DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Filtering by Category: John

Fall to the Ground (John 12:20-36)

Big Idea: Jesus is compelling not because of what he accomplished in his life, but because of what he accomplished in his death.

Purpose: To show the beauty of the cross, so that people will be drawn to Jesus.

In the next few minutes, I want to open an important passage of Scripture that helps us understand why we're here tonight. It's found in John 12. It's just days until Jesus is crucified, and in this passage Jesus sets his sight on the cross, and helps us understand why it's so important that he died.

The Sunday before Jesus died, something happened that made Jesus announce that it was time for him to die. Not only did he announce that it was time for him to die, but he explained the meaning of his death. Let’s read the passage together, and then consider what it means for us.

[Read John 12:20-36]

This is God’s holy Word.

We are gathered here tonight, over a thousand of us, in memory of someone who accomplished shockingly little with his life.

Think about it. Most times, when we remember the life of someone famous, we are able to list their accomplishments:

  • Abraham Lincoln was a self-educated lawyer who rose from poverty to become the President of the United States, leading it through one of its greatest crisis and abolishing slavery.
  • Albert Einstein developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • Nelson Mandela was a revolutionary who became the first black President of South Africa, and who led the country to dismantle apartheid.

Unlike Lincoln, Einstein, and Mandela, Jesus accomplished shockingly little with his life. Think about Jesus’ accomplishments, or rather, his lack of accomplishments:

  • He had no military, political, or financial power.
  • The only followers he scraped together are peasants.
  • He was executed in his thirties, probably at the age of 37.
  • He was penniless when he is killed. His only possession, a robe, was taken away from him when he was killed.
  • At the very end, he was abandoned by his friends and by God himself.

And yet despite all of that, he has become the most influential figure in the history of the world.

Tonight, in the few minutes that we have, I want to ask why. Why is Jesus, who accomplished so little with his life, so compelling?

We don’t have to guess what the answer is, because Jesus tells us himself. Here's what Jesus tells us. It’s very simple, and it’s in the passage that we just read.

What Jesus tells us in this passage is this: Jesus is compelling not because of what he accomplished in his life — as great as it was — but because of what he accomplished by his death.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not denigrating Jesus’ life. Jesus lived a sinless life. He taught and performed miracles. But if Jesus had not gone to the cross, his life would have counted for nothing. If Jesus hadn’t have died on the cross, his life would be a footnote in history. In this passage, Jesus says that if he didn't die, his life wouldn’t have accomplished its purpose. He would have failed in his mission and his life would have had very limited impact. There would not be millions of people around the world who have been completely changed by him. The reason that Jesus is compelling is not because of what he accomplished in his life, as great a life as it was; it’s because of what he accomplished by his death.

You may be thinking, what did Jesus accomplish by his death? Jesus tells us in this passage. There are three things that Jesus accomplished by his death that make him so compelling:

  • By dying, Jesus revealed the operating system of the universe
  • By dying, Jesus brought God glory
  • By dying, Jesus judged the world and defeated the devil

Let’s look at each of these, and how we should respond.

What did Jesus accomplish by his death?

1.    By dying, Jesus reveals the operating system of the universe (24-26)

You may have seen the video going around called “Kids react to Walkmans.” These kids are handed a Sony Walkman from thirty years ago, and they have no idea what they’re holding. They think it’s a walkie talkie or something so old that it’s running IOS 4. They’ve never seen a Walkman, and they’ve only heard about cassette tapes. They have no idea what to do with it. They know the “operating system” of iPads or anything else you could throw at them today, but they don’t know what to do with an ancient device like a Walkman.

It’s the same when I get together with some of my friends. I used to be a Windows user; now I use a Mac. I have no idea how to use Windows anymore, no matter how much Julian or Joe to help me. The thing is: operating systems matter. No matter what computer or device you have, you need to know how to use it.

It’s the same in this world. To live well, we have to live according to the operating system of the universe. The problem is: What is the operating system of the universe? Our news cycles are full of stories of killings, identity theft, and political maneuvering. Our lives are full of the stress of making a living and, in the end, in making a life that will have been worth living. In order to live well, we need to have an idea of how this world operates, but it’s not always clear what that operating system is. We need to have it revealed to us.

In his book The Call of Jesus, Derek Worthington describes the default operating system of post-Christian spirituality. The operating system has three components to it:

  • a distant God who is far-off, detached, remote, and inaccessible, and not involved with our daily lives;
  • ourselves as the ones who have authority in our lives; since God is far-off; it’s up to us to make things happen;
  • consumerism as the path to fulfillment; the way to a good life is to buy goods and services that make us happy

That’s how most of us live. We believe in God, but that he’s distant. We take charge of our own lives, and live to consume. “We are our god. The market, our sanctuary. Our religious practice is buying; consuming. Retail therapy.” We live according to this operating system, but it never delivers the happiness that it promised.

But that’s where the cross comes in. The cross shows us that this is not the operating system of the world. Jesus shows us the true operating system of the universe in verses 24-26:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

According to Jesus, this is how the world operates:

  • You have a God who is not distant. You have a God who is present in the person of Jesus Christ, and who is very involved in our lives.
  • You have a God who then pushes us out of the position of control in our lives. God is God, and we aren’t; we take action, but only under his sovereignty and control.
  • The path to fulfillment is not consumption; it’s self-giving love seen most clearly in Jesus, who offered up his life in service and love.

You see this everywhere.

You see this in agriculture. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The purpose of a grain of wheat is that it dies, germinates, and produces a great crop. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma one of the best writers on food and agriculture, devotes a whole chapter in his book Cooked to the importance of dying in agriculture and food. Whether you’re talking about fermentation or plants and animals in general, there’s a whole lot of life that comes from death.

You see this in movies. In Armageddon, the character played by Bruce Willis tries to stop an asteroid from destroying earth. They prepare a nuclear bomb to blow the asteroid apart, but something goes wrong. The character played by Willis has to stay behind and manually detonate the bomb, giving up his life so that others can live. You see this in movies all over the place. You see this in Gravity: George Clooney’s character gives up his life so that Sandra Bullock’s character can live. Harry Potter’s mother offers her life to save Harry. Dumbledore says to Potter, “Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love.”

You see this in life. Mindy Tran is 5-foot-1 and 130-pounds. In other words, she’s a lot smaller than the one-ton Honda Accord that she drives. But when that car has her two-year-old twins in it, and that car begins to roll towards traffic, she didn’t think twice. She grabbed onto the car and was pinned under the right axel, stopping the car before it hit the traffic. She suffered a fractured pelvis, severe injuries to her legs and a separated left shoulder. She is unable to walk, and months of rehabilitation lie ahead. The newspaper that reported the story editorialized at the end: “What better role model could they have, once they are old enough to truly understand, than a mother who was willing to lay down her own life to preserve theirs?”

Most powerfully, you see this at the cross. The reason that this is the operating system of the universe is that it is the operating system of God himself. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, tells us that his whole purpose is to fall to the ground and die, to lay down his life so that others could live. At the heart of the universe is a God who willingly lays down his life for us. When Jesus died for us, he revealed that self-giving love lies at the heart of the universe. At the heart of the universe is a Savior who willingly went to the cross for you. “On the cross Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away” (Tim Keller).

This makes Jesus different from anyone else. Jesus died willingly in our place so that we could live. Most kingdoms do anything they can to protect their king. This is even true in chess. When the king falls, the kingdom is lost. Therefore, the king must be protected at all costs. When the Allies invaded Normandy on D-Day, June 1944, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill desperately wanted to watch the invasion from the bridge of a battleship in the English Channel. U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower was desperate to stop him, for fear that the Prime Minister might be killed in battle.

When it became apparent that Churchill would not be dissuaded, Eisenhower appealed to a higher authority: King George VI. The king went and told Churchill that if it was the Prime Minister's duty to witness the invasion, he could only conclude that it was also his own duty as king to join him on the battleship. At this point Churchill reluctantly agreed to back down, for he knew that he could never expose the King of England to such danger.

King Jesus did exactly the opposite. With royal courage he surrendered his body to be crucified. On the cross he fell to the ground and died so that he could bear much fruit, so that we could live. He says that we can stake our lives on this: that he died so that we could live. He reveals this as the operating system of the universe. C.S. Lewis says:

In self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being. For the Eternal Word also gives himself in sacrifice. When he was crucified he “did that in the wild weather of his outlying provinces which He had done at home in glory and gladness” from before the foundation of the world…This is not a…law which we can escape…What is outside the system of self-giving is…simply and solely Hell…that fierce imprisonment in the self…Self-giving is absolute reality.

