August 25 2020

I Didn’t Expect That

Jesus is off to an interesting start.  Like all of us, the battle for his life has begun.  Both evil and good have reached out to him.  He has an endorsement from God and has avoided Evil’s trap meant to tempt him.  He has shown himself willing to be led by God.

The next event recorded for us in the life of Jesus is a common life event for so many of us.  Jesus, his mother, and his new followers are all invited to a wedding.  Apparently, it is a wedding of a family friend in a nearby village.  Jesus’ mother seems to be a close friend of the bride or groom and perhaps is involved in the preparation for the wedding reception.  At the very least she can give instructions to the serving staff that they are willing to follow.

A wedding in Jesus’ time was a significant event—especially in a small village in Galilee.  It usually lasted several days and probably involved nearly everyone in the village (as well as people from nearby villages).  Since it lasted for several days the host often had to provide a significant amount of food and drink for many of those attending.  One’s social reputation was on center stage.  It was very important to take care of everyone in this once in a lifetime ceremony.  To fail to do so was a black mark on the host’s reputation probably for an exceptionally long time.

On the day of the actual wedding ceremony, there was a large feast providing food and drink (usually wine) for everyone.  Then, in the evening, they would all go to the Wedding Ceremony followed by a parading of the new couple through all the streets of the village for everyone to see and celebrate.  Instead of a honeymoon like today, the couple would then spend the next week receiving people individually in their own home.  The couple was treated like royalty—that is, assuming something embarrassing did not happen during the process.

In this case, the reception took a turn for the worse when the host began to run out of wine in the middle of the party.  We are not told why this happened.  Was it poor planning?  Was it unexpected guests dropping in?  Was it just a lack of money to provide what was needed?  We are not told the answers to those questions.  But the end result was the same:  public embarrassment for the bride and groom and their families—an evening meant for joy turned very awkward.  A roomed once filled with celebration turned to whispers along the outside.

When news of this reached Mary, the mother of Jesus, she knew exactly who she was turning to for help.  She knew who could do something about such a bad situation.  It was time to talk to her son.  There is little doubt that Mary’s confidence in Jesus being able to help was based on her past experiences with him.

She simply lets him know there is a problem.  In fact, she was so confident in Jesus’ ability and willingness to help with this problem—despite a response that might seem otherwise—that she simply told the servants to do whatever he told them.  It was a good move on her part.  (By the way Jesus’ response that it was not his time yet may be confusing if you do not know more about him and what is coming in his life.  That is ok—you will learn more as you continue to explore him.  For now, just know that Jesus is willing to interrupt his plans to help someone in a very precarious situation.)

What happened next was both unexpected and amazing.  There were six large stone jars at the reception—typically each one could hold between twenty to thirty gallons of water.  The water from those jars were used primarily for two purposes: 1) to wash the dirt from the feet of the guest who had traveled to be a part of the festivities and 2) to ceremonial cleanse the hands of the guest before each portion of the meal.  So, presumably, with the feast in progress a significant portion of that water had been used.

Jesus directed those serving to fill all six jars all the way “to the brim.”  Once that task was completed, he simply ordered them to fill their serving pitchers from the jars and take them to the man running the banquet.  It was his job to taste the quality of the wine being served to the guests.

To everyone’s surprise the water was now wine!  Jesus had produced between 120 – 180 gallons of wine!  Not a watered-down version of wine, but the absolute best wine.  The man in charge announced how remarkable it was for a host to serve high quality wine later in the feast.

Disaster averted!

One of the men there that day was John, one of Jesus’ early disciples.  When he told this story, he called it the first miracle that Jesus performed.

So now we have more information to consider about Jesus.  What does this really mean about him?  At the very least we know that he was a man that had compassion on others.  We also know that he was unselfish enough to set aside his agenda for the sake of others or, at the very least, for the sake of his mother.

It is also obvious that something had happened in his growing up that caused his mother to believe that he had the ability to solve this problem.  And solving this problem was not as easy as we might think today.  There was no local grocery story around the corner to hurry off to!  Getting that much wine into a small remote village took forethought and time.

And, of course, we have got to deal with this miracle thing!  What do we believe about that?  Could it have happened the way John described?  Or does this story push us into the category of myth?

