Sapphire Sky

May 26, 2015

Greater than Death

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 10:46 pm

Jerusalem Tomb of the Garden

It is a subject that no one wants to talk about, yet it is the one thing that is inevitable for all of us. It is the one constant that unifies every human on earth.

We all will die.

Every culture has its customs and rituals for dealing with death. All of these rituals are ways to show respect for the departed and to comfort the loved ones.

In the ancient Jewish culture, the funeral would last for seven days, with the peak on the fourth day, or “high day” [1] . Friends and neighbors would come to gather around the grieving family and comfort them with loud wailing. The most dedicated friends would help prepare the body for burial by wrapping the body in linen strips and covering it with spices and perfumes. There was no embalming so the body was buried immediately.

The tomb was usually a cave which was built to hold several bodies. After the flesh had fully decomposed, a family member would come in and remove the bones. The entrance to the tomb was covered with a stone in order to keep out thieves and predators, and to protect people from the smell of the decaying body.

At some time during his ministry in Judea (October-December), Jesus had visited Mary and Martha in the small village of Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). He had become very close to the sisters and their brother, Lazarus. After the Feast of Dedication in December, Jesus had crossed the Jordan into Perea, but the sisters were still able to stay in touch with him.

It was now later in the Spring, probably early March, when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus. Lazarus was gravely ill, and they hurriedly dispatch a messenger with the news, “your friend is sick”.

Jesus received the news and announced that this would not end in death. Rather, this event was for the glory of God. Now that he received the news about a close friend who needed him, Jesus waits in Perea for two more days. 

Lazarus had already died by the time the messenger reached Jesus. The point is re-emphasized — He loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, yet he waits for two more days. There is something greater than restoring Lazarus; there is something greater than comforting the sisters. It is God’s glory.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem had already announced that they wanted to kill Jesus, and Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem. When Jesus announced his return to Judea, his disciples were concerned for his safety (and their own). Yet Jesus was clear on his intentions: Lazarus was dead and he was going to go raise him.

Jesus arrived in Bethany on the fourth day, the “High Day” of mourning. Lazarus had been buried for four days and a large crowd from Jerusalem had come to console Mary and Martha. Martha met Jesus outside the town and tells him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yet even still, Martha trusts in Jesus. She is prepared that whatever He asks of God, God will give to Him.

“Your brother will rise again”, Jesus tells her. Martha knew about the resurrection of believers, but she still did not understand. Jesus tells her, “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever who believes in me, though he is dying, yet he will live.”

Jesus is not just able to restore life. He IS life. Jesus uses the name of God (“I AM”) and declares that he is God and that he is life.

Do you believe this, Martha? Her hope was not on how she felt, it was that she believed in the giver of life.

The next meeting, with Mary, brings Jesus to tears. He will soon bear the weight of the entire world on the cross, yet for now he must bear the grief and heartache of this small town as they stand at the tomb of Lazarus.

Martha objected to Jesus’ command to roll away the stone covering of Lazarus tomb. It had been four days, and the stench would be unbearable. Yet she obeys when Jesus mildly rebukes her and reminds her of the glory of God.

With the stone rolled away, Jesus thanks the Father. The Father has heard his prayer, as he always does, and there will be no doubt that this is from God. Jesus then shouted in his top voice, “LAZARUS, COME OUT!”

I cannot even picture the astonished crowd as Lazarus staggers out of the tomb, still in his linen wrappings. Jesus commands the people to unbind him.

“It is a peculiar thing, you cannot get any instruction in the Bible as to how to conduct a funeral, for Jesus broke up every funeral He ever attended by raising the dead.” – D.L. Moody

It is not surprising that many believed in Jesus that day. Nothing had ever happened like this [8].

But back in Jerusalem, the religious leaders hastily convened a meeting of the Great Sanhedrin. In their minds, this miracle had sparked a national crisis. If more people believe in him, they might get in trouble with Rome.

Therefore, they concluded that they need to contain this belief in Jesus at all costs.

They need to kill him.

It is only a few short weeks before the final Passover, where Jesus will come to Jerusalem and die for the world. Now, everyone is talking about Jesus and his fame is going across the entire country. This miracle has also steeled the resolve of the Jewish leaders. They now are actively looking to kill him.

Jesus heads north to the small town of Ephraim, where he will await the time for one final trip to Jerusalem.

 

Remember!

  • Jesus breaks everyone’s preconceived notions on how he should behave. He delays when they expect him to hurry, he cries with those grieving, and then he raises the dead! Never underestimate the Lord Jesus Christ!
  • If you have not believed in Him, do not let any more time go by. He is the resurrection. He is the life. If you believe in him, you will live again!
  • Don’t be hardened by avoiding the truth. The Jewish leaders never doubted the miracle, but they loved their sin more than they loved what they knew was the truth!
  • Lean on the truth when you are hurting. Jesus reminded Martha of what she believed.

 

Previous post: My Sheep Hear my Voice

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May 17, 2015

My Sheep Hear My Voice

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 1:36 am

sunset-7416_1280

Almost three months have passed since Jesus was last in Jerusalem. Since then, Jesus had sent out seventy to preach the gospel, visited the sisters Mary and Martha, and taught many people throughout Judea (Luke 10:1-13:21).

It was now winter (John 10:22) as Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication.

The Feast of Dedication, known today as “Hanukkah” takes place in December. It commemorates the time when, in 165 B.C., the faithful Jews were able to rededicate the temple after it had been polluted by the Syrian oppressors.

It is during this time that Jesus is accosted by the Jews. They literally closed in on Jesus demanding that he tell them once and for all: Is he the Messiah?

Jesus had already told them several times, sometimes indirectly (e.g. Luke 4:16-21) and sometimes directly (e.g. John 8:58-59). The Jews had already tried to kill him on many occasions after speaking these words.

The problem was not that they needed more information. They already knew the answer but had decided not to believe.

They did not believe because they were not his sheep. Jesus returned to the pastoral analogy to tell about his true sheep. He has a close, intimate relationship with his own sheep. They hear his voice and they follow him. He knows them.

But at this time, when confronted by people who refused to believe him, Jesus gave some of the most reassuring words to his own sheep:

He gives them eternal life. They will never perish.

They are in his hands, and in the hands of The Father. Nothing will ever take them away from him.

Jesus repeated his oneness with the Father. The people wanted to kill him for daring to speak it, because it was the utmost blasphemy to say that he was God.

Unless he actually was God!

Jesus appealed to the Old Testament scriptures that they all revered. Psalm 82 refers to wicked men as “gods” when they represent God on earth. How much more is it appropriate to say this to one who was actually sent by God!

Furthermore, Jesus’ words already said who he was (see John 5 and John 8). But if they had any reason to doubt his words, his actions showed he was God (see John 5, John 6, and John 9).

The chapter ends with a group of people who do believe. Jesus returned across the Jordan River (to Perea), where people remembered John the Baptist, and that he had announced Jesus as the Messiah. John 10 concludes with saying that many believed in him there.

Even after he was dead, John’s ministry continued to flourish.

 

Remember! 

  • There are many people who refuse to believe. They don’t need a better argument, they need to come to God.
  • We are promised a close relationship with Jesus Christ and we are promised eternal life. There is NOTHING that will take us away from him! See also Romans 8:35-39.
  • We may never know all of the results when we teach God’s word. John the Baptist never knew how his words would be used long after his death.

 

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May 9, 2015

The Good Shepherd

Filed under: encouragement, theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 12:49 am

flock-of-sheep-49666_1280

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

 

The Lord is my shepherd.

How often do we forget that God will guide us, care for us, and protect us?

Jesus Christ takes up the same analogy in his last public sermon. In John 10, he makes two specific statements about himself, showing that he is God, and showing his care for us as sheep.

“I am the door”. Those who enter by Him will be saved and will find safety and satisfaction.

“I am the good shepherd”. He will care for us, to the point that he will lay down his life for us.

The previous chapter (John 9), shows Jesus demonstrating that he is the Messiah by healing a blind man. This stirred up a controversy because he healed the man on the Sabbath. He had healed the blind man, but how could the Messiah break the Sabbath traditions? Jesus used the man’s blindness as an analogy for spiritual blindness. The blind man now believed Jesus and could see. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were blinded by their unbelief.

The scene does not change between John 9 and John 10. Now, in John 10, Jesus points out these same Pharisees who refused to believe. They are not real shepherds of the people, but are instead thieves and robbers, who do not care for the flock.

Jesus then delivers his final public sermon. He recounts three aspects of the life of a shepherd.

 

Gathering the sheep

First, the shepherd gathers his own sheep from the sheep pen (sheepfold, John 10:1-6). The sheep pen contains several flocks and is guarded by the gatekeeper. The shepherd calls out his own sheep from the multitude, calling them by name. The sheep hear his voice and he leads them out.

The contrast is with the thieves and robbers. They cannot enter through the door and the sheep do not know them.

Just like the shepherd, Jesus will call his disciples out from Israel. He knows each of his own by name and they will know his voice. They will not follow the false leaders.

 

Sheltering the sheep in the pasture 

Secondly, the shepherd brings the sheep to pasture and guards the doorway to the field shelter (John 10:7-10). The small enclosure at the pastures allows the sheep both protection and shelter from the elements. As the door, the shepherd both admits his own sheep and keeps out predators.

Jesus uses the ancient name of God when he states, “I AM the door of the sheep”. This is the third statement in John’s gospel account where Jesus uses the Old Testament name of God to show who he is (see the complete list here).

 

Risking his life to protect the sheep

Finally, the shepherd personally puts his own life on the line against dangers in order to protect the sheep (John 10:11-15). It was common in that day for a lion, a bear, or a wolf to attack the flock and attempt to kill any shepherd who may defend the sheep (see 1 Samuel 17:34-35). A hired hand would quickly leave this place of danger, but the shepherd was committed to the sheep, defending them against all possible dangers.

Jesus again uses the ancient name of God when he states (for the fourth time in John’s gospel account), “I AM the good shepherd”. The word for “good” is not just morally right, but also shows excellence and beauty. He is the greatest shepherd.

He also has other sheep outside of this fold (John 10:16). He will gather them together into one flock. Both the Jews and the Gentiles will be united together in the Messiah’s kingdom.

Jesus also promises, as the Good Shepherd, to lay down his life and to take it up again (John 10:17-18). He says four times in this passage that he will lay down his life, and two times that he will take it up again.

In less than 6 months, Jesus will be arrested and killed as a common criminal. Three days later, he will rise again. Don’t miss the point — this is not coming as a surprise! Jesus Christ will die and rise again by his own will.

 

Remember!

  • Jesus is the Door! He is the way to shelter and protection when you need him. You can go in and out from his shelter and find satisfaction.
  • Jesus is your Good Shepherd! He is the true leader who watches over you and who gave his life for you.
  • Nothing comes as a surprise for Jesus! Even his own death was by his own will.

 

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May 3, 2015

Are you blind?

Filed under: theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 2:42 pm

light-bulb

How has Jesus changed you?

How has he challenged you?

The next chapter in John’s gospel account tells the story of a man who was changed after an encounter with Jesus Christ. Jesus met him as a blind beggar and healed him by spitting on the ground, rubbing the mud into his eyes, and telling him to go and wash. The man washed and for the first time in his life, he can see!

There is only one problem.

Jesus did it on a Sabbath!

On a physical level, Jesus challenged the blind man. Go across the city to the Pool of Siloam and wash the mud out of your eyes. The man obeyed and he was given sight.

On a spiritual level, Jesus challenged the religious Jews. They believed in the Messiah, and were looking forward to his coming. They believed that they would know the a Messiah because he would make the blind to see. But they also believed in their thousands of religious laws. Now the Messiah has come, but they don’t like him.

In John 8, Jesus challenged their religious preconceptions. They believed that God would save them, simply because they were Abraham’s descendents. But Jesus taught that their family relations do not matter. They needed to believe in Jesus Christ in order to have eternal life.

In John 9, Jesus challenged their religious traditions. Their traditions held a litany of Sabbath laws, yet Jesus broke them in order to heal a blind man. This forced the issue: you can either believe that Jesus is the Messiah or you can believe that he is a criminal.

Some of the people believed in Jesus the Messiah. Most of them would rather believe that he was a criminal.

This chapter is unique in that, during most of the narrative of this chapter, Jesus is absent. Jesus did not directly confront the Jewish leaders in this chapter, but instead, he sent an eyewitness. This eyewitness was a blind man, an outcast from society. Everyone  — even Jesus’ disciples — believed that the man’s blindness was a punishment for someone’s sin. When under pressure, his parents did not even stand up for him.

The leaders brought the man in for questioning. In their minds, Jesus could not have healed the man because he did not respect their traditions. They tried three times to pressure the man into recanting, and then “cast him out” after the man confronted them.

How did the man leave them speechless? He simply told his own story, “Though I was blind, now I can see”. Jesus had given the man sight, yet the leaders were blind to the truth.

As the scene ends, Jesus met the man and showed him who he is. The man was physically blind, but now he could see, both physically and spiritually. The Pharisees, by contrast, had chosen their own beliefs over the clear facts. They thought they could see, but they were left totally blind.

 

Remember!

  • How has Jesus changed your life?  When you are challenged by others, your own experience is more effective than any persuasive argument.
  • When is the last time that the words of Jesus challenged you? If you have not been challenged by Jesus, then you may be on the way toward blindness.

 

So surrender the hunger to say you must know

Have the courage to say I believe

For the power of paradox opens your eyes

And blinds those who say they can see

-Michael Card

 

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