A Clouded Brilliance


A Clouded Brilliance

John 12:20-36

Some Greeks Wish to See Jesus

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Jesus Speaks about His Death

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Christ the Power and Wisdom of God

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”1

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

The greatest wisdom of God looks like foolishness to those of us with worldly eyes.

Life coming from death is a paradox – not logical, and more importantly not convenient. There must be an easier way.

The greatest glory of God came from His love. It was not His wrath and judgment that show His true power. It is not even His power of creation. God’s ultimate glory is displayed when He became human and allowed Himself to be killed on a cross, all to show us how much He loved us. It is a kind of brilliance that can only be seen in the darkness. It is a love that can get lost in the light, but nothing shines brighter in the clouds of suffering.

There is a cross and a glory prepared for us as well. It is not something to be feared. We are made to embrace it.

Where do you most clearly see the love of God in the stories around the death of Jesus?

What part of those stories do you most identify with yourself?

How can you shine for Jesus today in your own cloudy world?

  1. (Cp Isa 29:14)

Tough Decisions


Tough Decisions

Philippians 1:21-30

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. “

Suffering is only temporary, but not in the way we might hope.

I wonder why Jesus died so quickly on the cross. Two thieves may have hung there longer than He. Don’t get me wrong, He did not deserve any of it. Yet for those who claim He took our punishment upon Himself, I wonder if our own crucifixion would have been as short. Why does Jesus give a loud shout and die when most die slowly of suffocation? I don’t know.

One of my professors, Robert Tuttle once told me that the suffering of Christ did not begin on the cross, it began in the manger. If he was right, than Jesus really did have one of the longest punishments – 33 years worth! What all would that include then?

  1. Being born helpless and vulnerable.

  2. Being hunted

  3. Being misunderstood by his own family

  4. Being tempted by the devil himself

…and that is all before he actually starts any of his ministry. It also does not count much of the first 33 years of His life for which we have very little information on.

It was fairly downhill after that. Doubts, questioning, betrayals… people always around trying to use Him for their own agendas. Some of those were the ones He called friends. Most of them called themselves leaders and upstanding citizens. A few called themselves revolutionaries. Jesus called Himself the Son of Man). Those who knew Him best called Him the Son of God and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Paul called Him Christ, which means messiah or “anointed one”. Somehow knowing the suffering of Jesus inspired Paul to carry on despite his own suffering. As far as starting new movements went, Paul was not terribly successful in his own lifetime. He was kicked out of more towns than he had friends, and even the places he was able to establish Christian communities were often corrupted by false teachers who followed after him. It was then and continues to be an act of God that the church perseveres.

In all this Paul wonders, would it be better to die and be with Jesus than to continue suffering through the day to day pains of trying to be a witness for God to a world that wants nothing to do with Him? That is a question we all have to answer for ourselves.

Paul found his answer in the same way Jesus found His own. He loved God, and he also loved all those around them. Well, he may have struggled to love all of those around him, but he certainly loved some of them. He knew that death might bring him some relief and maybe even some joy. But he also knew that those left here on earth would suffer without him. Even if he could not end or even ease their suffering, there was something powerful and loving about being willing to suffer with them. There is a word for that. It is called compassion(which literally means to suffer with).

What tough decisions do you face today?

What role does suffering play in these decisions?

What choice most reflects the compassion of Jesus?

Wearing God’s Commandments


Wearing God’s commandments

Deuteronomy 11:18–28 (NRSV)

18 You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

22 If you will diligently observe this entire commandment that I am commanding you, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, 23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and mightier than yourselves. 24 Every place on which you set foot shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the Western Sea. 25 No one will be able to stand against you; the LORD your God will put the fear and dread of you on all the land on which you set foot, as he promised you.

26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.

I had a friend several years ago who refused to wear a cross. He was a believer and follower of Jesus and now works as a missionary overseas, but he was convinced at the time that if you had to wear something to show you were a Christian, you probably were not living a Christian life the way you ought to. While it may seem a little odd to think about having the Ten Commandments hanging on your forehead and written on your hands, think about how many places we put crosses or other symbols of our faith. Our clothes, our jewelry, our cars… we even erect huge signs on the side of the road with messages about our faith. We may have gone a bit further than the Old Testament Law asked of the Jew.

I think Christians do that more, partially because we have a less complicated message. Jesus told us that the Old Testament Law could be summed up in only two commandments: Loving God, and Loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Most of us, bypass the whole commandment thing altogether and just use a cross with an entirely different message. That message, if not articulated well, can often sound like: “Join us or go to hell.”

The other way it can be misused is simply as a symbol of love. Honestly, between the two choices, I would rather make the mistake on the side of love rather than partisan spirituality. It is still not what Jesus taught though.

Both sets of commands (Old Testament and New Testament) begin with faithfulness and love toward God. Love of others is an important and integral part of following Jesus, but if you have to trade your relationship with God in order to love others, it probably is not real love.

The first message of the cross is that God so loved the world. The second part, which stands as our first example in response to God, is that Jesus so loved God that He came to earth willingly and went to the cross willingly. Jesus died in obedience to the will of the Father and Jesus died for love of us because the Father loved us. Philosophically, this gets really messy because Jesus is God and part of the Trinity, and because God is not subject to time the same way we are… but bear with me for just a moment. The human part of Jesus loved us because God asked Him to love us, and since Jesus loved God, the Father, Jesus wanted to love the things (and people) that the Father loved. It is here that we can truly see that loving others begins as a fulfillment of faithfully loving God.

But it doesn’t end there. I believe that love for one another may begin out of obligation, but as time passes, we find other unique reasons to love people. Jesus did not go through life telling people He only put up with them because God told Him to. No, He found unique reasons to love those around Him… and so should we.

The cross can still stand as our symbol of faith, one bar reminding us to look up and love God and the other reminding us to look alongside us and love our neighbors. It is God’s mercy that allows us to enter in to this relationship and His daily grace that helps us do it… and maybe we too need that daily reminder of who we are called to be hanging off our forehead, before our eyes, and written on our own hands.

Where do you see reminders of God’s call on your life today?