the heart of God!” (Oswald Chambers)
Getting To Know Jesus: Read Isaiah 53 today, and verse by verse, offer your gratitude to God for the gift of Jesus and his sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross for you.
Being With Jesus:
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
Responding to the mass shooting—apparently targeting Christians—at a community college in Roseburg where nine people were murdered and scores were injured, Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey encouraged fellow Christians who are serious about their faith to consider getting a gun.
Is it time for believers to arm themselves? After all, Jesus said that increasingly the world will hate us because of our faith in him. Just read John 15:18-25 as well as all of John 16 for that bit of cheery news. Things are going to get rough for believers as the time for the Lord’s return draws close (which, by the way, Christians around the world have known all along. We in America are just discovering, much to our dismay, that this may include us, too!)
But when Jesus predicted this rise in hostility—and even violence—against his people, did he anticipate that they arm themselves to the teeth to push back against the persecution? Did he foresee the Second Amendment would be our Constitutional right, and therefore we should use every legal means to defend ourselves as American Christians? For the Christian, does the Second Amendment trump the Second Commandment (Matthew 22:37)…or does the call to lay down our lives override the right to take up arms? Is this an either/or conundrum or can the believer in Jesus grasp the one without letting go of the other (Ecclesiastes 7:18)?
Seriously, these are questions American Christians need to grapple with. Now I say “American” because for Christians in other countries, these options aren’t even in the realm of possibility—which is probably both a blessing and a curse. In our nation, as citizens we have constitutional rights, and as Christians, we have Kingdom values. Most of the time these rights and values peacefully coexist, but at times, the earthly and the heavenly kingdoms are in conflict. Sometimes, what may be constitutionally legal may not be eternally blessable. At those times, to be both a good citizen and a good Christian, the believer must be willing to do the hard work of “thinking Christianly” about such matters. That is, the follower of Jesus must be completely open to the original meaning and full intent of God’s word, allowing Scripture to impose its unfettered rule over everything in the believer’s life.
Having said that, I think it is fairly clear here that Jesus wasn’t thinking his followers would lock and load in the face of opposition and hostility. In fact, he says as much: “Put away your AK-47 Peter. Do you think for a minute I’m not going to drink this cup of suffering the Father has assigned to me for the redemption of the world?” Later in the chapter (John 18:36) as Jesus is standing at trial before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, he said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
So back to the issue at hand in our modern American culture: Should a Christian take up arms to defend themselves against the coming hostility? I will leave that to you to come up with your own answer—but I would ask you to allow what Jesus says here in John 18 to inform your opinion. Do the hard work of thinking Christianly about this matter. And at some point, as believers, we all need to remember that we have been called as citizens of another Kingdom to surrender our human rights—just as our leader did—for his eternal cause.
Yes, as citizens of the United States we have the right to bear arms. But as citizens of God’s Kingdom, our calling is to lay down our lives!
“The whole point of the kingdom of God is Jesus has come to bear witness to the true truth, which is nonviolent. When God wants to take charge of the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the poor and the meek.” (N.T. Wright)
Getting To Know Jesus: Your assignment this week is to think Christianly about your right to bear arms. Theologian Walter Wink offered this thought: “Jesus did not advocate non-violence merely as a technique for outwitting the enemy, but as a just means of opposing the enemy in such a way as to hold open the possibility of the enemy’s becoming just as well. Both sides must win. We are summoned to pray for our enemies’ transformation, and to respond to ill-treatment with a love that not only is godly but also, I am convinced, can only be found in God.” Agree or disagree with him, how will you balance the Second Amendment with the Great Commandment?
Being With Jesus:
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
Let me listen to the content of your prayers and I will describe your theological grasp of God as well as the level of your spiritual maturity. Not that I want to throw a wet blanket over your access to the throne room of your Heavenly Father nor make you second guess the kinds of things you are praying for.
Obviously, we have been invited to “ask for what we wish” in prayer (John 15:7), to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16) and to freely “pour out your hearts to God, for he is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8) Nothing, no one nor any teaching should ever cause us to shrink back from the privilege of openly and authentically connecting with our loving Heavenly Father in prayer.
Nevertheless, the kind of prayers we consistently pray reveals the kind of Christian we are. So if you are concerned about becoming more like Christ in your spiritual journey—as we all should be—then the content of your prayers over time must turn toward the kind of focus Jesus had every time he prayed.
In this prayer recorded in John 17—what we call Jesus’ “high priestly prayer”—the last recorded prayer he offered right before his arrest, trial and crucifixion, we see an intense, passionate yet calm, centering supplication being lifted to God. We get a glimpse of that which was most important to Jesus—his priorities—of how clear he was about the divine plan—his submission to God’s will—and of what he understood about his Father’s character—his theology.
