Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Changes Us?, Part 3

In studying the biblical letter, 1 John, I began wondering how the Apostle John turned from what appears to be a rather immature guy into a godly man who would write a powerful Gospel account, key letters, and a phenomenal Revelation, all while being a key leader in his early, local church. Through his ministry and Scriptures, John still speaks and still leads.

So what changed him? We looked at some key events here and here. Although many things happened to John that changed him, this final part includes the last two that I'll mention for now.

John observed the agony of Jesus.

John witnessed the suffering of Jesus. He was actually there. When we view movies that depict Christ's death, few even come close to showing what that kind of deep agony must have been. We sometimes forget that Jesus suffered even in the garden of Gethsemane. He suffered as He talked with his Father about what would soon happen. So much so that it was as if He were sweating blood. It was intense. And John was there.

Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and horrified. Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow—to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” (Mark 14.32-34, HCSB)

They were so exhausted that they eventually fell asleep. But they would not forget this dramatic event that changed them. Don't you think that would have changed you?

John took responsibility for the family of Jesus.

In a sweet gesture just before His death, Jesus wanted to ensure care for His widowed mother. So in one act of love, He took care of His mom and at the same time brought John into the family. Jesus was of course the firstborn among His brothers. Why He did not at some point assign the care of His mother to the next oldest brother is a mystery to me. Perhaps it was because John was maturing. He was changing. And Jesus trusted him. In this remarkable move, from the cross, He accomplished so much. Here is the story:

Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple He loved standing there, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. (John 19.25-27, HCSB)

That final sentence says so much. John completed his assignment well. From that day forward, he knew that Jesus had entrusted the care of His mom to him, and he faithfully provided care. Don't you think that would have changed you?

In both of these instances, and all of the others we have seen, it is a sweet reminder for me to see all that happened to John the Apostle in changing him.

But then I remember that in various ways, these things have happened to you and me as well. I've come to a point of belief in Jesus through a personal encounter. I've seen, in some ways, the supernatural power of God at work. I've been appointed by Jesus in a special connection. I've come to appreciate the approval of Jesus by God the Father. I've come to understand the suffering of Jesus. And Jesus has brought me into His family. In a spiritual way, I've experienced these episodes just like John.

And so have you.

And when it's real, it changes us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Changes Us?, Part 2

Last time, we asked the question, essentially: What does it take for a man to change from a selfish, perhaps wimpy guy into an influential leader among Christians in the first century and beyond? John the Apostle was such a man. He became a great leader who wrote Scripture and helped lead the church into a new era.

So what changed him? We looked at two events previously. Here are two more life-changing episodes.

John was appointed in a special connection with Jesus.

The Gospel writers give lists of the Twelve Apostles, but Mark's list includes something interesting. It lists two examples of the nicknames that Jesus gave among the specially appointed team:

He appointed the Twelve:
To Simon, He gave the name Peter;
and to James the son of Zebedee,
and to his brother John,
He gave the name “Boanerges”
(that is, “Sons of Thunder”)…
(Mark 3.16-17, HCSB)

Perhaps we shouldn't read too much into this. But over the years, the folks who have chosen to give me a nickname are often those who have known me best, or worked with me the closest. I have many times done the same. A nickname is often a term of endearment, or a way to show a special connection. We know that Jesus began calling Simon by the name of Peter because of a special connection. And that's just what John the Apostle also had with Jesus. No one knows (now) exactly what Jesus meant by calling Zebedee's sons the Sons of Thunder—or however we should translate that! But my guess: it was a loving term of closeness.

I think, That sure would have changed me.

John's was certainly a special connection, but have you realized how special a connection you have with God? God knows your name, He knows your days, and even the number of hairs on your head. He may even have a nickname for you (okay, I made that part up, but it sounds just like His loving self to do something like that).

John witnessed the approval of Jesus by God the Father.

In one of the intriguing stories of the unfolding revelation of who Jesus really was and is, He allowed three of the Apostles to come to a very unique mountaintop prayer service. We call it the Transfiguration because Jesus' body and even clothes apparently began to glow! He was glorified right in front of them.

About eight days after these words, He took along Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white. (Luke 9.28-29, HCSB)

He spoke with Moses and Elijah, and then a cloud overshadowed them and the voice of God the Father said, "This is My Son, the Chosen One; listen to Him!" (v. 35). John and the others were able to be there when God the Father personally spoke on behalf of His Son to say that they should listen to Him. It's as though He was saying: The Law and the Prophets (represented by Moses and Elijah) are good, but this One—He is My Son! Be sure to pay attention to Him! Others had seen something similar at Jesus' baptism, but not this. This was a special revelation from God reserved for Peter, James and you guessed it—John.

I think, That sure would have changed me.

We may not have seen this transfiguration live, but what was once kept to themselves (v. 36) has now been told to the world through the Scriptures. And many of us have experienced God the Father's most significant approval…that of Jesus' sacrifice in our place.

More next time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What Changes Us?, Part 1

As we began a new series at our church about What We Know from the letter called 1 John, I began thinking about the dramatic changes that clearly took place in the Apostle John's life. This is the fellow who at one point asked Jesus if he could sit in authority next to Jesus once His kingdom was in place. And apparently on another occasion, John allowed his mom to go to bat for him and ask Jesus the same basic question.

What kind of mature man stands idly by while expecting (or at least allowing) his mother to ask a selfish question about a promotion?

But, John did ultimately mature. He became the man of God that would write a powerful Gospel account, key letters, and a phenomenal Revelation that would be talked about for centuries to come (and still is).

So I wanted to remind myself of some of the significant events and experiences that John had during his earlier days. There were several instances in John the Apostle’s life that must have altered the rest of his life. What changed him (and what changes us)?

I'm going to point out six events that shaped John. Here are the first two.

John came to a point of belief in Jesus through a personal encounter.

I've always been intrigued by the way the Gospels tell the story of the first disciples' initial steps of faith in Christ. They must have known who Jesus was. But when He encountered them, in person, something began to change inside them. They believed in Him.

Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him. (Matthew 4.21-22, HCSB)

Can you imagine what that must have been like? Jesus Himself called John to follow. And John did. Surely that personal encounter began to change John into the man he would later become. It must have been quite a feeling to have been directly and personally called by Jesus.

But then, aren't each of us directly and personally called by Jesus? Absolutely.

John saw firsthand the supernatural power of Jesus.

As the stories in the Gospels unfold, it is amazing to think about being there! But John didn't have to imagine it. He was there for some of the most significant miracles of Jesus. Here is one particular example.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went into Simon and Andrew’s house with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law was lying in bed with a fever, and they told Him [Jesus] about her at once. So He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she began to serve them.
When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all those who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. The whole town was assembled at the door, and He healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him. (Mark 1.29-34, HCSB)

Then another time, John was present as Jesus raised from death a little girl. Very few got to see such a glorious sight. But look who was included:

After He came to the house, He let no one enter with Him except Peter, John, James, and the child’s father and mother. (Luke 8.51, HCSB)

It seems that the Apostle John was blessed to be able to witness in clear view many of the more well-known works of the Savior. He was there. And in some cases, he was given direct and special access. Certainly this up-close and privileged access to the supernatural work of Jesus would end up shaping John's life!

But then again, haven't there been times when you have seen God work in incredible ways? You may not have thought of them as miracles, but if it was God working in a specific way that you witnessed, didn't He grant special access? Absolutely.

To be continued.

Monday, December 3, 2012

From the Beginning

How do you start off your day? It seems many people contend that what you do first in the morning has a great impact on the rest of your day. Thus it follows that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day." Not sure who came up with that one; I would fail that test.

How do you begin a new year? Or any new phase? Certainly there is something powerful about starting well so that you can end well.

This all makes sense when we remember perhaps the three main inherent desires that each of us has. We all long for a sense of significance/value, we all need relationship/community, and we all desire an understanding our destiny (where we're going) and origin (where we came from; how we began). We Christians would contend that these desires are satisfied in Christ.

So it's not ironic that the Apostle John would focus on this third element: the origin, the beginning.

It's obvious to see what appears to be a parallel between how John starts the letter now known as 1 John, and how he starts the Gospel that bears his name. And both of those remind us of the first words in the Bible:

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have observed
and have touched with our hands,
concerning the Word of life—
(1 John 1.1, HCSB, emphasis added) 

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
(John 1.1-2, HCSB, emphasis added)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1.1, HCSB, emphasis added)

Regarding the parallels, some have said that in 1 John, he is talking about the eternality of Jesus, the "Word of life." They might cite 1 John 2.13-14: "the One who is from the beginning."

Others say that John is referencing the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel message, the "word about the Life." They might quote 1 John 2.7; 2.24, or 3.11: "For this is the message you have heard from the beginning."

I believe that John was smart enough to do both at the same time. Listen to how he continues chapter one, after the first verse:

…that life was revealed,
and we have seen it
and we testify and declare to you
the eternal life that was with the Father
and was revealed to us—
what we have seen and heard
we also declare to you,
so that you may have fellowship along with us;
and indeed our fellowship is with the Father
and with His Son Jesus Christ.
(1 John 1.2-3, HCSB)

The beautiful way in which John works in both the eternal nature of God and the consistent message of His grace is the starting point of a short letter in which he reminds us of all the things that we can and should know.

On Sunday mornings at Fellowship we are working our way through the letter of 1 John this Advent season. It may not be at the top of everyone's list of obvious Christmas texts of Scripture, but maybe it should be. John starts off with the genuineness of the incarnation of Jesus. That is Christmas—the miracle of the birth of the Messiah.

If you live in our area, we hope you can join us. If not, you can listen to our podcasts. And we'll be sharing some thoughts here along the way.