Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013: “Believing on Easter…”

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag’dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. – John 20:1-8

Sometime after sunset on the Sabbath Day and before dawn on the first day of the week Mary went to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid.  The Sabbath with its restrictions on work would have ended at sundown according to the Jewish calendar.  John tells us that Jesus’ body had been hastily buried before the Sabbath began at sundown on Friday.  John tells us that Mary had watched as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus moved Jesus’ lifeless body from the cross to the garden tomb close by.  It was to that garden and to that tomb that Mary made her way in the pre-dawn darkness.

Mary was surprised to find that the tomb had been unsealed and that Jesus’ body was not there.  Her immediate thought was not that something supernatural had transpired, but rather something devious.  Perhaps the same men who had beaten, abused, humiliated, and crucified Jesus had now decided to desecrate his body.  She didn’t know.  She only knew that his body was not in the tomb where it had been laid.

John tells us that Mary hurried to tell Peter and the other disciples and that Peter and John ran to the tomb to check out Mary’s account.  When they saw it just as Mary had said, John, we are told, believed.  Take note of that.  John saw the empty tomb, and that was all it took for him.  Even before dawn, even in the darkness, John’s faith was quickened, and he believed.   He believed in Easter on Easter.

Most of Jesus’ followers, including Mary, Peter, Thomas, and the rest needed more encouragement than just the sight of an empty tomb to come to faith.  But as soon as John saw the empty tomb, he believed.

Good Father, how thankful we are for the message of the resurrection!  We thank you that your grace and love overpower sin and death to offer us life in all its fullness.  Help us to  believe this good news and to live as more than conquerors through him who loved us.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston.

Good Friday, March 29, 2013: The Day of Preparation…

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. 2 And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; 3 they came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4 Pilate went out again, and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard these words, he was the more afraid; 9 he entered the praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, ”You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.”12 Upon this Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; every one who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.” 13 When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gab’batha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.- John 19:1-16

John’s Gospel places the Passover on the Sabbath Day, following Jesus’ death.  In this detail, John veers from the chronology of the other gospels, which records that Jesus and his disciples observed the Passover on the same night Jesus was arrested.  This detail is not insignificant in John’s account.  By placing the Passover on Saturday, the Sabbath Day, John reports that the day Jesus was crucified “was the day of Preparation of the Passover” (John 19:14).  What this means is that while Jesus was being crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, an estimated 100,000 lambs were being slaughtered inside the Temple courtyard.  The sound of the bleating of sheep from the Temple mount must have filled the city all day until just about the time that Jesus breathed his last.  And then there was silence.  “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon me.  Amen

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Sunday, March 24, 2013: Jesus’ Surprising Prayer…

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” - John 17:20-21

Jesus spent much of his last night in prayer.  His prayers did not cover a vast array of subjects, but simply focused on just two things – the work he would accomplish in the hours ahead and the followers who would continue his work after his death.

The second most-surprising aspect of Jesus’ prayer in John’s Gospel is that Jesus talked of his suffering and death in terms of the way it would glorify God.  “Father, the hour has come;” Jesus prayed, “Glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee.”  How remarkable it is that Jesus was not praying to avoid his death but was praying that through his suffering and death God would be glorified.  His prayer continued by saying that he had sought to glorify God in every aspect of his life, and now he wanted to glorify God in his death.  What a profound prayer this is!  Perhaps this prayer should be the model prayer for each of us – asking not so much to change the circumstances we face as to approach all circumstances in a way that brings glory to God.

Such a prayer reflects Jesus’ understanding that he was not a victim.  John is careful to make it clear that Jesus was in control from the first to the last.  He could have avoided his death; he chose not to do so.  His acceptance of death doesn’t mean that it was easy.  Throughout the Gospels, including John’s, we find Jesus’ anguish over his impending suffering.  “Now is my soul troubled,” Jesus told his followers, “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27).  That Jesus approached his death with both a complete confidence in God and an utter desire to glorify God until his last breath has to be the second most-surprising aspect of Jesus’ prayer in John’s Gospel.

What then was the first most-surprising thing?  On his last night on earth, Jesus prayed for you and me.  After praying for his disciples, Jesus said, “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word” (John 17:20).  You and I – those who have come to believe in Jesus through the scriptures and the church are those for whom Jesus was praying just before his arrest.  And notice that his prayer was simply that we would be one.  Perhaps this was an expression of unity, that God would be glorified as we all worked together to advance the kingdom.  Perhaps this was an expression of consistency, that our faith and courage would match that of the first generation of disciples and that our lives would serve to glorify God and advance the Gospel.

As we enter this Holy Week and offer our prayers… let us pray that God would be glorified in every circumstance we face, and let us do so knowing the Christ Jesus himself holds us in his prayers.

Lord Jesus, forgive the self-centered nature of my prayers.  Instead, help me seek to answer the prayer you prayed for me that in all aspects of my life you may be glorified.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Thursday, March 21, 2013 – “Peace I Leave with You…”

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  - John 14:27

These are familiar words of great comfort, as Jesus offers his peace to his disciples.  If we read them out of context it would be easy to imagine that Jesus spoke these words while crossing the Sea of Galilee on a beautiful, calm day, in which Jesus and his followers felt as if they did not have a care in the world.  ”Peace I leave with you.”  Likewise, it is not difficult for us to hear these words and interpret them to mean, if we follow Jesus we will face neither trials nor temptations, neither trauma nor tragedy.  ”My peace do I give to you.”

The problem, of course, is that these words were not uttered at a time of tranquility and beauty; and Jesus did not utter them to promise an unencumbered life.  From the context in John’s Gospel we know that Jesus spoke these words just hours before his arrest, trial, suffering, and death.   His was a promise of peace in the context of peril.

