Monthly Archives: November 2012

Weekend Devotional, November 30 – December 2: Dedicating the Temple…

22 It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; 28 and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” – John 10:22-30

John reports that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Dedication.  This festival commemorates the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabean Revolt in 164 BC.  At that time the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes  had set up an altar to Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem and had offered a sacrifice on that altar.  The Jewish Priest Mattathias was outraged, and along with Judas Maccabeus rose up, cleansed the Temple, and rededicated it to the proper worship of Yahweh.  This eight-day festival of lights in the winter season is still observed today, known as Hanukkah.

It is in this setting that Jesus walked near but not in the Temple and was asked by Jewish followers about his identity.  “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly,” they requested.  Jesus response was that if his words were not clear to them, his actions should have been.  “The works that I do in my Father’s name… bear witness to me,” Jesus told them.  Then he added, “But you do not believe.”  Jesus was telling these men that the problem with their faith was not in his lack of clarity but in their refusal to believe.

By mentioning the setting of the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, John reveals his understanding that the movement of faith is for followers of Jesus to dedicate him as the true Temple.  It is in the Temple, after all, where the divine and the human meet – fully and perfectly accomplished in the person of Jesus the Christ.  To make this point with great clarity in response to their inquiry, Jesus simply says, “I and the Father are one.”

Lord Jesus, as we enter our own season of darkness and light, cleanse my worship of any false altars that my worship may be pure.  Amen

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  But he spoke of the temple of his body. – John 2:20-21

 

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Thursday, November9, 2012: Living a Savior’s Life; Dying a Savior’s Death…

17 ”For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.”– John 10:17-18

Throughout the discourse about his shepherding care, Jesus speaks of his willingness to “lay down his life for the sheep,” – an expression of God’s passionate love for his creation.  He concludes the entire discourse with an assertion that he will indeed die for the Father’s flock, and he offers insight here in chapter ten for the events which will transpire in chapter 19.

It is important to note that this is not a morbid, maudlin account as Jesus contemplates the meaningless progression of life to the grave.  Not at all.  Nor is this a noble surrender to fate in which he acknowledges that his adversaries hold the power to destroy.  Not at all.  Then what is this?  This is an expression in great confidence of the Father’s plan and of the Son’s complete obedience.  Throughout the events that lead to Jesus’ death, John makes clear that Jesus stays in control, that Jesus orchestrates the events.  As he expresses here and as is seen throughout the remainder of the Gospel, Jesus intentionally lays down his life; no one takes his life from him; and he will by God’s plan take his life up again.

We see this assertion of assurance that Jesus is in complete control of his fate throughout John.  Note the various conversations about the timing of events.  Jesus told his mother at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, “My hour has not yet come.”  Again in talking to his disciples about a feast in Jerusalem in chapter 7, he reported, “My time has not yet fully come.”  As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem for the final time, he asserts, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  And just before his arrest, Jesus says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify the Son that the Son may glorify you.”

Jesus’ expression of the Father’s plan and of the Good Shepherd’s love place his coming death in the context of God’s plan of redemption and healing.  Jesus will not die a martyr’s death in the hands of evil men.  Jesus will die a savior’s death in perfect plan of a loving Father.  Jesus chooses to die out of love for the world, and even the day and the hour are in his control.

Lord Jesus, had you died an untimely death in the battle between good and evil, you would have been a great man.  That you died on purpose to defeat evil and that through your death and resurrection you offer abundant life makes you my Savior. Amen

 

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Wednesday, November 28, 2012: One Flock, One Shepherd…

16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. – John 10:16

The fastest way to spark a confrontation among Christians is to ask if Jesus is the only way to salvation.  One group will answer with a definitive yes, while the other group will respond, “Not so fast.”  The first line of thinking references Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “No one comes to the father but by me.”  While such an assertion offers comfort, it can also sow seeds for intolerance and cause us to wonder about a fundamental unfairness for people who live and die in cultures with no access to the Gospel.  In the bumper-sticker war, it is a short distance from “Jesus is the only way” to “institutionalized Christianity is the only way” to “my denomination is the only way” to “my church is the only way.”  Our text today challenges that progression, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.”

Following his claim to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus talks of laying down his life for the sheep and then immediately adds that there are other sheep beyond those in “this fold.”  What does Jesus mean by such a statement?  Perhaps he means others beyond those who were following him at the time.  Perhaps he means others beyond Judaism.  Perhaps he means others who are seeking God’s grace and truth as best they know how in other faiths.  Perhaps Jesus’ words are intentionally vague to demonstrate that God’s grace is greater than we can even begin to imagine.

The best way to deal with this troubling issue may be to note that Jesus’ offer is for abundant life, not merely a passport from hell to heaven.  When we talk in terms of abundant life, our minds are able to grasp the rich meanings of salvation which include protection, healing, wholeness, well-being.  In fact, the Greek word soteria (salvation) is used in the New Testament more frequently to mean salvation from suffering and harm than salvation from sins.  It may be that we can understand salvation best as we see it to be the New Testament equivalent of the Hebrew Shalom, a word which means peace, friendship, well-being, safety, wholeness – in short, abundant life.   God’s shepherding care through Jesus Christ is simply an offer of divine healing and peace for a sin-damaged world – that would include you and me and sheep of other folds.

Lord Jesus, I don’t know all the answers, but I know enough.  I know that I am a sin-damaged person living in a sin-damaged world, and I know that you are the Good Shepherd.  Pour out your healing, your shalom, your salvation not simply for me but for all the world that we may all be one flock with one Shepherd.  Amen.

 

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Tuesday, November 27, 2012: I Am the Good Shepherd…

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, 15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep – John 10:11-15

At least forty-two times in the Old and New Testaments, scripture speaks of God’s people as being shepherded in faith.  From the first book of the Bible in which God is referred to as “the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel” (Genesis 49:24) to the accounts of David who was called by God to be the “shepherd of my people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2) to David’s confession in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd” and the prophecies of Isaiah, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd” (Isaiah 40:11), the expression of God’s care for his people is steeped in the imagery of a shepherd.  Jesus stands in this strong line of the revelation of God’s compassion for and protection of his people as he pronounces, “I am the good shepherd.”

Jesus is without question comparing his truth and compassion to that of the prevailing religious institution which had lost its way in a futile effort of self-preservation.  What differentiates the good shepherd from the hireling is the degree to which the overseer is willing to risk danger for those in his or her charge.  “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus says, while the hireling flees at the sight of danger.  Jesus contrasts the hireling who “cares nothing for the sheep” and the good shepherd who knows and is known by the sheep in his fold.

Jesus’ claim to be the good shepherd is not a claim of status; rather it is a confession of desperate love for God’s people.  The gospels are clear that this desperate love is the centerpiece of God’s act of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  The mighty movement of God is fueled by a desperate love for a lost creation.  It is this desperate love which Jesus later will commend to his disciples when he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

The problem Jesus faced and that we face is that such love cannot be institutionalized.  It cannot be legislated.  It cannot be reduced to dogma or ritual.  This kind of love can only be experienced and shared when ego and pride are broken – when one is emptied of all-consuming self-love and filled with the whole, holy love of God.  It is in being broken, emptied, and filled that we experience life in all its abundance in the care and keeping of the Good Shepherd.  In the shepherd’s flock and fold we receive, share, and act on God’s desperate love for his people, especially those who are “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

Good Shepherd, break my strong will and pride that I may be emptied of my life-taking self-love and be filled to overflowing with your life-giving perfect love.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Monday, November 26, 2012: The Door to Abundant Life…

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. 9 I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. – John 10:7-10

Jesus’ offer is abundant life.  When we read such an offer, the first question we ask is what abundant life even means.  The word abundant usually refers to quantity – more than enough.  The offer of abundance is surprising, since most of life involves managing scarcity – budgeting finances, time, and other resources.  Of course, far deeper than these concerns is the basic human condition of the finite nature of life, the mere number of days.  The Psalmist laments, “The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).  The basic truth is that we live with the gnawing, life-robbing anxiety that life is merely a death march.

In the face of this overwhelming reality, Jesus offers abundance.  It is important to note that Jesus is not offering an abundance of days –  a simple extension of the death march.  To grasp the fullness of Jesus’ offer it is significant to note the context – the imagery of sheep and shepherds.  Jesus’ offer of abundant life is the extravagance of shepherding care – an abundance of security, care, provision, grace, and protection – a full life, free of incessant worry and fear.

The second question follows the first: how do we claim such an abundant life?  “I am the door,” Jesus says, “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”   The third “I am” saying of Jesus in John’s Gospel offers the answer to the second question.  The way to find the abundant life is to know the one who came on purpose to offer life.  Apart from him, life may have an abundance of entertainment, busy-ness, and stuff, but in his care and keeping, we claim an abundance of everything that is of eternal value, everything that really matters and everything that really lasts.  Material things may delight us, but it is the spiritual things that truly satisfy our deepest longings.

That is Jesus’ offer.

Lord Jesus, I don’t need any more stuff.  I need love and joy and peace – I need you.  Amen.

“…we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18

A Bible Study devotional by Gorman Houston

Tuesday, November 13, 2012: The Thief and the Shepherd

1 ”Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; 2 but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” – John 10:1-5

There is perhaps no more compelling image in Israel’s theology and history than that of God’s shepherding care.  The beloved Shepherd Psalm which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd,” offers timeless comfort, as it presents vivid imagery of God’s love for his people.  As Jesus reveals God’s grace and truth, he does not replace the Old Testament teachings, he fulfills them.

In his gospel, John places the Shepherd teaching of Jesus immediately after the story of the healed man who was cast out by the leaders of the synagogue, and in so doing, he contrasts the harmful actions of the religious leaders to the loving actions of the Shepherd.

Jesus’ words are harsh as he compares the bandit to the shepherd.  The contrast is between the shepherd who welcomes, restores, nurtures, protects and leads – even at great personal peril – and the unknown thief who cares only for himself, does not give life but rather takes it, and seeks self-preservation above all else.   The shepherd comes in by the door, calls the sheep by name, leads the sheep who trust him and follow him and know him.  Bandits sneak in and claim a false authority.  The sheep neither know nor trust these strangers, and they will not follow them.

In this teaching it is clear that Jesus is affirming the scriptural accounts of the shepherding care of God but is denouncing the false authority of the religious leaders and institutions in his day, which had turned inward to preserve themselves with little genuine care for their people.  Jesus warns the faith leaders, that as they cease to embody the shepherding care of God, the sheep are right to question and flee from them, for they are less like shepherds and more like common bandits.

Lord Jesus, I need you to be my shepherd.  Amen.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalm 23

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Monday, November 19, 2012: We Would Like to See Jesus

35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him. – John 9:35-38

John devotes all of chapter 9 to the healing of a blind man, a unique feature of the fourth gospel.  Of course it was not the healing, which John recorded in such length, but the controversy caused by it.  The context of this miraculous work was a prevailing theological error, voiced by the disciples, which associated illness, disease, and misfortune with sin.  “Was it this man or his parents who sinned that he was born blind?” Jesus’ followers inquired.  Jesus set their theology straight.  It was neither, Jesus retorted.  Instead of focusing on the cause of suffering, Jesus encouraged his followers to look for ways to alleviate it, that God might be glorified.  Then, Jesus healed the blind man by creating a salve of mud and spittle and gave the blind man instructions to go wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam.  As the man obeyed, his eyes were opened, and he saw clearly.

John records that instead of rejoicing with the healed man, the religious leaders harassed him, and they interviewed his parents in an attempt to discredit the healing.  It seems that errant theology puts up a strong fight.  When these men could find no support for their insistence that Jesus was a fraud and that the healing was a hoax, they declared the act evil and cast him out of the synagogue.  As surprising as this response may seem, it is often the response people make to a transformed life.  Christ-directed changes in hearts and minds, habits and lifestyles often close more doors than they open.

John completes the story of the miracle by telling of the reunion of Jesus and the healed man.  That which had begun with begging in the streets was completed with worship in the Temple.  For it was there that the formerly blind man found what he had been seeking – what perhaps all who truly love the Lord seek.  He saw his savior.  In so doing, his faith was confirmed and his worship was spontaneous and pure.

Lord, create within me a great desire to see you, to know you, and to worship you; and may my life be so transformed by your presence that others may see you through me.  Amen. 

“We would like to see Jesus.”  – John 12:21

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Weekend Devotional, November 16-18, 2012: Seeing or Stumbling…

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15 The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” There was a division among them. – John 9:13-16

As the man who was born blind receives sight in John 9, a sign of the Kingdom of God becomes clearly visible.  John takes effort to reveal that Jesus’ power is extreme – not just to heal but to create.  The problem the blind man faced was not just that his eyes were clouded or dimmed.  This was not a torn retina which needed to be reattached.  This was blindness from birth.  Perhaps the man’s eyes were malformed or even non-present.  Whatever the problem, Jesus did not merely heal the man, he gave him vision.  John wants us to know that the man was able to see things he had never seen before.

It is a sign of God’s kingdom, and Jesus offers this same miracle to all who turn to him.  It is not that our aches and pains are eased, rather it is that we are able to see things we have never seen before.  We are able to see and behold the work of God all about us.  We are able to distinguish truth from error.  We are able to see the areas of our lives which do not align with God’s will.  We are able to see opportunities to engage in the life-giving work of God by identifying areas of great need.  A new vision, a clear vision, a right vision, a vision of compassion and truth – our eyes are opened as we come to genuine faith in Christ.

