Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 3-4; John, chapter 11
Scripture: John 11:1-16 (NRSV) – Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Observations: The thing that I notice in this passage is Jesus’ complete submission to the Father’s will. It’s clear that when the sisters sent their message to Jesus, they expected him to drop everything and come right away. They knew that Jesus loved them, and Lazarus, and they thought that would override everything else. We see that later in the chapter, when both Martha and Mary say to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I don’t think they meant that to sound like they were blaming Jesus, but it’s clear that they expected that his love for them would have prompted him to move more quickly, to get there before it was “too late.”
The disciples also had expectations, even though they are unstated in the passage. When Jesus said they were going back to Judea, they objected: “The Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Because Jesus had said that Lazarus’ illness would not lead to death, the disciples expected Jesus to put their safety first. Why go to Judea if Lazarus was going to be okay? Then, when Jesus told them, “Lazarus is dead,” I’m sure that their minds were spinning. “What? You said he wouldn’t die! Why didn’t we go when we got the news? What were we doing that was so important that we couldn’t have gone to Bethany?” Even the people who had gathered to mourn Lazarus wondered, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
But Jesus’ priorities were – and are – Kingdom priorities. A friend of mine who is also a pastor likes to say, “If the Kingdom of God is advanced by my suffering, God is okay with that.” Jesus obviously had the same view, but even more so: when he reminded the disciples not to fear those who can kill the body but not touch their souls, he was stating a Kingdom principle that the eternal always outweighs the temporal. Jesus says as much when he tells the disciples that God would be glorified through Lazarus’ illness, because of the glory that would come to the Son of God. Jesus did not let the expectations and desires of people – even his closest friends – cause him to lose sight of God’s call, God’s plan, and the priorities of God’s Kingdom.
Applications: God is reminding me that he is always at work – in this world, and in me. As Paul says in Romans 8, God is at work in all things for my good. That doesn’t mean that all things are good, because we live in a fallen, broken world. But God calls us to incarnate the Kingdom of God in this world. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” God’s people are called to form outposts of God’s Kingdom in this world, to be people who bring the Kingdom near. To do that, we have to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. And it also means that I have to temper my expectations of others, and subject those expectations to God’s will as well. While I might expect people to do certain things, or act according to my schedule, God is reminding me that his plans for them are not always what I think they are (or should be).
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me today that I don’t know your whole plan; you reveal to me the part of your plan that I need to know in order to do your will. Help me today to focus on what you have shown me to be your plan; help me to extend your grace to others as they seek to fulfill your plan for them. Help us all to be Kingdom people, bringing the power of your Kingdom into this world, as in heaven. Amen.
Today’s passages: Jeremiah, chapters 1-2; John, chapter 10
Scripture: John 10:11-21 (NRSV) – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” Again the Jews were divided because of these words. Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?” Others were saying, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Observations: Two things stand out to me today. First, when Jesus talks about laying down his life, and the fact that no one takes it from him, I’m reminded that the end result could be seen from either perspective. The people who orchestrated his arrest and crucifixion probably thought that they were taking his life from him. From their perspective, he was a trouble-maker who needed to be dealt with – so they did. The vast majority of people in that society probably believed that the leaders had taken his life from him. Back in John 7, when Jesus went to the festival, the people who were gathered said, “Isn’t this the man that they are trying to kill?” When he was arrested and crucified, they probably thought, “Well, they finally got him.”
But perspective is influenced by what we know, and what we want to believe. They leaders wanted to believe that he was a trouble-maker who deserved to be killed, so they looked for reasons to do it. The people probably worked from a couple of assumptions: first, the no one would willingly die, especially not by crucifixion; second, that the powers and structures of this world were the ultimate authority. When Jesus was crucified, the people would have felt that those assumptions were confirmed – Jesus hadn’t wanted to die, but the power structure finally got him.
The second thing that stands out relates to that; in the final two verses quoted above, the people are divided about Jesus. Those who didn’t want to believe him looked for reasons to discredit him: He has a demon and is out of his mind. Now, there was absolutely no evidence to support either of those beliefs – but because they were looking for reasons, when they didn’t find any, they made them up. Those who were open to belief – or who had already believed – found reasons to support their belief: These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind? In either case, their perspective influenced their understanding. We need to understand the power of perspective to shape beliefs, because perspective will strongly impact people’s willingness, and even ability, to believe.
Applications: The point that I believe God is making with me today is that because people’s perceptions are so powerful in shaping their response to Jesus, we need to work to understand what those perceptions are, and how to respond to them. Ultimately, the only way we have to respond to them is with demonstrable truth – not by argument, but by evidence. Those who supported Jesus said, “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” That was a powerful argument, but it was made stronger because people knew that Jesus had healed the man who was born blind. While we might not have that sort of miracle to point to, every one of us has the miracle of a transformed life to point to as evidence of the power of the gospel. “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”
I believe that God is challenging me to tell that story more – and to encourage others to tell their stories. There will be people who will not accept that evidence, who will continue to disbelieve because they’re too invested in their alternative reality. I can’t control that, and God won’t control that. He’s given us the freedom to believe, or disbelieve. But he has called us to share the good news, and the best evidence we have is the impact Jesus has on our lives.
Prayer: Father, thank you for transforming my life. Help me to be ready to share that evidence in support of Jesus’ message. Help me to recognize the opportunities that you bring to me today to do that, and help me to respond in obedience. I thank you for the work of your Holy Spirit – preparing people’s hearts to hear and respond to you, and directing me and helping me to see the opportunities. May your Kingdom come in greater measure today as people recognize the work of Jesus and respond in belief. Amen.
Today’s passages: Zephaniah, chapters 1-3; John, chapter 9
Scripture: Zephaniah 3:14- (NRSV) – Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away our enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.
Observations: The first thing that catches my attention today is the phrase, “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away our enemies.” When I hear “judgments,” I think of the legal impact of a judgment against someone. In a criminal matter, a judgment means punishment; in a civil matter, a judgment usually requires a payment to be satisfied. In both cases, the promise that the Lord has taken away the judgments against us means that an incredible burden has been lifted from us. This is made even better by the fact that he has turned away our enemies; not only has he taken away the judgments against us, he has turned away those who would seek to harm us. In a time when it seems as though things are getting more difficult for Christians, these promises to Israel should resonate with the Church.
This is confirmed by the fact that twice in these verses the prophet reminds us that The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. God is not sitting off far away, a mildly amused observer of the reality show of this world; he is in our midst. He knows what we are facing, and he is engaged and involved in our lives each day. He is a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over [us] with gladness; he will renew [us] in love; he will exult over [us] with loud singing as on a day of festival. We do not have to fear, because God is on our side. No matter what may come, God is in control; his plans and his purposes will be fulfilled in his people, the Church.
Of course, these promises come after a prophecy of God’s coming judgment: “For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all the heat of my anger; for in the fire of my passion all the earth shall be consumed” (Zephaniah 3:8b). So there will be a purifying process, and that purifying will also impact us. But the key thing to remember is that God is in our midst even as that purifying is taking place. He has not abandoned us; he is working in us, strengthening us for his work, preparing us for eternity in his Kingdom. That’s why the passage begins with this challenge: Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
Applications: God is reminding me of the importance of singing, rejoicing, and exulting because he is in our midst. We are too prone to discouragement when things don’t go the way we think they should; but if we know that God is in our midst, that he has taken away the judgments against us, and that he rejoices over us, we need to rejoice in him! If Paul and Silas could sing praises while chained up in jail, I can rejoice and praise him no matter what is going on in my world – and that’s what God is challenging me to do today.
Prayer: Father, you are so good, and your mercy endures forever. I rejoice today at the knowledge that you have taken away the judgments against me – the judgment of my guilt for my sin, and the negative judgments that the world makes about me. I rejoice in the fact that you are in our midst, and that you come and meet with us when we come to you. Thank you for reminding me each day that you are the God who speaks; help me today to hear your voice and walk in your way. Help me to do your will today. Amen.
Today’s passages: Habakkuk, chapters 1-3; John, chapter 8
Scripture: Haggai 3:17-19 (NRSV) – Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.
Observations: Two things stand out to me from these verses. First, the situation described in the first part of the passage is a total failure of all the usual sources of food: fig trees, vines, olive trees, fields of grain, and flock and herds. Yet the prophet declares that even if all of those things fail, I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. This catches my attention because I notice more and more the fear that seems to grip and control our culture. Governmental leaders do something, or say something, and people immediately begin to fear what will happen. How will this affect the economy? How will this impact our peace and safety? The prophet’s declaration is a bold reminder to us that our trust is not in any of those things – not in economic security, not in political security, not in our own power or reputation. When we remember the Lord – the God of my salvation– we can continue to rejoice, even in the midst of difficult circumstances, because we know that God is in control. Jesus told us that our heavenly Father knows what we need, and if he takes care of the sparrows and the flowers, he will surely care for us.
It also catches my attention because I read an article last week that said that 4 in 10 people who attend evangelical churches are being taught the “prosperity gospel.” While I don’t believe that God takes any pleasure in seeing us go through difficult circumstances, I know that his priority is on our spiritual health and development – and many times material “blessings” are a hindrance to our spiritual growth. Habakkuk declares that he will rejoice in God even when the usual sources of provision dry up – because God is our strength. As Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
The second thing that stands out is the imagery which Habakkuk uses in the last verse: God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights. It is very common driving around northern Michigan to see deer. As I was driving home last night, I saw a doe and a fawn standing in the road ahead of me. I slowed down, and watched as they ran across the road and jumped over some bushes into the woods. As I read this passage this morning, I thought about that – the strength in their legs, the sureness of their feet, and their ability to climb up very steep slopes as though they were nothing. God is our strength, giving us feet that are sure to keep us on his path and protect us from slipping down the slope, giving us the strength to climb the heights of the straight and narrow way that leads to him. No matter what circumstances we face, we can rejoice in the Lord, and exult in the God of our salvation!
Applications: There have been several times over the last year or so that I have been discouraged by circumstances and situations that I have faced. Whether the challenges which we face are personal, or connected to the church, Satan loves to try to discourage us and drag us down. But God has always reminded me of his goodness and faithfulness, and he has reminded me again today. When things are tough, I will rejoice in the Lord; when things are going well, I will remember that every good thing comes from God. In the end, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) I will rejoice in the knowledge of his glory today!
Prayer: Father, I thank you for the reminder of your faithfulness, no matter what the circumstances. Help me not to fall prey to the enemy’s deception, that invites me to see circumstances as a reflection of your favor or displeasure. Help me to remember that although there will be trouble in this world, Jesus has overcome the world – and he has promised to never leave me nor forsake me, but to be with me to the end of the age. May your Kingdom be revealed in greater measure today, as I seek to do your will. Amen.
Today’s passages: 2 Kings, chapter 23; 2 Chronicles, chapter 35; John, chapter 7
Scripture: John 7:32, 45-52 (NRSV) – The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him…Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law – they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”
Observations: I’m intrigued by this passage today. The temple police – who surely would normally have deferred to the religious leaders in theological and biblical matters – refuse to arrest Jesus, because “Never has anyone spoken like this!” In these circumstances, that amounts to the temple police telling the religious leaders that there is no reason to arrest Jesus! They had seen pretenders, trouble makers, and heretics before, and they knew that Jesus didn’t fit into any of those categories. Maybe they thought that the religious leaders had not actually heard Jesus. Maybe they thought if the leaders listened to Jesus, they would understand that Jesus wasn’t like anyone else.
Most people in high positions – the chief priests and Pharisees, in this case – are not accustomed to people refusing to carry out their orders. The temple police had been told to arrest Jesus; they had failed to do it. It wasn’t because they couldn’t find Jesus; it was because they recognized the truth and the power of his teaching. They evidently weren’t thinking about what the response of the leaders would be; they were captured by Jesus’ teaching.
But the religious leaders weren’t giving up so easily; they clung tightly to their position that Jesus was a dangerous pretender who would cause problems for the nation. “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?” Well, actually, yes – although it wasn’t public knowledge at that time. Nicodemus had gone to Jesus (back in John chapter 3), and his response to the authorities – defending Jesus, and reminding the council of Jesus’ right to a hearing before being condemned – demonstrates that he was, at the very least, willing to consider that Jesus actually is the Messiah. But he was quickly shouted down as well.
The critical point is that people who were willing to listen to Jesus without a preconceived idea of who he was and what he was teaching were impacted by his message. Those who had already decided that he was wrong, however, would not consider that they were wrong, no matter what Jesus did or said. That was borne out through the rest of Jesus’ ministry, as they ignored miracle after miracle, truth after truth, in order to push ahead with their agenda to get rid of him.
Applications: God is reminding me that even today, when people are willing to actually listen to what Jesus taught, and consider what he did, his message will impact them. The problem is that too many people are just like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day: they have an agenda, and Jesus doesn’t fit into it, so they reject him out of hand. What we are called to do is to live as Jesus lived, and love people as Jesus loved them, to bear witness to the transforming power of a relationship with Jesus. That’s a big task – because everything that we do and say affects the way the message is received. We need to recognize how important it is for our lives to be consistent with what we proclaim. If we talk about mercy, we need to be merciful. If we talk about forgiveness, we need to forgive. If we talk about God’s love for people, we need to love them, too.
Prayer: Father, it is a bit daunting to think of the importance of modeling the truth of the message of love and forgiveness. All of us have experienced the hurt of seeing people who said one thing and did another; I don’t want to be like that! Help me to demonstrate the transforming power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness; help me to share that message through my words, and through my life. Thank you today for the reminder that when Jesus’ message is proclaimed, it impacts those who are willing to listen and receive it. Help me today to share that message in a way that connects with others. Amen.
Today’s passages: Nahum, chapters 1-3; John, chapter 5
Scripture: John 5:1-9 (NRSV) – After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ”Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
Observations: I love the healing miracles of Jesus, because he seems to never do the same thing twice. At the end of John chapter 4, he heals the son of a royal official without ever seeing the boy; he simply tells the official to go, and his son would live – and that’s exactly what happens. In chapter 9, Jesus will put mud on the eyes of a blind man to heal him. In the other gospels, he touches lepers; a woman touches him; he even touches the tongue of a man who was mute and put his fingers into the man’s ears! Here, in chapter 5, Jesus is back in Jerusalem, and he walks by a pool that had five covered porches around it. I’m not sure what the original purpose of those porches was, but in Jesus’ day they had become places were those who were blind, lame, or paralyzed would lie. They waited there because people believed that, from time to time, an angel would come and stir up the waters of the pool; they believed that when that happened, the first person into the water would be healed. (Many Bible translations include this information in a footnote to verse 3. It seems to be confirmed by the paralyzed man’s statement in verse 7 that he had no one to put him into the pool when the water was stirred.)
When Jesus came along that day and saw this particular man – who had been waiting there, day after day, for thirty-eight years– he asked the man, “Do you want to be made well?” I’ve always wondered about that question. Why would he be sitting there, day after day, if he didn’t want to be made well?
There’s “wanting” to be made well, and then there’s wanting to be made well. Anybody who is sick “wants” to be made well; who likes being sick? But how much did he wantto be made well? He was waiting for a chance to get into the water when it was stirred, but how close was he to the water? In his response to Jesus, he talks about “making his way” when the water was stirred. Was he close enough to get into water right away – or was he back under the cover of the porch, in the shade? The potential for healing was there, but was he doing everything he could to take advantage of it? So Jesus’ question probably meant something like this: “How badly do you want to be made well?”
The man had evidently seen other people be healed. He told Jesus, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” If the people who made it into the pool ahead of him on those other occasions had not been healed, why would he have kept waiting there for the opportunity to get into the pool? In his mind, the pool was his best (maybe only) opportunity, so there he was, day after day, hoping to be healed.
And then he encountered Jesus, and he was!
Applications: As I read this passage today, I thought about how many people in our world are so close to the opportunity for healing and wholeness, and yet they “lie on the porch” because no one is there to “help them into the water.” I’m not talking primarily about physical healing (although God is certainly able to do that); I’m talking about spiritual healing. Jesus makes it clear, time and time again, that our physical health and wholeness pales in comparison to our spiritual life and health. “Why do you fear those who can kill the body but cannot touch your soul?” (see Matthew 10:28). When Jesus talked to this man later, he told him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you” (5:14). While Jesus healed many people, he always made it clear that physical healing is secondary to our spiritual health. In our culture, physical health can easily become an idol to us; we spend so much time, and money, to try to “look good” and “feel good” that it becomes a never-ending pursuit, requiring more and more from us and giving us less and less. In opposition to that, Jesus calls us to make God’s Kingdom our priority: “Seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, shelter, clothing] will be given to you as well.”
God is reminding me today of the people who are waiting to be healed, to become spiritually whole. Many of them want to be healed, but have no one to “help them into the pool.” That’s what Jesus has called us to do!
Prayer: Father, thank you for sending me people to “help me into the pool,” so I could be made whole in you. Show me today how I can help others “into the pool.” Help me to lead others to your presence, to find spiritual life and health and peace. Amen.
Today’s passages: 2 Kings, chapter 21; 2 Chronicles, chapter 33; John, chapter 4
Scripture: John 4:16-26 (NRSV) – Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying , ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Observations: This story of Jesus’ encounter with the “woman at the well” is my favorite passage in all of Scripture. I’ve always loved it because of the moment when Jesus recites her marital history, showing her that he knew everything about her, because in that moment she realized that even though he knew all of her sin, all of her problems, and everything else, he still loved her and cared about her. God wants every one of us to realize that same thing!
But that’s not what I’m reflecting on today. It’s easy when we read familiar passages to just breeze through them and miss a lot of the detail. That’s the reason why I use a different translation of Scripture each year as I do these readings, to help me to really focus on what I’m reading and to see the nuances of the stories. We all have stories. In fact, the Bible is a story – the story of God and his interaction with humanity. Part of the joy of stories is discovering those little details. So today, there are a couple of things that stood out to me as I read this passage. First, there are two times when Jesus uses the phrase, “the hour is coming.” That stands out in part because of the importance of Jesus’ “hour” in the overall structure of John’s gospel. But in this passage, the “hour” that Jesus talks about is not “his” our, but the hour for appropriate worship of the Father. The woman talks about the proper place for worship, but Jesus makes it clear there is no one location to worship God. For people – Jews and Samaritans – who had long argued about whether “real” worship had to be in Jerusalem, this was a startling revelation.
But it’s the second use of “the hour is coming” that really catches my attention, because Jesus says, “and is now here.” The time for “true worship” had come, and that worship was to be “in spirit and in truth.” That kind of worshiper – the kind the Father seeks – worships God in all things, wherever they are, because they recognize God’s presence, his power, his provision, and his protection every day. That doesn’t mean that we get to make up our own rules about worship; to worship God in spirit and in truth means that we acknowledge that God is sovereign – which means that we obey him. He has given us, in his word, instructions relating to worship. To worship him in spirit and in truth doesn’t mean that we ignore those instructions; it means that we don’t allow worship to become a mere ritual, going through the motions without really participating to the depths of our being.
The final thing that catches my attention today is the fact that Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah to this woman. The reason that’s important is because if there were a list of people to whom the Messiah would be likely to be revealed, a Samaritan woman would have been about as far down that list as you can imagine. It was astonishing to his disciples that Jesus was even talking to her when they came back from town (see verse 27); they would never have expected him to reveal himself to her as the Messiah. But God doesn’t limit himself to ways, or people, that we might expect. He’s seeking people who will worship him in spirit and in truth – really worship him, not just go through the motions. Jesus saw something in this woman to let him know that she was seeking to be that kind of worshiper – so he told her that he is the Messiah. And she couldn’t wait to tell others!
Applications: God is reminding me today what it means to worship him in spirit and in truth. It is so easy for us to slip into the mode of evaluating other people and their worship, and to think that our way of worshiping is “right”; God wants us to get our eyes off others, and ourselves, and onto him. When I worship him in spirit and in truth, his Spirit reveals his truth to me, and I can walk in it. I don’t decide whether someone is worthy to hear about Jesus – like many people would have done with the Samaritan woman; I simply share the good news every time God opens the door for me to do so. Often, those doors will be open because I worship him in spirit and in truth; his presence and his peace become evident. Many times, the people that we think are the least likely to respond are the ones who are most ready, because God has prepared their hearts to hear. Worshiping God in spirit and in truth means that we allow him to align our spirits with his, so he can lead us in his truth.
Prayer: Father, I thank you for reminding me today that you don’t choose those that we might think are the “best candidates” – not for salvation, and not for ministry. You choose those who are willing to respond, to worship you in spirit and in truth. Help me today to worship you in spirit and in truth; help me to walk in your ways, that you may draw others to yourself. Help me to do your will today, and to be a person who helps others to come into contact with your kingdom. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 65-66; Psalm 62; John, chapter 3
Scripture: Psalm 62:1-8 (NRSV) – For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken. How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence? Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.
Observations: Twice in these verses the psalmist says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” How often do we do that? It is so hard for us to “wait in silence”; when something happens, we immediately begin to cry out – to each other, and to God. There is no question that God instructs us to cast our cares upon him – but once we’ve done that, we need to “wait in silence” to give him a chance to speak. Too many times, we go to God in prayer and tell him everything that’s on our hearts, and then immediately jump up and go do what we think is best. How can we know what path God will take if we don’t give him the opportunity to speak to us? How can we know what path God wants us to take if we don’t give him the opportunity to speak to us?
