John 3:31-36 – Believe the Son

The Trinity by Alex Rapoport, 1994

God’s Son comes from heaven and is above all others. Everyone who comes from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all others. He speaks about what he has seen and heard, and yet no one believes him. But everyone who does believe him has shown that God is truthful. The Son was sent to speak God’s message, and he has been given the full power of God’s Spirit.

The Father loves the Son and has given him everything. Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them forever. (Contemporary English Version)

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left instructions to his disciples to pray and to witness (Acts 1:1-11). Jesus asks of us what he himself does or has already done. The life and ministry of Christ on this earth was marked continually with prayer and bearing witness. Just as Jesus bore witness to what he saw and heard as the Divine Word, so his followers are to do likewise. The evidence and the veracity of Christ’s witness is the giving of God’s Spirit – the One whom confirms this testimony to us.

I, personally, have found Jesus to be precisely whom he claims to be. I have come to accept his testimony as gracious, truthful, and life-giving. I have wholeheartedly embraced the New Testament Gospel accounts of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. This belief came neither quickly nor easily for me – it resulted from an honest straightforward reading of the Bible, along with the gracious wooing of the Holy Spirit.

It really isn’t my job to convince you of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and trustworthiness. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is my task to bear witness of the things I have seen and heard concerning Jesus. 

My life has been thoroughly turned upside-down because of Jesus. With Jesus, I have been invited into the life of God. By the wounds of Jesus, I have experienced healing of damaged emotions and recovery from spiritual hurts inflicted by others. Through union with Christ, I have grace and forgiveness of things I have done and left undone. With Brother Jesus as my friend and companion, I enjoy loving attention and am never dismissed by him.

The Trinity by Jyoti Sahi

For those who have not read the Gospel accounts and refuse Christ, then, for honesty’s sake, please have the integrity to give Jesus a hearing before you dismiss him with a slight of hand. It is one thing to genuinely no little about Jesus, and it is quite another thing to ignore him when you have knowledge about how to discover him.

For those of us who have read the New Testament Gospels and accept the testimony of Jesus, we come back again and again to his life-giving words and seek continually to follow him in his way of mercy, purity, and peace. We bear witness to how Jesus has changed our lives and offers a life worth living.

Everyone with faith in Jesus has a life-giving connection with God. Those who don’t, don’t. If you disagree with this, then contend with Jesus himself. Give him a hearing. Watch him in action. Observe how he deals with people. See if he lives up to his words. Then, bear witness to what you have seen and heard.

Christian faith is a complete trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because God has been revealed as faithful through steadfast love, the Lord gifts people with faith to know the Divine.

Faith, a noun, is closely accompanied by it’s verb, believe. Together, as identical twin sisters, they let us know that both knowledge and action are needed. We need information in knowing what step to take, and an active commitment to actually take that step.

Others’ faith in Jesus led to a man’s healing of both body and soul:

And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2, ESV)

The size of faith is irrelevant; even a smidge of Jesus has incredible power:

“I [Jesus] assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do.” (Matthew 17:20, CEV)

Human weakness and inability is no problem because of faith in Christ:

Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ…. We conclude that a person has God’s approval by faith, not by his own efforts.

Romans 3:22, 28, GW

A person acts upon knowledge of Jesus with total trust in Christ’s finished work of deliverance from all which is evil:

It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God — “Jesus is my Master”— embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (Romans 10:9-12, MSG)

Faith is not an event; it is continual trust in the person and work of Christ for practical living and compassionate serving:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19b-20, NRSV)

Outward rituals only have their proper place as they help inform belief in order to engage in loving actions:

For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6, NAB)

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10, CEB)

Understanding and experience go together like a hand in a glove:

I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people.  And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. (Philemon 5-6, NLT)

Absolute certainty isn’t in the realm of Christian spirituality – there’s always more information one could obtain. Faith discerns, intuits, and knows God is there, and orders it’s steps accordingly with faithful activity:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NRSV)

My brothers and sisters, if people say they have faith, but do nothing, their faith is worth nothing. Can faith like that save them?… Just as a person’s body that does not have a spirit is dead, so faith that does nothing is dead! (James 2:14, 26, NCV)

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, I pray to you, the God and Father of all:

For empowerment by the Spirit, that I may be a faithful witness

For those who wait on You, that they may find renewal

For all people, that they may acknowledge the kingdom of the ascended Christ

For all who are struggling with broken relationships

I commend myself and all for whom I pray, to Your mercy and protection through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.

2 Kings 22:11-20 – Humble Yourself

The Scribe Shaphan Reading The Book Of Law To King Josiah by Leonaert Bramer (1596-1674)

When Josiah heard what was in The Book of God’s Law, he tore his clothes in sorrow. At once he called together Hilkiah, Shaphan, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, and his own servant Asaiah. He said, “The Lord must be furious with me and everyone else in Judah, because our ancestors did not obey the laws written in this book. Go find out what the Lord wants us to do.”

