Monthly Archives: January 2013

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 – Lessons at the Disciples’ Feet

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, ”You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, ”Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, ”One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.” – John 13:6-10a

John records that at his last supper Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  In fact, the significance of washing feet overpowers the importance of the meal in John’s Gospel.  The only mention of a meal in John 13 comes as Jesus speaks of dipping bread and handing it to his betrayer.  But when it comes to the foot-washing, there is an extended narrative about that event.

Of course the primary teaching in Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet is in showing the importance of service in the kingdom of God.  Jesus makes it clear that in the kingdom there is no servant class with a separate class of nobility.  Our devotion to God is shown as we out-serve each other in a spirit of love.  Foot-washing was a powerful act by our Lord.

There are other important lessons Jesus’ followers can learn at Jesus’ disciples’ feet.  Look in particular at the exchange between Jesus and Peter, who was initially reluctant to allow his Lord to act as his servant.  Perhaps we can all understand Peter’s feelings of unworthiness.  “You will never wash my feet,” Peter protested.  Surely we all understand that having the Christ serve us is offensive to our understandings.  Of course, that is just the point.  The kingdom of God is a kingdom of servants.  Jesus is clear that we have no part of this kingdom if we are unwilling to be served by our Lord and to follow his example by serving others who have no claim over us.

Notice Peter’s further reply.  When Jesus tells Peter that he cannot be a true follower unless he allows Jesus to wash his feet, Peter exclaims, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Peter goes to the extreme, but Jesus instructs otherwise.  “There is no need to go to ridiculous extremes,” he tells Peter.  “It is only your feet that need washing.”  This passage centers in on the great temptation to go overboard, to make our faith legalistic, moralistic, self-righteous, even absurd.  It is tempting to think that if a bit of piety is good, an excess of piety would be better. If reading the Bible is good, perhaps reading only the Bible all the time would be better.  When we go down that road, we are saying, “Not my feet only but also my hands and head!”  Jesus reminds us that we need not make our faith extreme.  God does not desire overkill… just a servant’s heart.  That’s a pretty good lesson, don’t you think?

Lord Jesus, make my heart pure, my desire to serve sincere, and my devotion pleasing to you.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Thursday, January 24, 2013: Upside-Down Grace

3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. – John 13:3-5

Grace has a way of turning things upside down.

One of the striking features of John’s account of the last supper of Jesus is that there is virtually no mention of the meal.  John does not offer details about the bread and the cup and the sharing of the food and drink which are memorialized in the Holy Communion.  Instead, the focus of the last supper in John’s Gospel is on a single act by Jesus – foot washing.  John tells us that Jesus put on the garments of a servant, poured water in a basin and washed the feet of his disciples.

Foot washing would have been familiar to the disciples.  It was a customary expression of hospitality for the servants to wash the feet of invited guests who entered a house.  What made the event shocking was that it was not a servant who was washing feet, but Christ Jesus, the eternal Son of God, the professed Lord of the disciples.

It may have been that this act was prompted simply by the absence of a servant.  No one was there to wash the feet of the guests, so Jesus took on that role.  More likely, the act was premeditated and intentional.  It seems that Jesus intended to wash the feet of his followers in one of his last expressions of love for them and to show that servants are always present among his people.

John tells us that Jesus knew that “he was going to God,” a euphemism for his death.  He was aware that the time had come to travel to the cross.  This act of washing feet could have been a final expression of profound thanks to the disciples for travelling with him and helping him in his work.  There is something wonderful about Jesus’ expression of appreciation for those who labored with him.  Above all, this act served as a final dramatic expression to define for all time the pure and simple relationships of his movement of grace – inverted, upside-down relationships – in which the first shall be last and the leader shall be as a servant.

Yes, grace has a way of turning things upside down.

Lord Jesus, pour out your grace to wash me clean, and may my life be turned upside down as I serve you by serving others.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Tuesday, January 22, 2013: Loving to the End…

1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. – John 13:1

You may remember that John begins his Gospel with the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God.  His first words are, “In the beginning was the Word,” and as he speaks of the incarnation, he writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”   It is important to remember that Jesus was at the beginning of all creation, especially as we approach the account of the final events in his life.  John records those final hours, the final night and day, over seven extended chapters, beginning with the last supper here in Chapter 13 and ending with Jesus’ death and burial in Chapter 19.