“Peace I leave with you,” he assured his disciples, perhaps reaching out to touch them with the same hands which would be pierced by nails the following day.   The peace Jesus offered transcended the impossible circumstances these followers would face within the ensuing hours as well as the struggles they would face for the remainder of their lives.  No wonder he said he gave peace “not as the world gives.”  This peace in their lives would not merely come from a mellow moment.  It would come instead from the source of all life, the assurance of all truth, and the victor of all battles.

Perhaps we could better grasp the urgency and meaning of Jesus words if we recast them to reflect the setting in which they were spoken.  “I want to give you my peace,” we might hear Jesus saying, “because the world will not give you peace.  The world will give you tragedy; the world will give you sorrow; the world will give you despair.  I give you my peace to see you through every battle, to get you through every dark night, to help you through every disappointment, every doubt, every fear.  Receive my peace to drive out the darkness, so that you will be neither troubled nor afraid.”

The Gospels assure us that just as Jesus did not protect his disciples from the battles between good and evil, neither does he protect us.  He did not shelter them from the storms of life.  Neither does he shelter us.  What Jesus gave his disciples was something the world could not take away – his peace.  That is what Jesus wants to give us as well.

Lord Jesus, keep me from settling for ease in my life.  Instead, fill me with your presence that I may not shy away from the challenges and struggles of life but face them with courage, certainty… and peace.   Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Friday, March 15th

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you”. – John 14:15-17

Jesus assured his disciples that the way into the kingdom of God was not through the mastery of morality or through segregation from sinners or through the recitation of ritual but rather through a simple transforming friendship with him.  Such a friendship he instructed his followers is complete and necessitates loving him in such a way that Christ’s will becomes our will, his desires become our desires, and his loves become our loves.  “If you love me,” Jesus said, “You will keep my commandments.”

Even though Jesus requires obedience, his teaching is far from the suffocating legalism that robs life of its joy and fullness.   He calls his commandment “new,” and unlike the complicated laws and ordinances which often accompany institutionalized religion, Jesus’ commandment is simply to “love one another.”

The scriptures warn us that legalism and moralism have detrimental side effects of pride, boastfulness, jealousy and envy, so too Jesus told his followers that a transforming friendship with him has its own side effects.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…”  The side effect of a relationship with Christ Jesus is that our lives are flooded by God’s very presence and we are transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Jesus is assuring his followers in his final hours with them that faith is not complicated.  If we simply follow Christ Jesus as a beloved friend and allow his love to permeate us, then our lives will be rightly focused, we will love God and others in appropriate, non-self-serving ways, and we will claim the comfort and truth of God through an indwelling of his Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus, I want to be your friend.  By your grace perfect my love and transform my life into your very likeness.  Amen.

 

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Monday, March 11, 2013: “I Am the Way…”

“…you know the way where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can 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 by me.” – John 14:4-6

As Jesus talked to his disciples on the night before his suffering and death, he assured them that when he left them they would know the way into the kingdom of God.  Thomas replied to show the ignorance of the group.  Since they didn’t even know where the kingdom of God was, how could they possibly know the way?  Jesus responded by offering the sixth of the seven “I am” sayings in John’s Gospel – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Jesus’ reply affirms convincingly that the key to the kingdom of God, the key to knowing God, the key to drawing close to God, the key to being in God’s presence is simply being in relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus was telling the disciples that the path to God is not a matter of following rules or laws, not a matter of being a member of the correct church, not a matter of developing a detailed theological understanding, not a matter of following the correct ritual.  All of those things may be means of grace – helpful ways of coming to Christ and learning of Christ, but none of those can be substituted for a genuine, growing relationship with our Lord.

“I am the way,” Jesus said.  Following laws or rituals or morality codes can make us devout, can make us obedient, can even make us decent people, but none of that can make us righteous or godly or Christlike.  Why?  These well-intentioned actions produce dangerous side-effects – pride, arrogance, jealousy, envy, and self-righteousness.  That’s why Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but by me.”   The only way to godliness, the only way to Christlikeness, is through the one who is the self-professed way.

Lord Jesus, forgive my well-intentioned, self-righteous ways and help me commit myself fully to the only one who is “the way, the truth, and the life.”  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Sunday, March 3, 2013: I go and prepare…I come and take you…

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” - John 14:2-3

As Jesus prepared his disciples for his own death, he offered them eternal comfort.  Just as he used images from the 23rd psalm to talk of God’s shepherding love for his people earlier in John’s Gospel, so too he used images from the same psalm to give his followers an eternal perspective on his suffering and death.  We can almost hear the psalmist’s words, “Thou preparest a table before me,” as we read Jesus’ words, “I go to prepare a place for you.”  Jesus assurance was that his care for his people extends beyond his work on earth…into eternity.

In all of this Jesus was telling the disciples two important things.  First, he was not abandoning them.  He was leaving them on purpose to complete in eternity the things he had begun on earth.  Second, his separation from his followers was not permanent, but only temporary.  “When I go and prepare a place for you,” he told them, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Note both that Jesus told his followers these things before his death and that he used imagery from the Shepherd Psalm to give them a way to interpret his suffering and death.  In all of this Jesus revealed that he was in complete control of his passion and death.  He chose the cross as the ultimate expression of grace and love.  His disciples found meaning then, and we still find comfort today, in knowing that Jesus’ death was not a senseless tragedy but a purposeful expression of love and grace.

Lord Jesus, even now we can hardly comprehend your love and sacrifice.  Continue to speak to our hearts and minds that we may claim your grace and know the place you prepare for us in your kingdom.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston