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Lent Readings

Readings Begin February 25

Daily Lent Readings

Get ready for 42 days of Come and See: Asking Jesus in the Gospel of John. Day by day, we will accept his invitation to come and see. A daily reading will appear each day of Lent on this page at 4 am beginning with the introduction Saturday, February 25.  
You may also subscribe to daily Lent emails by clicking here.
We pray that you experience the wonder of interacting with our Savior in a personal, transformative way this Lent!

Day 31, Tuesday


How Can You Say the Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up?

John 12:27-36
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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 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. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “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[to] the light, that you may become sons of light.
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus’ tone shifts dramatically. The arrival of the questing Greeks signals that his mission is nearly complete. But even as he explains that like a seed he must die in order to be fruitful, Jesus becomes agitated in his soul. He wants to fulfill his hour of glory but grows disturbed over the pain and shame it will require. Newbigin writes, “Death is the visible sign and instrument of God’s judgment upon all our lives and all our works, that they are not fit to endure eternally. Death is the outward form of God’s judgment upon sin.
Jesus, the Son of man, faces that judgment with the clear eyes which only the sinless child of God possessed” (158). The judgment Jesus would face in his own body and soul was not deserved. The breach he would feel with his Father was not natural to his faithful life.
Jesus prayed the psalms all through his life. Their words came readily to his mind and lips. How fittingly Psalm 55:4-8 describes his heart:
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.
This scene unfolds in front of a large crowd during the day and before Judas leaves to betray him. Yet we feel the parallels with Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. Temptation to turn from his hour called to him compellingly: “Fly away and rest. You don’t have to do this. Steal away from the terrors of death. Leave these people to their just desserts.”
Jesus openly tries on the temptation in front of an audience: “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” He looks escape full in the face and then resolutely replies to himself and to God so that the onlookers could hear: “This is why I came! Father, glorify your name.” His words in John are the equivalent of his more famous words in Gethsemane: “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” They echo what we heard him say in John 6:38, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” They are the essence of the prayer he taught his disciples, “Our Father, hallowed (glorified, made holy) be your name. . . . [Y]our will be done” (Matthew 6:9-10). He would not falter here at the end though his soul and body shook with the agitation of the deep contradiction between the judgment he would endure and the holiness he had lived.
The fear mastered and the question resolved, Jesus returns to his confidence that this hour ahead would be a great victory. The ruler of the world would be cast out. He uses the phrase “lifted up” we heard earlier (John 3:15, Day 7; John 8:28, Day 19). We can put these code words together to express that Jesus’ hour in which he would be glorified—and would supremely glorify his Father—would be his lifting up on the cross. That’s all in the near term of Good Friday. But more was coming. Jesus would be lifted up in resurrection on Easter and then in ascension forty days following.
The crowd understands none of this. The Messiah was to continue on in a kingly reign forever. How could he be lifted up?
Jesus' Reply
Through this lifting up, Jesus would return to the glory he had with his Father from the beginning (John 17:5). Once again, paradox enters. The authorities thought they could dispense with Jesus through crucifixion. But the cross would only lift him higher as the indispensable means to salvation. They wanted to make him an object of shame from which men hide their faces (Isaiah 53:3). Instead, Jesus would become even more magnetic, exerting a powerful attraction on all people. They wanted to sever Jesus’ influence on others. Instead, the grip of the evil one would be snapped, and people would be free to hear Christ’s call to come unto him.
So he exhorts the crowd to realize the significance of the moment. The light of physical presence would be in their midst only a little while longer. Jesus warned them, as Newbigin puts it, “Recognize the light that is shining! This is the time to decide. Keep turning from me and the darkness will eventually overtake you. And then, ‘Meaninglessness is once more in control. In the dark, nothingness reigns’” (161).

Isaiah entered the temple and looked into glory,
“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.”
Did he see the Lord Jesus lifted up
On the beams of the cross?
Did he see the Son of God who reigns
When all power has been taken from him,
When his robes are scarlet with blood,
When his crown is piercing thorns,
When his troubled soul bears the shame of the world’s sin
Did he see you, Jesus, in the glory
You had with your Father before the world was made,
When the plan of redemption was formed,
When your way down would be our way up,
When you determined to live faithfulness
In our midst as the truly human new Adam?
Isaiah saw that “the train of his robe filled the temple with glory.”
Did he see that royal train stitched with golden threads of believing saints,
A vast multitude drawn to his royalty?
Did he see you, the eternal one
Who became dead, and behold! lives again,
With the keys of death and hades in your hands
And ruined man streaming toward you?
No wonder Isaiah cried out with the seraphim and the saints,
With all who see the king lifted up on his cross-throne,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God of hosts!
The whole earth is filled with his glory!”
Posted in: Lent

Day 30, Monday


Sir, We Wish to See Jesus

John 12:20-26
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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.
What Prompts the Question?
Between Mary’s anointing and today’s episode, Jesus entered Jerusalem greeted by a huge crowd waving palm branches, shouting “Hosanna,” and declaring Jesus to be the King of Israel. Watching this scene, the Pharisees said, “See, the whole world has gone after him” (John 12:19). Jesus’ arrival in the holy city the week of Passover created a surge of expectation. Perhaps the LORD would redeem his people at last. The people identified as “Greeks” would have been Gentiles, well-to-do citizens of the Roman empire, steeped in the education and customs of this sophisticated, pluralistic culture. Spiritual curiosity drew them to visit Jerusalem during the most significant Jewish feast. They were “God-fearers” (Acts 10:22), non-Jews but nevertheless interested and friendly to Israel’s religion. They approach Phillip, the disciple with the Greek name, to seek an audience with the man of the hour. We’ve been praying their request every day this Lent. It’s the quest of the heart to want to go from hearing about Jesus to meeting him personally: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus!”
Curiously, we never hear whether or not Jesus meets with them. The news that representatives of the wider world had arrived somehow signals to Jesus that a crucial stage in his mission has begun.
Jesus' Reply
He says, “The hour has come.” Earlier we heard Jesus say several times that his hour had not yet come (John 2:4, 7:30, 8:20). Now the time of his glorification has arrived. Here we’re face to face with the great paradox of Jesus and the redemption he brought. The hour of his glory would be the hour of his shame. His time to shine would be when all time was taken from him. He is the King who came to reign supreme by giving over all his power. No one could have expected this. Two thousand years later, we can hardly grasp that this is the way the Triune God of grace redeems the world.
Jesus then describes his hour of glory through a comparison to a seed. A seed by itself, not planted, is merely singular. It’s alone and stays alone, just a hard little kernel. But when someone plants the seed, it disappears for a while. It dies to its old form. The husk of the seed falls away. But then, in a few days, a shoot comes forth from the dead and buried seed. It becomes more than it ever could be alone as a plant rises up to bear many flowers and fruit. The seed multiplies by “dying” under the ground to rise in a new, vivid form. Of course, we get the analogy. The cross would be the planting of Jesus, the seed, in the dark soil of death. But in his rising, Jesus would re-emerge no longer one solitary man but the vine with many branches (John 15) spreading around the world. The presence of the Greeks indicates that Jesus’ mission was about to crack through the seed of Israel and extend to the greening of the whole world.
Such is Jesus’ glory and indeed the very glory of God. As Newbigin explains, “The revealing of the glory of God will be in his dying. . . . The glory of God is the outpouring of love which is supremely revealed in the obedience of Jesus to death and in the action of the Father who gives his only Son for the life of the world” (156).
This dying that leads to rising, this shame that leads to glory, this going down in giving away life in order to foster new life would be the model for all those who had believed into Jesus. We enter the life pattern of Jesus’ own faithfulness.
Newbigin sparkles here as he writes, “The pattern of living through dying” is “a life which is not guarded and preserved but forever thrown away, yet it is a life constantly received as a fresh gift from the source of all life, in whose eternally outpoured love it has the assurance that death has lost its dominion” (156-7).
We don’t know if these Greek spiritual questers got to meet Jesus that week. But the “hour “of Jesus that their visit signaled became the very hour in which access to God would be opened up to the whole world. Everyone who believes into Jesus can meet him and know him. As John would write in one of his letters, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3).

You flip me on my head, Jesus!
Your enthronement was to the rough wood of the cross.
Your hour of glory was the day of disgrace.
Your exultation involved agonizing pain.
How did you do that?
What freedom you won for us in becoming
Bound, nailed, tied to the killing cross.
You showed me the heart of your Father.
Your glory is not egotistical. Your glory is our redemption
Through the atoning death
And rising of the Son the Father gave away.
Your goal is not slaves, but children
What freedom you create for me
If I am brave enough to trust it.
To give away my life in love,
Having faith that all strength and grace
Will flow in right behind my offering
To flood me with life
Even when I die bit by bit
To care and pour out life for others.
Thank you for the hour of glory,
So dark but actually radiant,
So horrifying but actually beautiful,
So weak but actually powerful,
So disgraceful but now redounding
In praise, honor and dominion, forever and ever.
Posted in: Lent

Day 29, Sunday

Ford Madox Brown. Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet. 1852-6, Tate Gallery, London.



Though diverse in their subjects and styles, the 19th-century painters known as the Pre-Raphaelites shared an interest in vivid colors, romantic boldness, and subjects with mythic and spiritual themes. We sense immediately the dramatic power in Ford Madox Brown’s depiction of Jesus washing Peter’s feet. Jesus is a strong, muscular figure in an odd posture for someone so heroic. He takes the role of a slave as he towels off Peter. Yet his intensity is that of the focused, energetic carpenter. His head is bowed in submission to the task, but Jesus is by no means servile. He gives himself intently to this crucial work on his final night. He leaves an indelible picture in his disciples’ minds of what the Word made flesh came to do. Their tactile memories of the soothing water and his strong hands on their dirty feet would never leave them.
Our week opens with Mary Magdalene perhaps inspiring Jesus with her tender care of his feet. Then, several days later, some Greek God-fearers arrive in Jerusalem and ask to see Jesus. This becomes a signal to Jesus that his “hour” to be glorified has come. However, the events of the next few days would be a strange kind of glory. The King of all would not only stoop to wash feet, but he would also be betrayed, denied, arrested, tortured, tried, convicted, and sentenced to die by crucifixion—not our normal idea of glory!
But before he is taken from his disciples, Jesus has crucial teaching to give them. This week we press deeply into these final conversations in which Jesus, the foot-washing savior, reveals his heart and his future to those he now called friends.


Why Was This Ointment Not Sold and Given to the Poor?

John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, and now the family gives a dinner of gratitude and celebration in honor of Jesus. Martha takes her usual role (Luke 10:40) in organizing the serving of the meal. But Mary has a surprise. During or just after the meal, Mary slips from the room and then returns with a container of perfumed anointing oil. The amount was about 327 grams, nearly 12 ounces. That’s a lot of ointment to use all at once on one person. Moreover, this nard was the finest quality, perhaps from as far away as India, worth the equivalent of a year’s wages for a working person. Mary uses it all on Jesus!
In those days, a king or a priest might be anointed with oil, but it was almost always poured on the head, the most honorable part of the body. It symbolized a blessing from heaven above affirming the divinely sanctioned office of this person. But Mary offers her gift from below, anointing Jesus’ feet. She takes the posture of a slave who washes feet and of a worshipper who bows to the ground before her Lord. Then she did the scandalous, letting down her hair in public and using it to massage the oil into Jesus’ skin. Klink notes it’s as if Mary were demonstrating that “[h]er hands were not soft enough to touch this King; she needed to use the softness of her own hair” (526).
Of course, the essence of this act is deep, grateful love. She just loved Jesus. She wanted to give her whole life to him. She offers this most valuable gift as a symbol of utter devotion. This moment is everything, all she felt and hoped, poured into the anointing. His beauty called forth a beautiful gift of service.
No doubt the guests grew uncomfortable. Maybe they felt that this anointing seemed to go on and on. Certainly, the fragrance overpowered the room so no one could even attempt to focus on anything else. Perhaps the disciples felt jealous that Mary found a way to express what they felt but could not show. Surely her tender, extravagant care spoke more love than any of their words.
For Judas, in particular, this was too much. This ointment should have been sold to care for the poor! What a waste of resources. How unchristian! On one level, there is no arguing with Judas’ critique. You can’t counter a utilitarian view of life with a mere appeal to beauty. What can you say to one who monetizes every object and every act? To a moralizer, this act was indefensible.
But we know something else is going on besides concern for the poor. John gives us one reason: Judas is a thief who would have pocketed his take of any sales. Further, this protest also has to do with envy. I can hear the Judas in me say, “But I want to be the one who loves Jesus most! I want to be the one celebrated for devotion.” That can turn into self-aggrandizement: “I want to be the one who gets to anoint his feet. I’m his special one!”
Jesus’ Reply
Judas tries to smear Mary—her hair down, her oil spent, her heart totally exposed—with shame. But Jesus comes to her defense firmly, saying, “Leave her alone.” I hear his words this way: “You don’t get to bully her. Help the poor whenever you want for the rest of your life. But in this moment, she has prepared me for my death and burial. The scent of this anointing will see me through my trial. It will comfort me amidst the smell of blood and sweat on the cross. It will comfort you as you lay me in the tomb. I accepted the anointing of the Spirit at my baptism. I accept this anointing as your high priest, the one who in himself will make atonement for sin. I accept this anointing as your true king, who will reign from the rough wood of the cross. She has understood that I will bring life by dying. I will overthrow the wicked rule of evil powers by submitting fully to their verdict. I will defeat death by passing through its deepest depths.”
We saw in John 2:21 (Day 5) that Jesus equated the Jerusalem temple with his own body. Now he is the meeting place between God and humanity. He is God with us, right in our midst. That can help us understand why such an extravagant gift was not only appropriate but beautiful (Mark 14:6). A thousand years earlier, King David prepared the people for the building of the temple. He longed to see a dwelling place for the LORD I AM, where God’s people could go to worship and find forgiveness and blessing. So David gathered the people and before them made his extravagant offering. It included a quarter million pounds of gold and half a million pounds of silver! (I Chronicles 29:4). David gave a kingly gift to the King of kings to celebrate the wonder that the LORD God would deign to dwell personally among his people. We respond to the glorious Creator with acts of utmost, sacrificial creativity.
Mary knew in her inmost being that Jesus was God himself tabernacling among us. She gave extravagantly to adorn the beauty of the true temple, Jesus himself. As you pray today, imagine Mary singing to Jesus the words David prayed as he made his dedication. Imagine yourself anointing Jesus as you pray these words.
Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever.
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the victory and the majesty,
for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours.
Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.
Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all.
In your hand are power and might,
and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.
And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
But who am I, and what is my people,
that we should be able thus to offer willingly?
For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. . . .
O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided
for building you a house for your holy name
comes from your hand and is all your own. (I Chronicles 29:10-16)
Posted in: Lent

Day 28, Saturday


Lord, He Stinks Already, for It Is Four Days (Berean Literal Translation)

John 11:38-45
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 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.” Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.
What Prompts the Question?
With the eyes of a man, Jesus saw the barrier of death in the shape of a great stone over a cave. The God who is love encountered the severing of love by death, a rupture that seems so permanent to humans. His outrage flared again. The Triune God created a world where sin was possible. Sin admitted death, and the world had groaned under its dominion all these millennia. But such a sovereignty was never going to be allowed to stand forever. The Son of God had entered the world to destroy sin and all its consequences. The death and raising of Lazarus would be emblematic of the passion and resurrection Jesus would soon undergo. Jesus let his friend go first as a sign that Jesus’ own deeper dying and greater rising would be available to all who believe in him. So the showdown was about to begin.
The Jesus who had just tenderly wept becomes once more the commanding Redeemer: “Take away the stone.” Imagine someone in a cemetery saying, “Dig up the grave! Open the casket!” This just isn’t done. Dear practical Martha speaks the truth of it, “Lord, he stinks already, for it is four days!” In other words, “It’s too late. The body has already started to decompose, and the stench will be terrible. You don’t want to do this.”
Our faith is not just a “spirituality.” We’ve never been merely about timeless principles that can be accessed to create a sense of peace and well-being. We’ve never tried to help people see death as part of the great circle of life and to find comfort in knowing other life will rise from our decomposed elements. Of course, no one would be offended by such bland platitudes.
Martha’s words remind us of what is at stake. Jesus waged war on death. He came to assault the very physical stench of decay and reverse it. We are all in with death’s defeat. It either happened as a preview of the future, or we have nothing to say.
Jesus' Reply
Jesus returns to his promise that Lazarus’ death would not be final. The glory of God would shine through this miracle. The mourners take away the stone. And while the nauseating smell of decomposition wafts out, Jesus pauses to pray. He does not ask his Father for anything, but he gives thanks for the oneness with his Father by which they always hear each other. Jesus holds the pause, amidst the stink, so all would know the deeper revelation within the miracle.
Jesus’ loud summons of Lazarus reminds us of how Paul describes the future resurrection of all believers: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command. . . . And the dead in Christ will rise first” (I Thessalonians 4:16). His voice penetrates the realm of death and recalls a spirit to its body.
In Isaiah 49:6, the LORD I AM speaks to his chosen servant, our Messiah, of all he would do “as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” The Christ’s redeeming work would include “saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear’” (Isaiah 49:9). Surely this prophecy reverberated in Jesus’ mind as he raised Lazarus.
Then Jesus orders that Lazarus, still in grave clothes, be unbound and set free. Once again we hear echoes of a prophecy as the Christ affirmed, “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). Unwrapping Lazarus is representative of all the ways Jesus sets his people free from the trappings of death. Old habits get stripped away. Destructive patterns get rewoven. The grip of addictions gets severed. Meanness gives way to kindness. Criticism dissolves and encouragement materializes.
We are freed to free others. The power of the resurrection, still to be fully realized in the future, lets loose in us right now. The mission of the Savior becomes our mission, “to loose the bonds of wickedness,/to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6).
This story of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha has brought us deep into the wonderful paradox of Jesus who is both fully human and fully God. An ancient prayer affirms, “You have wept over Lazarus as a man and raised him as God.” We have seen that, on the one hand, Jesus confidently knows that physical death was nothing to the power of God. Yet, on the other hand, he has to ask where Lazarus was laid. Jesus can raise the dead in the same hour he weeps in grief and outrage over all the dying in the world. This beautiful story becomes emblematic of what Jesus would undergo and, indeed, of our life in Christ.

Call me forth, Lord Jesus!
Call me out of darkness and
Into your marvelous light.
Summon me back to life.
Return me again to those
Who love me, whom I love.
Give us another chance.
Only this time, with patience.
With listening ears and seeing eyes.
With a heart moved by the struggles
We all have living in this world.
Your heart, Jesus, was ocean deep,
To contain the tears of sorrow
Of everyone who suffers.
Deepen my heart,
Increase my capacity.
Send me to set others free,
To strip off graveclothes
To return others to life and light
As I share your powerful grace
In story, worship, touch and care.
Call me forth and send me
In the power of your word.
Posted in: Lent

Day 27, Friday


Lord, Come and See

John 11:28-37
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
What Prompts the Request?
When he delayed going to his dying friend Lazarus, Jesus, as Lord of life and death, rejoiced that the event to come would bring many to belief. When Jesus spoke with Martha, he engaged her in a theological conversation about resurrection. He revealed a glorious identity statement about himself as resurrection, and Martha replied with a sincere belief. But I get the impression that Martha (as in Luke 10:40) was very practically oriented, closer to the “thinker” side of the personality profile. Martha goes back to the house and calls aside her sister Mary with news that Jesus was nearby.
Mary immediately goes to find Jesus. She makes the exact statement as her sister, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But she does not add any of Martha’s suggestions for a practical solution. She speaks from the position of having fallen in tears at the feet of Jesus. In Luke 10:39, we see Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus in the posture of an eager disciple listening to her teacher. This coming Sunday (Day 29), we will see Mary in the posture of a servant, anointing Jesus’ feet with oil (John 12:3). But her affection would lead beyond the duties of service as she wiped his feet with her very hair. Clearly, Mary is all heart, a “feeling” personality given to pouring herself into those she loves. So she just cries before Jesus about the loss of her brother. No theological conversation ensues.
A crowd of mourners follows Mary to see Jesus, and Jesus’ words to them prompt the request we are considering today. Jesus asks about the location of Lazarus’ tomb. They reply with an invitation, “Lord, come and see.” We remember that Jesus himself made this reply to the new disciples who asked him where he was staying (John 1:39, Day 2). Jesus had then invited them to see his daily living situation, as if to say, “I am truly here as a mere man among you, under the physical conditions of any other man.” Now, this crowd of mourners wants to show Jesus where the body of this particular loved one is entombed. But we are meant to hear more. They want to show Jesus the usual condition of every life, that we are all always bound for death. Essentially, they say, “Lord, come and see how it is with us!” Like children holding up a cut finger to a parent, we seek comfort when we say to God, “Look! Look what happened to me!”
Jesus' Reply
Jesus makes no reply in words to Mary’s tearful statement about his absence. But we do know Jesus gives Mary his full attention. Earlier, the Gospel makes note that Jesus saw the man lame for 38 years (John 5:6) and he saw the man born blind (John 9:1, Day 22). He noticed their condition so intently that he was moved to compassion which, in turn, led him to act. Jesus always sees how it is with us. He lets our condition move him. So Jesus, seeing Mary and those who came with her weeping, “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” These are strong words. As Klink puts it, “[H]he was outraged in his spirit and troubled in himself” (507). Jesus is agitated with inner turmoil. He is simultaneously angry and grieved. He reacts to our cry: “This is how it is with us; this is not right!” These strong emotions cause a physical response in Jesus: “Jesus wept.”
Jesus feels empathy toward the mourners. Mary’s tears cause Jesus to cry. This is the same man who had the physical strength to overturn heavy tables of coins in the temple (John. 2:15, Day 5). He had such a commanding personal presence that he could violently disrupt lucrative commerce and no one dared lay a finger on him. Yet feeling the loss of his friend and seeing the sorrow of Mary, Jesus openly and unabashedly weeps. The mighty Messiah is the divine friend of the human race. Even though he had already declared that he would raise Lazarus, he feels the poignancy of our losses so much so that he is “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
We understand how he could feel sadness in this scene. But what about outrage, turmoil, and anger? As Charles Spurgeon passionately preached:
He could not stand in the front of a lone grave, about to look upon a single corpse, without weeping. He saw in that one death the representation of what sin has done on so enormous a scale, that it is impossible to compute the devastation; and therefore he wept. What hast thou not done, O Sin! Thou hast slain all these, O Death! What a field of blood has Satan made this earth! The Saviour could not stand unmoved in the presence of the Destroyer, nor approach the gate of death’s palace without deep emotion. Of this he was by no means ashamed; and therefore he did not hold back his tears: “Jesus wept.”
Jesus saw where all our enthronement of ourselves leads. He saw how the evil one deceives us and enslaves us. He saw the ruination of his Father’s good creation. He saw the rot of death that begins as soon as we are conceived. Seeing such ruin from within our world, from within our very humanity, he could not stand for it to be so. Eagerly we urged him to come and see. Jesus wept with sorrow and outrage as he went. This death, no death, could be permitted to prevail.

I lament with you, friend Jesus,
That the world is not as it should be.
All creation groans under
So much breaking, leaving, shredding.
This dying is ever with us.
I know as well that physical death
Is not the worst of it.
My stubborn blindness,
My choices to play with dead things
In hopes they will give me life,
My sin, my fault, my prideful estrangement from you and others,
These deaths are worse than mere mortality.
I am a shareholder in the company of Ruin.
The world in tatters convicts me even as it brings me to tears.
This is too much to look at!
I drive around as much sorrow as I can.
Yet you came and put your hands, your heart,
Right into the midst of it.
I have a savior who weeps.
I have a savior who rages over sin
And all the death it brings.
Give me courage to stand with you
In feeling with my heart, “This is not right!”
Give me strength to weep with you
As I am joined to all the grieving and groaning.
Let my weeping join with your weeping
And send me to the lost world you befriended.
Posted in: Lent

Day 26, Thursday


Lord, If You Had Been Here, My Brother Would Not Have Died

John 11:17-27
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in[to] me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in[to] me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus delayed. Lazarus died. He was placed in a tomb and the family underwent the rituals of mourning. When Martha hears that Jesus is finally coming, she leaves her role as hostess to grieving family and friends. She goes straight out to meet Jesus away from the house. Once again she makes no direct request nor asks any overt question. But there is surely a note of disappointment, even of rebuke, in her declaration, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
How many times have we said something similar? Or wished we could dare to speak to God so directly? “Lord, it didn’t have to be this way. If you had heard my prayer, all this could have been prevented. You weren’t on time! You didn’t come through! I don’t understand why if you have the power you didn’t use it. Jesus, if you had been there. . . .”
Martha then adds an expression of faith. Despite her disappointment, she still hopes Jesus will set things right. It isn’t too late. She says, “God will give you whatever you ask, even now.” Commentators note, however, that Martha’s words indicate she saw Jesus as a conduit to God his Father but did not fully grasp that Jesus is the Son who has authority in himself over life and death. She didn’t yet see who her friend Jesus really is.
Jesus replies with a bold promise, “Your brother will rise again.” It seems Martha took this as but vague comfort. I hear her words as, “Right, Lord, I know there will be a resurrection of all the dead one day in the distant future. But that seems very far away.” When we are grieving, someone may say, “You will see her again.” Many times that is scant help. We may want to shout, “But I want to see her now! I hurt right here and now, and heaven by and by is much too far away!” Martha does not yet know that things could be any other way.
Jesus' Reply
Unoffended, Jesus takes Martha’s words as an opportunity to make the fifth of his momentous “I Am” statements. His words emphasize the personal identity he claims. “I, I myself, I am the resurrection and the life.” We can scarcely overstate the magnitude of this claim. All life everywhere and always came into being through Jesus! All life that lives right now does so because Jesus sustains it. All life that dies on earth will rise only through and in Jesus, the one who has the power to make “all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Jesus is uncreated life, life that he has shared from eternity with the Father and the Spirit. The Father created all life that there is through his Son, the Word, in the shaping power of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps we can see inside Jesus’ words by reading other Scriptures about him:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17-18)
In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:2)
Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)
This one man who stood so tall spoke with a particular tenor of voice, walked with a unique gait, and lived in Israel two thousand years ago, this man is creator and re-creator. He is the resurrection and the life!
Then Jesus asks Martha to trust beyond her grief and believe beyond her prior expectations. It’s a question he asks all of us: “Do you believe this?”
Martha replies with an immediately deepened and consecrated faith, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world.” Klink explains what such trust involves:
Belief in Jesus is the act of submitting to the authority of the Son of God, the creator of all things. This entails finding one’s end (death) secured in Jesus (both present and future) and one’s beginning (life) renewed and redefined in Jesus so that one is “free indeed” (John 8:36), unencumbered by the slavery of sin, having received the full rights of sonship in the house of God forever (John 8:34-35). (505)
And Bishop Newbigin inspiringly explains the implications of Jesus’ words:
The last day has already dawned. . . . Resurrection is no longer a mere doctrine; it has a living face and a name. Jesus is himself the presence of the life which is God’s gift beyond death. (142)

When I hear the words you spoke,
I am hearing the voice that brought
Suns and worlds and seas into being.
When I think of seeing your face
On that day you spoke with Martha,
I am looking at the countenance
That bathes my soul with light.
You are the greening in every leaf,
The beating of every heart,
The first breath of every newborn,
The flight under every wing,
The gaze of knowing
Between everyone who loves.
You are the one who rose
From the deepest death
To crack the sealed heavens
And erupt in life within us now
That leads on to everlasting communion.
You, Jesus, are the resurrection and the life.
Yes, Lord, I believe!
Posted in: Lent

Day 25, Wednesday


Lord, He Whom You Love Is Ill

John 11:1-16
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
What Prompts the Request?
Except for Christ’s passion, the raising of Lazarus is the longest story in the Gospels. We meet three people whom Jesus loves, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, a man Jesus called his friend. They live in Bethany, a village just two miles from Jerusalem. Jesus was known in their home; perhaps he could relax with these siblings in a way he could with no one else.
There was, however, a problem. Lazarus had become deathly sick. So the sisters find Jesus and simply state the fact: “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” They speak in the same way Mary, the mother of Jesus, did in Cana when she said, “They have no wine” (John 2, Day 4). The request was implied in the straightforward depiction of the situation.
We heard earlier (John 3:16, Day 7) that God loved the whole world enough to send his Son. Now we encounter the Son of God loving these three specific people, and how Jesus treats them is emblematic of how God loves the world.
Jesus' Reply
Shockingly, Jesus does nothing. He stays where he is for two days. This seems a blatant contradiction of the Gospel’s declaration that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Why would he wait? The disciples were worried that getting so close to Jerusalem would put Jesus in danger of being arrested. But Jesus seems unconcerned with both the threats against him and the illness of Lazarus.
Jesus knows what his delay means even before he gets there: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” And because the disciples did not catch his euphemism, Jesus states bluntly, “Lazarus has died.” It’s as if he says, “My friend whom I love was sick unto death, and I delayed long enough to be sure he died.”
Even more, Jesus startles them again as he says in essence, “I rejoice for you that I was not there.” What kind of friend is this?!
The human predicament of illness, suffering, and loss does not perturb the Word of God made flesh. A sovereign savior does not panic over death. The great physician treats our critical wounds with calm, unhurried confidence.
He goes on to give the reason for his joy in this death: It is “so that you may believe.” From God’s view, death is not nearly as big of a problem as unbelief. Distance and time pose no obstacles to the purposes of the Creator who entered his creation. (We recall how he healed the official’s son from afar, John 4:53, Day 11.) External conditions and events, even death, are not our main dilemmas. The inner darkness, the estrangement from the Father, and the enslavement to sin are the greatest threats to our eternal life.
To the family and disciples, Lazarus seems irretrievably gone. As Klink comments: “But to Jesus Lazarus had not even come close to leaving the Son’s custody or domain, for the Father has given authority of life and death to the Son” (500). Jesus does not rejoice merely over his power to recall Lazarus to earthly life. Rather, he exults in the eternal life that would belong to those who, inspired by witnessing this miracle, would come to faith. The Father’s joy is our believing into Jesus so that we become joined to the one man who alone has life in himself (John 5:26).
The Triune God exhibits great patience in allowing us to exercise our free will as we “strut and fret our hour upon the stage” of the world. He sees beyond this world to the eternity both before and after our mortal lives. He endures the pain of the consequences of our sins because he sees a greater redemption to come. When he hears Lazarus is sick, Jesus could have immediately healed him from a distance. But he wanted all of us to see the way he loves. He let a man he called his friend slip into death to bring him back as a powerful sign that not even death can separate us from the love of God. The Son of God would be glorified through his reviving Lazarus. This would dramatically point to Christ himself being “lifted up” on the cross to die in forsakenness precisely to reveal how God loves. Sacrificing his Son would heal our deepest estrangement from God. And in his rising, Jesus would put death to death.

I see through a glass darkly, Lord Jesus.
I panic at the distorted images
Of failing, falling, suffering, and dying.
It all seems so futile!
But my myopic eyes cannot behold
The sovereign plan of a gracious God.
I cannot look behind the veil,
I cannot discern the wisdom
That runs from eternity to eternity.
But by your grace, one lens brings truth into focus.
The cross-shaped perspective
Reveals new depths of purposeful mercy
Even in severe agonies.
This life seems like we are always waiting
For you to come, wondering why you delay.
Crowned with thorns, nail-pierced palms open wide,
From the death-dealing cross, you reply,
“For glory, to bring many sons to glory,
For life, to bring many dead to vivid life,
For love, to make all things new again.”
Posted in: Lent

Day 24, Tuesday


If You Are the Christ, Tell Us Plainly

John 10:22-33
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
What Prompts the Question?
Following the controversy over healing the man born blind, Jesus goes on to make two more striking identity statements. He says, “I am the good shepherd,” and “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7,11). Psalm 23 begins “The LORD is my shepherd.” Jesus identifies himself with the role of the LORD I AM. He leads his people to life even going through the valley of the shadow of death with them. Following the prophetic imagery of shepherding used in Ezekiel 34, Jesus contrasts his sacrificial shepherding with those leaders who care more for admiration and gain than the people’s needs. In identifying with the door or gate to the sheepfold, Jesus reveals his role as the mediator between God and humanity. He is the true priest who brings God down to the people and guides the people up to God. We pass through his atoning death where our sins are cleansed and enter the green pastures of restored communion with the Father.
As believers now, we read these titles and find them beautifully expressive of all Jesus does for us. But to the audience of the time, Jesus keeps blowing up all their categories. He doesn’t fit their expectations of what a Messiah should be. And he keeps identifying with roles reserved for the LORD alone. Though some believe and therefore see, most remain confused.
Klink writes that their question could better be translated as, “How long will you take away our life? If you are the Christ, say it clearly to us” (453). Today, we’d say, “Hey, you’re killing me! Just tell me straight.” The problem was they wanted Jesus to define himself in terms they understood. Are you the political leader who will free us from the Romans and restore the nation to freedom and prominence?
Jesus' Reply
Jesus could not fit himself into the box they had built for him. He tells them clear, striking, and beautiful truths about himself, but the people don’t know their deepest need which he had come to meet. Thus, he couldn’t answer simply on their terms. He is the light to reveal the truth about the eternal Triune God’s plan of redemption. So he has to speak in a way other than what they wanted. But, oh, if they could only hear what he offered! Jesus says, “I told you, and you do not believe . . . because you are not among my sheep.” All at once, this was startling, frightening, and offensive to those who for centuries had considered themselves to be the special people of the LORD the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 74:1, 79:13). Jesus presses on with a clear diagnostic measure: “My sheep hear my voice.”
Do we hear the words of Jesus and find our hearts stirred? Do we read how he interacted with people and realize, “He knows me”? Do we encounter Jesus through the Gospels and feel magnetically drawn to him? Does his very name give us a sense of home? If not, there’s something wrong!
• Perhaps we are not yet one of his sheep. We may well need to say with the hymn, “Savior like a shepherd lead me.” I yield my life to you. I do not want to be lost in a far thicket on a cliff side. I yearn for you to find me and take me home to yourself. I submit to being, as an old prayer says, “a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.”
• Perhaps we do belong to Jesus. We’ve just gotten our ears clogged. Too many voices crowd out his voice. Too many indulgent or errant choices have muffled our joy. We may have some repenting to do.
• Perhaps we know ourselves to be one of his sheep but fear that we will wander and get lost. We fear that we will not stay true. To these sheep, Jesus offered such comforting words, “no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” When we have been taken into his flock, we cannot be snatched away!
• In this passage, we discover that we are a gift from the Father to his Son, our Shepherd. The Father is the original and final power in the universe. He gave the flock—all believers—to the Son. But then, in calling and tending this flock, Jesus offered his sheep as a gift back to his Father. So we see Jesus and his Father are united in purpose, character, intent, and love toward us.
• If we have heard his voice, we have found our shepherd. If we seek to tune our ears more and more to his voice, then this affirmation of Paul becomes more and more sweet, everlasting comfort to us: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38).

“Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,
Yet in love he found me,
And on his shoulders gently laid,
And home rejoicing brought me.”
Good Shepherd, I hear your voice!
It is precious to me.
Every word is life.
Good Shepherd, I feel you near.
You are safety and home.
But, ah, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.”
Forgive your sheep that takes off
For other pastures hourly.
Stretch out your rod and your staff
To gather me and give me the comfort
Of your merciful discipline.
Thank you that nothing can separate me from you.
Oh, teach me not to test you
But to frolic in the fold of grace.
Posted in: Lent

Day 23, Monday



And Who Is He, Sir, That I May Believe in Him?

John 9:35-41
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in[to] the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in[to] him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
What Prompts the Question?
After he sends the blind man to wash at Siloam, Jesus steps off the stage. Over the next 26 verses, the religious leaders interact with only the healed man and his parents. They grow more and more furious as the newly sighted man insists on the simplicity of his healing saying, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). Finally, because the man would not repudiate Jesus, the rulers curse him saying, “You were born in utter sin!” Then they “cast him out” of fellowship in the synagogue community of God’s people (John 9:34).
The connection to humanity’s creation and fall continues. We read that after Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, the LORD cast them out of Eden (Genesis 3:24, the same word in the Greek Old Testament!). They lost fellowship with God and their harmonious communion with each other became distorted. Such is the plight of every human being since. We long with inconsolable grief to be back in Eden, in a place of fellowship with God and one another. Masaccio evokes this primal agony in his depiction of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. And once more, even in tears, the key question is not “Why did God let it be this way?” but “What has God done about our plight?”
With this in mind, see how our passage begins. Jesus hears that they had cast out this man. So he goes to find him and take him deeper into true healing. We’re reminded that when God’s people cried out in their Egyptian slavery, he heard them, and came down to them by speaking to Moses, determining to bring the Israelites out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Our God is the God who sees, hears, and finds us even in our deepest darkness and most grinding slavery. He is the Good Shepherd who searches until he finds the lost sheep (Luke 15:4).
After all the contentious questions we have heard from people doubting Jesus, this man asks the true question of faith, “And who is he, sir, that I might believe into him?” He is ready to receive an even fuller salvation.
Jesus' Reply
What stunning news to a man who had not seen anything all his life! Now he has seen the Son of Man, the LORD’s Christ! In a riff on the “I Am” declarations, Jesus is saying, “The one speaking to you, he is.” The man immediately worships him. He sees Jesus before him, but even more, he sees in Jesus the Son of Man who came to seek and to find and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
The Gospel’s wordplay here is lovely. The Greek word kyrios has levels of meaning from a simple title of respect, such as saying “Sir” to a father or teacher, all the way to designating the one who has full authority over our lives and even the cosmos. We can only tell which level is meant by context. At first, the man uses kyrios in the sense of respect, “Who is he, sir?” But then he uses the same word in all its fullness, “I believe, Lord!” The once blind man now sees all the way into eternity.
Meanwhile, those who feel sufficient in their knowledge of God and way of living grow increasingly blind to the Savior in their midst. Love and light and life entered the world in Jesus. This is great news except Jesus requires a response from us. We cannot stay in the patterns of darkness we find so soothing. Decisions about him have to be made. Therefore, a testing of faith, a judgment on our lives, occurs just by the presence of a savior. Those who claim that by their own lights and smarts they see, in reality, remain blind. The blindness that causes sin to remain is our refusal to admit blindness. We’d rather be autonomous, self-sufficient, and under the delusion that we have all the sight we need. However, the darkness cannot see itself for what it is (Klink 451). The path to life requires seeing the way back to God which is Jesus, but to see Jesus for who he is requires the admission that we cannot see the way on our own. As we read from John 3:19 on Day 7, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” True sight depends on admitting true blindness (Klink 452).

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.”
So I begin my prayers to you, Lord Jesus.
There is terror in having my eyes opened
To see the truth about me,
All I have done, said, felt, and thought.
But when you open my eyes to my sin,
You also show me your smiling face
And your nail-scarred hands.
You came and found me when I was lost.
When sin had got me cast from your presence,
You came to the far, barren country,
Laid hold of me and brought me home.
I wish that were the end of it!
But this pattern of new sight of sin,
New repentance, and new grace continues.
Dare I pray that you would expose more darkness?
I know to grow closer to you that must happen.
Open my eyes more and more to the truth of me
That I might be sorrowful for sin,
And then rejoice at the truth of you,
My light, my shepherd, my savior and my Lord.
Masaccio. Expulsion from Eden. 1427, Brancacci Chapel, Florence.


Posted in: Lent

Day 22, Sunday

Giotto Di Bondone. The Raising of Lazarus. 1304-1306, Scrovengi Chapel, Padua.


Over 700 years ago, the Italian painter Giotto advanced Christian art by breathing new life and motion into the tradition of symbolic icons of the life of Christ. In this depiction of the raising of Lazarus, many actions occur in one frame. Jesus has ordered the tomb to be open, and we see the men still putting down the slab from its entrance. Jesus’ hand is raised in a traditional sign of blessing. The gesture accompanies his command “Lazarus, come forth!” So there stands Lazarus, alive with his head uncovered. But he still must be unbound from the grave clothes. A man to his left seems engaged in this unwrapping even as, a bit stunned, he looks at Jesus. To the right of Lazarus, a woman has her nose covered, for, as predicted, a stench comes from the grave. Mary and Martha have fallen to Jesus’ feet in worship. Mary’s face seems filled with gratitude. Her Lord has returned her beloved brother! Christ has answered grief with this raising. Other onlookers point toward Jesus, toward Lazarus, and toward heaven. Life, death, and resurrection are coming together in this scene with Jesus as the one who, by the power of the Spirit to the glory of his Father, brings the dead back to life. The deep blue background gives the impression that the whole scene is set in eternity.
The raising of Lazarus is emblematic of Jesus’ assault on the powers that keep humankind bound in suffering and grief. Our stories this week move through the healing of a man born blind to the raising of the man known as Jesus’ friend. Jesus will take on our primal problems: spiritual blindness to the reality of God and the death that has followed our sin. All the dialogues from John 7 and 8 we studied last week get put into action in these scenes. Jesus has come to recreate and restore our humanity.


Rabbi, Who Sinned, This Man or His Parents?

John 9:1-7
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
What Prompts the Question?
As they move through the city, Jesus and his disciples notice a man who has been blind since birth. Like children, the disciples ask the question adults learn to suppress: Why? Why is he like this? Is there blame to be assigned? They encounter the mystery of human suffering, and their question goes to the heart of what’s called theodicy, the exploration of how a good God could allow evil.
The suddenness of accidents, the eruption of natural disasters, and the quick strikes of major illness all raise the terrifying possibility of pure randomness. What if no one is in charge? What if anything could happen without cause and effect?
Assigning blame for suffering mitigates our fear that the universe is out of control and that there is no reason for anything. What did this guy or his parents do to deserve blindness? If we can find a reason, we can try to come to terms with pain.
Jesus tells them that answering the core question of theodicy is not the point of this moment. But we can pause to consider some nuances in the question of suffering:
• The world is real; God did not make the world safe; it has laws that must be respected.
• Natural consequences occur when we attempt to break natural law (e.g., jumping off a ten-story building in hopes of flying).
• God does discipline his people and some suffering functions as a correction.
• Evil is real; people harm each other. Moreover, sin brought death, illness, and decay into the world. Hostile spiritual powers are positioned against us.
We are all frail and buffeted by these forces. Yet, assigning with certainty any one of those reasons to a particular situation of harm or diminishment is beyond our capacity. We don’t have that wisdom, but we can realize that many factors weave into any reason for suffering. The better, more urgent question is not “Why did God allow this?” but “What has God done about it?”
Jesus' Reply
Jesus understood this encounter as an opportunity to display his Father’s compassion for the human plight. The blind man is representative of all humanity in our fallen state, and this story becomes symbolic of how Christ, the new Adam, lays hold of the old Adam and raises him to new life.
The clue is in the method of healing. Jesus spits on the dust of the ground. With his hands and his saliva, he forms mud. Then he spreads it over the man’s eyes.
Do you hear the echoes of our creation? We read in Genesis, “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). We are made of dust and spirit, shaped by the intent of God who created us in his image. Since the fall, that image has been marred. We no longer see God face to face as Adam and Eve did. We are all, in that sense, blind from birth, diminished dramatically from first intent.
Paul says that we groan to be set free from this bondage to decay (Romans 8:20-22). So Job in his suffering represents all of us when as creatures made for eternity, we languish under mortality: “Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust?” (Job 10:9).
In Jesus, the Triune God replied to us. Graphically! Since Covid, we have all learned that droplets always accompany the breathing out. Only God who is Spirit can breathe out pure Spirit. Jesus the Son of God in flesh and blood breathes out moisture from his mouth with every breath. To spit, one has to exhale. In this scene with the blind man, the embodied Creator recreates damaged humanity.
Jesus sends the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam. This is the pool that sourced the water-drawing ceremony we considered earlier (John 7:37, Day 16). As the Psalmist describes it: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4). There is no natural river in Jerusalem, but the Gihon spring flows through Hezekiah’s tunnel under the city walls to keep the Siloam Pool fed with fresh water. Jesus sends the man who had been blind from birth to wash the mud from his eyes. We can’t miss the symbolism. Jesus the living water gives those who believe into him a tap into the everlasting source of life. Jesus as Creator reforms the mud of our humanity, washing away sin and making us new. Jesus the light of the world gives sight to those blind from birth. That, of course, is all of us, who are from the beginning alienated from God by our creaturely frailty and propensity to sin. This is why the source of this particular man’s congenital blindness doesn’t really matter. Every human being is naturally blind to God. We are all diminished and damaged by living on earth as sinful hearts encountering a world full of sinful hearts.
Jesus came to re-form us. After his resurrection, Jesus breathes upon his disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). The breath of the incarnate Creator, moist with his own physicality, quickens us, opens our eyes, and makes us new
Jesus, through you all things were created.
By you, all things are made new.
Thank you that you did not stand aloof
From the suffering and frailty of our fallen frames.
You put your divine hands into the dirt.
You spit your divine breath into our mud.
You anointed us with the touch of new life.
You commanded us to participate
In the washing with water, the baptism,
That so symbolizes your cleansing blood.
You are the light of life, the river of living water,
The touch of the Creator’s hand
That makes deserts bloom and dry bones live.
Breathe on me this day!
Open my eyes to your reality
And my lips to sing joyfully your praise.
Posted in: Lent

Day 21, Saturday


Are You Greater Than Our Father Abraham?

John 8:39, 42-43, 47, 51-55
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did. . . . If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. . . . Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is do your father’s desires. . . . Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus royally insults his listeners! He invites them into a relationship with his Father through his role as the Son. They punt back to their ancient heritage:
“Abraham is our father!” Earlier Jesus starkly told them they were slaves to sin. Now Jesus takes them back further than their patriarch, “You are of your father, the devil.” This was too much. For centuries, the LORD’s people had kept their identity intact even through slavery, wandering, corrupt rulers, and foreign oppression. They could, and did, endure such suffering as long as they recalled they belonged to a uniquely chosen people. Now Jesus tells them their origin story lies more with the serpent than the creator. Their lives are built on deception, not truth. But if they choose to live by his word, they can be free from death. Outraged, they accuse him of having a demon.
Jesus' Reply
Jesus replies that if his life and words were about his own glory as a man, his opponents would be right. He’d admit that his personal glory was vanity. But Jesus’ whole life was oriented toward his heavenly Father. He had an awareness that his origin was not merely as Mary’s child. He had a connection to God that was unlike anyone else. He knew his Father intimately and stayed in constant, harmonious contact with him. Jesus realized that before the world began, he existed as the unique Son. Now he was living out that eternal relationship from Earth, from the human side. His confidence to make such bold statements comes from the very center of his being. He is here to glorify his Father. He knows, ever more certainly, that “before Abraham was, I am!”
As the Word made flesh, Jesus understood his mission as reconnecting lost humanity to God. He came to us to be the one man in the world who lived, as a human being, in complete harmony with the Father. With our disordered hearts, we naturally have only distorted knowledge of the Father. Hence we may fear God as a tyrant, or hate him as a dominator, or flee from him as a controller. But Jesus truly knew the Father’s heart and came to make this heart of mercy known to us. Looking on Jesus, we see the Father.
Paul writes, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (I Timothy 2:5-6). The Son of the Father brothered us by becoming one of us, a man of flesh and blood. He never sought his own independent, human glory. That’s why his astounding words about his identity never sound egotistical or even absurd—Jesus the man was always pointing to God the heavenly Father.
To explain this plan, Jesus tells them the inside truth of the patriarch Abraham’s life, the man known for his striking faith. Jesus declares that Abraham, who lived some 2000 years before him, “rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” When and how could Abraham have foreseen Jesus?
Perhaps, as Barry Phillips has suggested, Abraham expressed this joyous hope during the terrible time when the LORD asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. As they make their way up the mountain, Isaac asks Abraham where the lamb for the sacrifice was. Abraham replies in faith, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). Waiting until Abraham lifts his knife to kill his son, the LORD produces the substitute sacrifice in the form of a ram in the bushes. Genesis tells us that in response “Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide’” (Genesis 22:14). It is perhaps here that Abraham comes to understand that one day God would give his own son as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Of course, the crowd is shocked that Jesus seems to say he had seen Abraham. Then they are outraged at his reply. Jesus takes up the sacred name as his own. Jews at that time did not even dare to pronounce this name, but here was Jesus claiming, in his early thirties, that before Abraham came into the world, “I, I myself, simply am!”
So there it was. The unveiling of the innermost secret of Jesus’ identity. God had revealed his unique, sacred name to Moses as Yahweh, the I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:14). We can scarcely imagine the reverence with which the LORD’s people cherished his holy name. Now Jesus explicitly claims it: “I Am!” He broke all taboos and was either the most blasphemous Hebrew who ever lived or the greatest miracle anyone could imagine: the LORD I AM in flesh and blood. In reply, one could either fall at his feet and worship Jesus, or, as his listeners do, take up stones to destroy him.

Your story is older than our story!
Older than being descendants of Abraham
Older even than being a descendant of Adam.
You have expanded our history back into eternity.
Jesus, you came to us as a man in time and place,
Yet you are older than creation.
You are.
As the great I AM you came to share our humanity
That we might share in your eternal love
Of Father, Son and Spirit.
Though we are mortal and our bodies return to the ground
In you, Jesus, death does not have the final word.
Our sad human history is not the whole story.
Our grim, decaying future is not the end.
In you, the eternal who took up the mortal,
We are taken into the heart of God!
Posted in: Lent

Day 20, Friday


How Is It That You Say, "You Will Become Free?"

John 8:31-38
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
What Prompts the Question?
We saw at the end of yesterday’s passage (John 8:30) that as Jesus spoke of his oneness with the Father, many of those listening started to believe into him. They moved towards Jesus in the beginnings of faith. But today, we see that Jesus immediately tests that tentative belief. In one of his most quoted sayings, Jesus declares, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Remarkably, these hopeful words touch an instant nerve of resistance. Even though they were occupied by oppressive Roman rule and yearned for political freedom, the people of Israel did not think of themselves as anyone’s slaves. They counter Jesus saying, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.”
A snarky Jesus could have replied, “Oh right, that’s true. Except for that little 400- year period in Egypt and those pesky 70 years of exile in Babylon, you sure have been free. I mean, if we don’t count these decades of having Roman soldiers on your street. But sure, other than that. . . .”
Now to be fair to the people, it was true that the Jews had maintained their identity through centuries of oppression from without and idolatry from within. The Pharisees actually performed a great service. They inspired the people to stay true to the LORD I AM and his Scriptures despite the mounting pressure to conform to the pluralistic Greek/Roman culture all around them. How could Jesus say they weren’t free?
The Question within the Question
The deeper reality is that people then and now resist any notion that they are not masters of their lives. We don’t easily give up the fantasy that we can be and do whatever we dream and desire. We readily blame circumstances and other people for why things fall apart. We demand our personal freedom.
I certainly identify because I fiercely guard my national and personal sense of autonomy. I brazenly claim, “Hey Jesus, I’m an American! We have never been occupied by a foreign power or conquered by an enemy. We are free by definition! What’s more, we’re becoming freer all the time. Women have more opportunities than ever before. Racial and sexual minorities have more rights than ever before. How can you say we need to be free? We believe we can become anything we want to be. We make our own lives. We are free to choose everything about ourselves. How can you suggest we practice sin as if we are doing anything wrong with our freedom?”
And yet, how many of us feel enslaved to the debt incurred to fund a lifestyle of freedom beyond our means? If not individually, then do we feel the burden of national debt to be passed to our descendants?
How many feel like prisoners to their schedules? We have more leisure time than anyone in history. Food comes easily. Shelter is abundant. Transportation is readily available. Nevertheless, we do not rest. We are more anxious and stressed out than ever. We’re moving at a frenetic pace and can’t seem to stop.
We are obsessed with our electronic devices. It’s like pointing out that the sky is blue to say social media is damaging personal relationships. Yet we swipe on!
Our screens are filled with those who opine that they are helpless before their desires and fear inauthenticity if they don’t get to enact whatever they feel. We breathe the air filled with violence, depression, pessimism, atheism, lies, marketing, and consumption. Are we free? When is the last time I spent more than five minutes looking at a sky full of stars? Or played with a puppy? Or took a walk without a device in my ear?
Jesus' Reply
Jesus cuts to the chase saying, “[E]veryone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” The enslavement is in our hearts. We’re hopelessly curved in on ourselves and can’t see past the tangled webs of our own delusions. Paul writes piercingly, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and . . . exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:21-22, 25). When I live by my truth and not God’s truth, I enter the deceit of the darkness. I actually lose my freedom to choose what constitutes life.
Jesus’ answer draws upon the household dynamics of his day. A slave in a Roman home did not have the rights and privileges of the family. A slave could not set himself free. But a natural son was an heir and at the heart of the family. If the son had the imprimatur of the father, he could set the slave free. If the son prevailed upon the father, the slave could even be adopted into the family and become an heir. Jesus as the eternal Son of the Father came to gather lost children who were enslaved to the sin of the world. He came to pay the ransom for our freedom, to negotiate a new deal that would bring us into the household of God. This transfer would require a willingness to make our home in Jesus’ words, which are truth.

Lord Jesus, you know that I am an expert
In hiding the truth, even from myself.
I fear being shamed and set a strong guard
Against bringing my heart into the light.
I like to be in control.
I want to stay sovereign.
I’ll decide what to reveal and when.
But this insistence that I am fine as I am
Exhausts me. I live in a constant state of fear.
I keep making choices that harm me and others.
“My truth” is no truth, just more delusion.
I am not free in myself.
Would you give me ears to hear
Your invitation of truth that sets me free?
Would you take me back into your Father’s family?
I would rather be yours than my own,
To be home under your will
Not lost and alone in myself.
Come my way, my truth, my life!
Posted in: Lent

Day 19, Thursday


Who Are You?

John 8:21-30
So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus tells the Pharisees and the onlookers that where he was going they could not come. They’d be left behind and die stuck in their sins. How could this be? These officials had more training than Jesus in the Scriptures. They kept the extra laws more meticulously than Jesus. They observed all the rituals and had all the righteousness. There seemed no way that their so-called sins could cause them to lag behind Jesus in things related to God. In the game of religion, they had always won. So their absurd question arose from assuming Jesus was going to cheat: “Are you going to kill yourself, just quit the game of life in hopes of getting to God first?” They could not see their own limitations nor the limitations of the narrow way they practiced faith.
The Question within the Question
Curiously, the Pharisees do not simply dismiss Jesus and walk away. They do not understand him, but they cannot help being intrigued. Every time they think they have him figured out, Jesus baffles them. So, later in this scene, they just ask the most basic question, “Who are you?” The question itself strikes at the heart of every honest human response to the revelation of God in Jesus. He evokes attraction and repulsion, love and rejection, mystery and fear: Who are you? We’ve never encountered anyone like you.
How were they asking the question? How are we asking? Is it:
 • Who are you to tell me that God is different than the way I conceive him to be?
• Who are you to tell me that something I’m doing is wrong?
• Who are you to talk like you’re the boss who knows better than everyone else?
Or is it:
• Could you be the one I’ve been longing for?
• Could you be the one who can wipe away the past and give me a fresh start?
• Are you the one who can lead me to life? Who are you, Lord?
Jesus' Reply
Jesus is always so compassionate with those who know they are broken. Sinners, the demonized, and the afflicted all love him. Honest seekers find a warm welcome. But Jesus could be stern with those who maintained barriers of pride and self-assurance before God. He kept the pressure on those whose very religion might be a block to the truth. So his answer includes a bit of chiding: “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.” In effect, “I’ve been quite open about who I am. You just don’t want to see!” Then he explains more.
Jesus insists that his place of origin was different than theirs when he says, “You are from below. I am from above.” We humans have a beginning in time and place; we get conceived and born down here in this world. We read in the Prologue, however, that Jesus was already the Word with God before creation. Our origin is earthly. Jesus’ origin is eternal and heavenly. We belong to this world as creatures. Jesus stepped into the world as the Creator. We also belong to this world that has rebelled against the truth of God. But Jesus belongs to the harmony of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So here we see the reason why Jesus could say such bold things about himself in such a sober, humble way. Earlier he had told the people, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:19-20). There is a loving relationship of sharing and submitting that has been going on since before the world was made. But with the arrival of Jesus, that love story between Father and Son got “earthed.” Jesus the Word brought his eternity of love right into our midst as a real human being. The one who made us came to save us!
Of course, Jesus knew that eventually the darkness of the human heart would try to snuff out his light. He knew that those he came to love would reject him, preferring to be left in their sins. So, as he had earlier (John 3:14, Day 7), Jesus speaks of being “lifted up” which would cause humanity to see clearly who he is and why he came. In the near term, Jesus means the cross, where he would be lifted on the tree to die. But in the long term, he means being lifted out of death through resurrection and ascension to glory, where all will acknowledge his lordship.

No one could have guessed your plan!
Even angels longed to know how you would save
The lost, broken, stubborn, rebellious, miserable likes of us.
Who could have foreseen this?
But now I begin to realize the logic of love!
Because it was man who sinned, once for all of us,
It had to be man who obeyed, once for all of us.
But because no one could rise from this world in faithfulness,
The one faithful man had to enter from above.
You, the Creator stepped into your world
As one of your creations to lift us all.
But in reply, we lifted you on the cross, Lord Jesus.
We raised you on the tree of death to be rid of you,
So self-annihilating are our sinful hearts!
But your surprises did not end.
The Father raised you from the pit to which
Our pride and sin and stubbornness cast you.
Now you are lifted high in glory,
With rich wounds yet visible above.
The God who came to man in order
To bring man back to God. Forever.
Blessed be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Posted in: Lent

Day 18, Wednesday


Where Is Your Father?

John 8:12-20
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
What Prompts the Question?
We have heard Jesus declare that he is the bread of life (John 6:35, Day 13) and the source of living water (John 7:8, Day 16). Now, while still at the temple just after the Feast of Booths, Jesus claims he is another of life’s essentials: “I am the light of the world.” Jesus presses further into the mysterious truth of his true identity. The festival had just celebrated how the LORD I AM himself had led his people “by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” (Exodus 13:21). Light is essential for sight, for warmth, for life itself.
The opening verse of the beloved 27th Psalm declares, “The LORD is my light and my salvation.” The deeper we go into John’s Gospel, the clearer Jesus makes it that he is himself the LORD I AM in their midst. On anyone else’s lips, how outrageous would these claims be! Effectively Jesus says, “If you don’t want to stumble in the dark, follow me because I not only shine light on the way ahead, I am the light.” How could a sane man say such things in such a matter-of-fact way? One of the wonders of reading about Jesus in the Gospels is how he could say the most I-centered bold statements imaginable, and yet they do not feel egotistical, exaggerated, or irrational. (We’ll consider the reason for this tomorrow.)
The Question within the Question
The Pharisees pick up on what seems to be the hubris of a mere man making such God-like assertions. First, they try to bring Jesus’ teaching into the arena of a legal wrangle, as if he were defending himself in a trial: “You’re bearing witness about yourself! That doesn’t count! The law says two people must corroborate a testimony.” Jesus counters by claiming that his Father is the second witness. They know Jesus means his heavenly Father, God himself. But they can’t t accept that answer or figure out how to counter him. So they make it personal, asking, “Where is your Father?” Further down, in vs. 41, we will hear them say, “We were not born of sexual immorality,” the subtext being “like you were, Jesus!” The rumor that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father had continued for years. The officials mean to disgrace him. These learned men have been reduced to infantile name-calling. They ran for the darkness in the hope that the light would not incinerate the life they intended to have for themselves.
Jesus' Reply
Jesus, of course, knew Joseph had kindly adopted him even before his birth. He also knew he was miraculously conceived. Through the years Jesus had grown in intimacy with his heavenly Father. By the time his ministry began, he understood that he was the eternal Son of the Father sent from heaven to earth as a man on a redeeming mission. His ardent desire was to be the light that would illuminate dark human hearts and minds. Jesus shined through his gracious welcome of sinners, his healing touch of the diseased and possessed, and his truth-telling words to friend and foe alike. He passionately wanted people to let him illuminate the truth about God his Father and the Son sent to save them.
We read on Day 1 in the Prologue that “[t]he true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). In Jesus was “life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Yet, “[H]e was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him (John 1:10). The Pharisees exhibit a willful ignorance. They do not want to know the light nor see their lives through Jesus’ illumination. I know I am not much different. As John Knox declared, we are so spiritually blind that we cannot see the light shining in front of us! (Scots Confession, chap. 12)
Seeing Jesus for who he is requires a work of the Spirit in us. Paul knew he was so rebelliously lost that Christ had to shine a light brighter than the middle eastern noonday sun! (Acts 9:3). He describes the miracle of coming to faith in these terms, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
This becomes our prayer for faith. As Graham Kendrick sang years ago, “Shine, Jesus, shine!” We pray that the bold declaration of John’s prologue would be present and active in our lives today: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Jesus, my guide, my pillar of fire in the world’s dark,
My flame of hope in the inkiest midnight hour,
I confess that the poet’s words about me are true:
“Lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night,
Who have never been happy or good.”
Proudly I set out to blaze my own path,
Live by my own best lights, and
Burn with my own inner flame.
How fast I flickered out!
How quickly I expended my reserves of fuel, and
Now shiver in the dark of an immense, indifferent universe.
How much damage I have done when I dimly
Saw others through the shades of my self-interest.
Please, lighten my darkness.
By your light alone, may we see light.
Shine in my heart so I may recognize Jesus.
Illumine my path so I may walk in truth,
And shine on others with your love.
Posted in: Lent

Day 17, Tuesday


Moses Commanded . . . So What Do You Say?

John 8:2-11
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
What Prompts the Question?
Every time Jesus is at the temple in Jerusalem, he upsets the authorities. We saw (John 2:15, Day 5) how he drove out the merchants with their animals and overturned the tables of the moneychangers, upending all temple commerce. Yesterday, we saw how Jesus made the Water-Drawing Ceremony about himself. This young rabbi keeps interpreting the Scriptures as if they spoke about him! To the religious leaders, Jesus was ruining everything. So they decide to trap Jesus at his own game. They present him with a seemingly impossible dilemma: a woman caught in the very act of adultery. The law said to stone her. Would Jesus follow the sacred teaching and demonstrate that he was not the compassionate teacher who befriended the lost and the compromised? Or he would violate a clear statement of God’s Word and so prove to be unrighteous? They want an immediate answer from Jesus.
Of course, this was a setup. What do you have to be doing to catch adulterers in the act? You would have to be following a plan of voyeuristic peeping into homes. Moreover, the law said that both parties should receive the death penalty (Leviticus 20:10). But here only the woman was brought before them. Something about this smelled like fish rotting on the sands of Galilee.
Jesus' Reply
First, we note that Jesus does not buy into their urgency. He stoops down and writes on the ground. We don’t know what he writes. Maybe a Scripture such as “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). Maybe some of the sins of the accusers. Maybe squiggles. Whatever the case, the effect is the same. Jesus absorbs the energy of the mob. He takes their zeal into himself and slows everything down. If you’ve ever faced down even a small mob, you know how much courage and strength that takes.
The officials continue to press him for an answer, so it’s as if Jesus replies, “Yep. Go ahead and stone her. But the one of you without sin has to cast the first stone.” It’s hard to overstate how powerful the personal presence of Jesus must have been. The Greek word for “authority” literally means “out of being,” that is, from the depths of who one authentically is. In other words, it’s as if Jesus himself is the author of the story, and therefore, has the authority to say what happens next. Jesus’ authentic oneness with the Father in will and purpose radiated powerfully enough to stymie those who for decades exercised moral authority over all the people of God.
I imagine that when Jesus said this he did not distance himself from the accused woman but stayed next to her. “Throw the stones!” came from a Jesus willing to be hit, bruised, and battered along with her. He did not fear the stoning. In essence that is why he came to us. He took the place of sinners in the circle of condemnation. One day it would kill him. His ministry necessarily led to the cross, yet he resolutely followed that path. Stepping into the ring at this moment did not frighten him. He chose a side—next to the guilty.
Remarkably, these officials drop their stones and go away beginning with those who had been sinning the longest because they were the oldest. Jesus manages to convict them into mercy precisely because he stood with this woman in readiness to take her penalty as his own.
Of course, no one was ever the same after they encountered Jesus. He was a supreme change agent. So he had an exchange with the woman as well. Standing to meet her eye to eye, he asks her who was left to accuse her. “No one,” she answers, no doubt awestruck at this turn of events. His next remark echoes through the centuries into eternity: “Neither do I condemn you.” As Paul, a man who attended stonings himself, would write years after meeting the savior, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
No condemnation. Jesus took it as his own, but not so we could go back and do every destructive, immoral, impulsive, selfish, or judgmental thing we can think of! The second part of his directive to the woman is “Go, and sin no more!” Live now in the freedom of forgiveness so that you can live according to the will and precepts of my Father. Go out and drop the stones you pick up for others. Live clean. Live free. Live with open hands, outstretched to love. We can hear from Charles Wesley’s great hymn “And Can It Be” (1738):
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own!
Amazing love, how can it be
That thou, my God, should die for me?

I have a stone in my hand, Jesus,
It is at the ready.
First for myself, to strike in anger
At all the stupid, selfish, hollow things I have done.
I am ever at the ready to bash myself.
It is also carefully aimed and cocked
At those who have hurt me.
Deluded, I believe revenge will heal me.
And I am poised to thwap “those people,”
Those “others,” those I call out so I can feel more “in.”
Oh, still my urgency to strike them.
Let me see again that you stay next to me
In the circle of condemnation.
You have taken the guilt I deserve as your own.
You have forgiven me so that I can forgive.
For you took the stones due not only to me
But to each and every person, even those who hurt me.
Stay with me, Lord Jesus, in that circle
Until the urgency recedes into the peace
Of your reconciliation.
Posted in: Lent

Day 16, Monday


How Is It That This Man Has Learning?

John 7:14-18a; 37-42
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in[to] me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
What Prompts the Question?
Pilgrims thronged Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths, a celebration that coincided with the fall harvest. The people slept in temporary shelters constructed with leafy branches. This “camping” festival enacted a reminder of the forty years the Israelites had no permanent dwellings on their way to the Promised Land. Every year, they joyfully gave thanks for God’s historic provision to encourage trust in his present provision to bless the harvest and send the rains.
Jesus arrives midweek and begins teaching to whoever would listen. As expected, his striking, unique interpretation of Scripture creates a sensation. The people ask lots of questions within his hearing. Jesus has no formal credentials, so how can his compelling teaching be correct? Some suggest Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. But others counter by asking how Jesus from Nazareth can be the Christ who comes from Bethlehem. He just doesn’t fit their preconceived categories. So Jesus generates vigorous discussion.
Jesus' Reply
In those days, a tradition had developed for the Feast of Booths called the Water-Drawing Ceremony. Each night a priest would descend the half mile from the temple to the Pool of Siloam. To the sound of shofars blowing, hands clapping, and people praying, the priest would fill a vessel with water and return back up to the temple. Torches lit the way. People danced in the streets to the music of lyres, harps, and cymbals. They recited verses from Isaiah 12:2: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Then, with thankful faith, they prayed as the priest poured the water on the altar. The ceremony acted out Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The people gave thanks for God’s continuing gift of water to his people who lived in a dry place, water that had flowed through their history from the miracle of water gushed from the rock in the wilderness (Numbers 20:11) to the present Gihon spring that filled the pool of Siloam with the water for the city. In joyful expectancy, they asked for the fall rains to come.
On the last day of this feast, Jesus stands up and cries out over the din of the crowd. He interrupts the normal celebration and turns the focus to himself, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” This is the heart of his reply to all the questions asked about him and to him that week. Jesus taps into David’s great psalm of spiritual yearning: “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2). He makes the invitation his Father had made in Isaiah, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1). Physical water brings life to the body and to the land. The water ceremony reminded everyone of that. But our need is even deeper. People are more than bodies, and this world is not all there is. All the water, wine, and grain will not satisfy the deep thirst set within us for our Creator. Jesus who had offered living water to the woman at the well now invites everyone to come to him to quench parched souls.
As he had done in John 6 concerning his blood, Jesus once again uses the image of drinking as a metaphor for believing into him. We take water into our bodies as we swallow it, and this water becomes part of us. We take in Jesus by actively trusting, asking, and receiving him. We drink in Jesus, and he takes us into himself. It’s a wonderful paradox: we take Jesus in and thereby get taken into him! We get joined to Jesus and he to us, but in such a way that we don’t lose our uniqueness. In fact, we become more ourselves the more we pour lives into Jesus by faith!
What’s more, Jesus promises that believing into him will give us not just a drink in the moment, but a continuously replenishing source of living water. Those joined to Jesus will find a river of life flowing into them and out of them to the world. Jesus claims he could fulfill his Father’s promise that “you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11). Earlier Jesus had said, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). Jesus himself is the ever-fresh source of the eternal life which flows in us when we are joined to him.
How does this work? How does the man Jesus come to dwell within believers? John’s Gospel explains that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, the conduit. Andrew Murray called the Spirit the great “conveyancer” of Christ to us. The Spirit is like a conveyer belt that constantly brings the person of Jesus into our lives and brings our spirits into union with Jesus. He then conveys the love of Jesus from us to others as we love and share in his name. This mystical dimension to Christianity is the very heart of Biblical faith. We’re not just followers of Jesus, externally trying to imitate his life. He actually dwells within our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Thus, believing into Jesus means being connected to the ever-renewing, quenching, flowing eternal life of the Triune God!
Jesus, I thirst to be hydrated with you.
I have tried life on my own,
Me in myself choosing the path,
Me as my own source of refreshment.
Oh, how stale that water gets!
How shriveled I become.
How parched I am for living water.
All my fresh springs are in you!
Flow through me from the inside out!
Wash away the filth and the clogging grime.
Satisfy me with drink from a well so deep,
With water so cool, pure, and tasty that
I no longer can stand to drink anything else.
Fill me with your Spirit from the inside out.
Posted in: Lent

Day 15, Sunday

Andrei Mironov. Christ and the Sinner. 2011. Russian.


This week we encounter conversations in which Jesus reveals still more of his true identity. Who he is and what he offers seems to be the heart of what he wants to communicate. Yet, the more he stakes his claims, the more challenging it becomes to believe and follow him. This week we will overhear Jesus describe some of his most beautiful qualities. He is the one man who truly knows and loves the Father. He has come to freely share that relationship with us. Jesus is the source of living water that can flow from within all who trust him. He is the light of the world and the truth that sets us free. He saves us from death. He is the great, eternal LORD I AM come among us as a man. He came down so he can take us up. This best possible news was hard to accept then as it is now. Can one man be all of this? Many turned away. We need courage to press into the truth of Jesus! He will stretch our brains and our wills to stay with him as he talks.
This painting by Andrey Mironov renders the heart of Jesus’ ministry and the key to understanding the dialogues this week. Cast into the circle of condemnation, this woman expected to be stoned. Yet Jesus stood with her. Accepted her. Defended her. She lies at his feet. Notice the complexity of the emotion on her face. Which feelings does she communicate as you view her? Relief? Surprise? Sorrow? Peace? She is at the Master’s feet. He has not recoiled. All her life belongs to him. Lying on the ground, her head on his feet, her unkempt her across the hem of his robe, this is the safest place she has ever known. Would I trade my pride for such a vulnerable place near Jesus? Would I find my peace when there is nothing left to hide and all is known? Others may have shamed me, but he bears my shame and receives my touch. Is that enough to move me to bear with Jesus the shame he will receive in the world’s rejection? It moves me to place myself in this picture as the woman who has only Jesus as her last, best hope. Keep that in mind as you work through the conversations this week.


Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?

John 6:60-69
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
How Do We Eat and Drink Jesus?
Many of Jesus’ followers found his words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood to be too much for them. Indeed, it is still the case. To those not joined to Jesus by the Spirit, this all sounds like creepy nonsense. Even his ardent followers may wonder what such eating and drinking looks like practically. Here are four aspects of what it represents:
Believing into Jesus. This eating means “receiving” (John 1:10) Jesus, welcoming the one who has come down to us to come all the way into our hearts. We say “yes” to Christ Jesus and then we press in with our attention, our yielded wills, and our trust toward Jesus in loyalty and faith. A mutual indwelling occurs. We are joined to Jesus by his Spirit. We are “in” Christ and his Spirit is “in” us.
Meditation on his Word. The prophet Jeremiah says, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy” (Jeremiah 15:16). God’s words are in Scripture. We read the Bible to take in, like food, whatever God has said. We “chew” God’s words as we meditate upon them and consider how they apply to us. They nourish us as we savor them in praise of God and express our worship to him in prayers and songs drawn from Scripture.
Partaking of The Lord’s Supper. Jesus meant what he said in John 6. So he gave us the Eucharist, a word that means “thanksgiving.” It involves the grateful, regular recalling of his last supper, in which he gave his disciples the bread and said, “This is my body . . . eat this. . . .” He gave them the wine and said, “This is my blood . . . drink this.” We say “yes” to all Jesus is as we eat and drink, inviting him to come into our bodies and souls and have his way with us.
Community. Of course, all these activities are in the context of the community of believers gathered together regularly in worship and prayer. We can and do believe into Jesus on our own and meditate on his Word privately. But even these internal activities are undertaken with the expectation that every believer joined to Christ is joined to his entire body, all the other believers. He calls us to “body life” of reconciling and nurturing relationships and sharing in worship and service.
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus spoke his graphic words in the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:59). He was all the more offensive by encouraging such shocking and seemingly forbidden activity in the context of worship. How could a mere man give people what only the one God could give? Many stopped following Jesus after that teaching. Jesus, though, did not change his message based on how his popularity trended. Instead, he challenges his inner circle, “Do you want to go away as well?” That’s a relevant question! Obviously, Peter had thought about it: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, “If there were an easier path, I’d take it! If there were a way to receive what you offer that didn’t scandalize all our family and friends, I’d follow it. But you are the only one who has what I most deeply need, everlasting life that changes everything now and in the world to come.”
The Question within the Question
How about us? Have you ever considered how hard, even weird it is to belong to Jesus? Here are a few things that, as a believer, make me feel out of step with those not yet following Jesus:
 • The demand that I recognize that in and of myself I am not OK. I have sinned, missed the mark, of what God has commanded. So many things in that statement offend my modern sensibilities! That I am accountable to anyone. That God could demand things from me, compromising my sacred autonomy. That there even is a personal God and that such a God has allowed things to be a complete mess and then blames us for it. The nerve!
• The expectation that receiving Jesus means surrendering my will to him. I don’t want anyone to be in charge of me. Giving up control of my life seems to be giving up my freedom to be and do what I think will make me happy. It risks God’s being just another dominator and dictator.
• The idea that Jesus is the only way to God because he is God in the flesh. If we must have religion, can’t we agree that there are many paths to the same God? Isn’t spirituality really about what each person decides to believe? That Jesus is the one true God in our midst makes everybody else wrong and that seems horrible!
You may have some other things about Jesus that offend you. It’s OK to acknowledge those. Name them out. But then add Peter’s words, “But to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Jesus' Reply
Jesus does not shrink back from such scandalous doubts. He explains how only those called by the Father could come to him. He reminds his disciples that, unlike other rabbis, they did not pick their teacher. Jesus chose and called these twelve. They would all suffer for being witnesses to the truth for the message of Jesus remained offensive to human autonomy even as it promised everlasting life.
I admit, dear Jesus, that you pose some problems.
People stumble over you,
And I feel the scandal of your insistence
That you are the Son sent from heaven
Who alone knows the Father and can grant life to us.
Yet I also know what you have done for me.
I feel your loving presence,
Even in the dark nights.
I feel the weight of my sin lifted
Because, somehow, someway, you took it
Upon yourself on the cross.
I feel the hope that my loved ones
Are not lost, but that I will see them again,
Because you rose, and so we will be raised.
I know that your way of love can bring
Order into chaos, forgiveness over revenge
Hope into despair, and energy for life and work.
Give me courage, then, to stand with you and for you,
Believing into you more and more, for truly
You have the words of eternal life.
Posted in: Lent

Day 14, Saturday


How Can This Man Give Us His Flesh to Eat?