John begins his passion narrative by placing the entire event in the context of eternal love.  “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”  What an amazing statement we find here of Christ’s love for us!  He loves his own “to the end.”  The passion reveals that Christ Jesus doesn’t love his own because they are lovable or because they are without blemish.  The great gift is that Christ loves us in spite of all our faults and failures, disappointments and brokenness; and his love is not partial or fickle.  His love is complete.  He loves us to the end.  If we ever fully grasp this one verse of the gospel, our lives will be forever changed.

Lord Jesus, how I treasure your love! Thank you for never giving up on me.  Amen.

 

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Monday, January 21, 2013: Seeing and Believing…

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And he who sees me sees him who sent me.” – John 12:44-45

Much of John’s Gospel centers around seeing and believing.  When Nathanael is the first to come to faith in Jesus back in the first chapter, Jesus assured him, “You shall see greater things than these.”  The miracles which Jesus performs are called “signs” by John, given that people may see the works of God in their midst and believe.  In chapter 20, when Thomas is the last of the disciples to come to faith in Christ, Jesus responds, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

In our text Jesus connects seeing with believing in a deeper way with an assurance that things are not always what they seem – they are much more than they seem.  John tells us that Jesus “cried out and said.”  It is an essential truth which Jesus loudly proclaimed to all the world, not merely an individual teaching which Jesus spoke to one person based on an inquiry.  “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me, but in him who sent me,” Jesus shouted, “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.”

Jesus is proclaiming to all the world that it is not just his works which are signs, but his entire life.  Everything he says…everything he does…everything he is…points beyond him to the one who sent him, to his heavenly Father.  Such a statement lines up with basic points of Christian doctrine – Jesus, the Christ, is the perfect revelation of God, the Father.  However, if all we find in this statement is a point of dogma, we miss the rich implications for our lives.  Here is the basic formula:  God is eternal.  Jesus of Nazareth reveals the Father in word, deed, and nature.  Followers of Jesus are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus Christ in word, deed, and nature.  Thus, all transformed followers of Christ Jesus are able to echo Jesus cry and add to it, “Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me, the one who saved me, the one who transformed me.”   By revealing Christ, we reveal the one who reveals the Father.  We become a living “sign” in our generation – a visible “sign” which triggers belief.  It is still about seeing and believing.

Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit to transform me that you may be perfectly revealed in my life to the glory of God the Father.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Tuesday, January 15, 2013: For this purpose…

27 ”Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.  28 Father, glorify thy name.” – John 12:27-28a

As Jesus begins an extended discourse on his death to offer understanding and comfort to his followers, he readily admits that this is not easy.  “Now is my soul troubled.”  This expression is surprising in that throughout the Gospel, Jesus serves as the ideal of a non-anxious presence.  Nothing seems to trouble his soul… until now.  It seems that John wants us to understand that like all other humans, Jesus found death to be troubling, frightening perhaps.  It seems that we are simply wired to oppose death and to fight it off, and Jesus was no different.

This expression may cause us to wonder how Jesus could have been fully God and still been troubled by death.  Such thoughts gave rise in ancient days to Docetism.  The term comes from the Greek word dokesis, which means “to seem.”  This belief, declared a heresy by the church, held that Jesus was not fully human, that he just seemed to be human; therefore, he did not really suffer and die at all.  John’s Gospel stands against such a view as it offers great detail about the suffering and death of Jesus and about his anxiety concerning his death.  Jesus was fully divine in that he shared the divine nature (as opposed to human nature).  He lived in perfect relationship with the Father and in perfect relationship with others.

Then Jesus asked the fundamental question of the Gospel – perhaps the fundamental question of life, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.”  Just as Jesus’ natural instinct might have been to flee, to escape, to run from the hour of trial, everything in his being acknowledged that this was his hour, this was his destiny, this was his purpose.  Instead of fleeing, he placed the moment in God’s care and keeping and asked for God to be glorified through it all, “Father, glorify thy name.”

I don’t know of any better way to approach suffering and pain and death than that which is modeled by our Lord.  We naturally seek to escape, to flee from it, and it is good to express honestly our fear, heartbreak, pain, and anger.  But that was not Jesus’ last word on the matter, and it is good when that is not our last word either.  Christ’s way was to embrace suffering as his destiny and to ask God to be glorified in his brokenness and pain.  As we follow that example, we, like our Lord, cease to be a pitiful victim and become by God’s grace a gallant victor.  We find that God showers grace upon grace so that even our deepest sorrow and suffering may serve a purpose and may reveal God’s care and keeping.

