Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013: From Love to Faith

“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” - John 14:1

Jesus’ words of assurance in this familiar verse offer incredible comfort – so much comfort, in fact, that it’s easy for us to forget that Jesus said them just hours before he was crucified.  His concern at the end of his life was not for himself, but for those who would continue the work he had begun.

The first words Jesus gave his disciples on his final night with them centered on love – his love for them and his expectation of their love for each other.  In fact he gave his disciples “a new commandment” to love one another.  The next words to his disciples centered on faith – “Believe in God always; believe also in me,” he told them.

While his disciples could never have imagined what they were about to experience, Jesus was well aware that he would be dead and buried before sunset the following day.  The words he offered them this night were well planned with a certain calm urgency.  “Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus told them.  Surely Jesus knew that the only way his friends would be able to hold together, to continue the work of God without imploding with competing self-interest and personal despair was by being guided by two essentials – love and faith.

Those are still the essentials for surviving tough times and for extending the kingdom of God at all times.  The foundation for building a Christ-honoring life is amazingly simple – faith and love.  We do well to trust God and trust Christ Jesus with every situation in absolute conviction that God is bigger than any problem we may face.  We also do well to allow our love for God and others to inform our actions and empower us to live with grace.  When it comes to living in the likeness of Christ, we do well to hear how Christ’s words go from love to faith.

Lord Jesus, I believe in God and in you… help my unbelief.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Thursday, February 7, 2013: Fighting the Right Battle with the Right Weapons…

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, ”Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, ”Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” – John 13:36-38

Jesus’ words were hard for the disciples to hear – maybe impossible, especially as his death neared.  These loyal followers knew that Jesus had the power to avoid being caught, being tried, being killed.  What they couldn’t understand was why he was determined neither to fight nor to flee.  Jesus was telling them what they could not understand, that he was going to lay down his life like a good shepherd for his sheep.  Such an idea was repugnant to the disciples.  To lose Jesus’ life would be devastating for them all, and they were determined to fight for Jesus’ life.  “I will lay down my life for you,” Peter proclaimed, in an attempt to turn the tables and in an expression of his readiness to fight to the finish.

Jesus’ reply once again shocked his followers, as he told them that there would be no fight for his life, that he would freely give himself over to the authorities; and perhaps most unthinkable, that they would all abandon him even before the night was over.  “Before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times,” Jesus told Peter.

That Jesus was ready to lay down his life was not only incomprehensible to the disciples, it was foreign to basic human nature.  We are hard-wired to resist death, to fight for life.  The real confusion for Peter and the rest centered on their attempt to fit Jesus’ life and teachings  into their worldview, into their sensibilities, into their value system.  More often than not, Jesus’ words and actions stretched their understandings and challenged their thought patterns.  Nothing stretched and challenged them more than the idea that Jesus was not going to fight.

Of course, what the disciples did not know and would not understand until everything was accomplished was that Jesus was indeed fighting.  He was at war in the battle between good and evil, and his action on the cross of Calvary was the final blow in defeating the power of sin and death.  This was not a battle “against flesh and blood,” as Paul wrote years later, “But against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  The disciples were fighting the wrong battle in the wrong way with the wrong weapons.  Jesus’ battle was against sin and death, and his weapons were truth and grace.

Lord Jesus, I thank you for fighting my battle with your weapons.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Wednesday, February 6, 2013: The Single Mark of Discipleship…

33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13:33-35

Here in the mid-point of the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus begins an extended series of teachings to his disciples, mingled with assurances and intense prayers, as he prepares for his death.  We can only imagine that these last words would be of extreme importance – a summary of Jesus’ teachings.  First on the list is the new commandment to love one another.  This teaching connects with Jesus’ words in the other gospels, in which he said that the first and great commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” and to “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:37-39).  This teaching was not original with Jesus.  Both commandments are found in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:5, and Leviticus 19:18), but by the time of Jesus they had been buried by hundreds of lesser laws.

Jesus’ life and teachings rubbed against the legalism of institutional Judaism.  His life focused on a changed life, not merely a conformed life.  His intent was for a change of heart, not simply a change of behavior.  And such a change of heart necessitates nothing less than a change of human nature.  Of course, no law is powerful enough to change human nature.  The truth is, Jesus’ law is impossible for us to follow… apart from an indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible for us to accomplish this law’s demands on our own.  Do you see what that means?  It means that none of us is righteous, none of us is able to boast, and none of us is in a position to judge.  None of us can live out this law apart from the grace and power of God.

Jesus’ command is not a call for a simple emotion we call love.  Jesus’ command is that his followers be known as new creations, who have turned away from the natural self-serving instincts of human nature and turned toward the supernatural, life-giving divine nature.  Jesus’ desire is that his followers be famous – not for their piety or dogma or ritual or strict rules, but simply for their love for God and their love for others.

It was Jesus’ greatest command, and he made it just hours before he stretched out his hands upon the cross of Calvary just because of his love for you and me.

Eternal God, write your law upon my heart that I may love you fully and follow Christ Jesus’ in pouring out my love for others.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Saturday, February 2, 2013 – “Blessed are you if you do them…”

12 When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. - John 13:12-17

One of the most fascinating stories in scripture, one of the most compelling messages of the faith, one of the most insightful teachings of our Lord, and one of the most neglected commands of Christ Jesus are found in the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel.  The central message of John’s account of Jesus’ last supper focused on the servant’s heart of Christ Jesus, and the central event was Jesus’ action of washing his disciples’ feet.

Look what happens if you simply focus on the actions of Jesus in this account.  Pay attention to the action verbs.  Jesus knew his hour had come; Jesus loved his disciples to the end; Jesus rose from supper; Jesus laid aside his garments; Jesus girded himself with a towel; Jesus poured water into a basin; Jesus washed his disciples’ feet; Jesus resumed his place; Jesus said, “You ought to wash one another’s feet.”  His actions are profound.

Jesus knew, loved, rose, laid aside, girded, poured, washed, resumed, said.  Do you see how just the verbs talk of Jesus’ pre-existence and foreknowledge, of his great love, of his willingness to lay aside his glory to take on human form, of his girding himself with humility, of his pouring out himself on the cross of Calvary, of his washing clean those who turn to him by his death, and then of Jesus’ resuming his place through his resurrection, and ascension.

The simple account of Jesus’ washing feet tells the entire Gospel story, the full movement of Jesus’ incarnation – his life, teaching, death, and resurrection.  And his summation of the event is for his followers to follow his example.  In fact, Jesus’ last word on the issue is this, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Lord Jesus, thank you for the way you loved, rose, laid aside, girded, poured, washed, and resumed… all for me.  Help me to do to others as you have done for me.  Amen

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston