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    All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me - Letters to the Prison

    From the series Letters to the Prison


    Greetings!  Last week, Jesus claimed that his perfectly accurate teaching was directly from God:

    • “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” -John 7:16b

    He has more to say about this teaching:

    • If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. -John 7:17-18

    This is quite the mind-bending thing Jesus says here.  We mentioned the choice people listening to Jesus must make:  Given the perfect accuracy of Jesus’ teaching and his obvious lack of human training, when Jesus claims that his teaching is from God, people must either acknowledge the truth of that claim or flatly deny Jesus altogether.  If they deny that Jesus is sent from God, then, in their minds, he is merely human and is falsely “seeking his own glory” and “speaking on his own authority” and should therefore be ignored or silenced.  

    On the other hand, since Jesus is clearly claiming to have been sent by God, according to God’s will, from heaven, to teach the truth of God (“my teaching is not mine, but his who sent me”), then it would also be God’s will for people to listen to Jesus and recognize his teaching as having come from God.  Therefore, “if anyone’s will is to do God’s will,” they will recognize God’s authority in Jesus’ teaching.  This option, by the way, is the only way to explain how Jesus’ teaching can be so profoundly accurate.  Given this evidence, what Jesus says about his teaching must be true.  So, the people denying Jesus’ teaching at this moment also deny the obvious evidence before them.

    But here’s where Jesus’ words get really interesting:  When Jesus speaks of God’s authority and glory, we get a mind-blowing view of the amazing relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son.

    Consider what Jesus says near the end of Matthew’s gospel:

    • And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  -Matthew 28:18

    Yet Jesus submits himself to the authority of God and His Word. On the subject of glory, we see a similar pattern.  Later in or study, we’ll see Jesus say this:

    • “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.      -John 13:31b-32


    • …this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. -John 14:13b

    And yet, in the Old Testament, God is very clear about his exclusive right to authority and glory:

    • “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” -Psalm 46:10


    • I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.  -Isaiah 42:8

    Jesus has already asserted that his teaching is from God, and the evidence of the profound wisdom of that teaching cannot be refuted.  Further, when speaking of authority and glory, Jesus clearly submits himself to God’s authority and everything he does is for God’s glory.  Yet God, in turn, glorifies Jesus and gives all authority to him even as he himself claims exclusive rights to all authority and glory.

    How can all that possibly be logically consistent and true?  How can Jesus and God say these things?  Only because of the mind-blowing relationship they have with one another in the trinity.  God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son (Jesus) are one, yet distinct.  They wield supreme authority over all things always in perfect unison and each is equally deserving of all glory and all praise.  Yet, they operate in relation to one another.  Jesus the Son perfectly submits to the will of God the Father while God the Father grants all authority and glory to the Son.  It is a perfect and perfectly beautiful, eternal relationship that we cannot fully apprehend with our finite little brains.  But we see enough of it in Scripture to be awestruck and inspired to praise and worship our Great God and Savior!  Amen!  Hallelujah!

    Going back to the conversation at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus is about to ask a really tough question.  In verse 18, he asserts that “the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”  So, Jesus is true and does not lie.  He keeps God’s law as given through Moses.  But his listeners do not keep the law.  No human does.  And Jesus knows it.  He knows the hearts of all men.  Look what he says:

    • Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” -John 7:19
    • Jesus calls them out for their unlawful and murderous intention, and look how they respond:
    • The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” -John 7:20

    Lie…  Deny…  Accuse the victim of being “crazy…” or “possessed…”  Isn’t this how we often react ourselves when we’re confronted with our own sinful intentions?  We tend to do this very thing rather than admit we have sinned.  Why?  Because it’s more comfortable to self-righteously deny that we’ve injured someone else with our behavior… or that, if we did injure them, they deserved it somehow.  Jesus is about to say something profound about this.  We’ll look at it next week!  Until then, consider carefully how you yourselves react to such things.  We love you!

    Dean A.

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      God the Teacher - Letters from the Prison

      From the series Letters to the Prison


      Hello, everyone.  We’re so grateful for the chance to consider God’s word with you.  Please be sure to thank the people who make these posts available to you.  If you need a Bible, ask for one!  

      Last week we saw the unbelief of Jesus’ brothers and a profound thing Jesus says about himself:  He has the authority to judge the world… and the world hates him for it.  Moving on, we’ll see a few things other people say about Jesus: 

      • The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.  -John 7:11-13  

      Seems like everyone is talking about Jesus at this feast… but no one has the right information.  The Jewish leaders don’t know where Jesus is…

      Some people are saying Jesus is a “good man.”  Jesus is fully man…  and he is good… but that’s not the whole story. Jesus’ own claims about himself and his actions don’t leave “nice guy” as an option.  He is either God incarnate here to save sinners, or he is a raving lunatic… or worse.

      Some say, “he is leading the people astray.”  Astray from what?  From the “comfortable” traditions of the superficial and hypocritical religious system of the day?  From the oppressive and abusive Roman government?  From the “anything goes” depravity of the 1st-century pagan world?  We see Jesus leading people from these things today…  and the world hates him for it.

      We see here that the crowd had lots of opinions, but no one had the right answers.  This is the dire peril of crowd mentality.  Just because a bunch of people agree about something doesn’t make it right… or true…  This danger is as real today as it was back then.

      The Jews in verse 7 are the Jewish religious leaders who were searching for Jesus with hostile intent.  The Jewish leaders’ hostility will become open and apparent soon enough.  But for the moment, we know their intentions are not good because, in verse 13, everyone else is afraid of the Jewish leaders to the point where no one is speaking openly of Jesus.  So, even though the Jewish leaders will later blatantly deny that they intend to murder Jesus, the crowd already clearly senses the danger of discussing Jesus openly.

      We see this hostility toward Jesus today as well.  It might not be blatant hostility (sometimes it is).  But try bringing Jesus up seriously in a normal conversation with someone you’ve just met or in a public place often enough and you will undoubtedly encounter some kind of hostility toward Jesus… either openly or covertly.  Many Christians feel an intense unspoken pressure to keep their beliefs about Jesus to themselves.  They fear being shamed or ridiculed or mocked or threatened.  People are often murdered for their belief in Jesus.  This is the sort of hostility the world continues to hold against Jesus even today.  And, very often, the crowd tends to go along with the world in this hostility.  So, listening to and following the crowd without carefully considering the facts for ourselves can be a dangerous prospect.

      We’ll see more of the danger of crowd mentality later in our study.

      Meanwhile, the Feast of Booths is a seven-day feast.  And:

      • About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”  -John 7:14-15

      Jesus, having arrived discretely, “went up into the temple and began teaching” (John 7:14) about the third or fourth day of the feast.  We’re not told what exactly he is teaching, but it is clearly profound and accurate.  The Jews are marveling at his teaching because Jesus had no formal human training in the Scriptures.  Humanly, he was the son of a carpenter from Nazareth.  Usually, if one is going to teach in the temple in Jerusalem, he must first study intensely under a leading and respected Jewish Rabbi.  Since Jesus had never done such a thing, the people listening to him were amazed and trying to figure out where he got his education.  Jesus gives them the answer:

      • So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. -John 7:16

      Jesus, having clearly claimed to be sent by God from heaven numerous times already, is asserting here that his teaching is God’s teaching.  This is a profound assertion to make.  But when we consider that Jews in that day placed an extremely high value in the teachings of their human Rabbis, what Jesus says here is even more shocking.  Typically, a Jewish Rabbi follows a long tradition of rabbinical teaching as a student before they themselves begin to teach.  So, when they teach, they are teaching from sometimes ancient traditions that have been thought through, debated, and documented for generations.   In mathematics, this would be the equivalent of teaching someone through numerous courses in basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry before going into calculus.  And all of the formulas and theories taught there are already well-established by often ancient scholars.

      So, what Jesus is doing at this moment would be like an “uneducated” man with no human training walking into a college classroom and teaching complex mathematical equations with a profound understanding of all existing knowledge of math.  

      And when people ask Jesus who trained him, he answers “God.”  They can’t refute his teaching, and they can’t deny what they know about his human upbringing and lack of any human educational “pedigree.”  

      So, when Jesus claims to bring God’s teaching… and that teaching is perfectly accurate –even correcting the long-established ideas of ancient rabbinical scholars—how will his enemies respond?  We’ll see in a few verses that they are left with two choices:  Agree that Jesus is who he says he is and follow him… or deny him and try to silence him. Interestingly, this is exactly the same choice the world has today about Jesus.  And some choose to follow while others choose to try and silence Jesus.  

      Friends, we encourage you today:  Stand firm in the truth about Jesus.  Pray that we would do the same.  We love you!  Until next week!

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        Jesus' Time - Letters to the Prison

        From the series Letters to the Prison


        Hello, everyone.  Just to clarify, there was a typo from last week:  John wrote the gospel of John approximately 90AD… 60 years (not 30) after the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ our Lord.  This brings up an interesting thing to consider about the New Testament:  All of it was written during the lifetime of people who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Take what Paul says in 1 Corinthians for example:

        • Then he [Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. -1 Corinthians 15:6

        Paul wrote this letter around 56AD, and we see clearly that hundreds of eyewitnesses to Jesus were still alive at the time. Certainly, many more of them had died by the time John wrote his gospel in 90AD.  John was certainly the last living Apostle at the time he wrote the last book of the New Testament (Revelation).  But John was himself an eyewitness to Jesus’ entire earthly ministry before and after his death on the cross (1 John 1:1).  So, what we read in the New Testament is a reliable testimony from people who experienced the events it records.  This is true for a significant portion of the Old Testament as well…  accurate historical accounts from people who were there to witness the events it records.  This is one more reason to trust the Bible.

