Sunday, March 30, 2008

Jesus Reinstates Peter

15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
18 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others[b] will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

John 21:15-19

As a fifth grader, one of the most important things in life was having a best friend. So one day I set out to make sure that I had a best friend. There were four of us who hung out regularly: Jeremy, Darrell, Marc, and I. So I asked Jeremy who his best friend was. That particular day, it happened to be Darrell. Darrell told me that Jeremy was his best friend. So I figured I would count on Marc, but Marc told me that someone else was his best friend. I was left without a best friend, and I felt betrayed.

What do we do with betrayal?

Peter knew about betrayal. He was one of Jesus' closest friends – he, along with James and John, made up Jesus' inner circle. In John 13:37, Peter told Jesus that he would lay down his life for Him. But Jesus told him, “Before the rooster crows, you will have denied me three times.”

That happened, and when Peter realized what he'd done, he wept bitterly.

Last week as we celebrated Easter, we remembered how Peter went running to the tomb when he heard that Jesus' body was gone, and when he saw the empty tomb, he believed, but he went home. In fact, Peter went back to his life as a fisherman, and why not? He had famously failed.

Though Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, Peter knew his place. He had denied even knowing Jesus, so he had no place claiming a spot in the risen Jesus' inner circle. Then Jesus showed up at Peter's office as they were finishing up working, and after they'd had breakfast, today's scripture records what happened.

As I was studying this, I noticed something – and for you to notice this, I'll have to share a little Greek with you. Jesus asks Peter first, “Do you love me?” He uses the word “agape” for love. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he used the same word: “Agape – Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.” So Jesus asks Peter: “Do you agape love me?”

Peter answers Jesus, “I phileo love you.”

There are three Greek words that can be translated “love.” I already told you about agape: this is unconditional love. Phileo love is more of a fondness; “I like you.” The third is “eros” which is the root from which we get the word “erotic” - this is romantic love.

Twice Jesus asks Peter, “Do you agape love me?” To which Peter twice replies, “I phileo love you; I'm your friend.”

Even with this answer, Jesus gives him a task: feed my sheep. Take care of my lambs.

Finally, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you phileo me? Are you my friend?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked him a third time, but he answers anyway. “You know everything – of course I'm your friend.”

Jesus again tells him, “then feed my sheep.”

Notice that Jesus never rebukes Peter here. That time has past. Peter failed badly, denying Jesus three times. But now Jesus gives Peter three chances to affirm his love for Him and three times tells him to take care of his sheep. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, entrusts his work to Peter, who had famously denied even knowing him.

Then he let Peter in on the future: he would indeed follow Jesus to the death. It might not happen in the way Peter thought it would, but it would indeed happen.

I believe there's a lot to learn from this scripture, but I want you to think about a couple of things.

First, God doesn't require us to be perfect. I sometimes get discouraged when I think about John Wesley's prayer time, how he'd rise by 4:00 am to pray for three hours before breakfast, and then there is my pathetic prayer time. I can remember looking at my poor track record for spending time in the Bible and pretty much giving up on it because I didn't have the vibrant Bible reading record that some others had. And there are all sorts of commitments I've made and then just given up on them once I failed to keep up with them. I mean, if my goal is to read the Bible every day and I've already missed a day, how can I succeed in my goal?

You know what? We can really discourage ourselves playing the comparison game. There's always someone better. And it's easy But Jesus doesn't ask us to be perfect to come back to him. Jesus needs us, whether we're able to agape love him or even if we're just his phileo friends. You see, it doesn't matter whether Peter said "agape" or "phileo" - the important thing is that Jesus reinstated him as His friend.

He accepts us wherever we are. He doesn't kick you out because of your failures. If he did, there wouldn't be any Christians at all. He accepts everyone. Yes, everyone, just as you are.

That brings me to the next point. Jesus accepts us just as we are, but he doesn't leave us there. Jesus finished up this conversation by telling Peter, “follow me.” And Peter was then able to follow Jesus, even to his death. If you want to follow Jesus, if you really want to do His will, then you'll follow Him, no matter what you've done, where you've been, how many times you've failed.

And in following Him, you will be transformed.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter! Does the Resurrection Matter?

John 20:1-18

1 Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 2 She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. 4 They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. 6 Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, 7 while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. 8 Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—9 for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.
“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said.
She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).
17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Have you ever found yourself unable to make sense of what's going on? Something is impossible to understand – you've got to see it for yourself to believe it. The disciples didn't know what was happening; they had shamefully all left Jesus' side. Though Judas became famous for his betrayal of Jesus, none of his disciples really stuck in there with him in his most troubling time.
Now Mary Magdalene has found the tomb open and empty! The disciples came running – the least they could do was know where the body of their Rabbi was. They came to find a puzzling sight; the stone was rolled away and the burial cloths folded neatly – not strewn carelessly as if grave robbers had broken in.

The disciples realized what had happened – because Jesus had told them what would happen. The strange thing here is what happened next – and I want you to get this – they went home. Can you imagine it? They believed... but they went home anyway.

Contrast that reaction to Mary Magdalene's. She stayed there on the spot. And it was then that she met the angels... but their appearance didn't seem to faze her! Unlike the shepherds in the Christmas story, she didn't tremble in fear. Instead she asked them where Jesus was... she was still looking for a body.

All of a sudden, there He was. Although she knew Him before the resurrection, and though she had a conversation with Him, she didn't recognize Him.

She finally recognized Him when He called her by name.

Jesus' resurrection makes all the difference in the world. In His death, He took the sins of the entire world onto Himself and buried them. But in rising again, He defeated death. In defeating death, He bridged the gap for us from mortality to immortality, from time and space to eternity. He did this for you, even before you recognized him.

How do you react to this?

Will you behave like the disciples initially did? You know that something has happened, but you're not willing to stick around and investigate. Life is easier if you just go home – go back to the way of life you've always known. Don't make any ripples. Just go home and don't be bothered. You've made an effort to come and see, and if you thought about what you've heard and seen, there are things that may intrigue you, but you'd rather not be bothered. You're too busy for it.

Or

You find all sorts of good things around you, but you don't recognize what Jesus is doing. Maybe you participate in church, but you want it your way. You judge a worship service based on your personal preference. Did they sing your favorite songs? Did you like the special music? Did the sermon make you feel warm and fuzzy? You have your own purposes to meet when you come to worship, and if things aren't what you expect, then you miss Jesus' presence altogether.

Or

Do you recognize Jesus? Jesus calls you by name and you recognize Him! Thing weren't as you expected them to be, but in the midst of it, there was Jesus! But then, as you fall at his feet to worship Him, He tells you, “Don't cling to me.”

Why on earth would Jesus tell someone who loves him, “Don't cling to me”? Jesus already told his disciples why that was. In John 14, he told them that the one who believed in Him would do the works that He does and even greater works! He went on to tell them that they would receive the Holy Spirit, who would be in them.

We who recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. And just as Jesus gave Mary Magdalene a job to do, so too does He give us a job. Jesus told Mary to go tell His brothers that he was alive.

The resurrection means everything, because without it, he was just an unfortunate martyr. But because of it, we know He is alive and that we, too, can live again, that this life isn't the end of things.

We who believe in Him have been adopted into His family as His brothers and sisters. And the world is full of those who do not yet know that adoption – they aren't in the family simply because they haven't accepted it! They don't know that this life isn't the end, and we have been given the task to tell them the good news, “Jesus is alive! - and you can live, too!”

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Blessed are the Peacemakers

...for they will be called children of God.



Matthew 5:9


When I was a little boy, I had a definite role in my family. I was the peacemaker, being able to get along well with both my brother and my sister. Unfortunately my methodology was often suspect. My preschool teacher reported that I needed to learn to solve my problems verbally instead of physically!


It’s kind of like the fraternity brother and college roommate I had who proclaimed, “I’m a pacifist. If you don’t believe me, I’ll fight you to prove it to you.”


You may laugh at those images, but that’s the kind of Messiah that Israel was awaiting. They were looking for someone in the line and character of King David, one who would destroy Israel’s enemies in order to bring peace to Jerusalem. Remember that in Jesus’ time, Israel was an occupied state. They didn’t even have their own sovereignty; they were ruled by Rome.
Jesus had something else in mind when he talked about peace. In John 14, Jesus told his disciples that when he left them, the Father would send the Holy Spirit to them. Then he told them (v. 27): Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”


Jesus’ peace isn’t the world’s peace. Jesus told his followers not to fight back…


Listen to these words from Jesus in Matthew 5:38-41: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”
He goes on to say (Matthew 5:43-45), “You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”


Here’s the hard truth: over the past six weeks, we’ve covered some ground that is extremely hope-giving. The poor in spirit get the kingdom of heaven. The mourners get comforted. The meek will inherit the earth. Those who put a right relationship with God first receive fulfillment, and the pure in heart get to see God.


But now we get to the hard words. Peacemaking is costly. Jesus set about a task of peacemaking – he came to reconcile humans to God and to one another. This mission of peace cost Jesus his life – a brutal death on a cross.


It also involves a cross for anyone who would be his follower. Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. There’s no shortcut. He paid the way for us to be reconciled to God, and we become reconcilers as well.


You see, peace is more than simply an absence of fighting. Indeed, Jesus is talking about the Jewish concept of Shalom, a concept that includes general welfare, health, prosperity, rest, and wholeness. There is only One who can bring that kind of peace, and that is Jesus Christ Himself. I find it extremely interesting that following His resurrection Jesus showed up in the Upper Room with his disciples and they recognized Him when He said, “Peace be with you.” This is how Jesus is known and made known – by peace.


So to truly be a peacemaker, we have to help others come to know Him, the only One who can bring true peace.


And to those who are willing to do whatever it takes to bring His peace, God gives the honor of being his sons and daughters. To be a child of God means being in line for an inheritance.
Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

…for they will see God.

Matthew 5:8

What do you want from this life? Have you ever felt like you’re running on a treadmill trying to attain what you’ll never reach?

Do you want more? Back in the book of Genesis, we find that God created humanity to walk with him and look at him, face-t0-face. But unfortunately, when Adam and Eve sinned, they were no longer able to look at God.

In Exodus 33, Moses, the God-chosen leader of God’s people, asked God to show him His glory. God responded this way: (Exodus 33:19-20) “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, YHWH, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Our sin renders us unworthy and thus unable to see God and live. Yet here is Jesus saying that you can indeed see God.

The heart of the matter is this: to see God, we must have pure hearts. Think about this: there’s a reality TV show that’s out right now in which contestants undergo lie detector tests while the host asks them all sorts of embarrassing and prying questions. Recently, in an attempt to win money on this show, a woman admitted on national TV that she was having an affair, but she didn’t end up winning any money. What question tripped her up? She was asked, “Do you think you’re basically a good person?”

She said she was, but she didn’t believe it.

The struggle for so many is that they desperately want to be good people, for their good to somehow outweigh the bad, but it just doesn’t happen. And God requires a pure heart, not just a more-good-than-bad heart.

Psalm 24:3 asks “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” The answer comes in the next verse: “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.”

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

But how do we get pure hearts? Isn’t that really the question we’re after? Really it’s not about how good you’ve been – impure can’t be made completely pure by dilution. That’s not how it works. The only hope we have is in Jesus Christ. As we participate in Communion this morning, we remember that we have been made pure – not by what we’ve done, but by what Jesus did. And thus we can see God.

But did you know this: not only can we see God, but others can also see Him through our pure hearts. When we have pure hearts, others will see God, too. And that’s what living Kingdom of Heaven life is all about.