The cross shows us that self-giving love is at the heart of God. It’s at the heart of the universe he created. And he calls us to live this way too.

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:25-26)

Do you want to know the way to make your life count? Lay it down as Jesus did. George Müller, a man who cared for over 10,000 orphans in England during his life, was once asked, “What has been the secret of your life?” He replied, “There was a day when I died, utterly died — died to George Müller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends — and since then I have only to show myself approved to God.” Dying is a daily requirement for spiritual vitality. The way to be rich is to be generous. The way to power is to serve. The way to real influence is to not seek influence. The way up is down. The pathway to glory is through death. Jesus’ dying for our salvation is also a pattern for our imitation.

Jesus is compelling not because of what he accomplished in his life — as great as it was — but because of what he accomplished by his death. And in this passage, he explains what his death accomplished: by dying, he gave us life. There was a debt to be paid: God himself paid it. There was a penalty to be borne: God himself bore it.

But that's not all. There's something else that Jesus accomplished by his death. At the cross, Jesus reveals the operating system of the universe. But Jesus accomplished something else that made his death so compelling:

2.    By dying, Jesus brought God glory (27-28)

We’re a little late, but we've become fans of Downtown Abbey. We’re only in season two; don’t tell us what happens. One of my favorite characters is John Bates, valet to Lord Grantham. John Bates has an estranged wife who shows up one day threatening to reveal something that would dishonor Lord Grantham and his family unless Bates quits. Bates willingly takes the fall to preserve the honor of the Grantham name.

There is something compelling about paying the price for the sake of the other. We’ve already seen that this is what Jesus does at the cross: he dies to reveal his self-giving love for us. This is the very nature of God. But there’s more. We read in verses 27 and 28 that Jesus dies not just out of self-giving love for us, but out of a desire to bring glory to his Father. Read verses 27 and 28: "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour." You get a sense here of how daunting the cross is to Jesus. In a few days, Jesus would bear the world's sins and suffer separation from his Father. As he looked ahead, he understood that he would be paying an infinite cost for our sins. As he looked ahead to the cross, he stumbled. He knew this would not be easy.

So what kept him going to the cross? When the way gets hard, it's always important to go back to why, and that's exactly what Jesus did here. His sacrificial death has always been the primary purpose of his mission to the world. The whole reason he came is the cross. It was his destiny, his burden, his pursuit. We've already seen one reason why: because his death reveals the self-giving love of God that’s at the centre of the universe. But there's more.

What other reason did Jesus have in going to the cross? Jesus tells us in verse 28: “‘Father, glorify your name.’” Jesus is totally committed to the glory of God. He will do whatever it takes to bring that glory about, even to die. God's glory is the principle that controlled his life and ministry. Why did Jesus go to the cross? Because the cross would bring God glory.

What happens next is amazing. For only the third time in Jesus' ministry, God speaks audibly. God the Father affirms what God the Son says: that the cross is a powerful demonstration of the glory of God. You want to see the glory of God? The birth of a baby shows the glory of God. The beauty of mountains displays the glory of God. The beauty of the stars on a clear, dark night displays the glory of God. But the cross shows you more of God's glory than all the stars and mountains. When you look at the cross, you see the very glory of God.

This is the irony of the cross. The cross is an instrument of torture and disgrace. As he went to the cross, Jesus was beaten, mocked, stripped, and humiliated. The cross was not just designed to execute; it was designed to humiliate. The irony, though, is that the cross becomes a means to glorify God. Isaiah 52, written hundreds of years before, speaks of Jesus:

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
(Isaiah 52:13)

Jesus will be glorified. Jesus picks up up this in verse 23: “And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’” How will he be glorified? Jesus tells us in verses 32-33: “‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.:” (John 12:32-33)

How is God glorified? How is Jesus going to be high and lifted up? By being mocked, stripped, and nailed to the cross. If you want to see the glory of God, look at the crucified Savior. If you want to see the glory of God, look at the God who is wiling to die for you. The death of Jesus Christ is the supreme manifestation of the glory of God.

How does the cross show God's glory? The cross reveals the holiness of God. It demonstrates his righteousness. It reveals that God could not simply ignore or overlook sin. Sin has a cost, a real cost, and someone had to pay it. God would be unjust if he did not judge evil. The cross shows us the holiness of God who is righteous and who has to deal with sin.

But the cross also reveals the love and mercy of God. At the cross, we see both the holiness and the mercy of God. When the living creatures and elders worship Jesus in heaven, they look to the cross. They say:

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.
(Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)

Jesus is so committed to God’s glory that he is willing to give up his life and die. The cross reveals the glory of God like nothing else, because it reveals his holiness and his mercy, and the extent of his self-giving love.

Jesus is compelling not because of what he accomplished in his life — as great as it was — but because of what he accomplished by his death. Jesus' death reveals that self-giving love is at the heart of the universe, and it also brought glory to God. But's not all:

3.    By dying, Jesus judged the world and defeated the devil (31)

Just over a year ago we moved into a condo. I was so excited to move into our condo. The real estate listing said the unit is huge, stunning, includes many upgrades. I looked over the listing this week and couldn’t find anything negative about your place at all. It sounded great! And make no mistake about it: we love it.

The only problem is that the management company keeps sending us these letters asking if the deficiencies have been corrected yet. The seller never mentioned any deficiencies. So I contacted the seller, and he couldn't remember any deficiencies. I contacted the management company, and asked them to tell me what's wrong with our place. I heard nothing back. Eventually I got an email back from the management company, and eventually an inspector showed up with a binder with all the details. All I wanted is two things: for someone to tell me what's wrong, and for someone to make it right. I needed someone to to tell me the deficiencies in our place, and for someone to correct those deficiencies.

It turns out that this is exactly what Jesus does for the world. Jesus says in verse 31. Listen to what the death of Jesus does. It's two things. First, it reveals what's wrong with the world. When the world exercised judgment on Jesus by sending him to the cross, it judged itself. When Jesus comes to the world and the world rejects him, it reveals what's wrong with the world. In the murder of Jesus, evil is exposed in its most extreme form. The worst about us is revealed. It exposes our deficiencies. "The cross is a judgment on the way the world thinks, on the values of the world, on the very epistemology of the world, the way the world knows and thinks" (Tim Keller). That's why there is no hope for those who reject Jesus, because the cross is a judgment on those who reject him.

But it's not enough to expose deficiencies. The deficiencies need to be fixed. And at the cross, this is what Jesus does. Jesus says that the world is judged, and the prince of the world is cast out. In this present world, in its fallen state, the ruler is Satan. Ephesians 2:2 calls him the prince of the power of the air. At the cross, he thought he had achieved his greatest victory. Think about it: Satan had Jesus on the cross. Satan had succeeded in killing Jesus. But what looked like Satan's triumph was in fact his defeat. Colossians 2:15 says, "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him." When Jesus was glorified, "lifted up" on the cross, Satan was dethroned. The death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus mark the end of Satan's dominion, and brings his defeat. It's like a lot of Leafs games I've watched: the defeat has already happened; it's just that the clock is running out. At the cross, Jesus administered the death blow that will ultimately still the movements of Satan.

That's why Jesus is so compelling. Jesus lived a great life. But we're here not because of what Jesus accomplished with his life. That's why when the Greeks come looking for him, he says that it's time to go to the cross. He understands that if the nations are going to come to him, he must finish the work he set out to do. The world awaits; if he's going to be the Savior of the world, he has to die.

We're here because of what he accomplished with his death. At the cross, Jesus died to bring us life; he died to bring God glory; Jesus died to reveal what's wrong with this world and to fix it.

That's why Jesus says in verse 32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  You see, the cross isn’t just true; it’s beautiful. It’s not just factual; it’s beautiful. When you see the cross, 

If you want to see something beautiful, look to the cross. Look at Jesus, who deserved love, glory, wealth, crowns, songs, choruses, pageantry, and delight. Look at him who gave all of that up and went to the cross; who fell into nothingness so that you could fall into his delight, so you could fall into his honor.

R.A. Torrey said, "Preach any Christ but a crucified Christ, and you will not draw men for long." But look at a crucified Christ and you will see the sheer beauty of what he's done — what he's done for you.

