Gospel of John 20 – The Empty Tomb

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

From bad to worse. First he had been crucified and now it seems his tomb had been desecrated! “They have taken the Lord…we don’t know where they put him!”

Dead men don’t move themselves. Dead men don’t remove their burial clothes. Dead men don’t leave tombs. But alive men do!

Mary went to get Peter and John. The last time Mary was with John was at the foot of the cross and now she sends him running to the tomb only to him there was no mistaking what happened to the body. “They” had nothing to do with it. Jesus was alive! Don’t you wonder if John’s mind went back to the last time he saw grave clothes off a formerly dead person was back in Bethany when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Unlike the others, John didn’t have to first see the risen Lord for the puzzle pieces to fall into place. He knew then and there that Jesus was alive. When Jesus said that if he was lifted up he would draw all men to himself (John 12:32) he was not speaking only of his crucifixion, which is the immediate parallel we draw when we hear the language of being lifted up. The cross is not very attractive. But Jesus was speaking simultaneously of being lifted up from death and the grave. The resurrection is the drawing force of Christ because in being raised from the dead he eliminated any and all obstacles that could keep mankind from having the same new kind of life,

14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14-18


John 9 – Mud in the Eyes Christians

After reading and re-reading the story of the man born blind in John 9 today I am struck by the power and authority of Jesus combined with the blind man’s willing obedience. Our faith is a partnership of unequals. We can’t even take credit for listening and doing because without his command we wouldn’t have a clue what to do. He alone heals and restores. And yet he expects us to listen and to do. Otherwise we just stand there blind with mud in our eyes wondering why we still can’t see.

I wonder how many “mud in the eyes Christians” there are in the world. They believe they have heard the Word of God and are saved but their unwillingness to wash the mud from their eyes so they might really begin to see has kept them in spiritual darkness. It is an incredibly tragedy when God has done 100% of what needs to be done to help us see and yet we are unwilling to trust him enough to follow through and do what he has asked. I know this gets into the murky waters of the sufficiency of grace and all the rest (not really if you are tracking with me here and are familiar with past posts like this one). But my point is, without action on our part, we stand there blind with mud in our eyes. God certainly has more in mind for us than that. You notice Jesus didn’t say, “Sit here while I run to Siloam, get some water and pour it on your eyes for you…don’t lift a finger! BRB!” and off he goes. I think there is a reason for that. While we don’t merit our salvation God certainly wants us to be invested in the process!

Gospel of John 4:43-54 A Big Request

43After the two days he left for Galilee. 44(Now Jesus himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own country.) 45When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, for they also had been there.

46Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.

48“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”

49The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

50Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”

53Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.

54This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.

This is quite a big request. This man is asking Jesus to drag his followers over 20 miles toward the Sea of Galilee (at least the walk was mostly downhill!) in order to heal his son. I don’t know about you but if my son was dying I would have a hard time taking someone’s word for it that he was better. Without laying a hand on him or even seeing him, Jesus tells the man he can go home because his son will live. It says, “The man took him at his word.” He doesn’t have the whole Gospel in front of him. He isn’t privy to the D,B,R (death, burial and resurrection). He doesn’t have 1% of what we have to put our faith in Jesus. After all, this is only the second sign in the Gospel of John! And yet he believes Jesus and starts the 20 mile walk home. I believe I would have wanted more proof or at least for Jesus to see my son. Not this man…he has faith in Jesus and turns to walk home. Sure enough Jesus was right and his was healed at that very moment. What if the father had not believed…

This text begs a couple of questions:

  1. How much faith to we have in Jesus…not just a show up on Sunday and worship God kind of faith…do we have a turn around and walk home because Jesus said so, “take him at his word” type faith? A kind of faith that has no room for God to be wrong…he said his son was well and that meant he could go home. He doesn’t need to beg Jesus to come because he had faith.
  2. What signs has God given us that he is alive, active and wants for us to take him at his word?
  3. What obstacles to putting your faith in Jesus have you encountered and how has God helped you overcome them?
  4. Do we realize just how much our faith has an impact on the lives and well being of our children?

The consequences of our belief or disbelief can be life giving or it can be quite deadly. We have a great responsibility.

God Parts the Red Sea

God parting the Red Sea is always a VBS favorite. But it is still one of my favorites as an adult. As I was reading this a couple of weeks a ago a few things struck me that I had never thought about before. Here is the text (Exo 14:10-31):

“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He made the wheels of their chariots come off  so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward  it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

I put in bold two things that I found interesting. The first is that God’s people were told to be still because God was going to fight for them. I think that is a concept many of us, myself included, need to get under our belts. What is interesting about that statement is that God involved the people in what was about to happen but the result wasn’t dependent on their power and ability. For instance, God told Moses to raise his staff over the water for it to be divided and for it to come back together. Moses obeyed God. God involved him in the events. But in the end, it was God fighting for them. They depended on following the lead of God for their deliverance.