You see this idea of a miracle pushes us into one of two directions. One, we believe it is not true and have to discredit the story we have been told. Or, two, we believe it really did happen, which pushes us towards a more radical view of Jesus.  If it is true, Jesus is far more than any person I have ever encountered in my life.  What do you think so far?

Read this is the scriptures:  John 2:1-11

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August 17 2020

A Time To Test Jesus

Starting to explore Jesus last time, we saw him begin with a glowing endorsement from heaven.  Such a public statement of approval and affection from God paves the road for Jesus—it sets the expectations high.  His future is bright as we would say.  What could go wrong for the one approved by God?  And yet, in life we have seen others start with God and lose their way.  Why is that? 

Even as we see Jesus start with high expectations, we know it will take time and proven character to establish who he really is and what comes from his life.  It is great to be believed in, but ultimately life is about the choices that we make in the difficult times.

Jesus experienced a truth that we all must experience in life.  Our public life and our private life combine to make us who we are.  It is not just what happens in public that defines us, but the things that happen when we are out of the public’s eye as well.  In particular, the choices we make while we are alone “fighting our own personal demons” will tell us who we really are.  Many of us have started the journey with great hope and expectations only to end the journey in disappointment because we could not overcome the personal temptations of life.  What happens in public, impacts our image; what happens in private, forms our character.

When we last left Jesus, those around saw the Spirit of God come on him.  It is that same Spirit that leads him into a private place so that he can be tested.  He is going to find out “what he is made of.”  It is important to keep in mind that the Spirit is the one leading in this testing.  We are not told all the instructions that were given to Jesus, but we are told that the Spirit is the one giving those instructions.  And, the result of those instructions is that Jesus is alone; he has been fasting for forty days.  The Bible says, “he was hungry.”  That is a simple and obvious statement to make, but I can not even imagine what an intense hunger would be present after forty days.  It seems to me that my body would have a powerful voice to be heard after forty days.  The flesh would be begging or demanding to be fed.

This moment is where the tempter sees the opportunity to find out who Jesus really is.  There are questions to be answered:

  • Will Jesus continue to follow the leading of the Spirit when he is hungry?
  • Will Jesus use his identity to meet his own needs—apparently, he has not been instructed by the Spirit to do that?
  • Will this be a time for Jesus to start mistrusting God’s goodness?
  • Will Jesus test God rather than simply trust God?
  • Will Jesus be easily fooled by the tempter’s lies—especially given the fact that he is quoting scriptures?
  • Will Jesus take a short cut—the easy way out—for what he wants to do?

Now is the time for these questions to begin to be answered.

The tempter begins by saying, “If you are the son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  It is interesting that the phrase “if you are the son of God” comes right after the time that God has point blank stated that Jesus is “my beloved son.”  How quickly Satan tries to undermine the truth God speaks about us!  You can hear the undertones of this question.  Is that the way a father treats a son?  Does he send him out in the wilderness and starve him to death?  Are you really his son?  Is he really your father?  Is he a good father?

Jesus must decide who he is going to believe. Who should he listen to?  Which voice will he obey?  Which voice will be pushed aside, and which voice will take control? 

Will the physical circumstances of the moment determine who is God and who is not?

There are numerous examples in the Bible (and also in today’s world) that show us a lack of character will lead men to give up the voice of God for “a special meal”, for an opportunity to advance their career or for a moment of sexual pleasure.  But Jesus is not that kind of man!

The leading of God is more valuable to him than his physical appetite or his need to defend his identity.  His identity is defined by God not by what he can do for himself.

Jesus answered, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

But the tempter was not done.  Noticing that Jesus answered with a scripture, the devil turns to the scriptures as well.  He reminds Jesus of the scriptures that speak of God’s protection for Jesus.  He proposes a test to see if God will protect Jesus.  “Throw yourself from the top of the Temple building and see if God protects you from harm.”  This suggestion would roughly be like Satan suggesting for us to step out in front of freeway traffic and see if God will protect us.  The idea is that God will either put on a great show or you will find out that God does not really protect.

In what I think he hoped was Jesus’ weakened physical/emotional condition, Satan was shooting for Jesus to say something like “you know I’m done here.”  Here is the truth of the matter for Jesus: he knows that it is not God who is on trial.  It is Jesus who is on trial!  And he has no intention of changing who is on trial.  He is not falling for the trap the tempter has set.  On to the next test!