As important as anything in this important prayer was Jesus’ passion for the glory of God. He uniquely understood the glory that emanated from the eternal God, for he had shared in that unfettered glory from the beginning of time (“the glory I had with you before the world began”, John 17:5). He was fully committed to his own life—and death—reflecting that glory to the world (“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you”, John 17:1) He had perfectly and completely testified to the glory of God through his thirty-three years as an earthly man (“I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do,” John 17:4). And now Jesus rightly expected that the Father would restore all the past and future glory of the of eternally existent Son, second person of the Holy Trinity, to him as he submitted, body soul and spirit, to the cross for the sin of the world (“Now, Father, give me back the glory that I had with you before the world was created.” John 17:5, CEV).
Yes, what Jesus prayed revealed who Jesus was, how he believed and what was most important to him. His final prayer tells us that he believed there was no greater theology that the glory of God. It also shows us that there was no more important focus in life than the glory of God. And it reminds us that there was no greater commitment, no greater expenditure of energy, no greater sacrifice for Jesus than to use his one and only earthly life for the glory of God alone.
What do your prayers reveal about you? Your anxiety about God’s competence to care for the details of your life or your desire for the temporal things of this world or your passion for quick fixes, pain avoidance, comfort and prosperity? Over the course of the next few days, pay attention to the content of your prayers to get an honest assessment of what they reveal about your theology and your spiritual maturity. Like me, you will probably realize that your trust, obedience and understanding need to go much deeper in God.
What if you and I began to shift the focus of our prayers (and our lives) to the glory of God alone? Truly, there is no greater theme in all creation than God’s glory. And if we will begin to passionately invest our praying and our living toward that end, we will not only fulfill the purpose for which we were created, we will be well on the way to sharing in the glory of the One who rightly deserves it all.
At the end of the day, may it be said of us that the glory of God alone was our unceasing doxology.
“To live and work for the glory of God cannot remain an idea about which we think once in a while. It must become an interior, unceasing doxology.” (Henri Nouwen)
Getting To Know Jesus: The early church father, Irenaeus, wrote in his magnificent work, Against Heresy, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive, and the life of the human consists in beholding God.” Spend some moments in prayer asking your Father to make you a living example of a fully alive human being bringing glory to God alone.
Being With Jesus:
Jesus said, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me. …Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”
People who have followed Jesus throughout the ages did something that Christians don’t do as much in our day: They thought a lot about heaven.
They were right to do so. Perhaps they had a more balanced theology than we do, possibly their spiritual leaders taught more often on the future world than ours do, or it could be that since life for so hard and following Christ came at such a high price looking forward to eternity was simply the natural thing to do. Maybe it was all of the above.
Whatever the case, heaven was on their minds. Not so much for us. Earth has become so good to us that we almost see the approach of eternity as a rude interruption to our pursuit of the good life in this present world. Some believers almost think and act as if heaven is a cheap substitute for Planet Earth. It is not. It is our true home, our Divine destiny purchased by the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross, the place where our full potential will be perpetually, increasingly, uninterruptedly released as we rule and reign with Christ. As the old timers used to sing,
“This world is not my home I’m just a-passin’ through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door. And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
We would do well to practice dwelling on our eternal dwelling more. Doing so is not wishful thinking, or pain avoidance, or escapism. It is what Jesus instructed his disciples, and by extension, you and me, to do. The fact was, Jesus was going to leave—and at first, it would be a pretty painful leaving. He would die on the cross, according to God’s eternal plan. Then he would ascend back to his Father. In his absence, he would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, who would be with the disciples, and in them continually. The Spirit would constantly abide with them, empower them for Christian living and witness, would lead them into truth and reveal the deeper things of God to them. Even still, life would be tough for them because they followed Jesus—they would be persecuted, rejected and killed for their faith. But one of the things Jesus said they needed to do to endure the hardships of this life and thrive in the midst of pain was to dwell on the good things to come.
What are those good things to come? For starters, there will be fullness of joy. The grief of the present will turn to joy (John 16:22), and the joy will be so great in heaven that the grief of the past will pale by comparison until it fades into oblivion. Pain, disappointment and heartache will be forgotten and joy would be their new reality—for all eternity. Furthermore, there will be fullness of life. (John 16:23a) Christ’s disciples will not even need to ask him for anything; they will already have everything. And finally, there will be fullness of relationship. (John 16:23b) The disciples will be able to go directly to God for anything they want because of what Jesus has accomplished. We will no longer wrestle with the image of God being a distant, immovable, uncaring deity in a galaxy far, far away; he will be up close and quite personal.
Jesus seems to be saying that we should continually keep those future realities in our present thoughts as we face the harsh conditions of our current lives. And, by what he then says in verse 24, by practicing this type of “heaven-thinking” now, we will be so filled with confident assurance that asking for what we want and need right now in this present world will be our faith response to whatever comes our way:
“Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:24)
Looking forward to your eternal future on a regular basis is one of the best things you could do for your faith. In one of his letters, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Good and evil when they attain their full stature are retrospective. That is why, at the end of all things, the damned will say we were always in Hell, and the blessed we have never lived anywhere but in heaven.”
Why not go ahead and imagine your future home right now, because when you finally get there, you will realize that Jesus made sure it was always pretty close.
“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.” (C.S. Lewis)