        Anyway, we’re moving into John 7.  Verses 1-2 give us some ideas about where Jesus went and how much time has passed since the events of chapter 6.  Jesus spent several months in Galilee, a region far north of Judea and Jerusalem.  He avoided Judea and Jerusalem because “the Jews were seeking to kill him” (John 7:1).  “Jews” in this phrase likely means the leaders of the Jews, not the entire nation of Jewish people.  When the time for the Feast of Booths came, Jesus had an interesting conversation with his brothers.  They “encouraged” him to go and make a public display of his works during the Feast.  We’re not told exactly why they were egging Jesus on in this way, but look what John says about them:

        • For not even his brothers believed in him. -John 7:5

        Whatever their motivation was, it had nothing to do with Jesus’ true nature or purpose.  It is interesting to note that Jesus’ brothers did eventually come to believe that Jesus is who he says he is.  We see them gathered with the rest of the believers after Jesus ascends back to heaven (Acts 1:14).  James and Jude, two of Jesus’ brothers, each wrote letters that are included in the New Testament.  James features prominently as a leader of the early church (Acts 15).  So, even Jesus’ own brothers didn’t believe in him at first, but God changed their minds.

        We’re about to see another “change of mind” –in Jesus himself.

        Look what he says to his brothers:

        • You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” -John 7:6-8

        On the surface, this looks like Jesus has no intention of going to this feast.  Verse 9 even says “after this, he remained in Galilee” (John 7:9).  On the surface, there are two problems with this:

        1. Jesus, being a Jewish male, is required by Jewish law to attend the feast.  And Jesus keeps the law perfectly (Matt 5:17 and see also his insistence on being baptized by John the Baptist --Matt. 3:13-17).
        2. Jesus ended up going to the feast after all:  
        • But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.  -John 7:10

        So, did Jesus intend to break the Jewish law by not going to the feast?  Did he lie to his brothers?  The answer is no… and no!

        Keep in mind what he says: “my time has not yet fully come…”  emphasis on yet.  And…  “I am not going up to this feast…”  we could easily and accurately add “right now” to this statement… Or “yet.”  Or “with you.”  In other words, Jesus was on God’s timetable, not his brothers’.  Jesus went where God told him to go and did what God told him to do when God told him to do it.  And he did so always in perfect obedience to God’s will.  The discretion Jesus uses to enter Jerusalem at this key moment will give us some interesting things to consider later on.  But for the purpose of our study, look what else Jesus says to his brothers:

        • Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. -John 7:6-7

        This is a harsh thing for Jesus to say about his brothers and a profound thing for him to say about himself.  His brothers, being unbelievers at the moment, have no stake in God’s plans or timetable.  They belong to the world, which is why their “time is always here.”  This is also why “the world cannot hate” them.  Jesus, on the other hand, is hated by the world because he testifies against the world’s evil works.  This is as true today as it was back then.  Spend a few minutes watching TV or listening to the radio or reading a newspaper or scanning the internet and you will undoubtedly bump into some form of the world’s hatred for Jesus.  Sometimes it’s subtle.  Sometimes it’s loud and overt.  But it’s there.  This is why many believers find themselves uncomfortable with a lot of the things many others find innocent or entertaining… once you begin to know and love Jesus it’s hard to hear or see or experience things that dishonor or show hatred for him.

        Also profound at this moment is the authority Jesus claims for himself to judge the works of the world and testify against them.  Jesus holds the authority to determine whether or not any work in the world is good or evil.  He has this authority because, being God, he is the essence… the very definition of what is good (Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19).

        So, Jesus judges the works of the world and testifies against it that its works are evil.

        And the world hates him for it.

        Is this our response to Jesus, too?  How do we feel when God’s word convicts us… when it shows us the evil of our ways?  Heavy things to consider…   We love you.

        Dean A.

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          Bread to Eat - Letters to the Prison

          From the series - Letters to the Prison


          Two weeks ago, in our study of John 6, we saw Jesus say something amazing:

          • “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” -John 6:44a


          • “…Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me…”  -John 6:45b

          So, Jesus is making it plain that God must draw people to him.  Yet look what he says next:

          • “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” -John 6:47

          In this tenth “truly truly statement” by Jesus, we see yet again the parallel truths that God must draw people to himself and that people must believe.  Belief in Jesus matters eternally.  Yet we cannot come to Jesus unless God draws us.  Both things are true.  So, if we’re having trouble believing that Jesus is who he says he is, what are we to do?  The simple answer is:  Ask.  We can ask God to draw us.  We can (like the man in Mark 9:24) say, “I believe!  Help my unbelief!”  We learned last week that each person who asks such a thing brings a unique and profound joy to God’s heart –a joy that can only be shared between God and that person.  Believers, pray that God would draw the people in your life to Jesus… whether they’re friends or enemies, family or strangers… Ask.  You might be surprised by how God answers.

          Meanwhile, Jesus has more to say in this profound conversation with the Jews in Capernaum:

          • “I am the bread of life.” -John 6:48

          He’s repeating what he said back in verse 35, but he’s saying it in a discussion about belief and eternal life.  So, his meaning couldn’t be more clear.  Jesus isn’t speaking of literal physical bread to sustain physical biological life.  He’s speaking of eternal spiritual life.  In fact, he makes this point explicitly.  Look what he says:

          • Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. -John 6:49

          The ancestors of the Jews literally ate manna from the sky during their 40-year journey in the wilderness (the book of Numbers records this journey).  This was the “bread from heaven” provided by God to sustain the physical lives of the Jewish nation during that time… all 2.5 million of them.  Yet they all still died.  The food God provided back then did not give them eternal life.  So, there is a clear distinction between what they ate then and what Jesus is offering now.  Jesus goes on to clarify:

          • “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.   I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” -John 6:50-51a

          There is so much that could be said about those two verses.  But there are two major points to look at:

          1. When Jesus talks about people “eating the living bread,” he means when people believe in him and follow him.  They’re taking the truth about Jesus in and living their lives accordingly.  In this way, it nourishes and sustains them spiritually… and eternally.
          2. When believers “eat” the living bread, they will live forever in the kingdom of God, not in this temporary world.  Yet they will have bodies –new ones designed for eternal life.   Revelation 19-22 explains a lot about the coming kingdom of God, if you’re interested in further reading.  So, believers don’t live forever in this life.  They will live forever in Jesus’ kingdom at the end of all things.

          That’s not all Jesus says about himself in those two verses.  Keep in mind, Jesus is talking to Jews who don’t believe in him.  They’re not getting it.  And because they’re not getting it, what Jesus is about to say next will absolutely shock them: 

          • “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” -John 6:51b

          To the Jews’ way of thinking, there’s a lot wrong with what Jesus is saying here.  But for our purposes, it is more important to first understand what Jesus truly means.  We know plainly that the “bread” Jesus will give is himself.  But he is not giving it so people can eat it.  What he means is that he will sacrifice his life to atone for the sins of the world.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is a perfect sacrifice to perfectly fulfill the perfectly just requirements of God’s perfect law.  Jesus’ sacrifice is a one-time act for the sake of all believers for all time. 

          It’s also important for us to remember that, though Jesus is giving his flesh for the “life of the world,” only those who believe in him will have eternal life in his kingdom.  This is not a new concept for us.  We’ve seen this earlier in our study.  Jesus makes it plain in John 3:16-20.  So, understanding this, we can look at where the unbelieving Jews in this conversation get hung up.

          Their first and primary problem, as we know, is that they don’t believe.  This is the root of the issue.  But beyond that, they don’t understand that Jesus intends to sacrifice himself.  They can’t wrap their heads around this idea because they don’t properly understand the Old Testament predictions about the Messiah.  The short version is that they think the Messiah is supposed to be an earthly king of an earthly kingdom that conquers all of the Jews’ enemies (including Rome) and establishes a permanent kingdom where everyone is wealthy, and no one goes hungry.  Sounds pretty grand, doesn’t it?  Who wouldn’t want that?  But that’s not how it works.  That’s not the promise God made to his people.  Then, because the Jews don’t get that part, they assume instead that Jesus must mean people are supposed to literally eat him.  Ewww.  Look how they respond:

          • The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” -John 6:52

          Jesus will respond with his eleventh “truly truly” statement.  We will examine it next week.  We love you!

          Dean A.

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            The Joy Set Before Jesus - Letters to the Prison

            From the series - Letters to the Prison


            Hello!  We’re so glad for the chance to consider God’s word with you.  If you are encouraged by these letters, be sure to thank the people who make them available to you.  We’re studying the Gospel of John, but we’re going to take a brief detour because there is something profoundly encouraging that we stumbled across last week that we want to look at a little more closely.

            Last week, we claimed that you are the joy for whom Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).  We can’t say such a thing and just let it pass by.  We need to sit with this profound truth for a little while because it is so beautifully encouraging for us –even during the toughest days.  And it gives us an excellent motivation to love others the way God wants us to.  So, let’s take a look.

            Here’s what Hebrews has to say:

            • Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. -Hebrews 12:1-2

            Like many other places in Scripture, we could consider these words for a long time and not exhaust everything they have to offer us.  For one thing, Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith.  That’s profound enough as it is!  Spend some time considering the implications of that given what we’ve been seeing in our study of John.  Wow!  For another thing, the encouragement we find in the first verse to consider “the great cloud of witnesses” --those who have gone before us (read about the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11)-- and to follow their example by putting down our sins in order to better endure the race that “is set before us” helps to motivate us during times of suffering.  Especially when we see that Jesus too endured a terrible trial for the “joy that was set before him.”  But it’s that last part that is so very important to consider this week:  The joy set before Jesus.  What is it?  Or, as we will see, a better question is:  Who is it?

            To begin, let’s go all the way to the other end of the Bible… to Genesis 18:22-33.  You can look it up yourselves to read the whole thing (if you need a Bible, ask for one!).  But the basic idea is that Abraham is questioning God about his mercy…  and he’s kind of “pushing God’s buttons” a little bit by pressing the issue of whether or not God will show mercy for the sake of many people… or only a few.  What we see here is that God is willing to be merciful for the sake of a handful of people…  maybe even only one person.  

            To be clear, the events we read about in Genesis 18-19 aren’t just about God’s mercy.  They are also clear and vital warnings about God’s wrath against sin.  So, if you decide to read those chapters, you’ll see a stark reminder of why God’s mercy is so important in the face of overwhelming sin.  So, God shows a singular mercy even during his terrible wrath against sin.  The idea that God would go to great lengths to show mercy to even only one person is about to get really important.

            To see why, let’s take a closer look at the “joy” set before Jesus in Hebrews 12:2.  For one thing, this is a joy set beforeJesus.  In other words, it is a joy he has not experienced yet.  That’s amazing enough considering our understanding that Jesus is God.  What sort of joy could Jesus possibly need to wait to experience?  It’s not the joy of eternal fellowship with God the Father.  Jesus has always had that and will always have that (John 1:1).  Nor is it the joy of eternal life.  Jesus had that before he came to earth and he has it now (Ephesians 1:15-23).

            So, it is a timely joy…  one that happens only at a particular time.

            It’s also a profound joy.  A joy like no other.  Why can we say that?  Because, if Jesus is God, and he’s already experiencing the joy of eternal life and fellowship with the Father, what sort of joy would make it worthwhile for him to come to earth as a lowly human like us, endure rejection, terrible pain and suffering and even death on a cross?  Not only that, Jesus endured the punishment for all of our sins –when he alone was without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).  The only truly and completely righteous person ever to walk the face of the earth was unjustly punished for our sins.  Why?  What sort of joy could possibly be worth all the suffering and humiliation Jesus went through?

            The short, simple answer is this:  Jesus is willing to endure all that suffering for the joy of accomplishing the will of God(John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38).  And what is the will of God?

            • For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” -John 6:38-40

            Brothers, friends…  The Joy set before Jesus –for which he endured the cross--  is you.  You specifically.  That’s the Joy Jesus has to wait for… when you say, “Yes, Jesus.  You are who you say you are.  I believe you.  You are Lord of all and Lord of my life.”  If you’ve said that from your heart and meant it, know this:  Jesus has been waiting for all eternity to hear you say those words…  and he endured humiliation, suffering, and death for the sake of hearing you say them…  and you have brought him a Joy like no other… a Joy that is as unique and different and special as you are.  And he rejoices over you --you alone-- and the unique, specific relationship he can only have with you.  Two more things to consider.  If you’re a believer, know this:  

            1. Jesus endured the cross for the Joy of fellowship with you, certainly.  But you’re not the only one.  That other believer you know… the one maybe you have a hard time getting along with…  that person also is the Joy for whom Christ endured the cross.
            2. That person (or people) you know who don’t believe… yet…  God might be drawing them.  And he might be doing so through you… through your behavior and your example –and they, too, are the Joy for whom Christ endured the cross.

            We pray, dear brothers and sisters, that you would take such thoughts to heart and let them transform how you choose to interact with those around you… at all times… regardless of who they are.  Pray for us, also, and in earnest, that we would do the same.  We pray that you find great encouragement in these thoughts.

            Dean A.

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              Blindness - Letters to the Prison

              From the series - Letters to the Prison


              We’re taking a slow tour through John chapter 6 because there is quite the conversation going on between Jesus and the Jews of Capernaum and there’s a lot to consider.

              Last week we saw Jesus make yet another profound claim about himself:  He is the giver of eternal spiritual life sent from heaven.  As such, Jesus is responsible for the eternal lives of everyone God the Father gives to him.  Further, it is God’s will that none who come to Jesus should be lost.  Last week we also saw how belief plays a major role in understanding these things.  We’re about to see that fact in action.  Look how the Jews respond to Jesus:

              • 41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” -John 6:41-42

              Imagine a crowd of people muttering to one another under their breath.  You can tell they’re discussing something, but it would be hard to hear or understand exactly what they’re saying.  That’s what’s happening here.  But what’s interesting is that Jesus knows what they’re grumbling about and he knows what their problem is:

              • 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. -John 6:43-44

              Clearly, these Jews don’t believe what Jesus says about himself.  They don’t believe that God is his Father.  They think Joseph is his father, so how could he have come down from heaven?  If Jesus hasn’t come down from heaven, he can’t be the “bread” sent by God, right?  If Jesus isn’t who he says he is, then nothing else he says about himself is true.  This is what these Jews were muttering amongst themselves under their breath.  

              Because Jesus is God, he knows what they’re saying, he’s aware of their unbelief, and he is repeating yet again the reason why they don’t believe:  Because God the Father (who sent Jesus) hasn’t drawn them.  And again, Jesus reiterates the promise that he will “raise up” (to eternal spiritual life) whoever God draws to him.  This is the same order of things we observed last week:  God draws people, those people believe, and Jesus raises them to eternal life.

              Since the Jews clearly don’t understand this, Jesus reminds them that their own Scriptures speak to this very fact.  He says:

              • 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ -John 6:45a

              It is always marvelous when Jesus quotes Scripture directly (he is referring specifically to Isaiah 54:13 here) because it shows that we today have access to the same Old Testament that Jesus read from.  It also shows that Jesus honored and recognized the authority of what is written in the Old Testament.  Therefore, so should we.  

              Anyway, we could spend a long time exploring the connections between the prophecy in Isaiah 54 and what is happening here in John 6, but Jesus makes his own purpose for quoting it clear:

              • Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me… -John 6:45b

              So, Jesus is using the Old Testament to reinforce what he is saying about how a person needs to be drawn by God (they “hear and learn”) before they come to Jesus.  This explains why the Jews are having such a hard time understanding and believing Jesus.  They don’t believe because God hasn’t drawn them… at least not yet.  What Jesus says next is extremely important for us to understand.  Look what he adds on:

              • 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. -John 6:46

              This isn’t the first time Jesus has made this claim… that no one has seen the Father except him.  And we observed many weeks ago how Jesus could claim to be God and yet stand before people and tell them that no one has seen God the Father… and yet again say that those who believe in him have seen the Father (John 14:7)…  and that he can say these things and be correctly telling the truth only because of the unique relationship he has with God the Father as part of the trinity.  These things are hugely important, and we do well to remember them, but that’s not why Jesus is bringing it up.

              What’s important to understand here is this:  Yes, the Jews in Capernaum did indeed physically see Jesus… his body, and many of the works he did.  But they still did not see God.  Why?  Because they didn’t believe.  Their “blindness” was a spiritual blindness.  “Seeing” God is a spiritual act.  God is spirit.  So, we don’t physically see him with our eyes.  But we do see his work in the world and in the lives of others.  And we are willing to acknowledge that we see it when we believe.  So, we don’t believe it because we see it, we see it because we believe it.

              We don’t see God physically.  So, it’s not like he’s going to walk up to us, tap us on the shoulder, and say, “you!  Yes, You!  I am drawing you.  Come to Jesus.”  How then does he draw us?  He does it spiritually through his word and through his people.  

              Ask any true Christian about how they came to know and believe that Jesus is who he says he is, and they will likely talk about how, looking back, they saw that God had been calling them their whole lives.  He may not have tapped them on the shoulder, but his call was effective anyway.

              If we can be blunt for a moment, consider this:  God may be drawing you right now, at this very moment, as you read this.  This is how he does it.  When we read or hear his word, we recognize our need for him.  We see that we are lost and sinful people, trapped and unable to get out on our own.  Our lives are out of control.  So, we ask God for help (I believe!  Help my unbelief! -Mark 9:24).  If that’s you, right now, know this:  God loves you.  You are the joy for whom Christ endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).  God has been looking forward to this moment for all of eternity:  the moment when you (yes you!) turn to him in repentance, confess him as Lord of your life and believe that Jesus is indeed who he says he is.  Is it your time?  It would be such a blessing for us to hear that today was your day!  We love you! 

              Dean A.

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                Jesus' Perfect Promises - Letters to the Prison

                From the series - Letters to the Prison


                Hello, everyone.  We’re grateful for you.  We’re reading through John 6.

                Looking back on last week’s verses there is something else to think about.  Jesus, the bread / person from heaven gives life to the world (John 6:33).  So, the work Jesus does is a gift.  Yet, two verses later, that gift is for those who “come to” Jesus and “believe in” him (John 6:35).  This once again shows the sort of relationship a Christian has with Jesus.  Our work is to believe in him and come to him.  His work is to give us the gift of eternal life.  But the order of these two things is important, as we are about to see.

                Consider this:  Why do the Jews in Capernaum still not get it after Jesus makes it so plain?  It all seems so simple.  Yet, we will soon see that their confusion is only going to get worse.  Jesus gives us the reason in the very next verse:

                • 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. -John 6:36

                Once again, we see that belief is the key.  Even though Jesus is right there with them doing amazing signs right in front of them… even though they “see him,” the Jews in Capernaum still “don’t get it” because they don’t believe.  And because they don’t believe, no sign will convince them.  No amount of explanation will help them.  

                This goes back to what we saw several weeks ago:  We talked about the popular phrase “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Ever use that phrase?  It’s popular enough and it makes sense on the surface.  Yet from these verses, we learn that when it comes to God, it’s the other way around.  Clearly, according to Jesus, unless one “believes it” first they will never “see it.”  This is how belief is so important.  For those who don’t believe, there isn’t enough evidence.  And there never will be.  For those who do believe, the evidence is everywhere and it’s plain to see.  Jesus goes on to explain how this very thing works as he says yet another profound thing about himself:

                • 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. -John 6:37 

                “All” in this verse refers to each and every person --past present and future-- who will ever come to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  So, we see that each and every Christian is given by God the Father to Jesus first.  Then, they come to Jesus.  That is the order of it.  Then we see the great promise Jesus makes: “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  

                We need to linger for a moment on that last part.  When you’ve stumbled in the past, have you ever thought “that’s the last straw.  God will never accept me now for what I’ve done”?  Have you ever felt “not good enough” to come to Jesus?  Such thoughts and feelings are not true for one simple reason:  Friends, the fact that you want to come to Jesus… that you would even be concerned to be “good enough” for him is an indicator that God the Father is giving you to Jesus and that you will one day come to him and submit to him as Lord and Savior.  Look back on verse 37 and ask yourself:  Does it say, “All who are perfect?”  Does the Father give “only those who are good enough” to Jesus?  Does Jesus say, “whoever comes to me who meets my qualifications and has cleansed themselves of all unrighteousness I will never cast out?”  The answer, dear friends is no…  No… and again, NO!!!  Jesus will never cast out anyone who comes to him.  Why?  Because the Father gave them to him!  

                Brothers… friends… let your faith fail not!  If you have doubts about your salvation, remember this:  If you believe in your heart that Jesus is who he says he is, and you’ve confessed with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord…  Lord of the universe and Lord of your life…  then know this:  You are already a gift from God the Father to God the Son.  And Jesus will never cast you out.  

                Will there be trial and trouble?  Yep.  Will you face the consequences of bad decisions you’ve made?  Definitely.  Does God discipline those whom he loves?  Surely.  See Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:6 --It is an unmistakable truth.  Will that discipline be difficult and uncomfortable?  Probably!  But you are not lost forever.  Jesus never breaks a promise.  Ever.  How do we know this?  Look what Jesus says next:

                • 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. -John 6:38-39

                Jesus isn’t just some guy running around making promises he can’t or won’t keep.  We know Jesus keeps his word because of who he claims to be.  Look again at what he says about himself:

                • Jesus has “come down from heaven” to do the will of the one who sent him (God the Father).
                • And the will of God is that Jesus should lose nothing of all (every person who ever believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior) that God the Father has given him.
                • Not one of them will be lost.  Why?  Because it is the will of God.

                Look at the power Jesus claims for himself:  The power to “raise it up on the last day.”  “It” being all of those who ever believe in him.  Jesus claims that he will be there on the very last day –of each believer’s life and on the last day of all history-- to raise his people from the dead to eternal life.  Jesus has the power and authority to do that.  Why?  Because it is God’s will that Jesus should do so.

                What an amazing claim!  What a wonderful promise! 

                There is another word for “belief:” Faith.  As we believe that Jesus is who he says he is, we place our faith in him.  This faith allows us to trust that what he has just said is true for us.  We can trust that he will not cast us out.  We can trust that even if we don’t always obey the will of God, Jesus will.  Jesus always obeys the will of God the Father –even when it leads to his own death, as we will see.  So, if Jesus always obeys the will of God, and the will of God is that none of those who believe in him should perish but have eternal life, we have a great hope in which to place our faith… and every reason to trust that everything will happen according to what Jesus has said.  This faith and trust in Jesus then frees us to serve and worship him and live a life that’s pleasing to him.  What pleases God is not reluctant or half-hearted adherence to a bunch of rules.  What pleases God is a heart that loves him and wants to please him.  With all this in mind, where is your heart?  We hope it belongs to Jesus.

                Dean A.

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                  Bread of Heaven - Letters to the Prison

                  From the series - Letters to the Prison


                  We’re in chapter 6 where Jesus is having quite the conversation with the Jews in Capernaum.  Last week, we saw how they challenged Jesus to give them a “sign” (as if feeding 20,000 people the day before wasn’t enough of a sign).  They argued that Moses had previously fed millions of their people in the wilderness for decades, so what Jesus did the day before was no great thing.  They wanted to see more.  In fact, the Jewish culture in Jesus’ day mistakenly expected that the Messiah would provide free food for the nation of Israel.  So, Jesus needs to correct their thinking:

                  • 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” -John 6:32-33

                  There’s a lot going on in these verses.  First, when Jesus speaks of the “bread from heaven,” there are two different meanings in mind here.  In verse 32a, there’s the “bread” which refers to the manna that God (not Moses) provided to physically feed the Jewish nation in the wilderness for 40 years (Numbers 11:1-11).  So, this was a physical substance provided to sustain the physical life of God’s people in the wilderness.  This was also more like what the Jewish people in Jesus’ day were (mistakenly) expecting him to provide:  Free food for the entire nation.  

                  But they misunderstood the scriptures, which is why Jesus speaks of the “true bread from heaven” in the other part of the verse (John 6:32b).  He goes on the describe this “true bread” in verse 33 and this is where things get truly astonishing.  Let’s consider some things Jesus has to say about this “bread of God” (the “true bread from heaven”) –and about himself:

                  1. The bread is a person.  Jesus refers to the bread as “he.”  In a couple of verses, we will see very clearly that Jesus himself claims to be this bread / person.
                  2. The bread “comes down from heaven.”  So once again Jesus clearly claims to be a person from heaven.
                  3. This bread –Jesus the person from heaven— “gives life to the world.”  There is a true and literal sense in which Jesus, being God, does indeed sustain the physical world and everything in it (see Colossians 1:16-20).  So, Jesus is the giver and sustainer of physical, biological life.  But that’s not the meaning intended here.  
                  4. In John 6:33, Jesus uses the Greek word ‘zoe’ (ζωὴ) which refers to eternal spiritual life.   So, the “life” that Jesus –the true bread from heaven— provides is spiritual life.  And that spiritual life is eternal.  That this eternal spiritual life is given “to the world” does not mean everyone is automatically saved.  Jesus will again clarify this himself in a few verses, as we will see.  Jesus’ work was enough to cover the sins of the world, but only those who believe in him will be saved (John 3:18).
                  5. This true bread –Jesus the person from heaven-- is “of God” rather than from God.  This speaks of the unique relationship Jesus has with God the Father in the trinity.  Jesus and God the Father are one.  So, this “bread from heaven” –Jesus—is God come to earth to provide eternal spiritual life to those who believe.

                  What a claim to make!

                  Tragically, it goes right over the heads of those who were listening to him.  Look how they react:

                  • 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” -John 6:34

                  They Still.  Don’t.  Get it.

                  They’re looking for the free food… the easy ride…  they’re in it for what Jesus can do for them.  We today have to be careful not to be like them.  We understand these verses well enough looking back on it.  Still, very often we’re praying to God not to worship or thank him for the eternal, spiritual things he has done for us, but to make demands --sometimes very polite and kind ones on other people’s behalf-- but still… demands, nonetheless.  And most of them pertain to this temporal life.  People pray for wealth…  security… healing… comfort… “traveling mercies…” safety from various threats… and it is perfectly healthy and legitimate to bring these concerns before God in prayer.  God knows we need such things (see Matthew 6).  But if that’s all we’re in it for –what God can do for us physically in this life—then we’re doing all of this for the wrong reasons.


                  Jesus, seeing that his words are “going in one ear and out the other” decides to be even more clear and direct with the Jews in Capernaum:

                  • 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. -John 6:35

                  This is both profound and clarifying all at once.  When Jesus says “I am…” he is very intentionally referring to himself the same way God does.  God is the great “I AM” (Exodus 3) who spoke to Moses from the burning bush.  This is a profound thing for Jesus to say about himself.  We just finished discussing what Jesus means by “bread of life.”  He has a spiritual meaning in mind –not a physical one.  Once again, Jesus employs the Greek ‘zoe (ζωὴ) for “life” which refers to the spiritual, rather than the physical life of the believer.

                  Another way to clarify Jesus’ meaning here is to look at it another way.  It’s impossible that Jesus could have meant literal physical life in this statement based on the nature of the promise he makes here.  If early Christians had thought that Jesus meant literal, physical hunger and thirst in this verse, Christianity would have died out while Jesus still walked the earth because his followers would all have either dehydrated or starved to death waiting for Jesus to feed them or give them a drink.  If this had happened, it would mean that Jesus failed to keep a promise he’s made.  Jesus does not break his promises.  Ever.  So, of course, Jesus did not mean literal physical hunger and thirst in this verse.  The promise Jesus makes here about those who believe in him is not to sustain the believer’s physical life, but to sustain their eternal spiritual life.

                  Still, as obvious as this is to us here and now, the Jews speaking with him really still didn’t get it.  And their misunderstanding and confusion are only going to get worse, as we will begin to see next week.  Until then, keep reading!  And consider how you might approach Jesus for your eternal, spiritual needs as you pray to him and consider his words this week.  We love you!

                  Dean A.