The second thing was the actual miracle of parting the sea. I don’t like hypothesizing about too much but a couple of things struck me about the pure physics of this event. Here in Florida we are known to get hurricanes that produce a great amount of sustained wind. But even under the worst of circumstances (150+ mph winds) a hurricane has never produced a wall of water. They have never been so strong as to make water stand up in a wall, much less for hours and hours. What is even more amazing to me is that God sent such a powerful wind and yet none of God’s people were blown away! God is not bound by the laws of physics and can do things however he wants but in human terms you are talking about an event where a wind several hundred miles an hour stands water up into two walls, dries the ground beneath, and not a single person standing within who knows, a quarter mile of this event, is blown away. That is pretty amazing. That is how powerful God is. What is more, the water stood in a wall even after the wind ceased because the people were able to walk through the gap without any wind blowing.

There are several other miracles that are tucked away into this story. The angel that brings a cloud of darkness on one side and light on the other is one. God knocking the wheels of their chariots is another. What a mighty God we serve. No wonder this story became part of the bedrock foundation and narrative of an entire race of people. It is reflected all over the Old Testament in the psalms and prophets and elsewhere. It is the story of a liberation from one of the greatest powers of their day that could only take place through providential circumstances.

Outreach and Reputation Risking

It never seemed to bother Jesus if his reputation was at stake when it came to reaching the lost:

– Speaking with adulterous Samaritan women at a well alone.

– Having his feet annointed by a woman with a checkered past.

– Eating with tax collectors and “sinners.”

– Associating with and even healing Gentiles.

– Being crucified because it meant our forgiveness.

People got upset with Jesus because of these things. They made many accusations in regard to these things. Ultimately Jesus ends up on a cross, shamed and reputation shattered because of his actions and claims. For Jesus redemption trumps reputation.

Listen to how people reacted to Jesus during his ministry:

“At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” – John 6:41

“But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.” – Luke 19:7 when Jesus went to have a meal with Zacchaeus.

“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” – Luke 7:39

“Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”- Mark 2:6-7 when Jesus healed the paralytic. In Luke’s account they said – “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” – Luke 5:21

On and on we could go. What is clear is that Jesus had a way of reaching the lost without regard to whose feathers he ruffled. Why? Because they are worth it.

Should We Pray for the Hands of Doctors? Praying Too Small

I always thought the prayer, “Lord, please be with the hands of the doctors…” was a strange prayer. We are asking for God to intervene without having to ask Him to do it all himself. It’s like saying, “God if you have time could you help this person?” We are asking for the doctors to be an intermediary of God’s power. If we think God can work through the doctors wouldn’t it also make sense to think He could also just do it without the doctors as well? Do we pray as if we are imposing on God? Or do we approach the throne of grace with confidence? Are we praying too small?

One of our church members is a cardiologist. He mentioned Wednesday night that he never prays that God will help him do a good job. He said that he can do a beautiful, perfect job and the patient not survive the operation. His hands did all they could do but it didn’t help the patient. Other times the job might not be done ideally and the patient survives. His prayer before such an operation is for the well being of the patient and for God to give them health, not for his skill. My father in law is a chiropractor and he made the point a few months ago that he doesn’t heal anything. He aligns things so that the body can heal itself. It is only by God’s grace that he gave us bodies that are able to do that. Surgeons can do their best and chiropractors can give their best shot but ultimately God is the one who has to make the difference.

Do we pray too small?

When Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain after the transfigurations they found a crowd had gathered and the nine were arguing with the teachers of the law. The center of the dispute was a child who had an evil spirit. The disciples had been trying to cast it out but they had not succeeded. The man brings his son before Jesus. The boy falls at his feet and goes into convulsions. You would expect Jesus to immediately heal him but instead he asks the father, “How long has he been like this?” The man tentatively requests healing for his son. He uses the word “If” – “Jesus, if you can heal him…” Jesus points to the need for faith. In one of the most honest moments in scripture the boy’s father replies, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Jesus commands the spirit out of the boy. The spirit obeys. Jesus later tells his disciples they couldn’t do it because they had not been praying as they should. What should those disciples have prayed for, “God be with my hands so I can touch this person and cast out this demon.” No. They should have prayed, “God, remove the demon from this child.” They either hadn’t been praying at all or had been praying for the wrong things. Maybe they were praying too small.

How can we challenge ourselves to pray prayers that are big enough? How can our prayers reflect a recognition that God has time to hear our prayers, that he cares about our concerns, and that he is powerful enough to take care of it?

Gospel of Mark – From Fear to Faith (4:35-5:43)

The NIV chapter break between 4 and 5 is in an unfortunate place. 4:1-34 is a distinct unit and 4:35-41 clearly fits together better with the miracles in chapter 5. There is a common theme in the four miracles in these verses. In each one people are afraid and each time Jesus points to the importance of moving from fear to faith.

Jesus Calms the Storm (Mark 4:35-41):
What’s the big deal…Jesus calms one storm on one sea to save one boat full of people. Out of all the storms, seas, and people who have needed saved why is this one such a big deal? Ben Witherington (Mark, 174) points out the first big picture item that is happening in this series of stories. What three forces in the ancient world can you name that would be outside your control?

1 – Nature
2 – Spiritual powers
3 – Death

In these stories Jesus confronts these head on, commands them into submission, and wins. Notice what Jesus says to the storm, “Quiet! Be still!” He commands it. He speaks to it. He is re-creating and subduing nature. In the very beginning God separated the waters above from the waters below (Gen 1:7). In Mark 1:27 Jesus rebuked an evil spirit and it obeyed. In the next story Jesus rebukes a legion of demons and they obey. Jesus is not just calming one storm. He is demonstrating a far greater power through this one representative act. The kingdom of God is breaking in and people are going to need new wineskins in order to accept this new wine because what happens next is even more inconceivable. But first notice the reaction of the disciples – they were afraid and Jesus calls them to faith.

Jesus Triumphs in Gentile territory (Mark 5:1-20):
In 4:35 Jesus said, “Let us go over to the other side.” Other side of what? The Sea of Galilee. What was on the “other side?” Gentile country. We tend to read the Gospels very flat with one miracle being just as astounding as the next but that is not how they would have heard this. Jesus is crossing into enemy territory. On the way in they go through a storm, which he stills. When they get there they dock the boat at a cemetery, next to a field of pigs, and a bleeding man filled with not just one demon (like in Galilee) but a legion of 2000 demons. In the words of Three Dog Night, this is the place “mama told me not to come.” Just like with the storm, Jesus commands the demons out of the man and they obey.

From this point on we get a back and forth parallel between Jesus ministry in Galilee and his ministry in Gentile country across the Sea of Galilee. Each time they enter Gentile country they encounter a storm (BWIII, 174). The order of Jesus’ miracles in Gentile/pagan country mirrors the ministry he did in Galilee (Jewish country). Ever wonder why Jesus fed 5000 and 4000? It was not 9000 Jews he fed. It was 5000 Jews the first time and 4000 Gentiles the second. What was Jesus very first miracle in Mark? He exorcised a demon in the synagogue in Galilee (Mark 1:21-28). After that crowds of sick Jews were put before Jesus for him to heal. What was the first miracle Jesus did on Gentile soil? He exorcised a demon (Mark 5:1-20). After that crowds of sick Gentiles were put before Jesus for him to heal. By the way, I give Witherington credit for bringing most of this to my attention.

But here is what the commentators miss. The disciples on the sea were afraid and Jesus pointed to faith. The crowds that came to see the healed many named “formerly possessed by Legion” were afraid and Jesus didn’t point to faith. How could he? They didn’t have the Torah, prophets, etc. What did Jesus do? He told him, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” N.T. Wright points out that this man was the first apostle to the Gentiles rather than Paul (Mark for Everyone, 57). Instead of pointing them toward faith, he pointed this freed man to teach them about the Lord and his mercy to build their faith. The two stories that follow also deal with faith.

Jairus’ daughter and a Sick Woman (5:21-43):
Jairus comes to Jesus with a bold statement of faith, “He pleaded earnestly with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him.” (5:23-24). By the way verse 24 makes a great memory verse! Mark departs that story for a moment in one of his classic “Markan sandwiches”. He tells the story of the woman who had been bleeding 12 years who in faith touched Jesus clothes to be healed. Notice what happens next. Jesus asks who touched him. The woman comes forward, “trembling with fear, told the whole truth.” Notice Jesus’ response, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” (5:34). Fear – faith, fear – faith, fear – faith. We see it again in the completion of Jairus’ story. People came and said his daughter had died. At this Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (5:36). Jesus goes to his house, enters her room, and commands her to “get up.” Even though in the grave, her spirit obeys and she is raised from the dead.

Jesus’ words ring loud and true – Don’t be afraid. Just believe. Are you facing a storm? Why lack faith? Why be terrified if Jesus is in the boat. The message of these four stories is this – Jesus has the power to control what to us is uncontrollable. Because of that we need to put away our fears and believe.