Nicodemus: An Unlikely Disciple

Often overlooked in Jesus’ profound message recorded in John 3 is the significance of whom Jesus was speaking to.

Some of Jesus’ most memorable words were spoken to Nicodemus.

“You must be born again.”

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

What significance would this encounter play in the movement Jesus started?

What do we know about this man?

1.  Nicodemus saw the miraculous signs Jesus was performing in Jerusalem during Passover and believed Jesus was from God.

2.  Nicodemus knew that something was lacking in his own pursuit of God.

3.  Nicodemus took the initiative to seek out Jesus at great personal risk to his reputation and social standing.

4.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council, their version of the Supreme Court.  23 judges were appointed to Jerusalem’s ruling council, so this was an honor of great distinction.

5.  Nicodemus stands up to the other Jewish leaders in defense of Jesus (John 7).

6.  Nicodemus, breaking with the ranks of his fellow Jewish leaders who had called for Jesus to be crucified, asked for Jesus’ body to give Him a proper burial.

7.  Nicodemus, like many of Jesus’ initial disciples, was martyred some time in the first century.

It seems clear that Nicodemus did respond to Jesus’ message and placed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

If John 3 represents that turning point in Nicodemus’ faith, what impact did this conversion have on the movement?  This event would happen in the first 6 months of Jesus’ ministry and thus prove foundational for what would follow.

Maybe the faith of a brilliant expert in the Law and prominent religious leader would strengthen the faith of Jesus’ disciples.  Wouldn’t Nicodemus’ acceptance of Jesus lend credibility to the movement?  Jesus’ miracles should have been proof enough, but for some, they weren’t.

The encounter with Nicodemus and Jesus’ message for him would also crystallize the Gospel for the disciples.  I’m sure they thought, “If anyone has known enough and done enough to be accepted by God, it would certainly be Nicodemus!  A member of the Jewish ruling council.  He knows his stuff.  A Pharisee.  He is righteous in every way we could imagine.”  Yet even Nicodemus was found spiritually lacking.  Even Nicodemus “must be born again!”

The gospel is a gospel of grace.  All men, great and small, are equal at the foot of the cross.  This gospel of grace gripped Nicodemus at his core.

Nicodemus.  Christ-follower.  Culture-shaper.  Faith-defender.  Christian Martyr.

 

To learn more about Walking As Jesus Walked and Discipling As Jesus Discipled, visit:  SONLIFE.COM

Partying #likeJesus

A few Harmony thoughts on Jesus’ first miracle…

“On the third day, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”

If Jesus’ had met Andrew, John, Peter, Philip and Nathanael down near the traditional baptism site, there is no way they could travel up to Cana by the third day.  Cana is in Galilee, which would take a few days to reach by foot from the region of Judea.  How do we reconcile this?  A few options.

1. They left for the wedding on the third day, but did not arrive then.  Jewish weddings lasted for several days.

2.  After baptizing Jesus at the traditional baptism site, John the Baptist traveled north to continue his ministry.  Jesus reconnected with him after His 40 days in the wilderness up closer to Galilee.

3.  John’s ministry took place nearer to Galilee and all the people from Judea and Jerusalem left their region and traveled a few days north to find John.  If they suspected he might be the messiah, they’d be motivated to do this.

What are your thoughts?  Once again, another question I’ll have to add to my list to ask Jesus when we’re together 🙂

Another Harmony thought:  Did Jesus ever have to do something He didn’t sense the Father leading Him to do?

Later in His ministry, we see Jesus saying, “I do only what I see my Father doing.”    John 5:19

In the wedding feast at Cana, however, He specifically tells His mother after she asks Him to fix the wine shortage, “Woman, why do you involve me?  My time has not yet come.”  Mary knew who her Son was.  She had experienced a miracle, His birth.  She believed God could do miracles through Him.  So she asked.

Evidently, Jesus had a sense of timing from the Father.  How would He reveal Himself, and to whom would He reveal Himself?  We know that He performed many miraculous signs in Jerusalem during the Passover feast (John 2:23).  Was He meant to wait until He arrived in Jerusalem to reveal Himself through miracles?

At the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus granted His mother’s wish.  He saved the day and saved face for the wedding host by turning water into wine.

Obviously, Jesus didn’t disobey the Father.  The Father didn’t tell Him, “Don’t do what your mother asks of you!”   And by doing what His mother asked, He was indeed pleasing the Father.  It wouldn’t have been out of obedience since Jesus was no longer a child bound by the command to “obey your father and mother,” but rather an act of love, respect and humble submission.

This was Jesus’ first miracle.  He didn’t want to do it, yet He acted anyway.

A few takeaways for me from this encounter.

1.  Don’t overlook ministry opportunities just because they seem small and unimportant, like a beverage shortage at a party.

2.  Prioritizing relationships is always worth the effort, even when the act itself seems unimportant.

3.  There is a time to serve “publicly” and make a statement, and a time to serve “quietly” and not draw attention to yourself.  In Jerusalem at Passover, Jesus miracles were widely seen.  Here in Cana, Jesus didn’t perform His miracle like a “magic trick” in front of the entire wedding party.  Only His mother, the disciples, and the servants knew what He had done.

4.  Even relatively unimportant acts of service can have a significant impact.  Everyone at the wedding appreciated the great tasting wine, but that outcome in itself was trivial.  The real impact was in the lives of Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip and Nathanael.  Jesus’ disciples glimpsed His glory and their faith grew.

 

To learn more about Walking As Jesus Walked and Discipling As Jesus Discipled, visit:  SONLIFE.COM

Clearly Spoken #likeJesus

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  Matthew 3:1

What was the message and ministry of John the Baptist?

We know he was the forerunner, sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.  That was his purpose.  What was his message?

“And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  Mark 1:4

John was a prophet and an evangelist.  His ministry was preaching and baptizing.  Those who repented for the forgiveness of their sins were baptized.

And just how large was John’s ministry?

“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”  Mark 1:5

It appears John the Baptist could have had a ministry that reached thousands.  Many thought he was the Messiah, but he flatly denied it, stating “I am not the Christ!”

Where was John’s ministry centered?  There is some speculation that the “Bethany beyond the Jordan” where John baptized was just southeast of Galilee rather than the traditional location just north of the Dead Sea.   Matthew 3:1 refers to John preaching in the “wilderness of Judea” and Mark 1:4 speaks of John baptizing in the “desert region.”  These references, along with the fact that “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him” bolster the argument for the traditional location.  John 3:23 refers to John now baptizing at Aenon near Salim “because there was plenty of water.”  This reference, along with John’s disciples being from the Galilee region, bolster the argument for the alternate location.

My thoughts…

I would lean toward the traditional location.  It seems more likely that John’s ministry would be closer to Jerusalem if it reached “the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem.”   It seems more likely that Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip and Nathanael would travel to Judea to see John the Baptist (a journey they were accustomed to making for festivals at the temple) than that the people of Jerusalem would travel up near Galilee.  So it seems that John’s ministry begins around Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, and moves north to Galilee as John’s ministry decreases.  He is eventually imprisoned and beheaded in the Galilee region.

Interestingly, Jesus ministry begins and is centered around Galilee, and eventually moves south toward its culmination in Jerusalem.

“He must become greater.  I must become less.”

But what was John’s message?

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

“Repentance for the forgiveness of sins!”

John’s message was one of repentance.  Wake up!  Come to your senses!  Recognize your sin.  Confess it to God.

The word “repent” can be confusing.  Does it mean to “feel sorry” for sin?  As the Spirit of God convicts us of our sin, there will be a natural sorrow or regret we feel, but repentance isn’t a feeling.  It’s an action.  Does it mean to “stop sinning” and change our ways?  As the Spirit of God convicts us, there should be a natural desire to stop sinning, but repentance isn’t the removal of sin from our life.

So what is repentance?  The word simply means “to change one’s mind.”  What do we change our mind about when we repent?

We change our mind about our sin.  We admit our sin to God.  We confess it.  We call it what it is.  We recognize that it’s an offense to a holy God.

We change our mind about self.  We recognize that we are powerless to fix our sin problem on our own.  We need God’s help.  We need God’s grace.  We need a Savior.

We change our mind about the Savior.  We recognize that Jesus is the sinless Son of God sent into the world to die on the cross in our place, paying the price for our sins, so that we can be forgiven.

John the Baptist preached that “heaven came near” in Jesus and that forgiveness could be found through “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  John 1:30

And how was this forgiveness found?  Through repentance, an act of faith whereby one confesses their sin and trusts God for forgiveness.

John’s message was simple and clear.  I want my message to be the same!

 

To learn more about Walking As Jesus Walked and Discipling As Jesus Discipled, visit:  SONLIFE.COM

Waiting #likeJesus

The first 30 years of Jesus’ life were preparation for the final 3 years.  We don’t know a lot about those first 30 years.  There are only a few stories told.  There are big gaps in time.

How old was Jesus when the Magi visited and then the angel told Joseph to leave for Egypt with his family?   We assume He was between  one and two, since Herod wanted all boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem two years old and younger killed.

How old was Jesus when Herod died and his family returned from Egypt to Nazareth?  King Herod died in 4BC.  The best estimates are that Jesus was born in 6BC, since that date lines up with a Roman census taken during that time.  So it would appear that Jesus’ family stayed in Egypt for less than a year and He was between two and three when He was brought to Nazareth.

One interesting thought.  It seems likely that King Herod died shortly after killing off all the boys two and under in Bethlehem, and his death was gruesome.  His death is described this way:  “A frightful inward burning consumed him, and the stench of his sickness was such that his attendants could not stay near him.  So horrible was his condition that he even endeavored to end it by suicide.”   (biblestudytools.com)

Herod’s death reminds me of Paul’s words in Galatians, “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.”

There is a big gap between the return from Egypt and the next recorded event where we see Jesus in the Temple at age 12.  And then another sizable gap from age 12 to Jesus’ baptism around age 30.  What was going on during these gaps of time?   We can only assume that it was a normal, rural Jewish life for Jesus.  Going to school, worshiping at the local synagogue, learning carpentry from His father, regular travels to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals.  And from what we read in Psalm 69, there was rejection and scorn that Jesus endured.

We do know that Jesus was growing close to the Father.  He was learning the scripture and likely cultivating the habits of regular rhythms of prayer and fasting.

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”  Luke 2:52

During these 30 years, how do we see the Father preparing Jesus?

The Father provided Jesus with His earthly parents.  Joseph and Mary were devoted to God, righteous, faithful, obedient.  They raised Jesus to know, love and serve His Father.  They modeled godliness for Him.

The Father also protected Jesus from harm.  He warned Joseph in a dream that danger was imminent.  They fled to Egypt.  Joseph was then warned in a dream not to return to Judea because Archelaus was ruling in place of his father Herod.  They settled in Nazareth of Galilee instead.

The Father produced character, competence and compassion in Jesus.  He grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man.  We read in Hebrews 5:8 that Jesus “learned obedience from what He suffered.”

30 years of preparation for 3 years of ministry.

That’s a lot of preparation, but I think a leadership principle surfaces from this.

The more significant the assignment, the more thorough the preparation.  We tend to rush people into leadership.  I think it’s important for us to remember that the Father is not in a hurry and never acts in haste.

 

To learn more about Walking As Jesus Walked and Discipling As Jesus Discipled, visit:  SONLIFE.COM

Mentored #likeJesus

Perhaps there was no greater human influence on Jesus’ life than His stepfather, Jospeh.  Mary’s influence would have been greatest when Jesus was a child.  Joseph would have mentored Jesus, shaping His character and His skills as a teenager while they worked side by side.

We don’t read much about Joseph outside of the nativity story.  He’s still there when Jesus is twelve, but by the time Jesus begins His public ministry, Joseph has evidently already died.  They still speak of Jesus as being the son of Joseph, the carpenter, so maybe Joseph had died only a few years earlier.  We don’t know.

But what we do know about Joseph reveals a young man of deep character and faith.

Joseph was a young man who was a hard worker.  As a carpenter, a tekton, a stone cutter, he must have had a strong work ethic and was committed to provide for his family.

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

Joseph was a young man who was “faithful to the law.”   He wanted to please God.  He wanted to obey God.

Joseph was a young man who put other’s ahead of himself.  The way he treated Mary when he found out she was pregnant displayed great consideration for the needs of others and utter selflessness.

Mary must have told Joseph of her angel encounter.  He loved her.  I’m sure he wanted to believe her.  But how does someone get pregnant without a partner.  That’s inconceivable!  It takes two…

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream…”

Joseph was a young man who listened to God.  God revealed His plan to Joseph through an angelic messenger.  How did Joseph respond?

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Joseph was a righteous young man.  He listened to God.  He obeyed God.  He lived out the Great Commandment.  Love God.  Love people.  God had selected Mary to be Jesus’ mother, but in doing so, He had also selected Joseph to be Jesus’ earthy father.  Joseph adopted Jesus as his own firstborn son.  Joseph was selected by God for this assignment.  What an honor!

And God honored Joseph.  I’ve never really thought about it.  Maybe it was Jewish culture.  I’ll have to explore.  But what an honor…

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph was given the privilege of naming Jesus.  The angel told Joseph what the child was to be named, and why.

“Christ Jesus:  Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!   Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”   Philippians 2:5-11

The name that is above every name!

And Joseph named Him!

The name at which every knee will bow!

And Joseph named Him!

Joseph was a young man chosen by God, used by God and honored by God.

