Monthly Archives: April 2017

Ministry and Motives—John 12:1–8

Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, “Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.”

—John 12:1–8, NASB

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Image from clipartfest.com

Which is the most important ministry on this list? (a) Emotional worship; (b) hospitality ministry (serving food to guests); or (c) feeding the poor? My first choice would usually be (c). The church needs to share God’s love with the world. I would normally put (a) at the bottom of the list: Too many people seek only an emotional high from their religion.

However, as John 12:1–8 shows us, maybe the question is not so simple. Why do we do the things we do? Motives matter. Why we do things is usually more important than what we do. If our motives are consistent with the will of God and are pure, even if our efforts are headed in the wrong direction, we can be guided onto the correct path. If our motives are selfish and impure, even good efforts can fall astray.

In John 12:1–8, we see a contrast of motives. Mary and Martha were two devoted followers of Jesus. They were sisters with very different personalities. I have written previously about how they reflected the “two sides of discipleship.” Mary was a worshipper, one who preferred to spend time at Jesus’ feet, hearing His teaching and worshipping Him. Martha was a “doer,” always eager to serve (and perhaps a little too anxious about it). Luke 10:38–42 shares that story.

Luke’s story occurred earlier in Jesus’ ministry. Now, just a short time before Jesus’ crucifixion (perhaps little more than a day or two before He would enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday), He had dinner with Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. It must have been a big celebration, since Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the grave.

Martha celebrated as she knew best: Let’s have a party with lots of food! We will have a banquet to celebrate Lazarus’ return from the dead. I can imagine her returning to the table repeatedly, bringing more food for Jesus, Lazarus, and the rest of their guests (including the 12 apostles).

In the midst of the celebration, Mary brought something different. Martha probably hoped Mary would bring some roasted lamb or bread, but instead, she brought a pound of expensive perfume and started wiping it all over Jesus’ feet. We can only wonder why she chose to make such an extravagant spectacle. A pound of aromatic oil, worth one year’s wages for a common laborer, drenched Jesus’ feet.

Mary was motivated by gratitude. Jesus had raised her brother from the grave. More than that, she knew Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. The other Gospels point out that she had a reputation as a sinner (see, e.g., Matthew 26:6-13). Others would remind Mary about her past, but she knew that Jesus offered her a future where her previous sins did not matter.

Mary felt that only her best would be appropriate for Jesus. She was willing to make an extravagant sacrifice to show her love and gratitude to Him. What about us? Do we give Jesus our best? Are we willing to surrender our most treasured possessions for His glory? Are we willing to surrender our reputation or popularity for His sake?

If Mary was motivated by gratitude, Judas Iscariot had different motives. His logic sounded reasonable. After all, a year’s wages could feed a lot of hungry people. Why pour all of this oil on one guy’s feet when it could be used to gather food for countless widows, orphans, and handicapped persons?

Yet, Judas’ motives were in the wrong place. Judas was motivated by money. Perhaps the other disciples saw his financial expertise early in the ministry and persuaded Jesus to make him the treasurer of their group. Unfortunately, that was misplaced trust. Judas would pocket a few denarii at times for his own purposes. Even now, he was not really concerned about the poor. He wanted to make himself look good to Jesus, and was disappointed that he missed an opportunity to profit from one of his good-sounding ideas.

This would be a turning point in the lives of Judas Iscariot and Jesus. After Jesus corrected him, Judas decided to betray Jesus. (See Matthew 26:14.) After three years of friendship and discipleship, Judas would sell Jesus out. What about us? Do we try to promote our own agendas at Jesus’ expense? Will we put things, projects, or ideas ahead of Him? Even good ideas, project, ministries, and activities can become dangerous when we place them ahead of worshipping Jesus.

Not long thereafter (maybe about one week later), Jesus would meet with His disciples for a final meal together. As Mary had washed Jesus’ feet with her perfume and tears, and dried them with her hair, Jesus would wash the disciples’ feet with water and dry them with a towel that He wore around His waist. He would describe it as an illustration of how we serve one another, thereby tying Mary’s worship with every other ministry we can do in His name. Shortly thereafter, Judas would leave the meal in pursuit of 30 silver pieces. The man who verbalized a scheme to feed the poor would commit suicide, and his money would go to help the poor by providing a burial place for them.

Motives matter. For Judas Iscariot, wrong motives led him on the path to the grave.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking Beyond the Hilltop—John 14:1–7

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

John 14:1–7, NASB

For the last few weeks, this blog focused on Lenten themes. Whereas Lent is a time for reflection and repentance, Easter is a season of celebration. Having recognized our need for a Savior, we celebrate the fact that Jesus came to save us and overcame sin, Satan, and the power of death. After several hours at church on Easter Sunday morning, my wife and I visited the cemetery where my father and his parents are buried. It is not only an opportunity to connect with my past, but also to remind myself of the hope that we may be reunited someday. Easter reminds us that the grave is not the end of our existence, but a transition to an everlasting existence, either in heaven or hell.

We tend to lose sight of this in our prosperous American culture. Many view Christianity as a path to self-actualization or self-fulfillment. Even many who reject the prosperity gospel, positive confession movement, or positive thinking philosophy will quickly define their faith by how it makes them feel, or how it makes this life seem easier or more pleasant. This would probably have sounded odd to Jesus’ first disciples, many of whom suffered intense persecution. For the apostles, a “personal relationship with Jesus” led to persecution, prosecution, and (for most of them) execution.

We need to get back to reading Jesus’ promises and the rest of Scripture with an eye on the Bible’s historical context. John 14–17 is a popular and powerful passage of Scripture. These four chapters contain some of the great gems of Jesus’ teaching: His unity with His Father; the promise of the Holy Spirit; the parable that He is the vine and we are His branches; the new command to love one another; the promise that disciples can pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, and God will answer; the high priestly prayer; etc.

What many of us forget is that this extensive teaching took place in a very short time period. Jesus had just washed the disciples’ feet and eaten the Last Supper with them. Judas Iscariot was in the process of betraying Him to the high priests. Jesus had warned Peter that he would deny Him three times. And all the while, Jesus mentally counted down the minutes until Judas’ return, knowing the fate that awaited Him.

It was in this context that Jesus told His disciples to “believe also in Me.” Some time earlier (perhaps near the beginning of His ministry), Jesus had said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 14:20). Now, as He awaited death, Jesus promised His disciples a dwelling place. Peter had earlier said that he would follow Jesus even unto death; now, Jesus assured them that they would remain with Him in His Father’s house.

The point is this: Jesus’ promises are most completely fulfilled not in this world, but in heaven. Yes, we receive a foretaste of those blessings now, but our eyes need to grab the bigger picture.

When I was in seminary, I would minister once per month with a group from my church, conducting services at a nearby nursing home. We would sing hymns selected by the residents during the song service. Many of their selections focused on the afterlife and heaven. We sang songs like “Mansion Over the Hilltop” and “Sweet Bye-and-Bye” almost every time. The songs reflected their longings and hopes. Every month, we would pray for the family of a resident who had been present the previous month, but had passed away since then. They knew they could not cling to this world. They realized that their best life is not now, but was just over the hilltop.

We tend to seek our best life now, but Jesus offers us a better life later. His promises are meant to empower us to serve Him today, but the greatest rewards come later. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). May all of us who call on the name of the Lord gain His perspective, rather than trying to force Him to yield to ours.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Christian’s True Identity

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:2–5, ESV, emphasis added).

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Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. He could assume the lowliest servant’s role, because He knew His true identity.

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a one-day retreat organized by one of the ministry teams at my church. Throughout the day, we reflected upon and discussed several questions about our identity as Christians. “How am I known in heaven? Who do I say I am? Who does God say I am?”

Such questions about identity guide our lives. A person with a distorted, diminished, or deficient understanding of who they are will act on that sense of self-identity. A person who views himself or herself as a “loser” or a victim will expect to fail. (Sadly, many people make the opposite mistake; with a delusional, inflated self-image, they may try to be something they are not and fail at that.)

As Christians observe Holy Week, we note that Jesus had a clear awareness of His identity, which was necessary for Him to complete His mission of redemption. John notes that, as Jesus prepared to eat the Last Supper with His disciples, He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God. He knew who He was. He knew He was operating from a place of victory: indeed, even a place of omnipotence.

He had lived His entire life with this keen awareness that He was the Son of God and that He had been sent from heaven. Luke 2:41–51 tells the story of Jesus, when He was 12 years old. After celebrating the Passover feast in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary started the journey home, only to realize later that Jesus was not with them. Finally, they found Him in the temple, discussing theology with the pre-eminent rabbis of their day. Mary reprimanded Him for causing them to worry. Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 12:49). Approximately 13 years after angels told Mary and Joseph that they would raise the Son of God, they seemed to forget. However, Jesus remembered Who He was, Who His Father is, and what His purpose would be.

Without knowing His true identity, Jesus probably would have been happy to open a carpentry shop and build stuff for the people of Nazareth until He was old and gray. However, He knew He was sent for something more significant. Because He knew Who He was, He could accept the most mundane, demeaning task of a household servant and wash the disciples’ feet. Knowing that He was the Son of God, for the joy set before Him, He could endure the cross, despise its shame, and obtain eternal life for all who would follow Him.

What about us? Do we truly know our true identity as Christians? Perhaps most Christians have a false spiritual self-image. After church today, a few men from our church’s drug and alcohol recovery program addressed the congregation during the post-worship coffee hour. At one point, one of the men said, “Well, I’m no saint, but….” A member of the congregation responded that none of us are. Scripture says they were both wrong.

The Bible says that we are saints. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul addresses his letter to “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” It is true that the Corinthians Christians were imperfect; much of the letter corrected them for their shortcomings. However, he still called them saints along with all those who call upon the name of Jesus. As Christians:

  • We are saints.
  • We are holy and blameless in God’s sight (see Ephesians 1:4).
  • We are children of God, co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17): In other words, we are Jesus’ little brothers and little sisters, loved by God the Father.
  • We are alive in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:4–5).

The list goes on, much longer than I can include in a single blog post. We once were sinners—that was our identity before we came to know Jesus—but that is no longer our true identity. Even though we struggle with sin,  it is no longer how God sees us. He does not define us by our sins, our failures, our defeats, our mistakes, or the mistakes of our parents. He defines us as His children, saints who are blameless because we are alive in Christ.

Let us each claim our true identity in Christ, believe it, and live by it. This is a major element of being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2). It is e a lifelong journey. I expect to devote many hours of prayer, Bible study and reflection to learning more about my new identity in Christ. A one-day retreat is a great place to start, but habitually embracing one’s identity in Christ takes a lifetime.

As we observe Holy Week, I will remember that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). I have been crucified with Christ, so that I may live in the power of His resurrection (see Romans 6:6–11). This is the privilege and identity of all true saints who call upon the name of Jesus.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Why We Seek Jesus—John 6:26–27

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

John 6:26–27, ESV

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“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes,” by Lambert Lombard (1505/06–1566)

Only two miracles are mentioned in all four Gospels. Jesus’ is one of them. The other is the feeding of the multitude with five loaves and two fish. The fact that these two miracles share that distinction shows that they are both very significant. In John’s Gospel, the miraculous multiplication of a meal precedes Jesus’ in-depth teaching the following day about the bread of life.

Jesus had spent an entire day teaching the multitude. After a long day in the wilderness, the crowd was hungry, and Jesus did not want to send them home like that. Having only five loaves of bread and two fishes available, He multiplied the food to feed the entire crowd, leaving more leftovers than they began with. Then, He dismissed the crowd, sent the disciples off by boat to the other side of the lake, spent several hours in prayer, and walked on the water to catch up with His disciples.

The next day, the crowd searched for Jesus. They eventually found Him on the other side of the lake, and asked Him how got there. This led to Jesus’ response, which we see in the verses above.

They asked him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” They had seen the disciples leave in the boat without Him. How could He get to the other side of the lake so quickly without a boat? Jesus did not directly answer their question. He knew they were only mildly curious about that. He went straight to what they really wanted to know. Jesus knew why they were really there.

Throughout His ministry, many people sought Jesus because He performed miraculous signs. It must have been amazing when Jesus came to town. The sick would be healed. The lame would stand up and walk. People who had been blind for years would suddenly be able to see. Then, as now, people would be impressed with showmanship, drama, and extravagance. Sudden, dramatic, and unusual displays of indescribable power will always draw a curious audience.

Jesus performed signs and wonders to display God’s love, not to entertain. He often criticized those who came to Him seeking miraculous signs. On at least two occasions, He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:4; cf. Matthew 12:39).

At least the present did not seem as interested in the miracle itself. They may have noticed that He used such a small amount of food to feed them. They might have been impressed if Jesus told them how He crossed the lake overnight (by suspending the laws of physics so that He could walk across the lake during a violent storm). But apparently, they were more interested in the fact that Jesus actually fed them. Perhaps people thought, “He did not actually have to feed us. He only had one meal. Isn’t it wonderful that He cared enough to share a meal with us?”

Jesus thought this was a step in the right direction, but He urged them to move to the next level in their pursuit of Him. It was great that they were not seeking signs and wonders, and were grateful to Him for meeting their earthly needs. However, all of this merely points to His desire to meet their eternal spiritual needs.

Even today, many ministries settle for second best. Some “healing ministries” make dramatic healing the center of their mission. They are satisfied only if people are instantaneously healed of physical ailments or delivered from life-controlling addictions. It must be dramatic and exciting: something that will work on television. Some ministries do not want God to begin to gradually remove an illness, or to guide an addict to a recovery ministry. It has to be instantaneous, so that the crowd can be impressed with how God is working in the ministry.

Others emphasize that God meets our worldly needs. Some claim that Jesus died so that we can enjoy material prosperity. Some churches and ministries preach about how we can be free from depression, discouragement, and despair, or how Jesus can give us purpose and meaning in life. While all of these have some truth—Jesus will answer our prayers for bless our finances, or to give us joy and peace—there is something more that He wants us to seek.

“Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” We want earthly blessings. Jesus offers us eternal blessings. We want daily bread to fill our bellies. Jesus offers us that, but He also offers us the bread of heaven to nourish our souls and the living water of His Holy Spirit to well up to eternal life.

Some seek miracles; others seek Jesus because He meets a worldly need. He rejoices when we seek Him because He offers life. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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