Lord Jesus, you approached suffering and death with a troubled soul, and so do we.  Give us your grace and strength to do as you did and invite our heavenly Father into our hour of trial, so that even our pain and loss might be redeemed in a way that brings you glory.   Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Weekend Devotional, January 11-13, 2013: Hating Life and Loving Life…

25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. – John 12:25

One of the most difficult sayings of Jesus is our text for today.  “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  The easy interpretation of these words is that the world is evil, that life is not designed to be treasured, that enjoyment and happiness are contrary to God’s intention for us.  But like most easy interpretations of the Gospel, this one is misguided.  To grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words here, we do best to understand them in light of Jesus’ words, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Perhaps it helps us to see that Jesus is encouraging his followers not to hate life, but to hate life that is wrongly lived – wrongly focused, self-absorbed, incomplete, alienating, purposeless.  This is the same teaching we find in Matthew 7, where Jesus says, “Wide is the gate and broad the way that leads to destruction, but narrow is the gate and hard the way that leads to life.”  Here we find that an unfocused, purposeless, wrongly lived life is easy and broad, tempting and deadly.  It is the narrow, focused, purposeful life, which is the rewarding one, the full one, the happy one.  Jesus calls his followers to hate the one and claim the other.

Many have experienced the true joys that come from living beyond self for a grand vision and noble purpose.  In my days as an Eli, the mantra was “God, Country, Yale.”  Perhaps a right ordering of life could be, “God, Country, Community…”.  The problem is that it is human nature (or as Paul calls it, sinful nature) to pursue self-interest above all else.  Such a self-focused life requires no sacrifice or cost, but likewise it offers no reward other than the immediate pleasure that accompanies self-fulfillment.  Living to the greater glory of God requires sacrifice, discipline, endurance – the noblest aspects of our human capacity.  Great accomplishments, deep relationships, noble advancements, life-giving community are all possible when our lives are rightly focused.

The greatest example of a rightly-focused life is that of Jesus the Christ.  In his life and death, his relationships and accomplishments, his sacrifice and endurance, Jesus showed us a blessed, happy, God-centered life.  The call of Christ is to reject – even hate – a life of self-absorption with its false promises of happiness, and to claim – even love – a life of sacrifice, discipline, and endurance which leads to eternal blessings.

Lord Jesus, turn my heart from the temptation to serve self that I may find the fullness of life by living as you lived and loving as you loved.  Amen

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Thursday, January 10, 2013: The Discourse of Death…

23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.- John 12:23-25

Here in chapter 12, Jesus begins a discourse about death and resurrection which lasts all the way to his last word on the cross.  He begins the discourse by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified,” and he ends the discourse on the cross by saying, “It is finished.”  Of course when he talks of being glorified, he is talking about his death.  Jesus’ on-going discourse serves to talk his disciples through these difficult days.  After his arrest, his discourse is directed to the misguided leaders of the religious institution.  When facing judgment, he does not back down but talks to the leader of the political system about eternal matters.  And upon the cross, his final words are directed to the world.

The ongoing discourse is punctuated by key events which lead to the cross – the washing of his disciples’ feet, Jesus’ arrest in the garden, his trial before the religious leaders, his trial before Pilate, the beating by the guards, his journey to Calvary, and finally his crucifixion and death.

The extended discourse begins with the analogy of death being like planting a seed, a grain of wheat, which can only claim potential value until it gives up its existence by being planted.  Then the potential value of the grain becomes real and measurable value as “it bears much fruit.”  Jesus offers eternal insight and comfort as he thinks aloud, perhaps considering his own fate, “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

The saying is strong, too stout for our sensibilities perhaps.  Jesus is talking from an eternal perspective.  The one who holds on tightly and desperately to this earthly life will lose all that he values, while the person whose love is not for self, nor for this world, but for that which has eternal value will claim the fullness of life which Jesus alone offers.  The strong language hints at the kind of death Jesus faces.  How could anyone consent to the cruelty of crucifixion unless he had such incredible love for God and trust in God that in comparison, life in this world seemed to be of little value?

Lord Jesus, we so often insist on our way, hoard our own possessions, cling desperately to our own life only to find little joy or peace.  Help us to trust as you trusted, to give as you gave, to love as you loved, and to live as you lived.  For your way is both the way of the cross and the way of life.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Monday, January 7, 2013: The World Has Gone after Him…

19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.”  20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa’ida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” – John 12:19-21

John tells us that as the crowds surrounding Jesus increased in size so also did the sense of panic among the leaders of institutional Judaism.   John hints that there was infighting among the Pharisees, who saw themselves as powerless to control this Jesus phenomenon.  “You see that you can do nothing,” they said to one another.  The Greek of the Gospel actually makes it stronger.  “What you are doing is no good” may be a better translation.  And it is followed by a prophetic, desperate sigh, “Look, the world has gone after him.”

This little statement is packed with meaning.  Perhaps the Pharisees were aware that the Jews who were following Jesus were not only those from Jerusalem and other parts of Palestine, but also those from the dispersion.  Many Jews who had been exiled centuries before had not returned to Israel, and they formed the Diaspora, a Jewish presence in many different countries.  As they came to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, they may have heard of the miracle-worker and have longed to see him.

Even more significant than these dispersed Jews may have been the Gentiles who expressed a desire to see Jesus.  Most likely these Gentiles were either proselytes or God-fearers, those who found truth in the Jewish law and were in some degree of relationship with Judaism, mostly unrecognized by the leadership.  Their desire to see Jesus would complete the set.  Palestinian Jews, dispersed Jews, and Gentiles in pursuit of truth were all coming to Jesus.  Indeed, “the world has gone after him.”

Had the Pharisees been seeking truth with the same passion of the Gentiles they may have seen Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who was gathering his flock and creating a beloved community, as was prophesized by both Zechariah and Zephaniah.  Alas, it is hard for people to see when they refuse to look.

Lord Jesus, there is nothing this world or I need more than to be gathered in the fold of the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Weekend Devotional, January 4-6, 2013: Understanding, But Not in Real Time…

16 His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. – John 12:16

John makes it clear that it was not just the crowd who misunderstood Jesus’ actions.  The disciples were likewise confused.  Unlike the crowd, however, the disciples were not fickle – they were simply dense – slow to catch on, to connect Jesus actions with the scripture.  John offers a gentle expression that the closest followers of Jesus “did not understand at first.”  In fact, they were understandably unable to understand.  While Jesus’ actions seemed to fulfill the longings of the nation for an anointed leader to free Israel from occupation and bring restoration as a “light to the nations,” he did not seem to be planning to take over the government.

The disciples were confusing the temporal and the eternal.  From an eternal perspective Jesus’ actions entering Jerusalem were completely consistent with the prophets’ words in the scriptures.  He was establishing and expanding the Kingdom of God upon the hearts of God’s people.  His issue was not to defeat and subdue the Gentiles but to “break down the dividing wall of hostility” and welcome them into this beloved community of God.

John tells us that the disciples remembered everything that had been written of Jesus in the scriptures once he was “glorified,” and at that point they understood the revelation.  John means that once Jesus was glorified through his suffering, death, and resurrection, the disciples could see God’s grace and truth in it all.

Often it is difficult to make sense of life’s events in “real time.”  It is more often upon reflection that we gain understanding.  Likewise, we are better able to see God’s grace at work and understand God’s truth in retrospect.  Perhaps the lesson we learn from the disciples is to take time to reflect on life – especially momentous or devastating events.  It is upon reflection, upon pondering these things in our heart, that we are able to see more clearly and understand more fully

Lord Jesus, we often can neither recognize nor understand your work in our lives.  Give us pause to look back and claim your grace and truth upon our guided reflection.  Amen

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Thursday, January 3, 2013: The Crowd and the Confusion

13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written, 15 ”Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt!” - John 12:13-15

The response of the multitudes to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem exposes the problem of following any crowd.  On the Sunday Jesus arrived, Jerusalem was beginning to fill with Passover pilgrims.  John tells us that people had heard of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus, and they were longing perhaps to see another sign or perhaps to experience a similar blessing for themselves.  They were eager to welcome the miracle-worker as a Savior, as a King, as the Messiah.

The crowd said all the right things.  In fact, they mainly quoted various scriptures.  First, they recited portions of Psalm 118, which is a psalm of assents.  Pilgrims often said this psalm as they ascended the Temple mount, including the cry, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  They also quoted from Zechariah 9:9, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt.”  The words were the right ones; however, the crowd is speaking beyond their own understanding and making professions  beyond their own ability.  It seems that they are caught up in a nationalistic frenzy, welcoming in a leader who could liberate Israel and restore the fortunes of Zion.  What the crowd never expected was the cross looming on Calvary.

Crowds are like that…talk radio can be like that.  It’s not that crowds say things which are false, but they do remove their words from the contexts that give them true meaning.  This Passover crowd did not see the eschatological meaning of Jesus’ actions nor of the words being shouted.  They never connected Jesus’ actions to the scriptures.  They never understood.  They never believed.  No wonder they abandoned their “king” when the events turned and those in power sought to destroy him.

Lord Jesus, forgive us for following the fads of the crowd instead of trusting and following you.   Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston