Gospel of John – Conclusion

Clay concluded our study of the Gospel of John this week. I can hardly believe we’re finally finished with John. What an awesome series! This will be a brief message, but I would just like to take a few moments to recap on what we have learned in John as a whole.

John, as we have noticed, is markedly different from the rest of the Gospels. John doesn’t have the large chunks of teachings in it like the other Gospel accounts. There are relatively few miracles, and many are surprised to learn that there are no parables. But, what John does do, however, is walk us through a series of personal encounters between Jesus and individuals. We watch Jesus talk with Nicodemus, revealing the Father’s unfathomable love for this lost world. We hear Him proclaim to the woman at the well, “the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” We see Him gently massage mud in the blind man’s eyes as He proclaims, “I AM the light of the world.” We are with Him as He embraces with mercy and love the woman caught in adultery. John shows us who Jesus is. It sort of all goes back to, John 1:29, doesn’t it? “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In other words, watch Him — see how He interacted with people, how He loved the unlovable, how He fellowshipped with the Father, and how He willingly gave Himself up in death for you and me. This is the message of John. I think we could spend the rest of eternity trying to fully grasp the depth and breadth of the matchless Love that this Gospel reveals.

In closing, as we reflect on the life of Jesus, I hope you are blessed with these words taken from one of my favorite books, Steps to Christ:

Jesus did not suppress one word of truth, but He uttered it always in love. He exercised the greatest tact and thoughtful, kind attention in His intercourse with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He spoke the truth, but always in love. He denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity; but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes… His life was one of self-denial and thoughtful care for others. Every soul was precious in His eyes. While He ever bore Himself with divine dignity, He bowed with the tenderest regard to every member of the family of God. In all men He saw fallen souls whom it was His mission to save.

Please keep checking up on us as we begin a brand new study on Jesus’ parables! God bless!

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John 19 – The Cross

Hi there — this is Cece from Dallas First Church. I am so excited to share some highlights from our Stepping Stones class. This week’s study of John 19 brings us to the foot of Calvary. As I prepared for the study this week, I was overwhelmed with the unfathomable depth of the chapter before us. And we had such a short amount of time to discuss it all! That said, let’s jump right in!

Chapter 19 ushers in the astounding conclusion to John’s narrative of Jesus’ life. So many of the beautiful symbols we have discussed in John’s Gospel all meet their fulfillment in Christ’s self-sacrificing death. We see Jesus as the “the Lamb of God” who acts as our Passover Lamb and “who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). We see Jesus as the Father’s gift of love to fallen humanity (Jn. 3:16).  We see Jesus as the Living Bread which was torn and broken for “the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51). And we see Jesus lifted up “as the serpent in the wilderness” to take into Himself the curse of our sin-sick world. Paul tells us in  2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In all of these things, Christ was our Substitute for the death we deserved. He took upon Himself the unutterable horror of the world’s guilt and bore the excruciating separation from the Father. Can you even imagine? Christ who had lived in such close communion and fellowship with the Father would now feel the agony of complete separation from his beloved Dad. That’s what killed Him. It broke His heart:

But it was not the spear thrust, it was not the pain of the cross, that caused the death of Jesus. That cry, uttered “with a loud voice” (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46), at the moment of death, the stream of blood and water that flowed from His side, declared that He died of a broken heart. His heart was broken by mental anguish. He was slain by the sin of the world. (The Desire of Ages)

As Jesus died in triumph over sin, however, he cried out, “It is finished!” Notice the intriguing correlation with Genesis 2:1-3: “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” Look at the unmistakable link between God’s work of creation and His work of salvation! And, intriguingly enough, both of these concepts are intimately connected with the beautiful Sabbath promise which God has given us! While we completely respect the position of others who may disagree, we believe that the Sabbath is a reminder that we rest in the work that God has performed! “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Heb. 4:9-10, NIV). It is our reminder that we have absolutely nothing to bring to the table; we can only accept what He has done for us – we accept His sacrifice for us! And that’s exactly what John would want us to see.

Friends, as we close, I just want to say how convicted I have been lately that there is absolutely no way that we can get too much of Christ and His sacrifice for us! There’s no way that we can talk too much about it, sing too much about it, think too much about it! I’m telling you, that’s where it’s at! Having said all this, please take some time to prayerfully read the paragraph below:

The spotless Son of God hung upon the cross, His flesh lacerated with stripes; those hands so often reached out in blessing, nailed to the wooden bars; those feet so tireless on ministries of love, spiked to the tree; that royal head pierced by the crown of thorns; those quivering lips shaped to the cry of woe. And all that He endured—the blood drops that flowed from His head, His hands, His feet, the agony that racked His frame, and the unutterable anguish that filled His soul at the hiding of His Father’s face—speaks to each child of humanity, declaring, It is for thee that the Son of God consents to bear this burden of guilt; for thee He spoils the domain of death, and opens the gates of Paradise. He who stilled the angry waves and walked the foam-capped billows, who made devils tremble and disease flee, who opened blind eyes and called forth the dead to life,—offers Himself upon the cross as a sacrifice, and this from love to thee. He, the Sin Bearer, endures the wrath of divine justice, and for thy sake becomes sin itself. (The Desire of Ages, p. 755)

John 17 – Jesus’ Last Prayer

There are several “keywords” in Jesus’ prayer found in John 17. Specifically, we notice the words “glorified” and “sanctified” repeated. As Jesus prays for strength to continue on to Calvary, the focus of His prayer is for His sacrifice to glorify His Father. Even in the face of the immense suffering He will endure, Christ still chooses to put His Father’s will and glory first. To really understand this idea of glory, we are reminded of Great Controversy theme in Job, where Satan accuses God of bribing his creation to love Him (Job 1). The Adversary calls God’s character into question, purporting that God selfishly desires the service and obedience of mankind. But then there is Calvary — a sacrifice performed through pure, selfless love. Through this self-giving sacrifice, God’s holy name is vindicated! We can think of glory, then, as an affirmation that the Lord IS true, just, and Love. Jesus prayed for glory to do justice to God’s name and character.

Jesus’ prayer for the disciples repeated the word “sanctify” several times. We can see this as “spiritual protectiveness” or “spiritual armor.” As the disciples continued to journey through the world, they would be persecuted, tested, and ridiculed. Jesus asked for the Comforter to strengthen their spirit. How could these words be any less relevant and important for us today? We may not be physically persecuted as the early church was, but we are in far greater spiritual danger of being distracted by the wiles and deceptions of the modern world!

Jesus’ last prayer is for the believers in His own time and for those who would come in future generations: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21). Jesus’ last prayer is for all of us – it is timeless and all-inclusive.  As such, prayer is timeless. We are also reminded of Jesus’ mission as the eternal Word: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 14:17). How does the Book of John begin again? The Word. The Word created everything in the beginning. The Word protects. The Word heals. The Word loves. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And now we see the Word pleading with His heavenly Father for future generations to be “with Him” (keeping His promise in John 14).

In conclusion: Jesus, in his last hours, thinks not of himself, but of others. Prayer, when in line with the Spirit, in essence is our understanding aligning itself to the will of God through humility and submission. Prayer is not selfish, but thinks of others. It intercedes and holds on to faith that the Lord will deliver.

(Thank you to Edrey S. for submitting this blog post.)

John 16 – “Whatever you ask in My name”

Cece here from the Dallas First Church Stepping Stones class! I can’t wait to share some highlights of what we learned in this week’s Stepping Stones lesson over John 16. (It’s a bit of long one this week!) I hope you will be blessed by this fascinating chapter.

Jesus has been talking now for three solid chapters. In a matter of hours, Jesus is trying to teach His disciples what really needs to stick from their last three and a half years together. Of particular emphasis is Jesus’ promise to send the Helper. Looking at verse 7 (“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you”), we know that Jesus did not mean that He and the Holy Spirit were “mutually exclusive,” that they can’t both be in the same place for some reason. Rather, it seems Jesus was trying to communicate that a special manifestation of the Holy Spirit that would be possible when Jesus ascended to heaven to assume the role of our interceding High Priest. (See Romans 8:26-27 and Hebrews 2:17-18.) Additionally, the Spirit would be unhindered by the limitations of humanity. I love this quote from The Desire of Ages:

Before this the Spirit had been in the world; from the very beginning of the work of redemption He had been moving upon men’s hearts. But while Christ was on earth, the disciples had desired no other helper. Not until they were deprived of His presence would they feel their need of the Spirit, and then He would come.  The Holy Spirit is Christ’s representative, but divested of the personality of humanity, and independent thereof. Cumbered with humanity, Christ could not be in every place personally. Therefore it was for their interest that He should go to the Father, and send the Spirit to be His successor on earth. No one could then have any advantage because of his location or his personal contact with Christ. By the Spirit the Saviour would be accessible to all. In this sense He would be nearer to them than if He had not ascended on high. (p. 669)

Christ promises that this Helper will dwell in us (John 14:17), teach us all things (14:26), point us to Jesus (15:26), and lead us into all truth (16:12). Let’s be sure not to miss out on these amazing promises!

The next passage that I want to look at with you is John 16:23-24: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” And then compare this promise to John 14:13-14: “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.Whoa! Did I just read that correctly?? Because I must have been missing something before at one or two points in my life! I have most definitely asked for a number of things in Jesus’ name and, guess what, they didn’t happen! What’s going on here?! As we step back to examine this promise, I think we need to look a little more closely at the “in my name” part. Is Jesus really just talking about the little suffixes we add on to the end of our prayers – “In Jesus’ name we pray, amen”? I don’t think so.

You see, in our modern Western society we have a very superficial understanding of what names meant back in Jesus’ day. Names were not just a unique identifier by which an individual was called. Instead, names were indicative of the very core of a person’s character and being. In fact, families would often wait to name a child so they could get a feel for the kid’s personality first. And so, when we study the Bible and run across the word “name,” we can almost always replace it with “character.” With that in mind, think about the much deeper meaning of verses such as Psalm 23:3, Isaiah 52:6, and Exodus 20:7!  So, coming back to John 16, our passage is now given incredibly rich meaning and clarity when we understand Jesus as saying, “Whenever you pray for what is in line with My will, for what is consistent with My character, with what I am all about at My core being, then I promise that your prayers will be powerfully answered every time, no questions asked!” Just think, as we continue to grow closer and closer to Christ and as our characters begin to become more and more like His own, our prayers will become less self-centered and more focused on others and on the eternal mission of God’s kingdom. And then we are promised powerful answers.

I hope you will take some time this week to meditate on some of the awesome passages found in John 16. And that you will consider more closely the marvelous work of the Comforter and what it really means to pray in Jesus’ name.

John 15 – Abiding in the Vine

I hope each of you are being blessed this week! I’d love to take the opportunity to share some of our highlights from Stepping Stones on John 15 this week, so let’s dive right in.

Some of the most beautiful scriptural references can be found in John 15 and, in particular, we find Jesus’ profound illustration of the vine and the branches. Clay led our discussion and brought out the fascinating point that the disciples had spent the last three and a half years with Jesus thinking that they were the vine, that they had the responsibility of generating the sap needed to produce the fruit of good works and more disciples. After all, we find many references in the Old Testament comparing the Israelite nation to a vine or a vineyard. (See Psalm 80:8 and Jeremiah 2:21, for example.) But then Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser…and you are the branches” (John 15:1-5). Christ wanted to take his disciples through a radical paradigm shift: “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (verse 5).

As we take some time to step back and consider this awesome truth, let’s think about our responsibilities in this relationship. As a branch connected to the vine, do we need to tell the vine when we need more sap? Perhaps when we’re ready to grow more fruit? No! All we need to do is abide ­- to stay connected! The Vine takes care of everything else. When it really comes down to it, this illustration spells out the difference between salvation by works and salvation by faith. When we realize that there is absolutely nothing we can bring to God but that instead that we receive everything from Him, we discover what it truly means to rest and abide in His love and redemption.

At the same time, however, we also read verse 2: “and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” That sounds a little unconformable, doesn’t it? Maybe even a little scary? It makes me, for one, worry that I simply won’t be up to the task when the season of pruning comes. But Clay shared a really neat story about a time when he had the opportunity to observe the vineyard and orchard workers in California. As he watched the workers go through the laborious processes of pruning and grafting, he paid particular attention to the branches. It was then that he realized that the branches did absolutely nothing the entire time! Everything depended on the skill and mastery of the vinedresser. Even in the rather dramatic grafting process, he noticed that it was not the branch but the Vine that was cut open and “wounded” to receive the new member into itself. Friends, we know that God will sometimes allow us to go through trials and tough times so that we can grow in Him, and sometimes it’s very uncomfortable. But we can rest easy and trust in the skill and tenderness of the Master Vinedresser – no matter what life throws our way!

I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. And don’t forget to keep abiding and stay connected!

John 14 – “Peace I leave with you”

The disciples have just come out of a very perplexing and depressing chapter 13. Jesus had just announced that Judas would betray Him, that Peter would deny Him, and that He was going away to a place where His disciples could not follow. However after this rather dismal chapter, Jesus seems to transition into an accelerated training program for the disciples, filled with words of hope and peace. As the crucifixion nears, Jesus must fill the disciples with knowledge of the Father’s love and glory, His own return, and the coming Helper who “dwells with you and will be in you” (14:17).

Perhaps the most striking element of John 14 is its repeated theme of peace. The chapter opens with Christ’s words, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me” (verse 1). Again in verse 27, Jesus tells his followers, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world give do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” So, what is exactly is the difference between the peace that Jesus gives us versus the peace that the world gives? I like to think of it this way: Jesus’ peace is not the absence of problems and trials, but power in the midst of them! I am also reminded of Philippians 4:6-7:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Now, let’s spend a little bit of time dissecting verses 15-18. Here, Jesus promises to give another Helper, that He may abide with us forever (verse 16). Involved in this promise are a series of conditions and sequential steps:

1.) We pray in His name (verses 13-14)
2.) We love and obey Him (verse 15)
3.) Jesus will pray (or intercede for us) to the Father (verse 16)
4.) The Father will provide the Helper (verse 16)
5.) The Helper will then abide in us and lead us into all truth (verses 16-17)

Me…Jesus…Father…Helper…Me. We can get connected to this Great Source and it’s free! Our hurdle is allow enough room in our heart for the Spirit of Truth to convict our minds. Let’s pray and obey so that we may become connected to the Holy Spirit’s power! And Jesus will teach us more about how to do that next time in John 15.

John 13 – The Servant God

Hi Friends! Cece from the Dallas First Church here. I just wanted to take some time to share some of our highlights from this week’s Stepping Stones class. I hope you will be blessed!

We centered our study on John 13 this week, Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. It’s interesting that John is the only Gospel that doesn’t mention the bread or wine in the last supper and, on the other hand, is the only Gospel that discusses the foot washing. As John walks us through the meaning of the New Covenant, it seems he felt it was more important for his audience to understand the significance of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in this covenantal relationship, rather than the bread and wine which we typically associate with it.

The foot washing narrative brings us right to the heart of John’s message. But, let’s be honest, having to wash someone else’s feet is something we just don’t quite “get” in our society today. We’re used to well-clipped toenails, expensive creams, glittering nail polish, and comfy pedicures – for us ladies, that is! 😉 We really have very little comprehension of the filth and degradation that feet were associated with in Jesus’ day. The roads were filled with dust, muck, and animal waste, and to wash someone’s feet was the job of the most menial of servants. It wasn’t just humbling – it was humiliating! And so, we are confronted with a radical, even seemingly sacrilegious picture: the Monarch of the Universe, girded as a the lowliest of servants, kneeling down in front of us to gently wash the sewer filth off of our stinking feet. “The Servant God.” Does that concept make you uncomfortable? (It does me.) And, yet, it’s written all over the Bible! God has the heart of a loving servant. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Christ came to serve us!

We sometimes delude ourselves into thinking that we can possibly bring something to the table for God – our good works, witnessing efforts, special gifts, etc. But all we can really do is accept what He has done for us. And, yet, Christ said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). Although we are reminded that we can really do nothing to serve God, He asks that – as a result of and in response to HIS love and service for us – we lovingly and unconditionally serve those around us. John uses this intimate (yet uncomfortable) narrative to launch into the greatest commandment given in the New Testament:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Now that I have a better understanding of the context of these words, I want to take some time this week to think and pray about what it will mean to practically apply these words in my own life. I invite you to do the same. May God bless each of you.