 

To learn more about Walking As Jesus Walked and Discipling As Jesus Discipled, visit:  SONLIFE.COM

All Glorious #likeJesus

I love how The Jesus Story begins.

“The beginning of the glad news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.”  Mark 1:1

As The Jesus Story continues on to John 1:1-18, we read some of my favorite verses in all four of the Gospels.

“In the beginning was the Word.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Jesus is God!

“All things were made through Him, and nothing came into being without Him.”

Jesus is Creator!

“In Him was life- life that was the light of mankind, shining in the darkness.  And the darkness did not extinguish it.”

Jesus is Life!  Jesus is Light!

I love that phrase, “And the darkness did not extinguish it.”  A picture of the Resurrection.  Jesus conquered evil.  He conquered Satan.  He conquered death, hell and the grave!

“The true Light who enlightens everyone was coming into the world- a world made through Him- yet the world did not recognize Him.”

Jesus is Truth!

“He came to His own creation, and his own people did not receive Him.”

Jesus is on a mission!  Jesus came into the world He created.  He came for us.  He came for ME!

“But to all who did receive Him, He gave the right to become children of God.  These were born into God’s family, not of blood or natural desire or human will, but of God.”

Jesus is a Giver!  He gives us the right to become children of God!

“The Word took on a human body and lived among us.  We saw His glory- the glory of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus is human!  Jesus is glorious to behold!

“From His fullness we have received blessing after blessing.”

Jesus is an unending source of blessing!

“The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Jesus is the vehicle of God’s grace!  There is truth in God’s Law, but there is no grace in God’s Law.  Grace is found in Christ alone.

“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son who is close to the Father’s heart- He has shown us what God is like.”

Jesus shows us what God is like!  Jesus shows us how to be close to the Father’s heart!

Father, thank you for the strong reminder of what you’ve given me in your Son.  Jesus is glorious!  I want to know Christ more intimately!  I want to walk with Jesus more closely!   I want to walk as Jesus walked more faithfully!  John knew Jesus intimately, loved Jesus deeply, and followed Jesus faithfully.  I want those words to describe my life.

 

To learn more about Walking As Jesus Walked and Discipling As Jesus Discipled, visit:  SONLIFE.COM

Prepared to Launch #likeJesus

40 days.  That’s how many days Jesus was on the earth between His resurrection and ascension.   That’s also how many days Jesus fasted and prayed while being tempted at the beginning of His ministry.  So His ministry on earth begins and ends with distinct 40 day periods.  It makes me wonder…  is there any significance to that number?

The number 40 shows up many times in the Bible.

It’s mentioned 146 times in scripture.

Moses lived 40 years in Egypt and then 40 years in the desert before his burning bush experience.

Moses was on Mount Sinai 40 days and nights receiving God’s Law.

Moses sent the spies into the land God had promised Israel for 40 days.

Jonah, after being spewed out by a large fish, preached in Nineveh for 40 days.

Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah’s sins.

Elijah went 40 days without food or water on Mount Horeb.

The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

Othniel, Deborah, Barak, Eli and Gideon all ruled as Judges over Israel for 40 years.

The first three Kings of Israel- Saul, David and Solomon- each ruled for 40 years.

God flooded the earth by having it rain for 40 days and nights.

After Jocob died in Egypt, they spent 40 days embalming his body.

And interestingly, the Bible was written by 40 different authors.

40.  What’s the big deal?  In Jesus’ ministry, the number 40 represents the Priority of Preparation.

After His baptism, Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness are a period of preparation.  His first 30 years had been preparation, but these 40 days are set apart from the 30 years as unique.  It’s now begun.  The Father has announced it, the Spirit has confirmed it, John the Baptist has heard it.  It’s Go Time!

That initial 40 day period would be one of trial and temptation, a period of humility and submission.

Jesus is now sent.

The final 40 days would also be an initial period of preparation…  for the disciples.  Yes, John the Baptist had prepared the way, and then Jesus had spent 3 years preparing them.  But just as the Baptism marked an official starting point to Jesus public ministry, the Resurrection would mark an official starting point to the next phase of Jesus public ministry… through His disciples.  Everything before seemed to build up to the crucifixion.  Now, from the point of the Resurrection, their work without Him by their side would soon begin.  Everything was in place.  The Spirit would come.

This final 40 day period would be one of affirmation and confirmation for the disciples.

Jesus sends them.

“Go and make disciples!”

“Go and preach the gospel!”

“Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached among all nations.”

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the most distant places on earth.”

It’s Go Time!

 

To learn more about Walking As Jesus Walked and Discipling As Jesus Discipled, visit:  SONLIFE.COM