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
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Jesus and Paul, Paralleled

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Acts 23

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to persecution. He saw it from both sides. He was at times the persecutor and the persecuted. While he was a zealous Pharisee in Jerusalem, he targeted Jews who joined the sect of followers of Jesus called the Way. When he became a follower himself and preached the Gospel throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia, he was imprisoned multiple times and warned by friends not to return to Jerusalem, because if he did, he would likely be killed. Yet in chapter 23, we see Paul is not only in Jerusalem but in the custody of the Romans, facing the Sanhedrin.

About a quarter century earlier, another Jewish preacher stood in front of the same group of religious leaders. The name of that preacher was Jesus, and it was because of him that Paul found himself in an identical position. Like Paul, Jesus had also returned to Jerusalem that final time knowing it could mean death. And both times, each was the target of a treacherous plot. But neither Paul nor Jesus were moved from their mission because of this threat. They were both willing to die for the cause.
But there are several important differences between Paul and Jesus during their final days in the Jewish Holy City. Unlike Paul, Jesus put up no defense while in front of the Sanhedrin and Roman rulers. The prophecy in Isaiah 53:7 puts it this way: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Paul, on the other hand, started his remarks to the Sanhedrin by stating that he has lived his life with a clear conscience. Then, after inadvertently insulting the High Priest, he cleverly changed the subject from himself to a disagreement between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The ensuing bruhaha allowed Paul to get out of there without facing any penalties.
The following night Paul was told by the Lord that he would not die in Jerusalem but would make it to Rome to testify there also. Despite the fears of his friends, Jerusalem would not be the end of the road for Paul. And this is the other difference between Paul and Jesus. Because Jesus would not defend himself when he had the opportunity, the intimate Passover meal he shared with his twelve disciples would be their last together; the following day he was beaten and crucified.
Paul and Jesus both went to Jerusalem to save lives. The latter accomplished this goal by taking on the sins of the world and offering his life as a sacrifice for all. The former did this by telling any who would listen about that sacrifice and how to receive the salvation offered as a result of it.
Usually, I would say that we should follow the example of Christ. But when it comes to facing charges that are unfounded, we should look to Paul as the model. Yes, Paul was willing to die for what he believed in, but he didn’t intend to because of false accusations. Paul defended himself so he could advance the Gospel; Jesus didn’t so he could guarantee it. We must be willing to die for the cause of the Kingdom, yet always seeking to put ourselves in the best position to champion it.
-Joel Fletcher

Forgiveness

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Society is filled with people who have no forgiveness.  We judge, ridicule and try to come up with the next sarcastic zinger to roast someone.  Escalation of situations that could have been resolved in their infancy are full blown Hatfield and McCoy level feuds because people did not possess the unceasing ability of Jesus to forgive.  Jesus was able to forgive even in the midst of extreme situations like being on the cross:

Luke 23:34 NIV Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Jesus found the strength to forgive even though he had been mercilessly mocked, beaten and ultimately murdered!  Meanwhile we struggle to forgive people for minor infractions like not liking our outfit, or denying the fact that we are the greatest spike ball player on the planet.  Seeing how Jesus was able to forgive his persecutors who had done much more to him than anyone else has experienced convicts us as Christians to be able to forgive others who have wronged us regardless of our situations because Jesus was able to forgive in situations worse than us.

-Zack Dylewski

The Weight of the Cross

Mark 8 34

The Via Dolorosa, or the “way of suffering”, is the path, according to tradition, that Jesus took to the cross on the day of his crucifixion.  His literal carrying of his cross most likely involved moving 100-300 pounds across a half mile stretch after being beaten to within an inch of his life.  This was an impossible journey that had Jesus incapable of bearing the burden, and his cross was (forcibly) taken up by Simon, the Cyrene (Matthew 27:32). Jesus carried the weight of the cross until there was nothing left in him; however, his path to Golgotha, to pay for the sins of all mankind, did not start at the Lion’s Gate on the day of his death, but it was an everyday consideration that was revealed to him by God.

 

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. – Mark 8:34-35

 

Jesus predicts his death moments/verses before, and knowing how his story would play out, he most likely thought of His own literal cross he would bear on a daily basis.  He uses it as our example for the daily battle to call ourselves his disciples. We must deny our hopes, our will, our thoughts, our opportunities, our deepest desires, and stand alongside him on the Via Dolorosa – the way of suffering – and follow him.  It is a hard, burdensome journey to put ourselves to death (1 Cor 15:31) and be crucified alongside him (Gal 2:20).

 

BUT the difference is Jesus no longer carries his cross.  He died once and for all and now lives so you can count yourself as one who will receive the same promise (Rom 6:10-11).  Just as Simon, the Cyrene, helped Jesus bear the burden of the physical cross, Jesus stands waiting to help us bear the things we cannot.  He makes our yoke easy, and our burdens light (Matt 11:30); he constantly is inching our cross towards the place he has prepared, not the Place of the Skull, when it seems we cannot journey no further. Without Him or God’s grace, it would be a crushing weight, and we would be doomed to fail.

 

We count our momentary sufferings as loss, because even in suffering we have Christ, and access to God, our Father.  Those who do not have him suffer alone, are crushed alone, and die alone. There is no hope from the crosses they choose to bear. They lead to a death without hope, eternal destruction and separation from the God who desperately loves them and allowed His son to suffer so that we might live.  Today, tomorrow, and every day that we have an inch of life or more, we must take up the cross and follow him, knowing He has and will bear the weight when we cannot.

-Aaron Winner

The Christmas Story Continues

Luke 23 47

Luke 23

Questioning Pilate

Curious Herod

Accusing chief priests

Mocking soldiers

Appealing Pilate

Shouting crowd

Desperate Pilate

Mad mob

Defeated Pilate

Fortunate Barabbas

Condemned Jesus

Cross-carrying Simon

Mourning women

Guilty criminals

Crucified three-some

Forgiving Messiah

Sneering rulers

Informative sign: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

Insulting felon

Compassionate criminal

Welcoming Jesus

Saved criminal

Darkened sky

Torn curtain

Committed spirit

Last breath

Amazed centurion

Dead righteous man

Seeing crowd

Generous Joseph

So much could be said and written about any one of these elements of Luke 23.  Much of Luke and the gospels – and even the Old Testament – point to this moment in history: the Crucifixion of the Son of God.  Which character do you identify with most today?  Which adjective describes you this year?  What do you find the most amazing?  How does this chapter of Jesus’ history add to the Christmas story of Luke 20 we discussed earlier this week?  In an effort to become more Christ-like, what characteristics do you see in this chapter that you want to work on this week?

Keep Reading and Growing

-Marcia Railton

How Do You Crown Your King?

John 18-19

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Friday, June 2

(This is a longer post. Please give yourself ample time to read it and pray over the questions at the end.)
Interesting trivia: the Greek Orthodox Church fasts every Wednesday and Friday. Every single one. Why? There are reasons to believe the Jews began this practice of fasting and that they carried it on. Beyond that, they also add a religious and theological reason: on Wednesday Christ was betrayed and on Friday Christ was killed. Every single week they remind themselves that they are in some way responsible for the Son of God hanging on the Cross.
These are the chapters we read this week in John 18-19. They tell the story of Jesus’ betrayal, torture, crucifixion and death through the eyes of John. What can we learn from this?
First, Jesus said, “Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?” (John 18:11) Jesus accepted that this was the way that God had given him, and did not want to resist this way with violence. We can be so much like Peter, who cut off the ear of Malchus. We can be so  quick to violence. But Jesus, even with these men sent to kill him, his worst enemies on earth, was about peace, love and healing. Luke 22:51 expounds the story by finishing up the scene. “But Jesus responded, “No more of this!” And touching his ear, He healed him.”
That’s because Jesus is not focused on the injustice of what is being done to him. He is not looking for his personal justice. Jesus is, instead, focusing on his God-given destiny and duty. When being questioned by Pilate, he says “You say that I’m a king.” Jesus goes on to say,  “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) Jesus is focused, in the middle of supreme injustice and false imprisonment, on why he was born, the reason for his existing. And what is that purpose? Not to disparage any evangelical preacher, but Jesus did not merely come to do three days’ work. Instead, he came to “testify to the truth.” The truth is humans need to be saved from their sins, he is that salvation, he is the only way to salvation, eternal life and the spirit will be given to those who seek this truth.
In the midst of this, we also see a picture of the world. Now, I’m of a specific bent that says God does not control every facet of the universe. God does not predetermine or force my hand and only make me act as he wants me or wills me to act. However, this does not mean that the world is completely and utterly out of control. In a way that is completely unknown to me, a way that I daresay we should call a mystery, God controls certain events, outcomes, or situations. Here, Jesus seems to take comfort in the fact that his own torture and death is not outside of the plan of God. God knew, “If my Son goes among the Jews and tells them the truth, they will crucify him. I will give humanity the authority to do so.” God isn’t wringing his hands in heaven saying, “I wish I could do something, but I’m not strong enough!” Nor is God a puppet master with all the strings making his marionettes dance. He is working out his will inside the real, free, true choices of humanity.
Interestingly, Pilate may have gotten it. Pilate, according to all the history books was a brutal and bloodthirsty man ready to squash any rebellion with the slightest whiff. But I think he understood who he was talking to in Jesus and what the Jews were asking of him. He seems to have answered his own question “What is truth?” And he answers it with the inscription above Jesus’ head “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” written in every common language. The truth is that in this suffering, we see the ultimate juxtaposition. A savior killed like a slave, a righteous man made wretched, a King on a cross. THAT’S the symbol we gravitate toward. That’s the symbol that defines Christianity. It is a cross that shows the greatest moment of humanity, depravity and sin, and the greatest moment of the God-granted mercy, compassion and love.
Then, Jesus dies. There’s no fanfare in the book of John. It is interesting that what happens in the other gospels, the earthquake and the darkness and the resurrection of righteous ones, are summarily overlooked or forgotten. They pale in comparison to the fact that the King of the Jews, the bread of life, the water of life, the SON OF GOD is hanging dead on a cross. This man, who only loved, who only wanted the best. Who demanded that the pharisees live the same life they demanded of everyone else. Who said “turn the other cheek” and “do not judge unless you are ready to be judged”. Who said “blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed are the persecuted.” This man who lived a life of perfect relationship and obedience to God, is hanging limp on a cross, covered in blood and bodily fluids. His arms and legs are no longer straining against the nails because he feels the pain no longer. His body bears the marks of scourging. His face is beaten beyond recognition, and above the bruises and laceration that disfigure the face of the Messiah, sits a crown of thorns, a gift from humanity to inaugurate our King.
There are many questions to ask of ourselves after this.
Do you treat your enemies with love and respect?
In times of trouble do you rest secure in the knowledge that you have a larger purpose than simply existing for today?
Do you even know what the larger purpose of your life is? Do you know specifically what the goal of your life is?
Do you rest secure in the knowledge that God is ultimately in control, whatever that might mean?
But above all of this is: what does it mean, FOR YOU, that the Son of God died on a cross? What does it mean for you that Jesus was tortured unjustly by a religious institution that couldn’t handle the fact that they were, in fact, broken and messed up and needed some saving? What does it mean for you that you were just as much responsible for the death of Jesus as Pilate and Caiaphas?
What will you do? We’ve place the crown of thorns of his head.
Will we cast our crown before him and acknowledge that Jesus is not only the King of the Jews, but the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords?
Will you commit to making him YOUR Lord, the Lord of every part of your life?
In Christ,
Jake Ballard