“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  John 20:31

This is the theme verse for John’s gospel and originally the final verse of the book.  It was probably later, after John’s original writing, that Ch. 21 was added, along with much of Ch. 1 as a Prologue.  John’s purpose was to convince his readers that Jesus was God and Messiah, so that they might have life, even “Abundant Life” (John 10:10).  And isn’t that the primary purpose of the church as well?

We get wrapped up in other purposes for our lives and our churches.  Acting correctly, following the rules, finding friendships, growing deeper in our faith, fixing this broken world, taking sides on social issues… all of these are singular purposes for different churches and for different Christians.  But shouldn’t they all take a back seat to John’s purpose in his gospel:  to help people have life in Jesus’ name?  Everything else should be secondary.  Important, yes, but not primary.

A friend once asked churches how many roses they had put on their altars in the past year.  This assumed that roses on the altar marked a new conversion, a new life committed to Jesus.  He told me he virtually never got more than 2 or 3, and usually these were kids from camp.  His point was that when it comes to evangelism, to sharing the story we read today or a version of it with those who don’t know it, we stink.  We are afraid of it so we’re bad at it so we excuse ourselves from having to do it.

But if evangelism was the primary purpose of John’s entire gospel, shouldn’t we consider it at least important if not primary for our churches and lives?

Perhaps we’re getting tired of hearing this, but in Jesus’ last moments, like in the whole of His passion week, Jesus is in complete control.  He has orchestrated the events of His own death because He is fully obedient to the Father’s will, and the Father’s will is that He die for the people, die to pay for our sins, die to bring us salvation.

We can understand Jesus orchestrating the events leading up to His death, but even while suffering on the cross, He is still directing events.  He finds His mother someone, John himself in fact, to care for her in her old age, though at this point she is not quite 50.  He asks for something to drink not because He is thirsty but in order to fulfill scriptural prophecy.  And finally, having done all that needed doing, “He gave up His spirit.”  In control to the very end.

And this is important because all too often our lives are out of control.  From the political to the religious, from the social to the personal, from the physical to the emotional, everything seems to be out of control.  And it seems to be growing more out of control rather than less as time passes and as we age.  Which makes this lesson that much more important.

When everything seems out of control, God is still in control.  When we weep over the pain in the world and in our lives and can do nothing about it, God is in control.  When the world seems to be falling apart, God is in control.  In sickness and in health, in poverty and in plenty, when comfort and pleasure just aren’t enough to bring meaning to our lives, God is in control.

Ours is simply to trust.  As hard as it is, trust that God is in control.  And life becomes much easier.

This section of John’s gospel is the center of a literary device called a “chiasm”.  This is a large “V” in the text that looks like this…

A – B – C – D – C’ – B’ – A’

Verses A and A’ are parallels or even restatements of each other.  The same goes with B and B’, and with C and C’.  The purpose of this kind of writing is to point with emphasis at verse D, which is the main point of the whole passage.  A good explanation and example can be found at God Questions: Chiasm.

In this passage, the chiasm is long, but centers on a verse 19:2, where Jesus is dressed as a king.  As we’ve been saying, each character except the Jews themselves, are proclaiming Jesus as king, and here it’s the soldier’s turn.  They mockingly bow before him, proclaim Him king, and even dress Him as king with a crown and robe.

I asked some of our folk to talk about Jesus as king, and the bulk of the conversation revolved around the question of His responsibility to us as king.  We expect Him to protect us, to provide for us, and to be there when we need Him.  But we seldom spend the same amount of time on our responsibility to Him as our king.  Ours is to obey unquestioningly, to give our taxes/tithes, and to stand up to defend the kingdom.  So… how are we doing?

Yesterday we mentioned that nearly every character in John’s Passion narrative will state or imply that Jesus is King of the Jews.  From the Roman guards in the garden of Gethsemane, to the servant who lost an ear there, player after player in this drama acknowledges that Jesus is God and King of the Jews.  Except one.  The Jews themselves

It is here that John emphasizes that with all the Romans taking part in this plan, it is the Jews themselves who refuse to recognize their own King.  In fact, it is they who will insist, “We have no King but Caesar”.

Why is it often the very people closest to Jesus who refuse His loving advances?  Why is it that absolute strangers, foreigners, and the least likely are the ones who most quickly accept Him?  From a Samaritan woman at a well to an Ethiopian eunich, those with little exposure to Jesus find it easiest to fall in love with Him.  While it is we who have known of Him since birth who find Him the slowest.  Some have even said that Christianity is a vaccine against truly knowing Jesus.

