4th Sunday in Lent – How to See

1  Samuel 16:1-13 ; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5: 8-14.
John 9:1-41

Jesus taught far and wide, and by all accounts also did amazing healings.  It was a key part of what made him famous in Galilee. While he was traveling with the disciples they saw a man born blind, and asked, “Who committed the sin that caused this?” Jesus answered by saying no one’s sin caused it, but then turned the question around. To Jesus, it was an opportunity to show what God is up to. Let’s see… some spit, some mud, packed onto his eyes. But the last step was for the blind man to do: the God-Sent One sent the blind man to a pool of water named Sent.  He went, and he could see! Of course, this was life-changing news!

People saw this, and brought him to the Jewish leaders for them to see for themselves.  But they knew full well what this meant: someone else had the authority from God that they were claiming.  So they excommunicated him, threw him out of the Jewish community.  But all this guy knows is that he can see, and that could only be done by someone who had the power of God behind him.

Jesus heard about this, and was not going to abandon him in this hour of need. So he got up close and personal once again, seeking him out. And it is here that Jesus lets the formerly-blind outcast in on the same secret he revealed to the outcast woman at the well: that He is the One foretold, the One sent to rescue the people.

People can see, but have no vision. People can see, but refuse to believe it, even with evidence. The closed mind might as well be blind, for all the good seeing does it.

Lord Jesus, giver of all good things, give us eyes to see and ears to hear.  Make what we learn from our senses burn its way into us, and let the Spirit teach us you ways through it. Amen.

A challenge: When Jesus heard what the religious leaders had done to the man born blind, he went out to find him. Have you had occasion to give personal support to one who was wrongly accused?  Is there anyone now in your life that’s in that situation?

Lent Midweek: Sir, We Want To See Jesus

John 12:20-36

If it dies, it bears much fruit

After the whole scene surrounding the raising of Lazarus from the dead, some Greeks arrived in Jerusalem. (They may have been in some sense religiously Jewish, since they went there to worship at the Passover festival.) Perhaps they heard about the Lazarus miracle, or heard about the large crowds. What we know is they sought to contact Jesus, eventually finding the disciple Philip. They asked him, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” Philip went to Andrew, then Philip and Andrew went to Jesus. John doesn’t actually say the Greeks got a private audience with Jesus (they might have), only that the two disciples triggered a strange reaction out of Jesus, in words presumably spoken at least to the Greeks and probably everyone else in the crowd that was following Him around.

Jesus started talking about His impending death, which must happen for the sake of all, and the victory of the purposes of God.

I doubt that this was what these Greeks were expecting to see out of Jesus. The last thing you expect when you go to meet some famous person is for him to tell you that he’s about to die and is about to accomplish great things by doing so. That would strike me as, well, kinda weird.  But Jesus was not speaking to expectations. Jesus was not here to be seen, in the sense of someone visiting a friend, or scheduling an audience with a ruler, or (to use modern terms) to have a photo-op for the gossip magazines, or even to be interviewed by the press. Jesus was here to see life by, like the light of the sun or of a lamp, so you can know what’s in front of you and around you, so you can know where to go.

Sovereign One, may our feet walk by the light of your Son, so that we may see Jesus, and see the world He reconciled to You the way He saw it. Amen.

Bob Longman

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14;
Romans 8:6-11;
John 11:1-46

“This wouldn’t have happened if you’d been here!”

Martha said it. Mary said it. Some of the mourners were likely to have said it. Lazarus had taken ill. Surely if Jesus were there, He would have healed him. After all, He had healed all sorts of strangers — many of them were the strangest of strangers. Now, the brother of two of his most devoted followers gets deathly ill, and what does Jesus do?

He waits.

And waits..

And waits

… until Lazarus dies. Jesus lets him die!

It would seem unseemly to talk about a purpose behind the act of not acting to heal Lazarus. But Jesus Himself raises the issue. He says, “It’s good that I wasn’t there.” Huh?? How could that be?? Jesus had something bigger in mind than just another run-of-the-mill, everyday, amazing sensational miracle healing. It was time to show that His power extended beyond the grave.

But even knowing that, even with so strong a purpose behind it, it still was not a matter of Jesus’ just going there and popping Lazarus out of a tomb. He still had to face a large number of mourners. Lazarus was far from being a loner. His death brought much grief to many, and especially to two of Jesus’ closest followers, Martha and Mary. Jesus had to come face-to-face with their anguish and their blame, one-on-one. And they were right — it was anguish which wouldn’t have happened if He came when He was told about the illness. Jesus could’ve healed Lazarus. There was no arguing about that stone cold fact. The delay had such a mighty price in sorrow that He was moved and troubled, so much that He wept, even though He already knew what He was about to do. There was only one act even He could do to make it worth that price. He had to call Lazarus out of the tomb.

Death is no small thing, even to Jesus. (Think of Him at Gethsemane.) But that just makes victory over death even more essential. Jesus’ victory over Lazarus’ death. Jesus’ victory over His own death. Jesus’ victory over your death.

Lord, I do fear death. I will fear death. Help me to trust you through the fear, so that I might confidently live according to Your will. Amen.

Bob Longman

Hear the above, as an mp3.

Lent Midweek: God Provides

Luke 12:22-33

In reading books by the masters of spiritual discipline, there’s one quality they write about that we of this era find nearly impossible to really grasp. It’s called ‘detachment’. But what does that have to do with modern living? We worry about having more stuff. We fret about getting ourselves enough power so that we can fend off any enemy, or at least cover our backside when needed. What will I eat? What will I wear (and how do I accessorize it)? Where will I live? Will I live?

Jesus asks us to stop pushing long enough to start looking around. “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothes”, Jesus says. He should know; he owned no land, grew no food, wore only the simplest of clothing, and his shelter was provided by people in the area of his ministry. His life was a daily experience of trusting that God would provide whatever material and bodily needs that might arise.

There is a reason behind this ‘detachment’, this independence from the stuff of this world, freedom from worry, and even from fear of losing your life. By detaching from that, you can put all your trust into the hands of the real provider of all that is – God. “Look around”, Jesus is saying. The birds benefit from what God gives, and so do the lilies. You will never get enough power to relieve you of all fear, nor can the mere fact of having goods spare you of the actual biological need to eat or be clothed. But if you trust that God amply provides, then worry and endless striving make no sense. Jesus calls on us to seek after the right thing — the Kingdom. The Father knows about whatever else is really needed, and will see to it that you get it.

Lord, thank you for not abandoning me like so many others have. Now, help me really notice the little ways you make good provision for me and for others. Help me to be true to you and to your kingdom. Amen.

Bob Longman

A challenge: think about the ways that you are part of God’s provision for others. (And if you come up blank, or close to it, then what will you do about it?)

Also, you can hear this, as an mp3.

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Jumping for Joy

Check out the downloadable Lent 4 mp3.

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Luke 15:11-32

The parable (or novella, in this case) of the Lost Son is one of the most familiar stories of the New Testament, even to those with no church teachings in their background. So it’s easy to pass over its many parts. The one that most touches me is the character of the father.

The younger son wants to go off on his own, with the inheritance that would be his on his father’s death. Not an easy thing for a father to do : you work hard to build wealth, hoping to enjoy a long life using it with your children. There’s a bit of a snub in it too : the son has to take it all now, as if he has no intention of coming back. So there’s an element of goodbye to it.

But the father longs to be with his son. He longs to have the relationship restored, to do fun things together, to perhaps even see grandchildren. And he watches the horizon down the road. Day after day. Longing. Hoping. False alarms: no, that wasn’t him this time. His servants must’ve been ready to go many times, with stoles and goodies and stuff to give the son. Yet well before the son finally does arrive, this old man is flying down the road, and the servants are left in the dust. The celebration is well under way when they reach the pair. I’m picturing the father babbling all over the place, overcome, blurting out greetings, family news, orders for the feast, and all those other things that say “Welcome Back”.

Father, thank you for being the kind of father who doesn’t begrudge the losses, but gives a hearty welcome for our return to You. Amen.

Bob Longman

Third Sunday in Lent

3rd Sunday in Lent devotional.
Or, hear it, as an mp3 download.

Exodus: A Warning and a Hope

Isaiah 55:1-9;
Luke 13:1-9;
1 Corinthians 10:1-13

The apostle Paul is not one to mince words. You see, he sees the great events of Hebrew history as signs for what’s happening in his day. More than signs, actually; what was true then was still true as he wrote, just in a new way.