The five men left right away and went to talk with Huldah the prophet. Her husband was Shallum, who was in charge of the king’s clothes. Huldah lived in the northern part of Jerusalem, and when they met in her home, she said:

You were sent here by King Josiah, and this is what the Lord God of Israel says to him: “Josiah, I am the Lord! And I will see to it that this country and everyone living in it will be destroyed. It will happen just as this book says. The people of Judah have rejected me. They have offered sacrifices to foreign gods and have worshiped their own idols. I cannot stand it any longer. I am furious.

“Josiah, listen to what I am going to do. I noticed how sad you were when you read that this country and its people would be completely wiped out. You even tore your clothes in sorrow, and I heard you cry. So, I will let you die in peace before I destroy this place.”

The men left and took Huldah’s answer back to Josiah. (Contemporary English Version)

It is hard to fathom that things spiritually degenerated so much in the kingdom of Judah that the Book of Law, God’s Word to Israel, was completely lost. The Law was tucked so far back in the temple, and had gathered so much dust, that everyone simply forgot it existed. 

Maybe we in the Western world can relate to this more than we think. When a plethora of Bibles and translations exist, yet they gather dust on the shelf, and we have not cracked it open since….?

We are approaching the end of the Christian Year which annually culminates in Christ the King Sunday. As we journey with Jesus and ascend his holy hill, we anticipate corporately acknowledging Christ’s lordship. A good and biblical way to do so is through penitent humility. 

King Josiah’s officials found the Book of the Law and brought it to him. After they read the words, which had not been uttered for a very long time, the king was completely undone with humble repentance. He realized the life of the nation did not revolve around the majesty and kingship of God, and it cut him to the core of his being.  

An appropriate response to the realization of God’s sovereignty and Christ’s lordship is humility. Without humility, there is no going forward; there is only the ghastly state of remaining stuck in one place with ancient dust accumulating on our static hearts. However, with humility there is repentance; and with repentance there opens up the grand vistas of hope, new life, and fresh beginnings.

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”

St. Augustine

I (humbly) ask that you try something quite different from your regular experience today. Put on some old clothes then carefully read the words of today’s Old Testament Scripture lesson. Take the time to acknowledge a sin of omission in your life. Then, tear your clothes; yes, rip your shirt. 

Allow yourself to feel, like Josiah, the realization of missing the mark. Yet do not remain in this condition. Drink in the grace of God in Christ and receive the forgiveness that is yours in Christ. The trajectory of our Christian lives is determined by the depth of humility we experience and filling the hole with mercy.

It’s difficult to be submissive. To acknowledge, without denial, that we are in a bad place and will reorient our lives takes a lot of courage and humility. If pride and arrogance are the original sin, then the remedy to that malady is a meek and obedient spirit. 

No matter who we are, people are meant and designed by their Creator to live a humble life of submission to the moral and ethical will of God.

Humility is the cornerstone to every good thing in this life.  Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3, 5 NIV)

The door of God’s kingdom swings-open on the hinges of humility. The Apostle Paul, seeking to follow his Master Jesus in his teaching and humility said:

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12, NLT)

Basic human relations are to be firmly grounded in humility. The old prophet made his expectations clear:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, NRSV)

Life is truly life when it is based in humility. We live with the confidence of the psalmist:

“God leads humble people to do what is right, and he teaches them his way.” (Psalm 25:9, GW)

In the end, we are to bow to the God of the Word, for the Word is life.

Awesome God, although I might not always perceive your majesty and sovereignty, you stand above all creation as the Lord whom I am to submit to in all things.  I come to you in great humility of heart and vow to obey everything I read in your Holy Word through Jesus Christ, my King. Amen.

Acts 7:54-8:1 – Humility and Hubris

A 10th century depiction of Stephen’s martyrdom

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of their killing him.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (New International Version)

Although I am a trained in biblical exegesis and hermeneutics (interpreting Scripture) I believe that most insights come from making simple observations about the text. So, I want to point out: Stephen was not martyred by the Romans, a religiously pagan group, or Gentile people; he was martyred by those of his own ethnicity, by the people of God.

They weren’t simply unhappy with Stephen. The Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council) were incensed with him, so mad that they were grinding their teeth at him. The council truly believed Stephen was a blasphemer of God, that what he was saying was so subversive and religiously radical, they could stone him to death with a clear conscience, as if it were upholding God and God’s Law.

The result was not only the death of a humble man; it also sparked an intense persecution against the church which caused a new Christian diaspora. Many believers in Jesus now found themselves as Christian refugees trying to eke out a living and worshiping Christ in foreign places.

I wish I could say the greatest opposition I’ve ever experienced as a Christian came from non-Christians who simply misunderstood and misinterpreted me. However, my most hurtful wounds have come from the hands of church folk, believing they were acting on God’s behalf by exacting an emotional martyrdom upon me with the stones of gossip, slander, backbiting, blame-shifting, and outright lying.

Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.

Whenever I encounter persons who no longer attend church and have no intention of ever returning to any local congregation, I get it. I understand. I’ve been there. Yet, although the church is sometimes like a woman of disrepute, I still love her, and will do whatever I can to edify her and not repay evil with evil.

Stoning a believer, either actually with physical rocks or virtually with metaphorical stones, is akin to persecuting Jesus himself. That’s because Christ so closely identifies with his people that it is as if he is a head, and his followers are a body – joined together in a vital union.

So, when Christ’s Body is subjected to hermeneutical hubris in which one group of people insists there is only one way to interpret Scripture, and then uses it’s authority and structures of power to force compliance on another group, the result is persecution.

And that is precisely why Christians can abuse other Christians.

Rather than discerning that all Christians belong to God, one narrow-minded and small-hearted group excludes all other groups who disagree with them as blaspheming the name of Christ.

Insisting, for example, that a literal interpretation in the only means of understanding the Bible’s authority is to ignore and abuse the actual and real authority which exists with the Bible. I am in no way encouraging an “anything goes” type of approach to Holy Scripture that lets it say whatever you want it to say. 

What I am stating is that the biblical writers themselves employed different methods of interpretation, as well as the early church fathers (which is one reason I hold to the interpretive guides of the ancient Christian creeds, i.e. The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed).

Far too often churches stick to a particular interpretation because they believe they are keeping biblical fidelity. This is many times born of a fear that Christendom will be lost, and society will sink into an abyss of egregious sin. The irony is that many churches are sinking into forms of abusive and ungracious behavior by fighting battles that Scripture itself never calls them to fight.

The binary thinking of “I’m right and you’re wrong” is not an approach you’ll find in God’s Holy Word.

Even if the Sanhedrin in Stephen’s day intended on upholding the holiness of their God and the rightness of their cause, the impact it had on the church was death and diaspora.

Unfortunately, throughout Christian history, the tables have too often turned with Christians persecuting Jews. I myself would like to avoid being the persecutor. If I kill anything, may it be putting to death my own sin.

Gracious God, as your Son humbled himself on this earth, so may your church walk continually in such humility that believers everywhere work together in unity for the sake of gospel of grace as a blessing to the world in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Kings 8:22-30 – Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. (New Revised Standard Version)

I grew up in rural Iowa, a place with lots of gravel roads. In the seasons of Spring and Fall, the thawing and re-freezing lead to some impressive ruts in those roads. It’s difficult to avoid them since they nearly dominate the driving space. 

With our prayers, there are seasons of life where we can slip into ruts – times where focused wrestling in prayer is set aside by just going along with the rut of prayer with the same lifeless words and phrases. There are Christians who pray wonderful prayers… over and over again with almost no thought to it, continually saying the same things anytime they pray.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, we have a prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Lord’s temple. The two aspects of this prayer that jump out to me are: 

  1. Solomon reminded God of divine promises to the covenant people.
  2. Solomon reminded God of who God is. 

Solomon, as the wisest person to ever live, did not believe that somehow God forgot about promises made or had some sort of divine dementia about theology proper. Instead, Solomon prayed with the kind of prayer that God delights to hear. 

“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”

Søren Kierkegaard 

God enjoys hearing us pray. The Lord likes it when we pray according to the promises given us. God adores when we pray with a focused understanding of whom we are praying to.

So, then, in our prayers, it is good to emulate the example of King Solomon. Know the promises of God contained in Holy Scripture and pray they will be confirmed in our lives, families, churches, and world. 

Also, pray with the intention of declaring God’s inherent nature, attributes, and character. Acknowledge the basic trait of God’s steadfast love. Believers serve a big God whose hugeness is continually above all things, and whose work is always continuing according to divine decrees and words. 

One way of moving our prayers out of the ruts of familiar language and thoughts is to journal them. Writing our prayers can become for us an act of worship as we slow down enough to craft a response to God that is thoughtful and connects us with him beyond the rote and routine.

In its simplest definition prayer is a conversation between the one who is praying and the one to whom those prayers is directed. So, whenever we craft a written or spoken prayer, it’s good to get out of a rut by:

  • Using language and words that are meaningful to you.
  • Making your intentions clear by stating exactly what you need or want.
  • Taking your time and not rushing.
  • Lighting candles, burning incense, or creating a special sacred space for prayer. 

Thank you Lord God for the opportunity of prayer and worship. Thank you that I can put aside uncertainties of this world and rest and rely upon the certainties of your good promises. Thank you that we can bring to your feet all the hurts and fears that trouble us and leave them there knowing that your strength and assurance are all that we require. May all your people find peace, healing, wholeness, and joy in your presence, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit exist as one God, now and forever. Amen.