Finally, the tempter offers all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would just worship him.  For many people this would be an insurmountable temptation.  The devil is offering power over the whole world.  Just think about what men have done to try to gain power over a country—much less the whole world.  Or, a little closer to home, think about what some have done to rise to power in a corporate environment or your work environment. 

Since, as we will later find out, Jesus came to rescue the world because of God’s love for the world, is this an acceptable short cut to God’s plan?  Would it maybe save a lot of time and pain?  Is he going to act like a politician and compromise to reach his goal?  Do the “ends justify the means” in this case?  For Jesus, the answer is “no.”  The right thing must be done in the right way.  You do not rescue the world by worshipping the evil one—by believing and trusting the tempter.  That is what broke the world to begin with!

What was in Jesus’ character that allowed him to pass this test?  The answer is in his response: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.”  It takes a man that worships God alone to pass such a test.  Worshipping God is the supreme value; worshipping Satan is the supreme failure.

Like Jesus, we all have times of temptation.  Those times of temptation are times to answer questions about yourself.  They tell us what we really value.  They tell us what compromises we are willing to make in our values.  They tell us who or what we really trust.  They tell us what role selfishness is going to play in our lives. In short, they tell us and others who we really are.  For us, times of temptation are a part of the process of change.  They tell us where we are off so we can change.

For Jesus they tell us he is already there!  He does not have to learn from his failure of the test!  He is not lacking in character.  There is nothing for him to change.  His public image as stated by God and his personal character are in sync.

What do you think of the character of this man called Jesus?  Do you think he is worthy of your trust?  Does he have self under control?  Is he listening to the right voices?  Does he have confidence in God?  Will he stand the test of time?

It is time for us to start making some clear choices about him.  Have you?

Read this in the scriptures:  Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

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August 11 2020

Introductions Are in Order

When meeting a new person, it is always helpful to have some one who already knows them well to do the introduction.  It is especially comforting if the introduction is done by someone you know and trust.  When I first came to our family of churches, the senior pastor and I spent a significant amount of time together getting to know each other—we became good friends very quickly.  His introducing me both publicly and individually made a huge difference in how I was received by the rest of the family.

Our first look at Jesus as an adult just happens to be one of those times when introductions are in order.  He is just another face in the crowd until someone respected introduces him and vouches for him.  In Jesus’ case the one introducing him is God Himself.

To help understand the introduction of Jesus, imagine the life of a typical Jewish person at that time.  Since they will prove to be significant in Jesus’ life, imagine simple fishermen from a small village with access to the Sea of Galilee.

These fishermen are young men who have grown up in the family business.  Everything they know about the business and most of what they have experienced about their faith has come from their extended family.  Their village may not have had enough people to have a synagogue and a rabbi.  Everything about life is passed down from previous generations.  It is a simple life; it is a hard life; it is a life where your family and your reputation are everything.

Since these young men live some distance from Jerusalem, they may not be as impacted by the big city life and the challenges it brings.  Roman presence may only have been an occasional event for them.  But they felt the sting of the Roman taxes; and, they knew the disdain everyone felt for their own countrymen who collected those taxes and profited generously from the process.  Whether they wanted to admit it or not, they were a conquered nation.  It did not set well with them—especially since they were working class men who were not accustomed to backing down from anyone.

Even though it was rare for them to get to go to Jerusalem for a special religious celebration, they had surely experienced the corruption in the religious institution.  They had been judged by the Pharisees and dominated by the Sadducees and others in the ruling body.  It probably felt like organized religion was more interested in their money than their relationship with God.  They were probably glad they did not have to deal with all that every day.

Overall, for them, it was a time for survival.  There was not a lot of reason for hope. 

There was one possible reason for hope, but it was not something that most people thought about anymore.  It was an ancient set of prophecies found in their older scriptures.  The prophecy spoke of a time when God would send a deliverer called the Messiah to restore their country to its former glory.  But that hope for many must have felt like a children’s story without much reason to expect it to come to reality.  After all, it had been hundreds of years since that was written.

To make things worse, there had been a couple of times when assertive men lay claim to being this Messiah and led the Jews in rebellion to Rome.  Every time this happened, it was quickly crushed by the Romans.  False Messiahs have a way of crushing hope for everyone.

This was the time the adult Jesus came into their world.

