Friday, September 5, 2014

"I am going there to prepare a place for you … "

Day #252:  Daily Bible Reading - September 6th 

Scripture Reading:  John 13 - 15 …

What must it be like to KNOW that you are about to leave this world and go to heaven?  I have been present several times as death approached for one who knew Jesus Christ as their Savior and as they anticipated being in His presence … it is a holy moment.  For Jesus, it was even moreso.  He was not only going to the Father, but He was returning to Him!!  "Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. … Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God" (13:1,3).  Those who would say that Jesus did not know these things have either not read the Bible or have not believed it … so their words about Jesus are not worth the paper they are written on!!

Jesus came from heaven to earth for a specific purpose, and now the time had come to complete all that He had come to do.  Always the Teacher, He wanted to leave His disciples a picture that they would not forget.  He was sending them out into the world as His witnesses and they needed to know that whatever they went through to serve Jesus, it was for HIM.  Jesus had nothing to prove … no "position" to try to hold onto … nothing to gain that was not already His … and He wanted the disciples to operate from the same motivation … so He washed their feet.

It must have seemed like a simple thing, but there was a lesson to be learned.  Jesus made sure they learned it:  "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet" (13:13-14).  The lesson was that "no servant is greater than his master" (13:16).  I don't believe Jesus meant that we should literally wash each other's feet … the point He was making was greater than that!  He was saying that there was no task too small for them to do.  There was no task that they should think they were too good or too important to do for one another and for others.

Pride is a huge barrier to the ministry to which Jesus calls His disciples.  It was pride that Jesus wanted to root out of those who would be responsible to carry the Gospel to the world.  Theirs would not be an easy road.  Theirs was not a position of prominence.  God could have made it different, but He chose to use humble servants, people who would be willing to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the Gospel to the world.  The Apostle Paul would write to the Corinthians, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (II Corinthians 4:7).  No one gets glory or praise except Jesus in this scenario, and He gives glory to the Father who sent Him.

After exposing Judas Iscariot, Jesus told the rest of the disciples, "A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (13:34-35).  But wait, how is this a "new command"?  Didn't the law of Moses tell people to love their neighbor as themselves?  Yes … (Leviticus 19:18).  So why did Jesus say "a new command I give you"?  Because like the rest of the law, people without the Spirit of God cannot and will not understand it.  Jesus was about to ascend into heaven and pour out His Spirit and this command would now take on new meaning for His followers.  They would understand that this command did not just mean to have a feeling of love toward someone or to do a few good things for someone, it meant that they must follow Jesus' example in being willing to serve and, if necessary, to literally lay down their lives for one another, as He was about to do for them.

Jesus repeatedly told them not to be troubled or afraid, but rather, to trust in Him.  He was going, but He would come back to take them to be with Him.  When Thomas declared that they didn't know the way, Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me" (14:6).  That was true then and it is true now.  Some today want to believe that even those who don't know Jesus or confess Him as Savior and Lord can enter into heaven through Jesus, but Jesus says those who are His disciples will love and obey Him.  "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching" (14:23).  Jesus said in John 6:29, "The work of God is this:  to believe in the One He has sent."  Those who do not confess Jesus as Savior and Lord cannot and will not obey Him and will not be saved, for it is by GRACE that we receive God's gift of life through faith in His Son, Jesus … the One He has sent.

Jesus told the disciples that "anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (14:12).  There is much debate about what Jesus meant, but there shouldn't be.  Can anyone possibly do anything greater than what Jesus did, if by "greater" we mean more important, more powerful, more amazing, more ANYTHING??!!!  Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, preached the good news of the kingdom, calmed the storms, made the blind to see, forgave sinners and died and rose again!!!  What "greater" thing could any of us possibly do?  Yet, Jesus said anyone who has faith will do greater things!!

It all has to do with the message … it was only AFTER His death and resurrection that the mission Jesus gave the disciples could be accomplished:  "This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:45-48).  One person, preaching the Gospel, can do greater things than Jesus did with respect to the fruit that comes from the Word of God concerning Jesus' death and resurrection.  It was not until Jesus went to the cross and rose from the dead that His work was finished and the resurrection could be preached!!  JESUS could raise people from the dead, but how many times did He do that?  He came to give spiritual life - eternal life, to all who would believe, but that would ONLY happen through the preaching of the Gospel to all nations.

Jesus handed over that mission to the disciples and to US!  That's why He poured out His Spirit to empower them and why the same Spirit empowers true believers today.  To prepare them for what lay ahead Jesus gave them another picture:  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the Gardener" (15:1).  The Father trims and prunes the branches so they will bear fruit.  "I am the vine, you are the branches," Jesus said, " …  apart from ME you can do nothing" (15:5).  "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples" (15:8).  "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit …" (15:16).

Bearing fruit will require fulfilling Jesus' command to love one another because we need each other and because it is in displaying Christ's love that others are drawn to hear the message of forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus.  None of this is easy.  In fact, it is impossible unless the Spirit of God lives within you.  The world will hate you … BECAUSE you love Jesus.  Why?  Because of His Name! (15:21).  There is a growing trend today in the church that we need to love all people and do good to all people because that's what Jesus says to do.  The supposed quote from St. Francis of Assisi is "Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words."  Such a philosophy is NOT what Jesus taught.  You will never be persecuted for the NAME of Jesus unless you SPEAK the Name of Jesus!

If the Gospel is doing good deeds, people will rarely persecute you for that, and it will certainly not be because of the name of Jesus.  The mission Jesus gave the disciples and that He gives to us is greater than doing good deeds.  He tells us to love one another, to be willing to lay down our lives for one another, to serve one another, to encourage one another, to lift up one another because the mission He has given to us is hard and lonely and exhausting and it will cost us everything to do it.  It will cost us our-SELF!  That's why Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).  "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (15:13).  THIS is the love to which Jesus calls His disciples.

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you.  Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' … They will treat you this way because of my name" (15:18-21).  As the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus, so those who are His true disciples do the same.  Empowered by the Spirit the disciples of Jesus have spread the Gospel all over the world, being persecuted because of His name … even to death … knowing that when they leave this world they will enter into the presence of the Father and the Son, for the Spirit already lives within them.

Do you know where you are going?  Do you know the way?  Only those who are united to Jesus by faith will enter into His presence.  Because His Spirit has given us new life and already lives within us we, too, can know where we are going, for we are aliens and strangers here.  Our home is with our Father and our Savior and we long for that day when we shall see Him face-to-face.  Until then we wait, we work, we stay attached to the Vine, for apart from Him we can do nothing.  Knowing that He has prepared a place for us, we endure persecution for His Name's sake and we watch … and we wait … knowing that soon we will be in His presence and will be with Him - forever!  O glorious day!!

"My Father in heaven, I believe in Jesus and I love You for sending Him to be My Savior.  I confess Jesus as my Lord and I desire to follow Him, to serve Him, to obey His command to love as He has loved me.  Empower me with Your Spirit, that I may be found faithful in serving others, proclaiming that in Jesus they, too, can find eternal life.  Take away any pride or fear or anything else that may prevent me from following Jesus.  Make me willing to lay down my life, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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