Here, it’s Moses and the escape from Egypt. He knows no one he’s writing to was alive then. He knows many of them aren’t Jews, so their forefathers weren’t party to it. So why is he calling the Exodus a baptism? And why is he saying they all went through it? And why is he writing about spiritual food (likened to the stuff the Israelites called ‘what-is-it?’) and spiritual drink (likened to that which came from the stones)?

Because to Paul, these events gave us a foretaste of the same grace which God would show us in its fullest in Jesus, the Messiah. Something that’s most brought to mind when we share bread and wine, as Jesus did in his last supper.

So why does Paul bring up the underside of what happened in the exodus? The idolatry of the golden calf, the lack of trust they showed at Meribah, the constant grumbling and whining?

Paul says that the ancients wrote those things so that we would know better. Israel’s shining moments were also moments of shame. They thought they could stand proud, until God showed them how low they had gone. Paul’s warning to God’s people of Paul’s own time was the truth about the people of the Exodus. It is as true of us today as it ever was. God will give us a way out of temptation, but we won’t take it if we think ourselves so good that we stand on our own.

Lord, make us end our whining. Feed us your spiritual food and drink to sustain us in our material world, and lead us away from the lies of the tempter, that we may love you as we ought. Amen.

Bob Longman

Lent midweek, Feb 26-28 2013.

John 5:17-47

We see his face portrayed on a magazine cover. The name is spoken, and large numbers of people perk up their ears, all over the world. One of the most web-searched names on the Internet is his. There is no lack of interest in Jesus today, two thousand years after His death.

But they wonder: who is this Jesus? Some called him a prophet, some a healer, some a social reformer, some a teacher. Many people think of Jesus as a good man whose words were twisted by his followers. Others see him as a great leader crushed by authorities. Was Jesus aware of what he was doing, or of what would come from it?

John tells us that Jesus was well aware of who he is. Jesus says he does nothing on his own accord, but only what God, his Father, wills him to do. Jesus says what he does bears witness to who he is. But these deeds are miracles, acts of authority, of compassion, of knowledge beyond that of a mere teacher. And what do they bear witness about? Jesus as the Anointed One, the Son of God. More than a figure to be curious about or to make theories about — a person, indeed, to belong to, to trust, to follow.

Lord, let us bear witness of You as the God you really are, no matter what anyone else says about You. Amen.

———————————–

Luke 13:22-31

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, preaching and teaching. And people were asking him questions. (Jesus was as well-known for his unusual answers as he was for healings and for traveling from town to town.) Someone asked Jesus about whom God would be rescuing. He seems to assume:

  1. (1) that the burden of life was such that only God could bring about any rescue;
  2. (2) that God would take them into the Kingdom of God (described by Jesus elsewhere in his teaching in glowing terms); and
  3. (3) that it was troubling to him that only a few would experience this, and perhaps that the few would not include him.

Jesus replies by telling him about a narrow door into the Kingdom. It acts as a constraint, in that there are many who will try to go through but can’t. Jesus uses the image of the narrow gate in Matthew 7:13. There, it is the gate to life, and the alternative is the wide gate that leads to destruction. The Matthew verse has an immediate context of God’s goodness in the current life, and recognizing that which makes for good in this life and not bad. But the more interesting parallel is that in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says that many who did mighty acts on His behalf won’t enter the Kingdom, because they didn’t do as God wanted them to do. God tells them “I don’t know who you are, where you’re coming from. Go away!” Their lives had no consistency, they lived one way and then another. And that is not the way of the Kingdom.

Jesus then warns that some are last who will be first, and vice-versa. Notice that it’s not a total flip. Each time the gospels say this, it says that ‘many’ or ‘some’ of those who are last will be first. The saying isn’t meant to condemn all those who would be expected to be the first in just because they are first. Jesus is saying that being first or last doesn’t matter. Jesus here already mentioned the presence of Abraham and the prophets, who the listeners would assume would be there. It’s just that whoever bids to come in is called to go through the narrow door of living the life of love that God calls us to live. If you do that, God will recognize you as already being of the Kingdom, already part of the yeast that will make the Kingdom rise in the life we now live.

Bob Longman