Epilogue of John

John 21

John 21 17 b

The twenty first chapter of the Gospel of John is a fascinating chapter.

Far be it from me to correct the story-telling ability of the author, but why end here? It feels like the story was wrapped up with a nice bow when the author wrote the words we looked at yesterday. Then, almost as if the author forgot a couple stories, he tags on these last couple bits. My fascination with the narration, however, does not diminish what it teaches. Of course, there is both an author and an Author, and so much is given to us in this last chapter.

What I want to focus in on, though, is what happens with Peter? Peter, Peter, Peter. He walks on water, but he doubts. He asks Jesus to wash his whole body when he only needs his feet taken care of. He says “I’ll die for you” but denies him three times. What are we gonna do with Peter?

Of course, you and I are JUST LIKE Peter.

I’ve denied Jesus.

Haven’t you?

I had my doubts after a huge moment of success, when I “walked on water.”

Haven’t you?

I put my foot so far in my mouth my toe tickled by tonsils.

Haven’t you?

So the question is not, “What are we gonna do with Peter?” The question is, “What is Jesus gonna do with Peter?” because that will let us know what Jesus is gonna do with us.

And the answer is exciting.

He makes us better.

He finds Peter and the other disciples fishing, and after helping them perform a miracle, Peter swims to shore. While ashore, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”

Every time, Peter says “Yes!”

And Jesus responds with “Feed my lambs.” “Shepherd my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”

When a person fails to live up to the standard Jesus sets, Jesus forgives and works with us. We look at one of the most flawed characters in the New Testament and see, time and again, his failures, his misunderstandings, his sins. But because Peter trusted Jesus and wanted to follow him, Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter. Jesus lets him know that he will be with him, even in the difficult days ahead. He gives him the power and ability to lead, and Peter becomes one of the leaders in the church. He expands the mission of the church beyond Jews and to the Gentiles. He trains other Pastors/Shepherds in how to care for the people of God. (See 1 Peter 5.)

The next time you wonder “Am I useless? What can God do with me?” look to the life of Peter. Take encouragement in the beautiful truth that, if we trust and love Jesus, or even WANT to trust and love him, he will not let us go. He will fight for us, care for us, and ultimately, he will change us into the kind of person God wants us to be.

-Jake Ballard

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He is RISEN! He is RISEN INDEED!

John 20

John 20 8

In John 20, we see Christ has been raised. He is no longer in the tomb. The stone was rolled away and he lives.
The Darkness is over!
The LIGHT HAS DAWNED!
The Light who gives light to every person is ALIVE.
Praise the God who gives life to the Light who shines forth in the Darkness. The Darkness COULD NOT overcome the Light.
However, in this metaphorical language, taken straight from the mouth of John, I don’t want to lose sight of the amazing couple of statements made at the end of the chapter.
John specifically says exactly why he wrote the book.
“These [things] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
You have read through the entire book of John. You have read the prologue of chapter one. You have read the “book of signs”, from chapter 2 to 12, and the seven signs Christ performed. You have read the “book of teachings”, from chapter 13 to 17 and all the things that Christ tells us there. Finally, you have read the “book of glory”, from chapter 18 to 20, all about how he receives his exaltation in the crucifixion and the greatest exaltation of the resurrection.
The reason for each “book”, for every chapter, for every phrase, for indeed EVERY WORD, all of it was for you to at the end say “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus, the one performing miracles, the one speaking truth, the one who died, is the Son of God? Do you have life in his name?
If you don’t, don’t wait. On this day, as we celebrate Christ raised to life, I want to celebrate that YOU have been raised to life. Talk to your mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, legal guardian, your pastor or youth worker, your best bud who believes… talk to ANYONE about giving your life to Jesus, about getting baptized, about believing in the name of Jesus and experiencing life and life abundantly.
If you believe, remember, that today we speak of Jesus and we say
“He is Risen indeed.”
In the future, Christ will say of you, believer,
“My Brother, my sister, the children of my Father, they are all risen. They are RISEN INDEED!”
Amen,
Come Lord Jesus.
-Jake Ballard

Between the Darkness and the Dawn

John 19

John 19 30 b

Last night, Christians worldwide, celebrated and lamented Good Friday. We do not call it Good because we are happy or rejoice at what took place with Jesus on the cross, but because in the crucifixion of Jesus, we are bought and redeemed. Jesus went to the hill of Calvary, in the area known as the Place of the Skull, carrying a cross down the Via Dolorosa for us; Jesus knew that if he did not walk that path, to that place, and march up that hill, all people would be stuck in darkness. We would be forever covering our sins, and never removing them. We would be forever wishing to be better, but never having a Counselor to teach us truths and transform our hearts.
Can you imagine what it was like that first Good Friday and Holy Saturday? Jesus hangs limply from a cross; his disciples had abandoned him, denied him, betrayed him. On either side, two criminals, now with two fates, both die laboriously. Women, who followed this man they called Messiah, crowned with thorns, now lifeless. All creation waits with baited breath for what comes next. Sitting in cosmic darkness, existence waits for Light to dawn.
In our area, sister churches gathered together to commemorate this moment. One thing we tried to experience together was silence. Silence and solitude are twin spiritual disciplines; tragically, they are both neglected in modern Christianity. As you today, sit in the space between Crucifixion and Resurrection, find some space for silence and solitude.
Turn off the phone
Power down the computer
Turn off the background Netflix
Enter into silence, find a place of solitude.
We may find we are sitting in darkness. Don’t be afraid to admit that. Darkness comes, and after that, the Dawn.
Silence can be awkward and uncomfortable. Most of us run from it at the first chance. But when we calm ourselves, when we take a moment to appreciate the silence and the stillness, we come to find that our souls have more to say than we previously thought. Our souls may weep at a chance to speak, having been pent up for so long. As Nicodemus and Joseph leaped at the opportunity to serve the rabbi they followed from a distance, so our souls, in silence and solitude, leap up to tell us their deepest desires. But we must allow them.
And when they speak, we will find that they desire the one who died on the cross, the one who will set them free.
In this time of cosmic twilight, we are betwixt our darkest moment and the brightest day, let us do well to remember the words of Christ.
It
Is
Finished.
-Jake Ballard

Quid est veritas?

John 18

John 18 37 38

There is a phrase floating around in culture. “My truth.”
Being a philosophy nerd, the phrase “my truth” hurts my brain. What does it mean for YOU to have truth that is yours? Is it yours alone? Can other people share your truth? If you share your truth and I disagree, am I disagreeing with reality, or with what you think about reality? What is “my truth?”
I was thinking about these questions and many more beside them, because of what Pilate asks Jesus.
Jesus has just been arrested, drug around the city of Jerusalem, falsely accused, and more. He is speaking to Pilate and declares “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” (John 18:37)
After hearing this, Pilate asks what I am asking…”What is truth?” (vs. 38)
But there is a different heart here. Jesus says his followers will know the truth. All through the teachings we have just read (chapters 13-17) we see Jesus telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls the Spirit of Truth, will be with them. We are also told by Jesus this famous passage: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No person comes to the father but through me.”(John 14:6) Jesus makes this bold claim because he knew that he is exclusively the gate to the Father and to eternal life.
In our world, we may look around us and see many people selling us their version of the truth. Whether it is “fake news” or biased media on either side of the political spectrum, whether it is communities of people denying biology or denying differences between men and women, or whether it is hate-filled people implying those differences make men or women better than the other, or that there are racial differences that make certain races better or worse, whatever the messages are that we are given, we MUST run all claims to truth through the filter of Truth, the Spirit of God and the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus prays that God would sanctify us, his followers in His Truth, and says “Your word is truth.”(John 17:17) The Logos of God (John 1:1) is truth, and we know that the Logos has put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood in Jesus Christ. When someone says “I am speaking my truth”, we should be asking “is this the truth of Jesus?”
He is not a way, one path among many, with all leading to God or salvation.
Jesus is THE way.
He is not a truth, one truth among many, with all being equally valid and connected to the world.
Jesus is THE truth.
He is not a life, one life among many, with all being filled to overflowing.
Jesus is THE life.
Pilate, you asked “What is truth?”
Truth was standing right in front of you. His name is Jesus.
-Jake Ballard

The War We Are In and the Games We Play. 

John 17

John 17 3
It’s important to note that Christ cared about those who followed him. He called his disciples little children, he spoke with love and care to the women who supported his ministry. (See, for example, John 20:11-18.) In John 17, we get to see Jesus pray for himself, his disciples who followed him then, and for us, the disciples who follow him now.
I want to focus on some things he says early on in this prayer.
In the first part of the prayer we are greeted by a strange idea of the Son being glorified and how he had glory “before the world was”(NASB, KJV) or “before the world began”(NIV, NLT) or “before the world existed” (HSCB, WEB). What can happen in moments where we see some theologically interesting passages, we start chasing those discussions. And that’s good. I have spent the last four years engaged in exciting discussions about how to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis, how to read Revelation most accurately, what to do with discrepancies with Scripture, how to understand the state of believers after death. All these are IMPORTANT points that need to be addressed. In your own time, I encourage you to dive into the preceding ideas and verse five of John 17.
However, because I only have a limited time to write, I will assume that you only have a limited time to read. The key point Jesus made is not the interpretation of John 17:5, but John 17:3.
“This is eternal life:
that they may know You, the only true God,
and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ.”
Read that again. And again. And again.
Commit that to memory.
While I understand and agree that theological discussions are important, I don’t want us to lose sight of the war we are in. We are in a battle against the temptations driven by our world and our culture, against the temptations that well up inside ourselves, and against demonic and Satanic forces that would like for nothing more than to destroy every human. But Christ gives us a clear picture here: eternal life is about knowing God and Jesus.
I try not to pit John 17:3 and 17:5 against each other, but I want us to see the bigger point.
17:5 provides us with an important and interesting theological discussion.
17:3 speaks to the very heart of faith.
17:5 is a game we play; an important, fun activity, with an interesting outcome.
17:3 is the war we wage; souls will live or die based on their understanding of Jesus as Messiah and Mediator to God.
I encourage you to think about how you stand in all this…
Is the most important conversation you have with someone to convince them that you know more about Scripture?
Or is the most important conversation you have with someone to convince them that Jesus is the only way to God?
Focus your energy, this Easter/Resurrection Sunday and the following weeks, into telling those who don’t know Christ that Jesus loves them and wants to connect them to God.
Fight the war you are in.
When you win the war, play the games later.
(Author’s Note: This article is purely the opinion of Jake Ballard and does not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Grow Bible Devotions.)
-Jake Ballard
(Grow Bible Devotion’s Note:  Preach it, brother! Let’s fight this war!  And, maybe someday in our foxhole I will get to hear your thoughts on John 17:5.  Thank you for writing!)

He Has Conquered

JOHN 16

John 16 33

Theology is one of my favorite things to study. It’s fascinating because people have read the same 66 books for 2000 years and have created millions of different explanations for how it all fits together. For example, there is a belief in certain Christian groups that has been labelled “Christus Victor” or “Christ is the conqueror”. This view believes that our sin was atoned for by Christ being the ransom for our sin. By being killed and rising again to life – sin, death, and the devil lost all right to those who trust in Christ. This view has some strong language of support (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6). And of course, Christ’s victory is made clear in John 16:33.

 

It’s important to note the situation Jesus is talking about here. He is letting the disciples know that he is going to die. (John 16:16) Moreover, he is letting his disciples know that he is going to the Father. (John 16:28) And for the first time, the disciples get it. They are finally understanding what he is telling them. But he lets them know, “You will all desert me.” But even knowing they will all leave him, he has been telling them all these things, about the Counselor coming, about Jesus being the vine and the branches, about Jesus and the Father and the Spirit abiding in believers, he is telling his disciples this so that they would have peace.

 

The words of John are in Greek, but he thought like a Jew. In the Hebrew language, “peace” is shalom. Shalom is not an absence of conflict, but a flourishing of life (usually accompanied by an absence of conflict!). Jesus even makes this case himself, “so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world.” Right there back to back, we have peace and suffering. Shalom and conflict. Jesus is letting us know that we will have struggles. I may sound like a broken record with yesterday’s reading, but it’s important. When those people hate you for doing what is right and for trying to be like Jesus, then we need to find our shalom in him. We are called to take courage in him.

 

Why?

Because Jesus has overcome.

And this is before the resurrection.

 

The Messiah has beaten the system. Jesus in the Gospel of John is different, in some striking ways, from the Jesus of the synoptics in regard to his death. He insinuates that he is willingly going to the slaughter. He tells the people that he will lay down his life (John 10:15) and take it back up (10:18), as that is the missions given to him by his Father. Jesus is not afraid to die, asking God for it to pass, but knows that no one takes his life from him by force (19:11) but that he lays it down (15:13). Jesus knows that he is going to win; he says “if I am lifted up, I will draw all people to me.”(12:32) In this Jesus makes a pun about his own death: “lifted up” in the Greek could mean the metaphorical “lifted in Glory and honor” and also the literal “raised up, i.e., on a cross.” Jesus knows that his crucifixion, far from being the moment of defeat, is the moment of triumph and success. In his crucifixion, he removes sin from his followers as a sacrifice and he buys us, the slaves of Satan, as a ransom to become children of God.

 

I am not asking you to have the same unadulterated confidence; that would be too much. I am asking you to trust in the one who we already know was victorious. Jesus was asking his disciples to trust in him as he was about to be sentenced to death. How much more should we trust that Jesus will care for us knowing that he has been raised to life.

If you are going through a trial, something that the world is throwing at you, keep this in mind: Jesus has already won. Not could win, not even will win.  JESUS HAS ALREADY WON.

 

Christ is, for now and forever more, the conqueror. 
-Jake Ballard

Me Against the World

John 15

John 15 19

Does it feel like some days everyone hates you?

We’ve all been there; we say or do something different and it blows up in our faces.
Sometimes, this is probably justified. When we say or do something bad, it may be good for the people in our lives to call us out. While there are many things wrong with political movements like #blacklivesmatter or #metoo, their goal is admirable: there ARE times when those in power, like police, need to be held accountable; there are some people who are victims of sexual assault and harassment that are afraid to speak out due to the backlash. While you have not done anything like those called out in these movements, I’m sure you’ve had moments when your friends turned against you when you did something to hurt a mutual friendship, or maybe bullied a kid. And we can see that this is justice, in a way. We feel like (and on some level, know) we deserve it.
But there are days when you say what you believe is truth and it backfires. There are days when you are asked what you believe and everyone around you mocks you and belittles you for it, or tells you that you are on a dangerous path for not agreeing with their view of God. There are days when you do the right and righteous thing, and it seems like people around you think you have done something terrible…
Jesus lets us know this won’t be uncommon. He teaches in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you.” In our day, we can see this is true in a small scale. On some issues, we love people, but hate sinful actions performed. When a man believes that he can’t make a wedding cake for a gay couple, he is sued and taken to court. In many circles, he is considered a bigot. Very recently, another Christian political commentator gave a speech entitled “Men are not women.” That speech created a protest movement, and he was assaulted with liquid that smelled like bleach. While these are hotly charged political issues, both of these men were standing on what they believed were biblical, moral principles, and were hated for their views.
This is because we are not of the world. We don’t go along with the system the world offers. Christ calls us to live in love differently. One could argue that if these men had just lived like Jesus, then they wouldn’t have encountered any problem. Love wins, right? But Jesus points out that he is hated by the system of the world, AND HE WAS PERFECT. Christ lived a life full of grace and truth (John 1). But that did not endear him to the world.
When it seem the world is against you, stop and think:
Did I do something wrong? If so, fix it.
If not, is the world against you and it is not related to the Bible? Maybe it is wise to think about what they are saying.
However, if the world is against you and you are standing on Scripture, then stand strong. Don’t be shocked, because they first hated Jesus. Stand strong, in truth and love, and God will stand with you.
(For a throw back, watch this clip … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_o6QHdIG4I // For some rock, listen to this … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kiwluGZdJQ )
-Jake Ballard