Monthly Archives: September 2014

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Friday, September 26, 2014 – “Do as I have done to you…”

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? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 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. 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 of those who follow him, and the central event was Jesus’ action to wash the feet of his disciples.

Look what happens as you simply focus on the actions of Jesus.  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 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, “Blessed are you if you do them.”

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

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Thursday, September 25, 2014 –

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, ”You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, ”Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 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 aspects of this narrative which are also rich in meaning for Jesus’ followers.  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.  But 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 blog by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014 – Servant Leadership

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 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 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 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.  John tells us that Jesus knew that “he was going to God,” a euphemism for 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’ appreciation of those who labored with him.  Likewise, it could have been a final dramatic expression which defined the relationships as his mighty movement of grace extended into the future – inverted, upside-down relationships, in which the first shall be last and the leader shall be as a servant.

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 blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 – Loving to the end…

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 blog by Gorman Houston

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Friday, September 19, 2014 – Seeing and Believing… and Revealing

And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 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 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 to come to faith in Christ, Jesus commends him and offers a blessing.  “Have you believed because you have seen me?” Jesus asked Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

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

Jesus is proclaiming to all the world that it is not just his works which are signs; his entire life is a sign.  Everything he says, everything he does points beyond him to the one who sent him, to his heavenly Father.  Such a statement lines up with basic theology that 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, through his spirit, in his likeness ,and by his example, 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 saves me, the one who transforms me.”   We become the sign in our generation – the sign which triggers belief.

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 blog by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014 – For this hour, for this purpose…

“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.  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 blog by Gorman Houston

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Friday, September 12, 2014 – “Hating Life and Loving Life…”

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, alienated, 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 a 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 right-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 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 blog by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014 – “The Discourse of Death”

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.  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. 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, the extreme expression of sacrificial, self-giving love.  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 when 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 it all that she or 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 Jesus 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 is 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 the way of life.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional blog by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014 – “The World Has Gone after Him…”

The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.”  Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida 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 both heard of the miracle-worker and longed to see him.

Even more significant than these dispersed Jews may have been the Gentiles’ expressed 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 in 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 blog by Gorman Houston