John also reveals that those who do not or cannot see with eyes of faith are unable both to see past the obvious and to distinguish the important from the petty.  The gift of vision to the man in the story is made even more vivid by the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders.  Their inability to see and behold the presence and works of God causes them to oppose the God they seek to serve.  These leaders are threatened by the works of Jesus; they deny Jesus’ goodness, and they become lost and divided in their attempt to explain away the meaning of this miracle.

John seems to be exposing the two options that confront us all as we encounter Christ Jesus – receive new vision or stumble in the darkness.

“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

Lord Jesus, apart from your truth and grace, I am blind.  Allow God’s glory to be revealed in my life that I may see as you see and live as you live.  Amen.

 

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Thursday, November 15, 2012: Eye Witness to a Miracle…

8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.” He said, “I am the man.” 10 They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Silo’am and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.” – John 9:8-11

Sometimes not believing is more difficult than believing.  Such is the case with the religious leaders in John’s account of the healing of the man who was born blind.  Jesus’ teaching and supernatural authority challenged their theology and threatened their hold on power, so they simply rejected Jesus.  In fact, the gospels tell us that they sought to destroy him.  Their strong stand made Jesus’ miraculous signs a problem for them – how could he perform such powerful signs if he did not have divine authority?  They had no answer, so they responded by denying that the miraculous signs ever happened.  Of course they were joined by others who likewise doubted, and the remainder of chapter 9 centers on the struggles that come with disbelief in the presence of an “eye witness.”

John tells us that when people saw the man who had been healed, they marveled and asked, “Isn’t this the person who has been a blind beggar all his life?”  The gospel records that some people stated the obvious, “It is he,” while others followed the lead of the religious leaders by denying the miracle, “No, it is not the same man, but they do look alike, now that you mention it.”  It didn’t take much research to get to the truth.  The people simply asked the man, and he testified that he indeed was the man, that he had been blind until Jesus healed him.  With an “eye witness” – the testimony of the person who was not only there but whose life was transformed by the event – what more evidence would anyone need to believe?

As the chapter unfolds, the leaders continue to deny that the miracle took place, doubting first that this was the same man as the beggar, then doubting that the man was actually blind, then denouncing anyone who could believe that the miracle was an act of God, and finally dismissing Jesus as a sinner and casting the healed man out.  It was an inconvenient truth that confronted these leaders.  God was at work in the world in ways they could neither explain nor control, and they simply could not believe it.  Sometimes not believing is more difficult than believing.

Lord Jesus, open my eyes to the expressions of God’s grace and truth all about me that I may see clearly and believe fully.  Amen.

 

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Wednesday, November 14, 2012: The Clarity of Obedience…

6 As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Silo’am” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. – 9:6-7

The actual healing of the blind man, which is the centerpiece of chapter 9 in John’s Gospel, is almost overshadowed both by the theological discussion that preceded it and by the controversy with the religious leaders which followed it.  However, the healing itself is worthy of note – a man born blind received his sight.  This is not the only account in the Gospels of Jesus healing a blind person, yet the descriptions of the healings vary significantly.  Sometimes we read that Jesus simply pronounced the healing, as in Mark 10, when Bartimaeus was healed.  Other times we read that Jesus asked about faith and touched the eyes to bring healing, as in Matthew 9, when he healed two blind men.  Still other times we find that Jesus spat on the eyes to bring healing, as in Mark 8.  Here John tells us that Jesus made a salve of clay and spittle and put the mud pack on the eyes of the blind man with a prescription to go to the pool of Siloam and wash.  In this account the supernatural life-giving spittle of Jesus combined with both the natural element of clay and the obedience of the man to bring healing.

The healing process, including washing or bathing in the pool of Siloam, is significant for several reasons.  First, the pool of Siloam may have been used as a mikyah, or a ritual bath for cleansing in Jesus’ day to purify the body ceremonially.  Its location just outside the city walls may have offered pilgrims and others a place to cleanse themselves of the “sin which clings so closely” as a ritual prior to entering the Holy City.  Jesus often accompanied spiritual cleansing with physical healing, and his instruction to the blind man may have been akin to offering forgiveness of sins.

The pool of Siloam also offers insight because of its mention in Isaiah, chapter 8, in which the people of God received judgment for their disobedience.  Here, the one who is healed is obedient to the one who brings healing and salvation in dramatic contrast to the religious leaders whose disobedience causes them to refuse to acknowledge both the healing and the healer in the controversy which follows.  By the end of the chapter, we are left wondering who is truly blind.

Lord Jesus, open my eyes to your truth that I may live in obedience to your word and way.  Amen.

 

A Bible Study devotional by Gorman Houston