Are you open to all that God wants to do through you?  with you?  to you?  Are you prepared for something you don’t expect, something brand new from God, or are you so well versed in your own expectation of God that He is stuck in His little box?

Today, open yourself to the possibility of God being bigger than your tiny expectations of Him.  Allow yourself to believe that He may be able to do far more than you can possibly ask or imagine.

Today, we begin the Passion narrative of the Gospel of John.  Not every gospel records Jesus’ birth, and few of the miracles are in all four.  But the last week of Jesus’ life, the Passion narrative, is clearly and consistently found in every gospel narrative and beyond.  Yet John’s presentation of His last days takes a very different tone than any other.  John’s gospel shows Jesus completely in control of every aspect of the last days of His own life.

This is important to John’s purpose.  While Matthew’s purpose is to show Jesus as King, Mark’s to show Jesus as servant, and Luke’s to show Jesus as Savior, John’s purpose in His gospel is to show Jesus as God.  As God, Jesus is not a victim of the Romans or the Jews, and He is not Plan B.  He is the orchestrator and implementor of the cross and resurrection, and He is in control.

At the garden of Gethsemane, we get our first glimpse of this fact.  And from here on, nearly every character we meet will show, state, or imply that Jesus is the true King of the Jews, God Himself.

For John, Judas was doing exactly what was needed, though not knowingly.  When the Roman guard shows up, we find Jesus directing them as well.  He asks them whom they seek and, when they fall to the ground in front of him which is a normal position of worship, He reiterates His identity and demands they leave His followers alone, and so they do.  Peter proceeds to cut off a servant’s ear, and that servant’s name, given only in John’s gospel, is Malchus, which means “My King” in Hebrew.    Jesus then completes the scene by commanding His disciples.

In the days to come, we’ll see Jesus in control again and again, and we’ll see character after character proclaim Him as King of the Jews.  But the eternal question for us is the same that John was trying to answer:  Is Jesus in control of this world, even with all it’s turmoil and pain?  Is He in control of your life, even when it takes a direction we don’t like or understand?  Is Jesus your King?

When the Apostle Paul begins talking about being “In Christ”, I wonder if he is extending the image of today’s text.  Jesus gives us a powerful run of images describing our relationship with both the Father and Himself.  We are “in Him” and He is “in The Father”.  Yet also He is “in us” and the Father is “in Him”.  And always, the Holy Spirit is “in us”.  But as is the case with many theological metaphors, it’s not the physics but the message that matters.

With God in us, we are empowered to act on His behalf and with His guidance.  One of the ideal images of scripture is the perfectly obedient Child of God doing exactly what God would do were He in complete control of the person.  With it’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” vibe, this image can be disturbing to our control-mandated culture, but it is what we strive for nonetheless.

The flip side, being “In Christ”, is far more comfortable and more prevalent in the New Testament.  When Paul says we are “In Christ” he is juxtaposing this with our natural state of being “In the World”.  This is a change in spiritual geography, Prof. Klyne Snodgrass says.  We move from the world, which is ruled by The Flesh, The Devil, and Sin, “into Christ” which is ruled by Him alone.  This is a world governed by grace, truth, and life as opposed to the world governed by judgement, lies, and death.

We understand the image of moving to a new land with different rules much better than being taken over by another being, and so Paul pushes the former image more than the later.  But either way, the truth is the same: as Christians, we live a different life, with different rules than the world around us.

When I ask God for things, I don’t always get what I ask for.  I ask, “In Jesus’ name” and everything, but still I don’t get what I want.  This can get confusing with such passages as today’s.

“Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”  I love my 3 year old Isaac, and I would give him anything.  But at times, he asks for all kinds of things, from unhealthy food to risky adventures to downright dangerous toys.  I love him, so much in fact that I would never do anything or allow anything to seriously hurt him.  And so I have a conundrum – is love giving him what he asks or protecting him from what he asks for?

This is God’s conundrum as well.  Does He give us what we ask for when it’s dangerous, or does He protect us, even when that means saying no?  And that leads to the hardest part of that love.  Often when the things for which we ask are not going to lead to our best or are even dangerous for us, they still don’t seem like it.  And so we get confused because what we ask for “cannot be anything but good,” and yet God may still say no.

I guess it boils down, as does so much in our lives, to faith.  Do we trust God to have a better view of the future than we do?  Do we trust God to be seeking our best even better than we do?  If so, then the best prayer we can possibly give is, “Your will be done.”

Throughout my life, I’ve experienced periods of growth, periods of stability, and periods of pruning.  I like the growth the best.

None of these periods are bad, or wrong, or unimportant.  In fact, we so badly need them all that if we are missing any of the three in our lives, we will not flourish as God wants us to.  But though they might be the right things to do, and they may be crucial to our spiritual growth, they are not all fun.

My senior year of high school was a marked time of growth in my spiritual life.  I had just returned from CHIC, a triennial youth conference, and from the bus ride home through the next year, I read my bible, prayed, or pondered the truths of God for an hour every day without fail.  I missed times with friends, I postponed homework, and even missed meals once or twice to prioritize my time with God.  And through that year, I grew in my faith in noticeable and life-changing ways.

My first years of ministry were a time of stability in my spiritual life.  I wasn’t growing significantly but I was working with God.  I was reading my bible and praying, attending worship and part of a small group.  I was serving in the church and helping others to grow, but I was not growing myself.  That was what God intended for that season, and it was good.

Seminary proved to be a time of pruning for me.  Through the professors, the classes, the discussions, and even the homework, God trimmed away the parts of my life that were dead, or dying, or just overgrown.  This pruning was painful as my old frames of reference, theological assumptions, and childish (not child-like) beliefs were debated and ultimately destroyed.  It was a crisis of faith for me, but one that allowed new growth, richer growth, deeper growth to come.  This was the most painful time of the three, but also the most profitable spiritually.

By no means were these the only periods of growth, stability, and pruning I’ve faced.  But all three were God-driven, and all three led to a flourishing faith.  As one branch on the True Vine of Jesus Christ, I grow because of the work of our Gardener God.

Have you had noticeable times of growth in your life?  Have you had times of stability?  Have you faced times of pruning?  Which phase would you say you are facing right now?  Can you see God’s hand at work, whether He’s fertilizing, trimming, or simply tending you today?

In the first century, when a Jewish man decided to get married, his life was choreographed quite specifically for the next few years.

First, the young man would tell his father of the woman he wished to marry, and his father would arrange to pay the bride price and establish the New Covenant, a marriage covenant, between the man and the woman.  The man would accompany his father but would not stay with his bride-to-be very long.  Instead, the groom would return to his father’s house and begin construction on the new home he and his bride would share.  This construction would be the building of a room off of his father’s house and it was here that the new couple would live.  While the groom was building the room, he would not see his bride, and depending on the time, ability, and help the groom would spend on the project, this time period could be up to a year or more.

Once the building project was finished, the groom would clean himself up, gather his groomsmen, and go to get his bride.  This would traditionally happen at night, and the groom, it was said, would come “like a thief in the night” for his new bride. The bride, prepared for this moment along with her bridesmaids, would then accompany the groom back to the house where they would consummate the marriage and commence with a week-long feast, during which the bride would primarily remain closeted in her bridal chamber.  This meant that the bridesmaids would have to stand sentry for the bride every night once the coming of the groom was immanent.  If their lamps ran out of oil and the groom came while they were “off duty”, they were likely to miss the wedding ceremony.

“In my father’s house are many rooms… and I am going to prepare a place for you…. I will come back and take you to be with me.”

We have, at some point in our lives, denied Jesus.  Whether with our words or our actions, we have implied or even stated out loud that we don’t know this Nazarene.  We have acted just like the world or the worldly people around us.  We have joined them in their sinful behaviors.  We have not stood for Jesus when His name needed a champion.  In these and myriad other ways, we have, at some point in our lives, denied Jesus.

But what are we to do about it?  Today, we see the prediction that two of Jesus’ closest friends would deny Him, betray Him, turn their back on all that He stands for.  And we know that each of them reacted to this behavior in very different ways.  Which way will we choose?

Judas, after his betrayal, felt a surprising depth of remorse, and decided to fix it himself in the only way he knew how.  Rather than returning to Jesus and seeking redemption, he decided to take God’s role as judge on himself.  He found himself guilty and gave the maximum penalty for his sin: death.  And then he carried out the execution, hanging himself in a field.

Peter, after his betrayal, felt an expected depth of remorse, but rather than fixing it himself, he returned to Jesus.  He trusted Jesus to be just and fair, and was ready to face his punishment.  And so we find Jesus not just but merciful, not fair but unfair in His forgiveness.  He reinstates Peter to his leadership role, and Peter, now living because of the grace of Jesus, goes on to lead the church, to write 2 of our New Testament books, and ultimately to die not in shame but in glory.

When you realize your betrayal, whose example will you follow?  Will you, like Judas, seek to rectify it yourself?  Or will you like Peter return to Jesus, seek His forgiveness, and go on to serve even more closely?  The choice is yours.