Weekly Bible Study Notes: May 12, 2021

John 12:1-11

The scene for this text is set at six days before Passover when Jesus and his group reach Bethany.  This is also right after he has raised Lazarus from the tomb and Lazarus, Mary and Martha are in attendance at this dinner, a Sabbath dinner at the home of Simon who is a good mutual friend, as we discover from the Synoptics.  We can infer the close relationship between Simon and Lazarus, Mary and Martha from the fact that Martha is one of those serving the dinner, and it is interesting to note that the word used to describe her service in verse 2 is the word from which we get the English words “deacon” and “minister” meaning “servant” and is also used to describe Martha in Luke 10:40.

Mary suddenly begins an unusual foot treatment for Jesus by applying a large amount of nard to his feet. Nard is a highly-prized ointment imported from India that was prized by both men and women in the ancient world.  It had a sweet-woody odor that was very heavy and likely to fill the entire house.  The “pint” that she applied to Jesus’ feet would be worth something in the area of $20,000.00 today.  Mary held nothing back in using so much of the very expensive luxury on Jesus, even mopping up the excess with her hair, a gesture of pure humility in front of mixed company; in short this was a shocking scene, and yet it shows us that Mary was holding nothing back in her service to Jesus.  I daresay that there is a lesson in this for our time, for how many of us would pour $20,000.00 on Jesus’ feet?  It seems likely that Mary understood that Jesus would soon be taken from them, and she was not going to stand by His grave and wish she had told Him how much she loved Him.

Judas raises what seems to be a logical objection to all of this extravagance, pointing out that the money could have been put to a better use; very reasonable indeed.  However, John points out in the text that Judas may have had an ulterior motive for his objection as he has been known to embezzle their funds in his keeping.  Notice that John does not reveal how or when they became aware of this, but it does show us a glimpse of the character of the man who would shortly turn traitor.  One thing is clear; it wasn’t the poor that Judas was mourning for.

Jesus will have none of this criticism.  He points out that she had saved it for His funeral, and even though the funeral hadn’t come about, it would within the week, and Mary would prize her act even more on that day.  As for the poor, Jesus commented on that as well, although his comment has been misinterpreted by many since.  He was not giving justification of those who would ignore those in need, but rather that there are times when service to God trumps everything else; even good works.  How many Christians over the centuries have been so concerned with good social works that they have missed out on a closer relationship with the Lord!  He comes first in all things, even doing good deeds.

News of the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ arrival in Bethany reached near-by Jerusalem very quickly and many came out to see both Jesus and Lazarus.  Of course, amongst the curious were also their leaders who had different things in mind.  Their hatred of Jesus was all the greater for so many more were prepared to follow Him and to discontinue following their leaders.  From their point of view, this had to stop for their position was being severely threatened; Lazarus must go as well as Jesus. Thus, the stage is set for the final drama of Jesus’ last week and the most seminal event of all human history.

As this text comes to its close, there are two main threads to the story, and two sub-plots. The two main threads can be summed up as support for Jesus, and opposition to Jesus, and the sub-plots are holding back and murderous intent. On the side of support, we see the gathering crowds that have come to see Jesus and Lazarus, many of whom are ready to follow Jesus. On this side also is Mary, standing above all the rest, for Mary has given everything to Him, while the rest remain somewhat less committed, probably at various stages of comprehension as to what it really means to follow Jesus.

On the other hand, we have Judas, who for various reasons of his own doesn’t see the value in what Mary has done. He does have a valid point; that the Nard could have been sold and many good things done with the money, not to mention a few bucks in his own pocket; Judas doesn’t seem to quite comprehend what following Jesus really means. Then of course, we have the Pharisees and the other leaders of the people, who see that despite their efforts, the crowds keep growing larger, along with the threat to their positions; something must be done, and quickly.

If we take a step back from the narrative, we might also discern that not only is this the climax of Jesus’ ministry, it is also where we approach the climax of our own lives. On the one hand, Mary has given her all to Jesus, and in doing so has essentially thrown down the gauntlet to all of us: Will we follow her lead? On the other hand, those who prize their worldly positions have also thrown down a gauntlet: Will we join with them in their quest to stop Jesus at all costs?

Like those in the room with Jesus that day, and those gathering outside, most of us are somewhere in between the two camps, and this is where I believe that God is leading us to a decision. Is God speaking to you in this text? If so, what are you going to do about it?

John 12:20-35

We pick up the story after Jesus has entered Jerusalem; His “Triumphal Entry”.  The news of His having raised Lazarus has spread like wildfire through the region and people are flocking to Jesus like never before, some just to have a look and others in faith.  The reaction of the Pharisees in verse 19 is classic: “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” Yes, they must put a stop to this business, pronto!  Our text begins with some Greeks who are present for Passover who approach Phillip asking to meet with Jesus.  It would seem that they were not Greek speaking Jews, but Gentile Greeks.  Notice that they approach Phillip who goes to Andrew.  Phillip and Andrew are from Galilee unlike these Greeks, and they have Greek names, the only two amongst the disciples.  They are “Hellenized” Jews which is to say that they have adopted Greek culture while remaining Jews.  Thus, it is believed that they took Greek names and most likely are Greek in dress and hair style.

They approach Jesus with the request of a meeting and Jesus answers oddly by going straight to the subject of His impending death.  Using the example of a grain of wheat, Jesus will now teach those around him that life (eternal life) comes from death.  The use of the example of grain is designed to overcome the fact that this concept is entirely counter-intuitive to humans who have not seen the glories of Heaven.  The message is obvious in His case, now that we know the rest of the story, but the implication for us is quite serious:  Any of us who holds on to our lives in this world too selfishly will not inherit eternal life, for we will not follow Jesus at all.  This idea is seen in verse 26 where Jesus equates losing or “hating” this worldly life with serving Him and thus serving God.  Thus, we “lose” our life by serving God rather than serving ourselves.  I cannot over emphasize the importance of this idea, for this is the Christian life!

Verses27-28 reveal that Jesus was troubled by what He was about to face in going to the cross to die a horrible death.  Remember that He is both Divine and human and had the same instincts of survival that we all have.  How would you feel about things if you knew that you were soon going to be taken away for torture and death?  I would be on my way out of town! Jesus has a different response, for this is the very reason He has been brought to this point.  It is interesting that John tells us about this encounter that is begun with the arrival of the Greeks.  Maybe Jesus was tempted to go off with them and take His message to a whole different audience to avoid His date with the cross… In any case, He will not be swayed from His purpose, and God confirms His approval with a rare vocal endorsement.

The people heard the voice and stunned, await some clarification.  Jesus explains that the voice was for their benefit, so they would know that everything is going according to God’s plan.  Then, He demonstrates the point in three amazing ways:

First, the time has come for “judgment on this world”.  Since the Greek word rendered “judgment” is krisis, if we leave it un-translated, the statement would read “Now is the crisis of this world.” A crisis for this world would surely come when Jesus is murdered in front of everyone when all were aware of His total innocence.  This would expose the sin that has the entire world in its grip for all of its stinking rottenness. Second, it is the time when “the prince of this world will be driven out.”  Satan, who has the world in his pocket through their slavery to sin, will lose his grip on those who will follow Jesus, those who will be set free from bondage to sin.  Third, that Jesus will die by being “lifted up” gives His listeners the method by which all of this will be accomplished; He will die on a cross.  The result of this will be that all peoples who look to the cross in faith will see not merely a method of execution, but the means by which they can be saved from sin and death.

We reach a major turning point in John’s Gospel at this point.  The crowd has come to discuss national liberation from Rome, and Jesus is talking about death and redemption.  They object and refer to Daniel 7:14 which teaches that the Messiah will be with them forever.  Jesus doesn’t engage.  He does offer one last bit of advice: Darkness is about to descend, their only hope is to believe in Jesus (“trust in the light”) which will enable them to resist the oppressive spiritual darkness, for they will become “sons of light”.  With that, Jesus slips away.  The rest of the Gospel will describe Jesus’ answer to the question they have posed: “Who is this Son of Man?”

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Paul misses his friends.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

Paul prays for his friends.  Look carefully at his prayer, for it contains something for us to reflect upon: Paul’s prayer is not just for them to prosper in their faith and do well, it is for them to grow in their love, knowledge and depth of insight, so that they may be found pure and blameless on the day of the Lord so that they might give glory to God! Yes, that’s right, Paul’s prayer is one of purpose− God’s purpose.

While the rest of us might be demanding answers from God, Paul is praying for God’s purpose, for God’s glory.  Yes, let us reflect upon this!

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Letters From Jail

The Apostle Paul sat in jail. He had been arrested for his testimony about Jesus and the power of His Gospel; yep, there he was, chained up in jail alone, miserable, unhappy and afraid… or so we might have thought.  I wonder what would I do if that guy chained up in an ancient prison cell had been me…

Yet it wasn’t me, it was Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.  Let’s see what he was doing in this miserable circumstance.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:3-8

Maybe it isn’t all that surprising that he was writing letters, after all he was neither the first nor the last prisoner to write letters home, but from these verses we can see that he’s also been praying.  Maybe that isn’t such a shock either, lots of prisoners pray in prison, some for the very first time I would imagine, but did you notice that he isn’t praying for himself?

Paul is remembering his friends in Philippi, and giving thanks to God for them.  He doesn’t sound miserable, for he says that he is filled with joy because of the partnership of the Philippians with him in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It would seem that our Paul feels thankful and joyful, because of the people in Philippi for they share not only in the gospel, but in God’s grace with Paul. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing that God’s grace might not come to mind for me if I was locked in prison and bound in chains.

Well then, here we are at the beginning of a new adventure: Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We’ll get started in earnest new time, see you then!

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For They Will Be Filled

I doubt that I need to discuss what it means to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” so let’s jump directly to what will become of the one who has no such desire. I think we can safely assume that the one who has no such desire will not be blessed, and one who hungers and thirsts for wickedness will not only find what they are looking for, but they will also find God’s curse in His judgment. Such a person will always need to be looking over his shoulder, will be running from the law, and will seldom have a restful night’s sleep; if they are lucky, they’ll live long enough to die from stress related illness, if not they will die by the sword. Anybody want to sign up for that?

As with the other beatitudes, there is an apocalyptic element to this (see Isaiah 61). God’s ultimate gift to Mankind is the gift of righteousness, for when Jesus returns and culminates His Church, all evil will be eliminated and the righteous will abide eternally in His Kingdom without pain, suffering, oppression or death: Blessed indeed!

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Sunday Sermon Notes: May 9, 2021

Title: The Image of God and Temptation

 Text: Genesis 2:15-17

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Genesis 2:15-17

Temptation is a funny thing; it’s all around us, and takes a myriad of forms. Some things may tempt one person to stumble; while another may take no notice of it at all… yes, it’s a funny thing. OK, I’ll confess right now, potato chips are my downfall! At my house an open bag is an empty bag; they own me… I just cannot possibly say no when they call my name; woe is me, for Satan has my number!

Obviously, the only thing I said about potato chips that is actually true is that I really like them and eat more than I should; the rest is nonsense, purely a justification to deflect my own irresponsible choice to eat too many of them. Could I walk right by and not have any? Yes, but I usually don’t. Could I eat one or two and then stop? Yes, but I usually don’t. Is there anyone else to blame for this? No, not on your life; it’s all me.

Well, there is temptation in a nutshell.

To be clear and fair, I understand that there are medical conditions that affect some people in one way or another; I am not including that possibility in my remarks here; that is different topic entirely, so let’s understand that I am not talking to people with medical, addiction or mental health problems in these remarks. Got it?

 For most of us, when we fall into temptation, it was all our own doing; it was not necessary, and when we are honest with ourselves, we know that to be true.

With that said, then what is temptation really?

It is being presented with a choice to do or not do something that can harm us and/or our relationship with God. Yes, there are some lengthy systematic theologies on temptation, but when you sift out all of the unnecessary words, it comes down to making a choice, and no one is forcing us to choose the wrong one. We can blame this whole dilemma on the devil or this fallen world or anything you want, but temptation was present in the Garden of Eden when Man lived in perfect fellowship with God in a pre-fallen state, and Man made the wrong choice in spite of everything. Yes, the serpent was involved, but if he pointed a gun at Adam and Eve, that detail was omitted from the text.

No sir! Temptation is a consequence of free will.