Just prior to Jesus showing up, there was a very strange man who became popular with the people.  He did not bother to go into the cities, but rather did all his work, which was primarily preaching, out in the countryside.  He could usually be found near the Jordan River.

John’s role was to call people back to their God.  Without a reason for hope, people tend to drift away from God; they lose their connection with Him and spend their lives in other things.  John announced that this long hoped for but usually forgotten promise of God to send the Messiah and restore His kingdom was about to happen.  What he told people to do was to get their hearts and life focussed on God in preparation for what God was about to do.  He called the people to be baptized (immersed in water) to cleanse them from their sins.

Multitudes of people were coming out to John and responding to his teachings.  Even the religious leaders sent people to check him out even though they did not like what he was doing, especially when He directly challenged them calling them a “brood of snakes.”

This is the time, and this is the scene that Jesus walks into when it is time for his introduction to the people.  Jesus comes and ask John to baptize him even though they both know that he has not turned away from God.  He does not need to be baptized as others did, but the baptism brought about the time for him to be introduced.

When Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the events of this day, they tell us of Jesus’ baptism followed by a voice from heaven that said: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

What an introduction!  Can you imagine being introduced by God Himself?  That’s what happened to Jesus that day.  And, as if being introduced by God is not remarkable enough, think about what God had to say about Jesus.  He gives Jesus the identity of being His son.  He tells us that He loves His son.  And, God is pleased with Jesus. 

What a proud father God is!

Our young Jewish fishermen has some decisions to make.  What were they going to do with what they had just seen?  Could this be the rumored Messiah?  Is there hope after all?  Could they really believe their ears?

This whole scene shared by three writers compels us as well to make some decisions about Jesus.  First we have to decide whether this event even happened at all.  Do we trust the reality of what they have written?  Is this a cleverly devised tale?

If we accept their account of this event, we then must decide if God Himself is trustworthy in what He has told us about Jesus.  Is God a reliable source of information?  How does He know this Jesus guy?

And finally, we need to start thinking about what we believe about Jesus.  What do I think about a man endorsed by God?  Should I let him into my life?  Should I trust him?

For Our Reflection:

The events described in Jesus’ introduction are either true or false.  Either they happened as reported or they made this stuff up.  Even though I believe this event to have happened exactly as reported, I can understand someone deciding not to believe it is true.  And, of course, if they believe it is not true, then Jesus would not be compelling to them.   I can also understand others believing it to be true (as I do) and them finding Jesus to be very compelling—after all, he was endorsed by God.

What I do not understand is someone who says they believe this is true but are not particularly moved by it.  How can I not be blown away by the voice of God at Jesus’ baptism?  Who else have you heard God literally endorse?  I don’t know about you, but I have never heard God’s actual voice from heaven!  If He bothered to speak, I should bother to listen—shouldn’t I?

Read This In The Scriptures:  Matthew 3:13-17  Mark 1:9-11  Luke 3:21-23

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August 3 2020

How well do you know Jesus?

If someone walked up to you and asked you how well you know Jesus, what would you say?

It is an interesting question especially if you think about it from the perspective of someone asking you about a close friend.

Would your answer be very personal in the way it would if you were talking about a friend you have lived with for some time or would it be more like someone you know about from what others say or what the media reports?

We live in a culture here in America that is not always the best at going straight to the source to get information. We would rather trust someone who we think of as an expert to tell us what we should believe. Christianity is certainly not immune to this trap. Many are too distracted to check out Jesus for themselves; or in some cases do not think they know how to check him out.

I want to encourage you to check out Jesus for yourself. You might be surprised what you find out. He might not be the person you thought he was or had been told he was. It might surprise you to find out that he once provided a large amount of wine for a wedding reception, that he entered the place of worship and told those in charge that they must stop using religion to make money, or that he once was the only one defending a woman caught in an affair.

If you are open to discovering the real Jesus, you might be surprised by what you will learn.  Jesus has shown himself to be open to being discovered.  While he was on earth a couple of men wanted to find out about where he lived (probably because being in a man’s home can tell you a lot about that man.)  He invited them to come and see.

I want to invite you over the weeks ahead to come back to this website and join us in looking at the real Jesus.  We will look at the writings of the men that were his closest friends. They were men who knew him well.  They were so captivated by what they saw in him that they each died trying to advance him and his teachings to their world.

I wonder if the same might happen to us if we really knew him?  Are you willing to take a closer look at Jesus?

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