Everyone who is a follower of Jesus knows that God has plans for us, has a path that he has established for us. But that path is not always the way that we might think. I certainly never expected God to call me to preach, and once he did, I didn’t think he was calling me to be a pastor. But as I waited, and listened for his direction, he unquestionably led me to that calling, and then to this place. It wasn’t the path I would have chosen; it wasn’t the path that I thought “made sense.” If I had not waited in silence – for quite a while – and listened before acting, I could easily have gone the wrong direction. There is a balance between calling out to God and listening in silence; in my experience, too often we tip the balance far in the favor of calling out. We need to learn to listen.
Not every decision in our lives is as momentous as responding to God’s call to ministry – but every decision is an opportunity for God to be glorified in us. The more times we go off in the direction that we think is best – or the direction that “feels” best – the more likely we are to go the wrong direction. We cannot trust our hearts; “the heart is deceitful above all things; who can know it?” We must trust in the One who created our hearts, who has given us life and welcomed us into his family. In order to do that, we must “wait in silence for God alone.”
Applications: God is reminding me today of how easy it is for me to fall into the trap of making my own decisions, determining what I think is the best path – and how much of a problem that can be. The more I start to trust in myself, the more I weaken my ability to hear God. It requires time waiting in silence – each day, with his Word open before me, listening for the still, small voice of God. When I do that, God will never fail me, never lead me in the wrong direction. Earlier this week, we read in John 1 how John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” When his disciples who were with him heard that, they followed Jesus. In today’s reading in John 3, some of the Baptist’s disciples were still following him– and they were heading in the wrong direction spiritually by criticizing Jesus and his disciples. John set them straight – because he was listening to God. That’s what I need to do!
Prayer: Father, you know me, because you created me. You know that my heart can lead me astray; help me to recognize the difference between what I want and what you desire. As I wait in silence, listening to you, bring my will into alignment with your will. Your Son taught us to pray that you would not lead us into temptation; I know that you never will. You have promised to be with me, and to supply all of my needs out of your glorious riches. Help me to trust in you today, and to walk in your way, that your name may be glorified. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 63-64; Psalm 107; John, chapter 2
Scripture: John 2:1-11 (NRSV) – On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no more wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Observations: I have always been intrigued by this passage, because there are so many layers of meaning and symbolism to it. It also contains a number of major themes that run through John’s gospel – Jesus’ “signs” (miracles), the matter of “his hour,” and the importance of water as a symbol, just to name three. But today as I read this passage, I’m drawn to the attitudes of the servants at the wedding. Jesus’ mother tells them, “Do whatever he tells you.” These were not her servants, nor were they Jesus’ servants – but they were willing to listen to her, and they put themselves at Jesus’ disposal. When Jesus told them to fill the jars with water, “they filled them up to the brim.” And then when Jesus told them to draw some water out of the jars that they had just filled and take it to the chief steward, they did so.
The reason that this is important is because none of those things made sense from a human perspective. Why should these servants listen to Mary, or to Jesus? Why was their obedience in filling the jars so enthusiastic that they filled them to the brim? And why would they dip from jars that they had just filled with water and take it to the chief steward to test? That seems like a recipe for disaster: the wedding has run out of wine, so let’s take him some water to drink! But they did it without hesitation, and Jesus miraculously turned the water into wine.
Applications: God is reminding me today of the importance of faith and obedience, even when it doesn’t “make sense” from a human perspective. I’ve been rereading the story of Abraham this week, and how Abraham believed God and obeyed him even when it didn’t “make sense.” God is not calling us to abandon the mental capacities that he has given us, but he does call us to not make our own intelligence and understanding our god. He tells us to “test the spirits” – by knowing his Word, understanding what he has revealed about himself, and spending time listening to him – but there are times when God will call us to do things that we may not understand. When we know he’s speaking, and he calls us to act, we need to “fill the jars to the brim” and trust that he will bring everything together in his plan.
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me that sometimes you call us to things and places that don’t “make sense” from a human perspective. Thank you for being willing to call me, and use me, for your glory. Help me to know your will, and to faithfully obey, trusting that when I “fill the jars to the brim” you will glorify your name and bring others to faith in you. Help me today to fill my jars to the brim in obedience and trust, that your Kingdom may come and your will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.