God made us in His image, and one of the attributes that we have in common with God is free will. How do we use our free will to glorify God? Let’s go back to Genesis 3…

There are two trees that stood together in the center of the Garden; look, there’s Eve and the serpent having their little chat: The serpent asks the first question, Eve responds correctly. The serpent responds with a bald-faced lie. Eve hesitates, tempted, looks at the forbidden fruit; it looks really good, then she remembers who and what she is, and then she… grabs the yummy fruit from the Tree of Life and takes a big bite, and God is glorified.

Here’s a question: Who told you that you can’t do that?

When discussing this topic as I have, there is always a danger that the issue of temptation is simplified to the point where it isn’t taken seriously, for yes, my presentation here is simplistic.

I have been told in the past, that it cannot be that simple, that life is really so very difficult that we can’t possibly make the right choices…

I get that a lot.

It is as though people think I lead a charmed life, that I’ve never struggled, like everything was handed to me on a silver platter; “what do you know? It’s too hard…”

I have lived long enough to know struggle, and I have struggles and challenges and weaknesses and failure just like everyone else. I am neither perfect nor close to it; ask my wife, she’ll tell you that! I am a sinner just like you, I stumble and falter just like you.

And yes, it really is that simple.

When I was a boy in school, I was pretty good at arithmetic, but there was one thing I really had trouble with: Word problems; I just couldn’t work them, for the longest time. Then one day, I had an epiphany; most of the information they gave you in word problems was irrelevant, throw it out and you see the problem clearly and then it isn’t as hard as you thought.

Most of the great theological questions are just like word problems were in math class; throw out the irrelevant and the actual issue isn’t as complicated as we thought it was. Most of our struggles as Christians are neither as complicated as we think, nor as difficult as we make them.

When I was a teen, I would often hang out with my friends and sooner or later someone would say, “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do.” This would normally be followed by ideas for something to do, and nearly every time, we ended up doing the stupidest thing that was suggested, something that each and every one us knew to be wrong, and really didn’t want to do.

So why did we do it?

It wasn’t because of this evil world, nor was it because we were totally depraved and incapable of doing the right thing. It also wasn’t because we were stupid or bad kids; the group I used to hang out with grew up to be doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, and professional athletes… no criminals or scoundrels. We did stupid things for one simple reason: Nobody wanted to be the one who wasn’t cool, the one who would be called a… (slang term for less than a man).

Peer pressure, the need to fit in with the gang.

At some point, teenagers are supposed to grow up and become adults and stop doing stupid things just to fit in, and most do. When this happens, we go from doing stupid things to fit in, and graduate to only doing silly things to fit in.

Christians are also supposed to grow up, but this is more than just being adults; we are supposed to grow spiritually into the likeness of Christ. Having said that, I am fairly confident in saying that none of us have arrived at that goal yet; I know that I have a very long way to go, that I am certain of. I can also say with certainty that we won’t arrive at the goal more quickly by giving in to being silly to fit in with the group.

We get there by relationship both with others and with our Lord.

When temptation comes along, of whatever sort, it is very helpful for me and many others as well, to sort out the stuff that isn’t helpful, things like personal bias, self-centeredness, baggage from the past, cultural trends and tradition to find the real equation that needs solving, and most of the time, the equation isn’t as hard as it first appeared to be.

I can’t say this often enough: Remember who you are in Christ! Ask yourself why you are tempted to do things that are not in accordance with what you know to be His teaching, ask yourself if you are showing your love for Christ by turning your back on Him…

I predict that whatever you are being tempted with will not seem so enticing: the ball is in your court.

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For They Will Inherit the Earth

A person who is “meek” is often thought of as being resigned to their circumstances, even weak, but that really isn’t what is being described here. Those who are “meek” are those who understand that they are dependent upon God, and not upon their own strength or even upon the power of armies, for our own strength is a temporary affair, as is the might of an army; all will perish. Yet God’s strength is eternal, and His might never flags or fails. With this in mind, consider who is not meek; the proud, the loud, and the haughty. These are the ones who must always dominate others, who must always have the last word, and who will trample others to get ahead, for they fear losing control: They are not blessed for their own behavior is their curse.

The meek will inherit the earth, just like the descendants of Abraham would inherit the Land. Once again, Matthew has linked an idea relating to Jesus with Israelite history, and this time, He has done so in a way that leads us to an apocalyptic conclusion, for those who place their full faith and trust in God for their provision will not only enjoy relationship with Him now, but will reign with Him upon His return, thus receiving a double blessing of His grace.

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Attitude is a Powerful Thing

Years ago, I had a management job in a company that had some issues.  There were things about the company that I didn’t much like, and things that were a lot of fun, so I suppose that like most jobs there were ups and downs.  One of the things that I didn’t much care for was that the highest level of management had a way of keeping people on edge, which quite frankly made my job a lot more difficult than it needed to be.  The man who started the company years before was a mixed bag, one might say, in that he was a really great guy when you got to know him, but a jerk until you did.  He seemed to love stirring the pot!

He did this by scaring people; that seemed to be almost a pastime for him.  He liked to yell and scream and intimidate, when all that was really necessary was for someone to explain something, and the result was that he was generally feared and his presence in the office was dreaded by most people who worked there; turnover was high as you might expect.

A person would get the idea that the “Big Guy” had noticed a mistake on their part, and paranoia would set in.  They would expect trouble, and sooner or later they would find it.  So many times, people would come to me and say that they were sure they were going to be fired for something because Mr. Big was ‘after’ them.  I knew when Mr. Big was unhappy with someone, and most of the time the people who came to me weren’t even on his radar, yet they were certain that they were going to be fired, and they began to act badly at work.

This kind of thing was so frustrating for me because no matter what I said or did, the people believed they were going to be fired and their attitudes would be in the dumpster, which altered their behavior and their work and eventually they would be fired.  Their belief became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It was entirely unnecessary.

Now there are certainly lessons for managers here; don’t act like a jerk just because you can.  There is a larger lesson for the rest of us: Watch out what you let yourself believe, for your beliefs will shape your attitude, your attitude will shape your behavior, and your behavior will cause a lie to come to pass.

I wonder how many believers in Christ allow a lie to creep into their minds and spiral down this cliff.  Let’s say they allow themselves to think that nobody likes them, and then the spiral begins and before long they are just too difficult to be around.  How many allow a lie to creep into to their thinking like, say… “I don’t think I’m really saved.”

I’ve seen people turn their backs on Jesus because of this one; maybe you have too.

This principle applies to so many thoughts and attitudes that originated with a little lie…  Faith destroyed, marriages destroyed, relationships broken; how often did it all start with a lie?

The New Testament teaches us to hold fast to the truth; to hold fast to our faith in Jesus Christ no matter what, in fact the whole book of Hebrews is written on this theme.

Yet we don’t always listen, for the little lie in the back of our minds seems more attractive, or more real than the reality right in front of our faces.

How tragic is that?  What needless misery…

It might interest you to know that Mr. Big was aware that people feared him, and he didn’t like it.  One day when we were alone and I was arguing with him about something or other, he asked me why I could talk to him “like a man” and everyone else was afraid of him.  I told him the truth, that I did not depend upon him for my job.  He seemed irritated by that, and in a rough tone of voice asked me how that could be.  My reply was that I didn’t depend on him because I believed that Jesus Christ was the source of my living and that if one job didn’t work out, there would be another one for me. Can you guess what Mr. Big (tough guy) said to that?

He said that he wished everyone else saw it that way because all he ever wanted was for them to just talk to him like I did…

Go figure?

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Those Who Mourn

I normally don’t think of a person in mourning as all that blessed- at least not in their time of grief. Yet, if you think about it, someone who cannot grieve is really to be pitied, after all, in order to grieve, you must have loved someone or something. If you’ve never mourned the loss of someone, then, unless you are very young, wouldn’t that mean that you’ve probably never cared enough for anyone to mourn them?

Those who mourn are blessed because they are also those who have loved, who have a capacity to care, who bother to be involved, and now that I think about it, I would say that they are very blessed indeed, whole the one who does not mourn has missed out on something wonderful.

Those who mourn will find comfort if they seek it. They will find it in those who care about them, for after all, they have relationships. They will find great comfort from their relationship with God as well, for He is the God of all comfort.

Yes, they are very much blessed.

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Photo of the Week: May 6, 2021

Monticello, VA
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