But a response is needed. Jesus says in 35-36:

The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

The light will not always be available. There is a finite, limited time in which each individual has an opportunity to respond to Jesus. After that comes the darkness. One's response to the light decisively determines one's judgment for eternity. If you want to walk with certainty, you should act at once. We have a limited time; looked to Jesus who died to give you life; who died to bring glory to God; who died to defeat evil, and who draws all people to himself.

Jesus accomplished shockingly little with his life from a human level, but he accomplished everything with his death. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit...And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." It could be today that you are being drawn by Jesus tonight. Look to him tonight and be drawn to Jesus by the beauty of the cross.

Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you for a God who would give up riches and glory and honor and go to the cross to die so that we could live, so that you could be glorified, and so that evil could be defeated.

We see the beauty of the cross tonight — not just the truth of the cross, but the beauty of the cross. Draw all of us to Jesus tonight. Our prayer is that as we see Jesus lifted up on the cross, that you would draw all people to him. So draw them to Jesus right here, right now. We pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.

The Ritual and Reality (John 2:13-22)

Big Idea: Jesus exposes religious pretension and replaces it with himself.

Purpose: To expose our tendency to replace reality with ritual, and to see Jesus as the answer to this problem.

When I was a child, we had this picture of Jesus hanging in the Sunday School room at my church. As I remember, the picture was of Jesus as a shepherd holding a sheep. He had light brown hair and blue eyes, and he looked like a very gentle and serene man. I can’t remember all the details, but I can remember the feeling from the picture that Jesus is a very peaceable type of man who probably never raised his voice or got upset.

This view of Jesus seems to be a popular one. A hymn about Jesus has these words, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child…” Theologian N.T. Wright states that many popular depictions of Jesus portray him as: “a hippy peace-child, a delicate flower of a man, a dew-eyed first-century Jewish Gandhi. Why would anyone want to hurt Him? Maybe because He’s so annoyingly precious; but that’s not the story of the gospels.” Instead, Wright says, we should be looking for a “crucifiable” Jesus, a Jesus who does something so provocative as to make the religious leaders of the day murderously hostile.

And that’s exactly the Jesus we find today. We’ve been looking at the Gospel of John, and today we come to the first public event that takes place in John’s gospel.

Don’t miss that: this is not a random event. This is Jesus going to Jerusalem, the center of religious and political life. This is Jesus in the spotlight for the first time in the Gospel of John. We’re going to see that Jesus is not who we expect. In particular, we are going to see two things, and the first is this:

Jesus exposes religious pretension.

That’s the first thing we’re going to see in this passage: Jesus exposes religious pretension.

I love watching movies, and I certainly love watching movies that involve James Bourne or 007. Quite often these movies involve a chase scene through a crowded market, usually on a motorcycle. In those scenes, tables get knocked over. People jump out of the way at the last minute. Things get destroyed, and general mayhem takes over. One of the reasons that I love watching these movies is because it’s so chaotic, so unbelievable. I expect that kind of ruckus from James Bond or James Bourne, but not from Jesus.

But here we see Jesus entering the Temple, what someone called the “beating heart of Judaism” (Wright). This was the center of everything: of worship and music, politics and society. It was the place where Israel’s God had promised to live in the middle of his people. It was the focal point of the nation.

And we see Jesus choosing one of the most important times: Passover, the holiest and most important religious celebration commemorating when God delivered the nation of Israel from captivity in Egypt. And mayhem ensues.

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” (John 2:14-16)

This is not the Jesus we expect! When this happens, there are Roman troops stationed in the Fortress Antonio overlooking the temple in case there are any problems. And yet Jesus takes deliberate, calculated action. He goes and makes a whip of cords. He comes back and drives the merchants out of the Temple. People are running. Animals are all over the place. Money is flying. Tables are being knocked over. What is going on here?

We’d better be careful to state what’s not going on. This is not Jesus just losing his temper or having a hissy fit. Jesus does not need an anger management course. To dismiss this as the impulsive act of someone with a temper problem would be to miss the whole point of what is happening in this passage. There is anger here, but it is a righteous anger, not an impulsive one. There’s much more to the story than a simple temper tantrum.

John has already told us his thesis: that this is God himself in flesh entering the Temple. You even see a hint of that in verse 17, where the disciples remember a psalm about a righteous sufferer who is consumed with zeal for God’s house. In other words, Jesus enters the Temple as God himself in the flesh, and is filled with righteous anger against what he sees.

And the thing that he judges is religious pretension. He has no time for the religious games going on, for religious hucksters. What has him so angry? It’s the corruption of true worship. It’s that ritual had replaced reality; that religion had become a front for greed. The place that was supposed to represent God’s holy presence had instead become a profit center. Jesus is the enemy of religious pretension.

I guess there are a couple of concepts we have to get our minds around tonight as we think about this. One is the idea that God gets angry; the other is the idea that God, in Jesus, hates religious pretension. In other words, religion can actually be a dangerous thing when it is not genuine worship. You could put a warning label on religion just like you see on a bottle of toxic chemicals. Eugene Peterson said it best: “Religion is the death of some people.”

One of the best things I’ve ever read on both of those topics is in a book with an unusual name: The God Who Smokes. No, it’s not about God lighting up a cigarette. It’s about a God who is…

…so full of passion and blazing emotion that he burns – and yes, smokes in the ferocity of his infinite, holy love that compelled him to give it all away for his Bride. And he who gave it all for us is worth giving ourselves completely to.

The author writes of God’s desire that we not substitute religious pretension for true worship in these words:

God really believes that he is the most worthy, most majestic, magnificent, glorious, stunningly beautiful being in the universe. And he is fixated on the certainty that only he deserves worship – that to him alone belong honor, glory, and praise forever and forever. With red-rimmed, stinging eyes and burning hair, all we can say is – he is right. He is astonishingly beautiful, utterly majestic and perfect in the symmetries of justice and righteousness, knowledge, and wisdom. He is as hypnotically compelling as a surging forest fire and ten times as dangerous. He is out of control – ours, not his.

That's the picture we see in this passage: a God who believes that there is such a thing as true worship; who believes that religious pretension is the enemy of what we need most, which is true worship; and who burns with passion and a desire to overturn religious pretension.

Let’s put it a different way. God wants true worshipers, and he is against everything that becomes a substitute for true worship, even if that substitute is religion. Religion can be a substitute for what we need most, which is a relationship with the true and living God. Chad Walsh said these words:

I suspect that Satan has called off his attempt to convert people to agnosticism. After all, if a person travels far enough away from Christianity, he or she is always in danger of seeing it in perspective and deciding that it is true. It is muchness safer, from Satan's point of view, to vaccinate a person with a mild case of Christianity so as to protect him from the real disease.

It’s a little like this time that I was talking to Charlene. I had my back turned to her and went on for quite a while. I thought we were having a really good conversation. Eventually I turned around and saw that Charlene had long left the room and I didn’t even know it. That’s what is happening here: they are going through all kinds of activities directed to a God who has long stopped paying attention to all of their religious rituals and performances.

As Flannery O’Connor said, one of the best ways to avoid Jesus is to avoid sin. One of the best ways to avoid Jesus is to be religious. Or, as someone else has said, there are two ways to avoid God: irreligion and religion. Religion is just as bad as irreligion. Both are dangerous, because both lead us away from a genuine relationship with God. Jesus is not calling us to religion. Jesus has no time for religion. Jesus has no time for religious pretension. He reserved some of his hardest words and actions for religious people. Ritual can replace reality, and it’s deadly. Jesus calls us to something completely different, which we are going to see in a minute.

What was taking place in the Temple was all the outward activity with none of the genuine reality. The motives had become mixed: it was much more about what they could get from the Temple rather than responding in grateful joy to what God has done. Religion, quite frankly, can be a way of avoiding Jesus. Jesus hates religious pretension.

Jesus replaces it with something better.

This passage is not just about Jesus hating religious pretension. Jesus replaces religious pretension with something far better.

You see this in verse 18. The Jewish leaders ask Jesus for his credentials: what sign does he offer for taking this radical action? It’s a fair question. It’s a way of asking what right he has to clear the Temple like he did.

Listen to what Jesus said in response in verse 19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The religious leaders were incredulous when they heard this:

The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20)

As they spoke these words, they were standing in what is known as the Second Temple. It had been standing for centuries, but Herod had been working on rebuilding it for decades, and the work still wouldn’t be completed for another thirty-some years. It was a project that lasted over eighty years and involved over ten thousand workers. He did such a good job that he made it even more magnificent than even Solomon's original Temple had been. It ranked among the world's wonders of the day. Even when Jerusalem was attacked and destroyed in 70 CE (A.D.), the commander of that attack tried to spare the Temple from destruction because of its beauty. Listen to what Jesus' disciples said about the Temple: "Teacher, look at these tremendous buildings! Look at the massive stones in the walls!" (Mark 13:1). Josephus, one of the most famous historians of that day, wrote that his Temple project was "the most glorious of his actions...sufficient for an everlasting memorial of him." Herod was a lavish builder of cities and projects, and that has to go down as one of his greatest accomplishments.

So how could Jesus say that they could tear the Temple down, and he would rebuild it in three days? Two things. First, he’s saying that they’re destroying the Temple by their abuses.

When you desecrate the worship of my Father with your white-washed greed, you destroy what this temple is, and you expose it to the wrath of God. It will indeed be destroyed. And that happened 40 years later when the Romans leveled it in A.D. 70. (John Piper)

They’re killing the Temple by their actions, he says. They’re destroying it.

But there is a deeper meaning. He is referring to himself as the Temple.

Just like you kill worship in the temple with your consumerism and materialism, you will kill me. I and my Father are one. If you destroy his house, you destroy me. If you treasure money more than my Father, you will treasure my destruction—and buy it with 30 pieces of silver. (Piper)

Jesus says: Let me give you the sign that I have the authority to condemn the Temple. You are going to kill me, and when you destroy me, I will raise it up again.

So what he's saying is this:

First, that Jesus is the new Temple. We don’t need a building anymore to represent God’s presence on earth. We don’t need the Temple anymore because Jesus is now the connecting point between us and God. In a month we are celebrating Christmas and singing about Emmanuel, God with us. Authentic worship is not be attached to Jerusalem or any other place. It is attached to Jesus. There is no pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There will only the movement of the heart from money and religion to Jesus Christ. Jesus asks us to turn away from religion to himself.

Second, he’s saying that the resurrection is the ultimate authentication that he is who he says he is. Jesus says, “You want proof that I have the right to condemn religious pretension? Just wait until you kill me and then I raise myself up in three days.” The real question for all of us is whether the resurrection really happened or not. Pay attention to this question. If it did, then we need to pay attention to Jesus. If Jesus really did come back from the dead as he said here, we need to pay attention to him, because he is no ordinary man.

That’s what we learn here. Jesus condemns religious pretension, and he replaces it with himself. Jesus is the alternate to the ritual of religion. Jesus is the way of connecting with God. And he gave his life willingly for you so that you could be in relationship with God. Jesus is the way of connecting with God.

Conclusion

This isn’t just a story about some hypocritical religious leaders a long time ago. It’s really our story too. At the end of this passage we learn that the problem isn’t just out there; the problem is within everyone of us as well.

Verses 23 to 25 lay it out for us:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

This is amazing. Even among those who trusted Jesus, there is something that is not trustworthy. Jesus knew that even among those who believe, there is something fundamentally wonky. We are prone to get it wrong. Even among those who have true faith in Jesus, there is the possibility that we will ritual will replace reality.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that despite the fact that Jesus knows this about us, he loves us. I love what John Piper says about these verses:

You always have a person who is willing to love you, knowing absolutely everything about you. The reason I say he is “willing to love you” is that Jesus has a special covenant love for those who trust him.

Christianity is not about becoming better people. It’s not about becoming a better version of ourselves through self-improvement. It’s about looking outside of ourselves to the only One who has the power to change us from the inside-out. It’s never about following a set of rules or becoming the best we can be. It’s about looking to Jesus, the only One who is worthy of our trust.

The ground of our hope is never that we will get it right, individually or as a church. The ground of our hope is that there is someone who knows us, who knows how unreliable we can be, and who has come to give himself for us. He is the reality. He invites us to come today to him and trust him.

Jesus exposes our misunderstanding and disobedience and replaces it with something better. Let’s come to him and cast ourselves upon him today.

How Easter Changes People (John 20:1-10)

This semester I’ve had the privilege of teaching some preaching students. The past couple of weeks they’ve preached. After they are done preaching, I get up and ask the other students, “What was the main idea, the one thing that the preacher was trying to say?” Sometimes they get it word for word. Other times they shrug their shoulders and look at each other. Sometimes I ask the preachers and they don’t know their big idea. Then you know we’re in real trouble.Easter Sunday is too important to waste, so let me give you my big idea for the sake of clarity. As we look at this text, I want to take the next few minutes to say one thing. If you walk away this morning forgetting everything else I’ve said, I want you to get this: Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever. Again: Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever.Let me explain.

Unlikely and Quirky People

In the passage we have before us, we have three main characters. What I love about these characters is that they are so unlikely and so quirky. These are not heroic figures. These people are about as real as they get.First, you have Mary Magdalene. She is the first person to see the empty tomb. This makes her the first witness of what happened on that Easter morning. She’s the most unlikely person for a couple of reasons. For one thing, she’s female at a time when people didn’t accept the testimony of women. In Israel no woman could be a witness in a court of law. A woman's testimony was inadmissible and worthless. And yet in John 20 it is a woman who is entrusted with the most crucial testimony the world can ever hear.But there’s something else that makes Mary Magdalene the most unlikely person to be a witness to what happens. In Luke 8 and Mark 16 we learn a little bit more about who she is. Luke 8:2 identifies her as “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.” We don’t know much more about her, but this is enough to tell you that she had a past. Philip Yancey comments on the sharp contrast between how Jesus treated moral failures and how we his followers often do:Jesus appointed the Samaritan woman as his first missionary. He defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume: "Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." And Mary Magdalene, she of the seven demons, he honored as the very first witness of the Resurrection—a testimony at first discounted by his more prestigious followers. Where we shame, he elevates.So Mary’s the unlikely one, but then we have two quirky characters. In verses 4 to 10 you have the somewhat comical picture of two of the disciples who hear the report of the empty tomb and go to investigate. One is Peter. If you read the gospels, you understand a little about Peter’s character. He’s impetuous. He’s the first to open his mouth, even when he shouldn’t. In this passage you have him rushing to the tomb. He’s not as fast a runner as the other disciple, but when he catches up he doesn’t hesitate to go in and investigate. Then there’s the other disciple - probably John, who wrote this book - who gets there first but hesitates to go in, as you would probably do before you came to an open grave.Here’s the picture you get. These are people who are completely unexpected, and somewhat quirky. The good news of Easter is that it’s for ordinary people in all of our ordinariness and in all of our quirkiness. It’s not for airbrushed and heroic people. It’s for people like Mary Magdalene, people like John and Peter, people like you and me. Easter is about unlikely and quirky people. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”But that’s not all. They’re not just unlikely and quirky.

Who Don't Get It

They're not just unlikely and quirky. They also don't get it. This is great news for those of us who also don’t get it. All through his ministry, Jesus had predicted that he would die. He also predicted what would take place afterwards. He predicted that he would rise again from the dead. We read, for instance, in John 2:Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19-22)If the disciples had understood, they would have been there waiting. But they didn’t understand. They didn’t get it. I think John is making this point even in how he introduces this chapter: “Now on the first day of the week…” Not “on the third day…” That would assume that we were keeping track, that we were counting down in anticipation of his resurrection. No, it’s the first day of the week. They show up not expecting anything but a dead body. They simply don’t get it.You see this by the confusion that takes place. They seem at first to think that maybe a grave robber has been there. This wouldn’t have been completely surprising. Grave robbery was so common that the Emperor Claudius eventually ordered capital punishment for those convicted of destroying tombs, removing bodies, or even displacing the sealing stones. If you want proof that they didn’t get it, though, then you just have to look at verse 9: “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”This is comforting for me. Have you ever been to a movie that’s so confusing that you can’t figure it out? You have to ask others all kinds of questions or go online when you get home to figure out what happened. I’ve seen a bunch of movies that seemed brilliant, and that I didn’t understand at all. It was like that in school as well. There were some subjects that I just got. There were other subjects that I just couldn’t get no matter how hard I tried.It turns out that Easter is for those of us who just don’t get it. In Luke 24, Jesus said this to a couple of people who should have understood Easter but just didn’t get it: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). Easter is not for those who are spiritually advanced. The Gospel of John is telling us that it’s for people who don’t get it, people like you and me.Remember that I only want you to remember one thing this morning. Let’s review so far and then add the next building block.

Encounter Easter and are changed forever.

We’ve already covered the first two parts of this: that this passage is about unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it. But this is the next part: they encounter Easter and are changed forever.It’s here that we see something that you have to face as you look at the biblical accounts of Easter. One biblical scholar notes that there is a pattern that takes place in all the resurrection narratives:
  1. The beneficiaries of the appearance are engulfed in a human emotion (Mary, grief; the disciples, fear; and Thomas, doubt).
  2. The risen Christ appears to them in the midst of their condition.
  3. As a result, their condition is transformed
We won’t look at the whole of chapter 20 this morning, but that’s exactly what happens here. These witnesses encounter an empty tomb. They’re befuddled. They don’t know how to account for what they discover. In particular, they account something that they can’t explain. Look at verses 6 and 7:
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.
It’s easy to explain an empty tomb: grave robbers. If that is all that happened, then we would not be celebrating Easter. But Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John did not just discover an empty tomb. They discovered the linen cloths that had been used to wrap Jesus’ body as they buried him. In John 11, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, we read, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” That’s not what happened with Jesus. Nobody had to unbind his burial clothes. It appears that he was able to pass through them with his resurrected body, just as he was able to later appear in a locked room in verse 19. Not only that, but the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, was folded up by itself. Jesus had taken it off and folded it neatly, as if to say, “I won’t be needing this anymore.”You can account for an empty tomb. It’s very hard to account for graveclothes that have been left behind as if they’re not needed anymore. It’s even harder to account for Jesus’ appearing to the other disciples in the rest of this chapter.But even here in verse 8 you begin to sense the beginning of the change that’s taking place. “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” What they encountered on Easter morning changed them, and changed them forever.There are three facts about the resurrection that even critical scholars accept.
  1. The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion.
  2. Jesus’ disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ.
  3. As a result of the preaching of these disciples, which had the resurrection at its center, the Christian church was established and grew.
In other words, even critical scholars accept that the disciples encountered something at Easter that changed them. These three things - the empty tomb, the encounters with the risen Christ, and the new boldness of the disciples, form a threefold strand of evidence. Matt Perman writes:
Virtually all scholars who deal with the resurrection, whatever their school of thought, assent to these three truths. We will see that the resurrection of Christ is the best explanation for each of them individually. But then we will see, even more significantly, that when these facts are taken together we have an even more powerful case for the resurrection--because the skeptic will not have to explain away just one historical fact, but three. These three truths create a strongly woven, three chord rope that cannot be broken.
It’s hard to describe how profoundly Easter changed these people. It changed everything about them. The rest of the New Testament is evidence of the effects of what happened on Easter morning.Sometimes something happens that is so profound that it changes everything. Easter is that. The Big Bang theory in science says that something happened 13.7 billion years ago that has continuing, profound effects today. This is as big a bang as anything scientists could imagine. The continuing effects of Easter still continue today. Ralph Stockman writes:Something happened on Easter Day which made Christ more alive on the streets of Jerusalem forty days after his crucifixion than on the day of His Triumphal Entry. A false report might last forty days but the church which was founded on a Risen Christ has lasted for nineteen centuries, producing generations of the race's finest characters.So let’s put all of this together. Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever. That’s the one thing I want you to take away today. We see this in the passage before us. But we also see it continuing today.Three things before we’re done:First, if you’re an unlikely or quirky person, you may be here for a reason. Jesus seems to be drawn to those who aren’t what you’d expect. The good news of Easter is that Easter is for people like you. You don’t have to be heroic or spiritual. God chooses the most unlikely people, the people you would never expect.Second, if you don’t get it, then you’re welcome as well. I love that there was no one waiting at the tomb expecting Jesus to rise. Even the women, who were last at the cross and first at the tomb, weren’t expecting Jesus to be raised. It reminds me of art class when I was in school. I did pretty well in school, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to draw. The only thing that I could eventually do is to give up. Easter is for people like this. You need to realize that Easter is not for those who are naturally at the top of the spiritual class. There’s nobody, actually, who is. Easter is for those of us who don’t get it, who are spiritual failures. Easter is for people like you and me.Finally, Easter can change you. It’s been changing people throughout the centuries.Once upon a time I had a young friend named Philip. Philip was born with Downs Syndrome. He wasn’t easily accepted by other children, but he went to Sunday school and attended the third-grade class.The teacher idea for his class the Sunday after Easter. You know those things that pantyhose come in—the containers that look like great big eggs—my friend had collected ten of them. The children loved it when he brought them into the room. Each child was to get one. It was a beautiful spring day, and the assignment was for each child to go outside, find a symbol for new life, put it into the egg, and bring it back to the classroom. They would then open and share their new life symbols and surprises one by one.The kids ran all around the church grounds, gathered their symbols, and returned to the classroom. They put all the eggs on a table, and then the teacher began to open them. All the children stood around the table. There was a flower. Then there was a butterfly. Then some kid - a joker - put in a rock just to be different. Eventually they opened one of the eggs and there was nothing. They were all confused. One of the kids said, “That's not fair—that's stupid!—somebody didn't do right."The teacher felt a tug on his shirt, and he looked down. Philip was standing beside him. "It's mine," Philip said. "It's mine." And the children said, "You don't ever do things right, Philip. There's nothing there!" "I did so do it," Philip said. "I did do it. It's empty. The tomb is empty!"There was silence, a very full silence. Philip got something that the rest of the kids didn’t. And when Phillip died, the kids remembered this empty egg and the empty tomb. At the funeral, nine eight-year-old children marched up to the altar, not with flowers to cover over the stark reality of death. Nine eight-year-olds, with their Sunday school teacher, marched right up to that altar, and laid on it an empty egg—an empty, old, discarded pantyhose egg.Unlikely and quirky people who don’t get it encounter Easter and are changed forever - people like Philip, and people just like you and me.

It Is Finished (John 19:28-30)

Most deaths, when they occur, come as a surprise. This past week, Tim Hetherington, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and photographer, was killed in Misrata, Libya. His last tweet is chilling: “In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.” He was killed the very next day, a victim of a rocket-propelled grenade in that war-torn country.

It would be easy to see the death of Jesus as a surprise. It was Passover. Tensions in Jerusalem were running high. We’ve seen recently what happens when massive crowds gather, especially when there’s political unrest and suspicion. It’s a tinderbox. I’m sure that many back then thought that Jesus was caught up, arrested and killed, by events that were swirling out of control.

But the text we have in front of us says something very important. John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” This morning, I’m preaching a sermon on one word, the last word that Jesus spoke before dying. In our English versions it’s three words: “It is finished.” It’s Jesus’ last teaching before he dies, the last thing that he has to say. In Greek, it’s one word: tetelestai. It means that all has now been completed. It’s not the cry of a victim who’s caught up in events that are out of control. It’s the triumphant announcement of someone who is fulfilling his mission, who sees that all the necessary steps have been taken and fulfilled.

Here’s what we need to see: Jesus was not a victim. At the cross, he fulfilled his obligations and did what he set out to do. Earlier, Jesus had said:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:18)

Still later he said this as he looked forward to the cross:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

And here, even as he’s being killed, you see him in complete control of what’s happening. This is so much so that when he dies, John says that he “gave up his spirit.”

Here’s the one thing I want you to hear this morning as we look at the final teaching from Jesus as he hung on the cross: At the cross, Jesus completed his work. At the cross, Jesus finished what he set out to do.

And specifically (and briefly) I want to look at two things that Jesus finished at the cross: he fulfilled Old Testament prophecies; and he completed the plan of redemption.

First: Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.

Verses 28 and 29 say:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

At first glance the Bible looks like a huge book of many different types of stories. If you’ve attended church for a while, you’ve heard many of them. But then there are huge parts of Scripture that you don’t hear a lot about, that are sometimes more difficult to understand. When you pick up this book, it’s easy to think that it’s a mishmash of loosely related stories and themes that go in every direction.

But when Jesus lived, he kept picking up threads from the stories that we thought were unrelated. Genesis 28 tells the story of angels ascending and descending on a ladder. In John 1, Jesus says that this story is about him. Numbers 21 tells the story of Moses placing a bronze serpent on a pole. In John 3, Jesus says that this story is all about him. In John 8, Jesus claims to be the God who revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. When one of the disciples turns against him, Jesus points to this as a fulfillment of Scripture. Over and over again, both John and Jesus take the Old Testament Scriptures and say that it’s not an unrelated series of stories. It’s all about him.

Here John alludes to what seems at first to be an obscure verse from Psalm 69:21. The psalmist is writing as a faithful person who is suffering. In the middle of the psalm, the psalmist says, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” We would probably never read that and think that this is a prophesy about Jesus. But on the cross, Jesus says that this too is about him. Crucifixion used thirst as part of the process of torture. As Jesus hung on the cross, though, his primary concern was not for his own thirst. His mind was on the relevance of what David wrote and how it applied to Jesus. And so Jesus said, “I thirst,” so that we could compete, and fulfill, all that was written in the Old Testament about him.

David Greenglass was a World War II traitor. He gave atomic secrets to the Soviet Union and then fled to Mexico after the war. His conspirators arranged to help him by planning a meeting with the secretary of the Soviet ambassador in Mexico City. Proper identification for both parties became vital. Greenglass was to identify himself with six prearranged signs. These instructions had been given to both the secretary and Greenglass so there would be no possibility of making a mistake. The signs were:

  1. once in Mexico City, Greenglass was to write a note to the secretary, signing his name as ‘‘I. Jackson'';
  2. after three days he was to go to the Plaza de Colon in Mexico City, and
  3. stand before the statue of Columbus,
  4. with his middle finger placed in a guide book. In addition,
  5. when he was approached, he was to say it was a magnificent statue and that he was from Oklahoma.
  6. The secretary was to then give him a passport.

The six prearranged signs worked. Why? With six identifying characteristics, it was impossible for the secretary not to identify Greenglass as the proper contact. How true, then, it must be that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah if he had 456 identifying characteristics well in advance and fulfilled them all. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” he was stating that all of Scripture is about him, and that he has fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies and signs that point to him. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” As Spurgeon put it, “He meant, first of all, that all the types, promises, and prophecies were now fully accomplished in him.”

Secondly: Jesus completed the plan of redemption.

Not only did Jesus fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies; he also completed the plan of redemption. Think again about what Jesus prayed the night before he said these words. In John 17:4 he prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” You may want to ask, what is the work that God gave him to do? It’s a good question. Jesus had hinted a few times throughout John that he was sent by his Father to do something. In John 4:34 he said, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” In John 9:4 he said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

So we get a sense that Jesus was up to something. Jesus knew that he was sent for a purpose. Surprisingly, Jesus announces that he has finished his work at a surprising moment. His work involves his death. On the cross, he can say that he has completed the assignment that God has given him.

We need to ask what it is that Jesus finished or completed on the cross. And the answer is this: he completed the plan of redemption. We have a problem: we have sinned against God. All throughout Scripture, God gives us hints as to how he will deal with this problem. In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sin, God covers their nakedness with the skins of animals. Death had to take place in order for shame to be covered. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, he commanded them to celebrate Passover. At Passover they would sacrifice the Passover lamb. They would mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb. God said that when he saw the blood, he would pass over them. He would spare their lives. Blood had to be shed so that they could live. Then God instituted a sacrificial system. At the temple, priests would sacrifice the blood of goats and calves. You had this sense that our sin demands justice, and that justice must be paid. The killing of animals pointed to what was necessary. But you’d also have the sense that it wasn’t enough. The blood of animals is not enough to meet the demands of justice. Besides, the sacrifices were ongoing. Tomorrow there would be more sin, and more sacrifices would have to be shed. If you’ve ever seen what a sacrifice is like - they have a video on YouTube - you would realize that it’s a messy thing, and one that you wish could end.

Then Jesus comes along. In John 1, John the Baptist looks at Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Do you know what John is saying? Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice that all the other sacrifices pointed to. At this death, he pays the ultimate price for sin. On the cross Jesus sheds his blood to deal once and for all with sin. He bears the judgment as the sacrifice for our sins. On the cross, Jesus could say, “It is finished,” and say that the plan of redemption has finally and fully been completed. The word that Jesus uses for “It is finished” is one that people would write on a bill once it had been paid. Jesus is saying here that the bill has been finally paid. His work is now complete. Hebrews says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

I love how Spurgeon puts it:

The debt was now, to the last farthing, all discharged. The atonement and propitiation were made once for all, and for ever, by the one offering made in Jesu’s body on the tree. There was the cup, hell was in it, the Savior drank it — not a sip and then a pause; not a draught and then a ceasing, but he drained it till there is not a dreg left for any of his people. The great ten-thonged whip of the law was worn out upon his back, there is no lash left with which to smite one for whom Jesus died. The great cannonade of God’s justice has exhausted all its ammunition, there is nothing left to be hurled against a child of God. Sheathed is thy sword, O Justice! Silenced is thy thunder, O Law! There remains nothing now of all the griefs, and pains, and agonies which chosen sinners ought to have suffered for their sins, for Christ has endured all for his own beloved, and “it is finished.”

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant that he had fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies that pointed to him. He also meant that he had completed the work that God had sent him to do, of offering his life as a sacrifice for our sins.

So let’s think for a minute of what this means for us.

I don’t know that there could be any better news than this one word that Jesus proclaimed from the cross: It is finished. It means that the work is finally and fully complete. There is nothing left to do other than to receive the benefits of this work, to put our faith in the one who offered his life as a sacrifice for sin. Christ came to secure for us what we could never secure for ourselves. He finished the work that God sent him to do.

Author James Herriot tells of an unforgettable wedding anniversary he and his wife celebrated early in their marriage. His boss had encouraged him to take his wife to a fancy restaurant, but Herriot balked. He was a young veterinarian and couldn't really afford it. "Oh, do it!" the boss insisted. "It's a special day!" Herriot reluctantly agreed and surprised his wife with the news.

En route to the restaurant, Herriot and his wife stopped at a farm to examine a farmer's horse. Having finished the routine exam, he returned to his car and drove to the restaurant, unaware that his checkbook had fallen in the mud. After a wonderful meal, Herriot reached for his checkbook and discovered it was gone. Quite embarrassed, he tried to offer a way of making it up. He had no way to pay the bill that he had incurred.

"Not to worry," the waiter replied. "Your dinner has been taken care of!" As it was, Herriot's employer had paid for the dinner in advance.

God has done the same for us. Jesus' utterance on the cross, "It is finished," is a Greek term meaning "paid in full."

One more story. A girl signed up for a class on English literature. She found it far more difficult than she had expected, and she desperately wanted to drop it. She went in to see the teacher to see if she could drop out and switch to a regular English class as well. The head of the department said to her, “I know how you feel. What if I promised you and A no matter what you did in the class? If I gave you an A before you even started, would you be willing to take the class?”

The girl said, “Well, I think I could do that.” The teacher said, “I’m going to give you and A in the class. You already have an A, so you can go to class.” The teacher took the threat of a bad grade away so that she could be freed to do her best without fear of punishment.

That is what God has done for us. At the cross, Jesus dealt with our sins. He finished the work. The course is complete. We’ve been given an A, not because we earned it, but because Jesus did. The threat of failure, judgment, and condemnation has been removed. It is finished; everything has been done. We only have to receive what Christ has done for us at the cross in offering his life for us.

At the cross, Jesus completed his work. You can stake your life on it.

Abide in Me (John 15:1-8)

Dr. David A. Dunning, professor of social psychology, was fascinated to read a story of a bank robbery that took place in Pittsburgh. The robber, a 5 foot 6 inch man weighing some 270 pounds, walked into two banks in broad daylight and attempted to rob them. He made no attempt to disguise himself.

Within hours of the robberies, police found him. He was easily identified from the surveillance tapes. Nevertheless, he was shocked. "But I wore the juice!" he said to the arresting officers. It turns out that before the robberies he smeared his face with lemon juice. It caused his face to burn, and he had difficulty seeing, but he was under the impression that smearing lemon juice on his face would render him invisible to the camera. He had tested this at home with a Polaroid camera and it had seemingly worked. It's more likely, of course, that the film was bad, or that he simply didn't point the camera in the right direction because of the lemon juice in his eyes.

In any case, this lead to Dr. Dunning, the professor of social psychology, writing a report called "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments." How would you like to be the person who inspired a study like that? Dr. Dunning writes, "Not only do [incompetent people] reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of their ability to realize it."

This morning I'd like to suggest that we are all in danger of not only being spiritually incompetent, but also of being unaware of our condition. It's bad enough to be spiritually incompetent, but the problem is even greater than this. It's like we're surprised by our spiritual incompetence. We're wearing the juice, so to speak.

This applies to us individually. We are completely unable to produce the kind of changes in our lives that need to take place. But this is also true of us as a church. We want to make a difference in the lives of those who are part of Richview. We want to make a difference in the community. But we're spiritually incompetent and we don't even realize it.

The passage we read this morning speaks to this issue. It's the night before Jesus dies. Jesus is meeting with his disciples in what's called the Farewell Discourse. He's preparing them for what lies ahead, not only the next day, but in the future when he's ascended to heaven. In this passage Jesus deals with the issue of our spiritual incompetence - our inability to produce fruit on our own. He helps us to grasp three things: that he is the true vine; what the Father is up to; and finally, what we need to do as a result.

So let's first look at verse 1 and see:

Jesus is the true vine.

In John 15:1, Jesus says, "I am the true vine." I think I've read this verse dozens, maybe hundreds of times. Most of the time I've read, "I am the vine," which is actually what verse 5 says. I've usually missed the word true in verse 1. It's a significant word.

The disciples would have known the Old Testament very well. They would have known that one of the main images used of Israel, the covenant people of God, was the vine. If you had asked them, "Who is the vine?" they would have answered, "Israel is the vine."

For instance, you may have thought of Psalm 80:8-9, which says:

You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.

Or you may have thought of the prophets, who frequently spoke of Israel as a vine or a vineyard. You'd recall the words of Hosea 10:1:

Israel is a luxuriant vine
that yields its fruit.
The more his fruit increased,
the more altars he built...

Or Isaiah 5:1-2:

Let me sing for my beloved
my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

That would have reminded you of the chilling words spoken by Ezekiel, who said:

Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem...

If you had been one of the disciples, you would have known that Israel is the vine. But it hadn't been a very good vine. It had produced wild fruit. It had not produced the kind of fruit that God had expected. It had failed in its assignment, and God had spoken in judgment against it.

But then Jesus comes along and says, "I am the true vine." Jesus is the true and better vine. He produces the fruit that the people of God failed to produce on their own. Where God's people failed, Jesus has succeeded. He is the true and better vine that has produced the fruit we should have produced all along.

What does this mean for us? Two things. First: to be connected with God previously, you had to be connected, through faith, with Israel, God's covenant community. They were the vine, and you had to be connected with Israel to be connected with God. Now, Jesus is claiming that if you want to be connected with God, you need to be connected with him. He is the true and better Israel. He is the one through whom we find our connection with God.

But it also means that we see Jesus as the one who has done for us what we couldn't do for ourselves. It's right and important to remember that Jesus died for us. But we also need to remember that Jesus lived the life that we couldn't live. He produced the righteousness that we couldn't produce for ourselves.

Really what it means is that we don't look to ourselves to produce the spiritual life that we need. We can't produce what God expects. But Jesus says that he is the true vine. He is the one in whom we find life. Instead of looking to ourselves, we look to him.

So we see in this passage that Jesus is the true vine.

We also see what God is doing in the world.

John 15:1 says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser." This is a continuation of the image, but it's more. It's also a snapshot of what God is doing in the world. God is the author of life. Right from Genesis 1 we see that God is the creator of life. Here the image is of God cultivating life in this world, and he's doing it through Jesus. We're going to see in a minute that it includes us as branches.

What is God doing in the world? On Christmas Eve, the National Post ran an editorial. The Post usually runs the stories we consider news. The editorial said:

The Christian understanding is that there is another history, a sometimes-hidden history that reveals the true story of the world, told in its proper depth. It unfolds in the Sinai desert, in a stable in Bethlehem, on a cross in Jerusalem, in the work of martyrs and saints in places far away from the chancelleries and parliaments. This hidden story of God's love breaks into history even as a flickering flame banishes the darkness...

This passage shows us that if we want to understand what's going on in the world, we need to understand what God is doing. And what God is doing is bringing life to the world, and he's doing so through Jesus Christ, who is the true and better vine. And he's including us as well.

We're going to get to our part in a minute, but notice in verse 2 what the Father is doing: "Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." Not only is God bringing life through the true vine to the world, but he is also dealing with us as well. We're the branches connected to Christ. The Father is active in our lives a well in two ways.

First, he removes branches that don't bear fruit. Jesus says this in verse 2, and he repeats it again in verse 6: "If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned." What does this mean? Some have wondered if this means that we can lose our salvation. We need to remember that elsewhere in this gospel Jesus has assured us that all of his true disciples will be preserved to the end. "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28). This is an allegory, and Jesus' purpose is not to teach on eternal security. What he is saying is this: God sees to it that there is no such thing as an unfruitful branch. That's the first thing that the Father does.

Jesus also says that the Father prunes the branches. "He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." We have a pear tree in our backyard that hasn't been pruned in years. I can tell you what happens when things aren't pruned: they grow wild, things get unhealthy, and the fruit suffers. Jesus reminds us here that the Father is active in our lives pruning so that we can bear more fruit. Afflictions make us more fruitful. The Father is actively involved in our lives so that we bear more fruit.

Jesus has helped us understand that he's the true vine. He's helped us understand what God the Father is up to in the world. There's one more thing that he helps us understand in this passage:

Our role as branches is to abide.

We've seen this morning that we're spiritually incompetent. Not only that, but the great danger is that we are in danger of not realizing that we're incompetent. This is humbling and liberating at the same time. It takes the pressure off of us, but it also helps us realize we're more powerless than we thought. I can't preach this morning in a way that will produce lasting results. It's beyond me. You and I can't change our characters in a way that will bring lasting change. Our church can't be effective in ministry on our own power no matter how skilled our leaders, no matter how great our strategy. As D.A. Carson puts it:

The Christian or Christian organization that expands by external accretion, that merely apes Christian conduct and witness, but is not impelled by life within, brings forth dead crystals, not fruit.

But we've seen that God is active. We've seen that Jesus is the vine. And we see now that our role is as branches. We're not the main point. It's hard for a branch to get overly proud. It's only a branch. It's hard for a branch to think that it's all about them. Understanding that we're branches both humbles us and encourages us. We're nothing by ourselves - but we're connected to what God is doing. Our story is small, but we're part of a larger story that's bigger than we can imagine.

What's our role? If you read this passage, Jesus tells us one thing over and over: abide. The word abide takes place some ten times in verses 4 to 10. It means that we do what branches do in relation to vines: stay connected. We get everything we need from Jesus. We are completely dependent upon him. "No branch has life in itself; it is utterly dependent for life and fruitfulness on the vine to which it is attached" (Carson). We can do nothing of lasting value without him. Apart from him, we can do nothing. The passage mentions a couple of ways that this happens: through God's Word (John 15:3) and through prayer (John 15:7). It's a matter of complete dependence upon and connection to Christ.

Notice that it's not our job to produce the fruit. It's our job to abide. God produces the fruit as we do so. The fruit represents what God produces in our lives through Christ, including obedience (John 15:10), love for other disciples (John 15:12), and

I love how Jerry Bridges puts it:

We are always challenging ourselves and one another to "try harder." We seem to believe success in the Christian life (however we define success) is basically up to us: our commitment, our discipline, and our zeal, with some help from God along the way. We give lip service to the attitude of the apostle Paul, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10), but our unspoken motto is, "God helps those who help themselves." The realization that my daily relationship with God is based on the infinite merit of Christ instead of on my own performance is a very freeing and joyous experience.

This is our role: to abide in Christ. And this is the reason: because apart from him, we can do nothing. But as we abide in Christ, we will bear fruit, and as verse 8 says: "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."

Father, this morning we ask that you would humble us. Help us to truly grasp that we can do nothing apart from Christ. Give us a view of what you are doing in bringing life to the world through Christ who is the true vine.

And Father, may we abide in Christ. And as we do so, we pray that you would make us fruitful so that we bring you glory. We ask this in the name of Christ, Amen.

Living Water (John 4:1-28)

Occasionally you have a conversation that changes your life. You can't plan these things. It's not like you wake up one morning and say, "Today I'm going to have a conversation, and it's going to change my life forever." They seem to come out of the blue when you least expect it.

Today we get to eavesdrop on such a conversation. It happened almost two thousand years ago, and it's so significant that, if the world is around a thousand years from now, they'll still be talking about it. It's a conversation that still has the power to change our lives today.

I'd like to look at four things in this passage: the surprise, the need that's uncovered, the solution to this need, and the resolution.

First, let's look at this story and see the surprise.

Because one of the most surprising things about this conversation is that it even took place.

In John 4:4-9 we read:

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

You need to know a little about the background of these times to understand how surprising this conversation was. This is a conversation that nobody would have expected.

We read, "Now he had to go through Samaria." Jesus was Jewish, and Jews and Samaritans did not get along at all. Samaritans were people with some Jewish background who had intermarried with other nations to become a mixed race. They had their own version of the Jewish Bible, their own temple. The orthodox Jews of that time hated Samaritans so intensely that they often traveled miles out of their way to avoid the Samaritan territory. Hostility between the two groups was widespread and very bitter.

On top of that, Jesus and this woman faced a gender divide that was very unusual in that day. Today we don't think twice about a man initiating a conversation with a woman like Jesus did here, but back then it was highly unusual.

On top of this, this was a woman with a sexual history. She's at the well in the middle of the day, at noon, and alone. We read those detail and it doesn't really strike us as unusual at all. But people back then did not go to the well at noon in the heat of the day. They would much rather go early in the morning or later in the day when it was cooler. And they wouldn't go alone. She had to carry back water for drinking, cooking, and washing. It's not a fun job, but it's a lot better if it's social and if you have help. Why is she there in the middle of the day and all alone? Probably because she's a bit of an outcast. We're going to read later that she's had serial marriages and is now living with a man who is not her husband, which was against both Jewish and Samaritan standards at that time.

On top of that, she wasn't looking for a conversation or an encounter with Jesus. It's not like she woke up that day and prayed that God would move in her life that day. She has all these strikes against her: racial barriers, gender barriers, moral barriers, and even spiritual barriers. And yet Jesus reaches past those barriers and strikes up a conversation that changed her world, and continues to change worlds today.

Listen: it's important to see this. In the last chapter, Jesus has just finished talking to a man who has none of these barriers. He's Jewish, he's male, he's upstanding, and he's spiritually minded. It's very easy to think that these are the people that Jesus likes. Jesus likes hanging out with good people who live good lives and who have good reputations. But John here shows us that Jesus does not just relate to people like that. Jesus has no problem taking the initiative with people who aren't that good, who may have all kinds of reasons for not being at a church. Jesus initiates with people who have pasts, people that other people have written off. In other places he says that these people enter his kingdom before the "good" people.

You may be here this morning thinking that you have to overcome all of these barriers before you can have a conversation with Jesus. You have to clean up your life and get ready to become a respectable, religious-type person. But the message of the Bible is that Jesus initiates with us right where we are in the most surprising way. Becoming a religious do-gooder can actually take you further away rather than closer. Jesus initiates with the most unlikely people. He may be initiating with some of you this morning.

That's the first thing we see in this story. Jesus initiates in a surprising way with unlikely people. We also see something else:

Second, that Jesus uncovers our deepest need.

Jesus and this woman are at a well. It's noon and both are probably very thirsty. These days we rarely feel thirst because we usually have water handy. Think of a time when you have really been thirsty. You finally get some water or some other drink, and when you get it, you've never tasted anything better.

Jesus touches on this need for water, because he's already asked for a drink. He takes it further when he says in verse 10: "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." What's living water? It's water that moves in a stream or a spring, as opposed to water that sits in a well. Now, if there was a stream or a spring around, there would have been no need for this well, which was at least a hundred feet deep. Where would Jesus have found this living water? We find out that Jesus is not actually talking about a literal spring or stream. He's using it as an image to get to her deep thirst, a thirst that goes far beyond physical thirst. In verses 13 and 14 he says:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

If you're ever in Philadelphia, there's a a beautiful drive that leads out of the city along the eastern bank of the Schuylkill River. Along the drive there is a section of the riverbank lined with boathouses, called Boathouse Row; and across from Boathouse Row there is a statue of a pilgrim with a Bible under his arm. If a person is on foot and is exploring the riverbank, he soon finds a stream that empties into the Schuylkill near the pilgrim, as well as a trail that winds along it. If he follows this trail up over Sedgley Hill toward Brewery Town, he comes upon the source of the spring. There, over the spring's source, there's an inscription once placed by the city government--"Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again."

I wish that we could post this inscription over many things - over our careers, over our relationships, over achievements, over everything really. All of these quench our thirst at some level, but whoever drinks of these things will thirst again. They don't ultimately quench our thirst. We use money, sex, and power to try to quench our spiritual thirst. Ultimately these thirst quenchers leave us unsatisfied. When used as a substitute for the living water that Jesus talks about, they can be spiritual poison. They ultimately leave us thirsty.

Quarterback Tom Brady set the record for most touchdown passes in a regular season, paving the way for his winning the MVP award. At the age of 30, he has already won three Super Bowls--an accomplishment that sets him apart as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. He's now married to a supermodel. Yet listen to what he said in an interview:

Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, "Hey man, this is what [it's all about]." I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me? I think, "It's got to be more than this." I mean this isn't--this can't be--all it's cracked up to be.

What's the answer? I wish I knew... I love playing football, and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I'm trying to find.

Canadian author Doug Coupland put it this way in one of his novels:

Now, here is my secret. I tell you with an openness of heart I doubt I will ever have again. So I pray you're in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God. My secret is that I need God, that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I am no longer capable of giving. To help me be kind, because I no longer seem capable of kindness. I need God to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

Jesus has an uncanny ability to put his finger on the greatest need of the person he is talking to. Here he puts his finger on this woman's deepest need. She's spiritually thirsty. She has a deep hunger for God that nothing else can fill.

So far we've seen that Jesus initiates with unlikely people, and that he puts his finger on their deepest needs.

The next thing we see in this passage is the solution to this thirst.

There are two things we learn about this in this passage. The first is what is not the solution. You'll notice in this passage that Jesus and this woman have an interesting conversation about a lot of things:

  • Her moral situation in verses 16-18 - Jesus surfaces the issue, which allows her to know that he is no ordinary person. Make no mistake: Jesus knows about all the things we'd like to hide, but they're not really the issue. Our sin is a big issue, but Jesus can give us living water no matter what our sins may be.
  • Religious arguments in verses 19-25 - Jesus and the woman get into all kind of issues - which temple is the right one, and so on. I don't think this was a diversionary tactic. Once the woman realized that he was at the very least a prophet, she brought up one of the live issues of that day. There are all kinds of issues that we can talk about today - science and the Bible, why there is so much evil in the world, what about other religions - but they are not the real issue. They're important, but they are not the core issue.

You'll notice that the core issue in this passage is actually a person. They get to it in verses 25-26:

The woman said, "I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us."

Then Jesus declared, "I, the one speaking to you--I am he."

What is he saying here? He's saying that the key issue we must wrestle with is who Jesus is. He claims to be the source of living water. He claims, as one commentator puts it, "more than either Jew or Samaritan had comprehended in the word 'Christ'. He is the answer of God to the sin of the world" (Edwin Hoskyns). In which case Jesus is not just giving this woman information. He is giving her an invitation. It's a challenge to respond. It's another way of Jesus saying, "Come to me, and I will satisfy your deepest thirst."

This is very good news. Jesus claims to be sent from God. He goes out of his way to encounter people who have a past. And he reveals their deepest hunger, and then offers himself as the solution to their thirst. Later on in John, Jesus goes to the cross. The Bible teaches that Jesus takes our place. In John 19:28 Jesus says, "I am thirsty." This is more than just physical thirst. He would have been physically thirsty. He had been scourged. He was bleeding and hanging in the hot near-Eastern sun. But it would have been more. Tim Keller says, "When Jesus says I'm thirsty he says He is taking the spiritual cosmic thirst so that He can give you the Water of Eternal Life.."

Well, what to make of all of this?

I hope that you will see this morning that Jesus surprises us by initiating with surprising people. He also identifies our hunger. He then presents himself as the real solution, the one who assumes our deepest thirst, and offers us satisfaction for our deep longing for God. He claims to be the one who has come to save us and satisfy us, and he invites us to come to him.

What do we do about this? C.S. Lewis wrote a scene in his book The Silver Chair. Jill is in the land of Narnia, and she's thirsty. At once she sees a magnificent stream . . . and a fearsome lion (Aslan, who represents the Jesus):

"If I run away, it'll be after me in a moment," thought Jill. "And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth." Anyway, she couldn't have moved if she had tried, and she couldn't take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the Lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first. . . .

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.

"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.

"Then drink," said the Lion.

"May - could - would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

"Will you promise not to do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. "Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion. It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion - no one who had seen his stern face could do that - and her mind suddenly made itself up.

It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went straight to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once. Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she had finished. Now, she realized that this would be on the whole the most dangerous thing of all.

Let's pray.

Jesus initiates with us. It's surprising. He identifies our deepest need, our deepest thirst. He offers himself as the solution to that thirst. He is the one who, when he died, assumed our deepest thirst so that he could offer us the water of eternal life.

Come and drink. There is no other stream.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;

listen, that you may live.
(Isaiah 55:1-3)