Today’s Scripture: John 12:23-28
44 Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. 45 For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. 47 I will not judge those who hear me but don’t obey me, for I have come to save the world and not to judge it. 48 But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken. 49 I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. 50 And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”
We spend a lot of time at Westwood talking about being the presence of Christ. It’s in our Calling Statement. It’s basically every sermon I preach. It is an important part of who we are. Have you ever wondered why?
The answer is in today’s passage. These six verses are the summary of the first 12 chapters of John. The summary is this: when you see Jesus – you see God; Jesus brings light to darkness. As disciples of Jesus, we want to act like Jesus. When we act like Jesus – people will be pointed to God. When we act like Jesus – people will be freed from darkness.
Now, full disclosure: there are many days I’m pretty sure I don’t want the responsibility of pointing people to God and brining light to darkness. And there are other days I just fail at it completely. And yet, I have decided to follow Jesus and that means living as much as I can as Jesus would live.
So how do we as individuals go about being the presence of Christ, pointing people to God, and being a light in the darkness? It all seems a little too much doesn’t it?
Well, I don’t think God wants to put the responsibility of saving the world on our shoulders. Jesus already took care of that. So, our responsibility is to just continue to grow in discipleship. In other words, our commitment each day should be to learning what it means to be a disciple. The more we learn about being a disciple, hopefully the more we will act like a disciple.
So what does that look like? Well, being a disciple does not mean spending hours in Bible study each day. It does not mean memorizing whole chapters of the Bible. It does not mean sitting in prayer for an hour before sunrise. (Although these are not bad things!) Instead, it means walking through your day as Jesus would walk through his day: being kind and compassionate, loving your neighbor, reaching out to those who are hurting, not judging. In other words – brining light to the darkness.
I have a feeling that today you might have an opportunity to be the presence of Christ. Make a decision now to be a light. Make a decision now to point people to God. And then do it again tomorrow. This is what being a disciple is all about.
God help us to act like Jesus today. Help us to be his disciples. May our actions point others to you and Jesus pointed to you and may our lives bring the light of Christ to the dark places of the world.
Today’s Scripture: John 12:23-28
23 Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26 Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! 28 Father, bring glory to your name.”
Jesus talks a lot about his death in the Gospel of John. But he usually says “the time has not yet come.” Here in chapter 12 he’s talking about it again. Only this time he says “Now the time HAS come.” This is about to get real.
If you were a disciple of Jesus at the time you would be forgiven for having second thoughts here. Jesus starts describing how a kernel of wheat must die and be planted in the soil in order for there to be a harvest of new life. He tells the crowd that if you love your life you will lose it – but keep it for eternity. And then he tells them that if they want to serve him and be his disciples, they must follow him. Follow him where? To death.
I’m sure many of his disciples were suddenly looking for the exit off this Jesus ride.
How are we supposed to read this passage today? The chances of us being killed for our faith in Fairfax County Virginia are nil. Is Jesus asking us to move somewhere more dangerous to Christians and declare our loyalty so that we might die? No, of course not.
But he IS asking us to die.
Jesus is asking us to die to ourselves – to die to our egos, our false selves that we mistakenly think are our real selves. Jesus is asking us to follow him to a place where our “lives” are lost but our “life” begins. This feels like death because we identify with that false self – that ego self – so much. And yet, Jesus is saying here that there is something more – more real, more lasting, more true.
Richard Rohr has written that this ego shell of ours is broken by great love or great suffering. It is not something that happens overnight. But this is our work as disciples – to find our old lives planted in the dirt, cracked open, and eventually producing new life.
So if you feel like you’re buried in the dirt today – hang on. Look for new life. And remember that the new is coming.
God we admit that die to our old selves is hard. We know that ego holds on and holds on strong. Help us to continue the work of being disciples – even when it feels like we are getting buried. Remind us that new life comes from broken seeds.
Today’s Scripture: John 12:1-11
12 Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. 2 A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. 3 Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.
4 But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, 5 “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” 6 Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
7 Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
9 When all the people heard of Jesus’ arrival, they flocked to see him and also to see Lazarus, the man Jesus had raised from the dead. 10 Then the leading priests decided to kill Lazarus, too, 11 for it was because of him that many of the people had deserted them and believed in Jesus.
This story of the anointing of Jesus is told in all four Gospels. The details are different, but the core of the story is the same. Something of great value was used to anoint Jesus just before his death. It was an incredible act of worship. And yet, people complained.
As I was preparing to write this devotional, I struggled with whether to focus on the worship or the complaining. To be honest I wanted to blast the complainer – to point out how he totally missed the point as we all do. But I found that putting too much attention on the complaint means I miss the worship. And I think that the worship is the point.
Mary decides here to lay everything out for Jesus. She knows how much the perfume cost. She certainly does not need Judas to remind her! She made an intentional choice to put worship above all other concerns. She held nothing back.
I think we sometimes see worship as a thing to check off our “to-do” list. And even then, only if it’s convenient. On some level it seems unwise to “waste” something expensive (time, energy, and yes, money) on worship. But this is true only if we see worship as a waste of those things. If we take the position of Jesus, we instead see worship as something worthy of our time and our resources. Worship is worth our best. Worship is worth it. Period.
This Sunday we are going to sing a new hymn. It’s called “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death.” I want you to click on the video below and listen to it. In fact, listen to it many times between now and Sunday! Take the time to worship today and everyday. Don’t listen to the complaints – from yourself or others. Worship is worth it.
Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OibIi1rz7mw
God so often we let things get in the way of our worship of you. Help us to make worship a priority and to worship you in spirit and truth. As we listen to this hymn these next few days may the words and music be an offering to you.
Today’s Scripture: John 11:38-44
45 Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus when they saw this happen. 46 But some went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the leading priests and Pharisees called the high council together. “What are we going to do?” they asked each other. “This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. 48 If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation.”
49 Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! 50 You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”
51 He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation. 52 And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world.
53 So from that time on, the Jewish leaders began to plot Jesus’ death.
“What are we going to do?” That’s the question that the high council asked after word started to spread that Jesus had brought Lazarus back from the dead. “What are we going to do?”
You would think there would be rejoicing. You would think they would be calling Jesus in to pledge allegiance to him and put him in charge. You would think they would want to stop what they were doing and follow him.
Instead, they are scared. Fear is the emotion behind the question “What are we going to do?” But what are they scared of? Fortunately, John tells us. They were scared that if they let him continue, everyone would follow him. And if THAT happened, the high council was convinced that the Romans would come and destroy everything. Remember, the Jewish people were living in occupied territory. It was the Romans who ran the show.
So the fear was that they would loose everything: their hold on power, their temple, their way of life. They were comfortable with the status quo (even though they were under the Roman thumb) and wanted it to stay that way. Jesus was a threat to all of that.
When was the last time you asked “What are we going to do?” Maybe it was a while ago. Maybe it was this morning! I wonder if you look back at that time you can see the fear in the question?
It’s OK to be scared. It’s OK to worry about how things might turn out. But what is not OK is to approach the question the way the high council did. They decided the best thing to do was to get rid of the threat. And in so doing they started down the road that would eventually lead to Jesus’ capital punishment. They decided the threat of change was too great.
We can do that too. Not, murder (hopefully). However, we can get so scared of change that we do everything in our power to make sure it does not happen. Fear has a way to making us do that.
There is another way to answer that question of “What are we going to do?” Instead of orchestrating life to stay the same, we can fall back into the arms of Jesus and ask “What do you WANT me to do?” It may be that God has something huge planed for you, but in order to get there you will need to let go of some things – your status quo might need to change. It’s still scary. But who knows what’s waiting on the other side?
God there are so many times we are scared of the future and asking “what are we going to do?” When those times come, help us to pause and seek your face. Help us to rest in the knowledge that you have us in your hands and will be with us no matter what.
Today’s Scripture: John 11:38-44
38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”
40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
What has you in the grave this day? What is the thing that is making a terrible smell in your life? Maybe it’s the anxiety that comes from pandemic life. Maybe it’s having kids stuck at home trying to learn. Maybe it’s living the same day over and over again. Or perhaps there is something else holding you: depression or other mental health issues, addiction or habits that you just can’t break, illness that your fighting and feel like you’re loosing against. We all have things that trap us and hold us and seem to have the last word against us.
But this story about Lazarus is one of hope. It’s a story of action. Jesus does not leave us stuck in the grave (literal or figurative!). Instead, he calls us out by name. “Lazarus, come out!” Do you hear Jesus calling your name today?
It can be easy to assume that once we are stuck in a grave we are never getting out. I know it might feel that way to you today. But this story in the Gospel of John is telling us that God knows where we are and how much we need to be freed. God knows and God cares and God acts. Our job is to watch and listen for our name.
Of course, our release might not be as dramatic or as quick as Lazarus! It may take time and have its ups and downs. But God hears us, sees us, and frees us. Resurrection is coming.
One last thing. Sometimes after we have been freed from the grave we are still wrapped up in the graveclothes. It’s like our minds don’t want to recognize we are free. We still act like we are in the grave when in fact we are out of it! Sometimes we need help to unwrap – and that’s ok. (In fact, you may be called on to help unwrap someone else!) But we should not let the graveclothes keep us in a different kind of grave. What do you need to let go of today in order to be free?
God when we are stuck in a grave help us to hear you calling our name. Help us to hold on and watch for your action. Help us to know that resurrection is coming.
Today’s Scripture: John 11:30-39a
30 Jesus had stayed outside the village, at the place where Martha met him. 31 When the people who were at the house consoling Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus’s grave to weep. So they followed her there. 32 When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.
They told him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Then Jesus wept. 36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”
38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
Jesus’ friend has died. This was not unexpected. In fact, Jesus had been told that Lazarus was sick. But now he has died and Jesus makes his way to see Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. Maybe Jesus could have saved him. And of course, there were those who had to chime in with their opinion. “If he had only gotten here sooner! He healed a blind man, but he couldn’t stop his own friend’s death??” But Jesus knew God was up to something bigger. And yes, sometimes we are so focused on the immediate problem that we miss the bigger thing God might be up to.
As I read this passage, there is a part that really sticks out for me. It’s the part where Jesus saw Mary crying and “a deep anger welled up with him.” Even when he got to the tomb the text tells us “Jesus was still angry”.
Here’s my question. Why the anger? Was he mad at himself for not arriving earlier? Was he angry at the people who felt it necessary to share their “opinions”? No, I think there is something deeper going on here.
Notice that Jesus does not get angry until he sees Mary crying. You see, I think his anger stems from the death of his friend, yes – but also from the pain and suffering that death creates in those left behind. In other words, Jesus is mad about what WE have to go through. Jesus’ emotions are about us. He’s angry because we suffer.
I take some comfort in Jesus’ anger here. It makes me realize that God cares about what we are going through. In a way Jesus’ anger validates our emotions and feelings. But in addition to that validation, we see action. Jesus does not just get angry – he acts. And he’s still acting today. (More about that in tomorrow’s devotion!)
For today, just know that Jesus is aware of what you are going through. He’s angry at injustice. He’s troubled by your troubles. He’s sad about your sadness. You can bring him everything – and he cares.
God we thank you that you are a God who cares about our emotions and the things that we are going through. Help us to bring our all to you in the knowledge that you understand and walk with us through life – no matter how hard it gets.
Today’s Scripture: John 10:1-5; 14-15
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! 2 But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.
In this passage we have another one of Jesus’ “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John. In this case Jesus tells us “I Am the Good Shepherd”.
We don’t have a lot of sheep running around Fairfax County and therefore not a lot of shepherds. However, we can still get a pretty good picture of what Jesus is talking about here. In fact, I’m not sure what modern example we can give that better describes what Jesus is to us than “shepherd”.
If we were to summarize this passage, I think it would be this: Jesus knows us.
On some level being “known” is a scary proposition. I’m not sure I want to be known exactly. There are parts of myself that I’ve worked hard at to keep UN-known! But if we think about it, we all have a desire to be known for who we are. To be loved even though we are known. And to relax into a relationship in which nothing is hidden, nothing is fake, no games are being played. We are just known.
Once we realize that we Jesus knows us and loves us in spite of that, we start to follow his voice more readily and with greater abandon. We can let our guard down because we know that we are going to be safe in his care.
Today you might be needing to hear that despite everything you are going through – Jesus cares for you. You are his and he will not abandon you. Or maybe you need to fully embrace being known by Jesus – even though that scares you a bit. Or perhaps you need to re-tune your ears to the voice of Jesus and commit to following that voice once again.
Here’s the bottom line: Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He’s got you.
God thank you for sending your son to be our shepherd. Help us to open ourselves up to being known by him. Help us to learn to follow his voice and his voice along. Help us to fully comprehend that he is our Good Shepherd.
Today’s Scripture: John 9:35-41
35 When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
37 “You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!”
38 “Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus.
39 Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were standing nearby heard him and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”
41 “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty,” Jesus replied. “But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.
Remember those “Magic Eye” posters that were popular in the 90s? Supposedly if you stared at them long enough you would see some hidden picture in the design. I could never see it. Until one day I was eating at a restaurant that had one of these things are the wall next to my table. As I stared at that thing suddenly the design shifted and there stood the Statue of Liberty! I figured out how to see. It was a bit of a let-down if I’m honest. But at least I knew how the things worked now. And once I knew how to see, I could see things in every Magic Eye poster I came across!
Chapter 9 in John is all about seeing. The main part of the chapter is the story of Jesus healing a blind man on the sabbath. He had been blind from birth and the healing sent the Pharisees into shock and rage. How dare this man heal on a sabbath! Where did he come from? Who does he think he is?
The section of the text we read today is what happened after all the healing. Jesus had to get one last dig in on the Pharisees when he said that he had come to give sight to the blind as well as those who think they can see but are actually blind. Of course, he was talking about spiritual blindness.
I think this might be our problem too. We think we see. We claim we see. But in reality, we’re blind. We think we know how to love. We think we know the rules to follow. We think we can tell if someone else is a disciple or not. We think we welcome everyone without barriers. We think we are acting for justice and mercy and advocating for the marginalized. But Jesus is reminding us here that even though we think we see, our actions betray us.
The Pharisees thought they could see and they acted like it. But we are shown here that the one who truly sees is the one who sees Jesus. Maybe that’s our prayer for today “God, help me to see Jesus.” But there is a second part to that prayer: “Once I see Jesus, help me to act like it.”
God help us to see Jesus. And help us to act like it.
Today’s Scripture: John 8:12
28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I am he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me. 29 And the one who sent me is with me—he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him.” 30 Then many who heard him say these things believed in him.
31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I remember when the software program Photoshop first came out. Yes, I’m older than I let on! What was so amazing about this program was how it could take a picture and turn it into something completely different. We used to be able to trust photographs. Now we assume that there has been some sort of touch up or filter applied. Even our phone cameras give us filter options! In some cases, this enhances the photo. In other cases, the photos end up being completely “fake”.
The truth is having a hard time these days. It seems like everyone is having a hard time believing everyone else. I even saw where some people thought the President was faking his illness! Is there anything these days we can all agree on that is true?
As a result, it may be hard for us to believe the words of Jesus that the truth will set us free. What truth? Whose truth? Free from what?
We need to look one verse back: “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.” In other words, following Jesus’ teaching will lead us to know the truth and THIS is the truth that will set us free.
I think we make the Christian life too hard sometimes. Jesus is saying here that if we follow him as his disciples – if we act as he would act, love as he would love, welcome others as he would welcome, fight for the marginalized as he would fight – then we will know the truth. In other words, the truth is Jesus! And if we begin to act like him, we will be free.
You may see a lot of news today that will get you asking “is that really true?” My advice? Just keep on moving. And instead, ask yourself that old question “What would Jesus do?” Because that’s where the truth is.
God help us to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus. Help us to live fully as his disciples in this world. Remind us how he would act, how he would love, how he would serve and give us the ability to do the same. Point us to the truth that is Jesus.
Today’s Scripture: John 8:12
12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
When we were kids my sister and I used to play a game in our basement. We would turn off the lights and try and walk from one end of the basement to the other in one minute. After one minute the lights would be flipped on and we would see how far we got. Now this was a “storm cellar” type basement so there were no windows. The darkness was really dark. I remember when the lights came on I was never were I thought I was. It was a fun game if you ignore all the bruised shins we got!
Does it feel to you like were all walking around in a dark basement right now? It hit me the other day just how different things are. And yes, in some cases how dark things are. We know the room we are walking in. We are familiar with the placement of the furniture. But we keep bumping into things. We keep waiting for the lights to come back on.
This verse in John 8 is one of the many “I Am” statements Jesus makes in the Gospel of John. It’s interesting how it assumes that we walk in darkness – like it’s a precondition to being human. And maybe it is. But Jesus is telling us here that he’s turning on the light. The darkness does not last.
Jesus is announcing that he is the light. If we want to see, if we want to have direction, If we want to avoid crashing into things – we need to trust in the light. Sometimes the light we get is just enough to take the next step. But the light is there.
Today, look for the light of Jesus as you move through your day. And follow that light. It will scatter the darkness and lead the way.
God thank you for sending the Light to our dark world. Give us the courage to trust in the Light to show us the way to you.