John 6:47-59
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
What Prompts the Question?
The crowd who had enjoyed the feast Jesus made from five loaves and two fish wanted Jesus to make some more. A prophet of the magnitude of Moses could surely arrange some daily manna to fill their bellies. They were looking backward, yearning for the good old days when God made sure his people had enough. Jesus, however, wants them to realize that as great as manna in the days of Moses had been, it was only a sign pointing towards something even greater. Jesus’ miracle with the loaves and fish was also a sign pointing to something more everlasting that God would do for his people. So Jesus tells them bluntly how their fathers ate miraculous manna but still died just like all humans. Manna kept them alive for a time, but it did not destroy death. Feeding the five thousand brought fullness, but only for a moment. People need more.
We turn to Newbigin once more:
The hungry man is fed, but he hungers again. The sick man is healed,
but he will die. The victim of oppression is delivered, but he becomes the
slave of other “principalities and powers.” These visible acts of liberation
are not to be made the primary object of all desire and labor; they are
signs pointing to a gift that is never exhausted, a satisfaction that never passes. . . .
[Otherwise,] your life will be an endless rat race in pursuit of satisfactions which never endure. . . .
The true bread which gives eternal satisfaction will be the gift of the Son of Man when he has been lifted up
and pours out upon believers the life-giving Spirit. (78-79)
As usual, Jesus doesn’t water down his words or make his point easily accessible. Rather, he pushes on to a disturbing and strange new level. He tells them the true bread is his very flesh! Taken at face value, this was a truly bizarre assertion. Are we talking cannibalism? How could Jesus offer us his flesh to eat?
Jesus' Reply
Jesus does not walk back his shocking statement. Instead, he presses it more, adding a revolting clarification: “[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood. . . .” The Lord had said, “Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh” (Deuteronomy 12:23). The penalty for consuming the blood was severe: “For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. . . . Whoever eats it shall be cut off” (Leviticus 17:14). But now Jesus declares that breaking that centuries-old blood taboo is the only way to find life.
As he continues, Jesus does not say, “Hey, don’t worry guys. I’m only preaching! This is just an illustration.” Instead, he gets even more graphic. The next four times he talks about eating his flesh, he uses a word that means to “crunch” or “gnaw.” This is not polite dining, but noisy, grinding, lip-smacking mastication! No subtle spirituality in manageable doses. This is continuous, explicit consumption. Jump to metaphor too quickly and miss the whole point. Be offended first. Jesus wanted us to feel it. Slurp from a mug of my blood. Munch a hunk of my flesh.
The promised benefits of this diet were tremendous. Eating and drinking Jesus meant life, vivid life right now and being raised to eternal life in the future. Ingesting Jesus in this way meant Jesus dwelling in the partaker and the partaker dwelling in Jesus (6:56). This is that word meno we saw back in Day 2 which can mean “stay,” “remain,” “abide,” or “dwell.” Here we’re encountering the intimacy of taking in food and drink. Eating invites food to come inside and be digested by us. We seem to be in control as we are the ones putting the food in our mouths, chewing and swallowing.
But the truth is that once that food slides down our throats, it can have its way with us. We are subject to its chemical properties. So we might say, “Man, that pasta really stayed with me through the night.” People with food allergies know how the food eaten can take over their whole bodies, impairing or even killing them. A chemical union occurs between the eater and the eaten. The two become one. But unlike normal food, when we “eat” Jesus, he does not become absorbed into our lives. His Spirit within us doesn’t get changed into us, but rather changes us, over time and through continual partaking, to be more like Jesus.
The Son of God came down from heaven to give his life and be consumed by our otherwise unfillable spiritual hunger. He offered his life in the shedding of his blood, but he wants that blood now to course through our souls’ veins. The union is graphic and intimate. Of course, the disciples did not then literally take a bite out of Jesus’ arm. This eating and drinking is spiritual but no less real for being so.
Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man,
I have so many needs!
I’m always trying to reach balance and be content
I have to eat, sleep, drink coffee, stretch, bathe, dress,
Drive, work, talk, eat some more, find friends,
Be entertained by screens, clean up, and start it all again.
Most of my time is focused on meeting my needs.
It’s never done, and that’s not even the big stuff!
I long to give and receive love, to make a difference,
To contribute, to do the right thing, to bless others.
But all that tires me out and sends me back to comfort!
Without a deeper source, I’m stuck in need.
Show me how to connect with you in a way
That nourishes me day by day.
Teach me how to take you in so that
I am changed, fed, energized and transformed by you.
You are the bread of life!
Move me to seek you first and always.
Posted in: Lent

Day 13, Friday


Sir, Give Us this Bread Always

John 6:22-35
On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
When they found [Jesus] on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in[to] me shall never thirst.”
What Prompts the Question?
The day before, the multitude had delightedly filled themselves with bread and fish. But hunger always returns. This day they seek Jesus in hopes of more food. They remind Jesus how in the days of Moses, God fed his people in the wilderness with manna, the miraculous food that came down from heaven and appeared on the ground every morning. They imply that if Jesus truly was the prophet Moses promised (Deuteronomy 18:15), then he would do similar signs. How about some more hearty heavenly bread? Jesus reminds them that it was his Father who gave manna, not Moses. He explains that the true food from heaven is not manna but the person especially sent to give everlasting life to the world. They do not yet understand that Jesus is speaking of himself. But they still want whatever he has for them. Speaking beyond what they knew, the crowd asks, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
The Question within the Question
We know the truth about ourselves. We seek God, especially at first, for what we want from him. We come to realize we need more in life than we can get on our own. We see others gain fulfillment from connecting with Jesus. We become hopeful, then, that we could get some of that blessing. Some sense of peace in this troubled world sounds good. A bit of intervention in our problems would be grand. Perhaps relief from guilt, some reconciliation in our relationships, or even some new relationships could make us feel better. Is this what you’re talking about, Jesus? Give us that kind of bread always. Make our lives work again. Yes, if truth be told, we want God more for what he can do for us than for a relationship of worshipful trust in which our lives revolve around loving him.
Jesus' Reply
Jesus answers with another emphatic “I, I am” statement. He himself is the bread of heaven that alone can fill the growling need in our depths: “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in[to] me shall never thirst.” As Newbigin explains, “Jesus is now ready to reveal the central mystery. He is in his own person, this man of flesh and blood, the presence of the one who alone gives life. . . . For all who come, without exception, he is the eternal satisfaction” (81).
Jesus himself is the one who has come down from heaven. There’s that loaded word again, katabaino, which means to descend. It’s used seven times in John 6! Jesus came down because his Father sent him, a word used five times in John 6. The repetition means he really wants us to know this. The Father sent the Son. For us. The Son came down. For us. The Father gave his Son people who would believe into him. The Son gathered such believers (and still does) to present them back to his Father ransomed, freed, restored, and forgiven. The whole story is a search and rescue mission from the Triune God down to us. Once found, we then get taken back into the life of God both now on earth and into eternity.
Newbigin ponders the paradox in this sending of the Son and calling of disciples:
The invitation is without limit in its generosity. But it is not coercive.
Jesus exposed their unbelief. They only wanted what would help present
life lived on their terms. The bread of life stood right before them yet
they did not move towards him in surrendered belief. How can this be?
They can come “only if the Father draws them and gives them to Jesus.
Only a secret work of God in the heart of a person can bring that person
to see in this humble, obedient man the sovereign Lord of all. (81)
More than we could ever want stood before us. But what he brought required our coming to him in loyalty, trust, and surrender. He became what we are so he could offer himself face to face, effectively saying: “I am your own Savior, sharing your humanity and sharing my divinity. Here I am. The Father has sent me. I have come down. Now come to me.”

Lord Jesus, I know that so much of me only wants you
For what you can do for me to help me live life my way.
But I know that all I want you to help me get is not enough.
A full belly, a healthy body, admiring smiles, ample money,
Secure boundaries, future security, harmonious relations—
All these are mighty blessings, but without you at the center
They are not enough. They become unstable. They fade and fail.
I know now that what I want, even when I don’t think so, is you.
I feel you drawing me.
I hear your call.
And I reply this moment.
I am your own. I am yours.
I press into you.
I propel toward you with heart and soul.
I swim in faith towards your outstretched arms.
Feed me with nothing less than yourself,
Bread of heaven and life of my life!
“Just as I am, without one plea,
O Lamb of God, I come to thee.”
Posted in: Lent

Day 12, Thursday


What Are They for So Many?

John 6:1-12
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus’ ministry as a healer drew large crowds even when he crossed to the more remote side of the Sea of Galilee. The Gospel only records a few of his many health-giving miracles. Tightly written, each account contains details that illuminate who Jesus is. In this passage, we read that it was the time of year near Passover or early spring. As ever, Jesus notices people. We saw back on Day 2 how Jesus turned to the disciples who had followed him. Here we see that Jesus lifted up his eyes and regarded the multitude making their way toward him. Mark’s account tells us how he felt Jesus “saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34).
Their neediness does not repulse Jesus. Rather, their illness, poverty, lostness, and yearning rouse him. Where I would have been overwhelmed by such an onslaught, Jesus sees an opportunity. And he wants his disciples to participate in the response. So he asks Phillip a question that could not be reasonably answered, “Where can we buy enough food for all these people?” Phillip is staggered when he realizes it would take over half a year’s wages just to give everyone a light meal. Andrew had taken a quick assessment and notes that one thoughtful boy had offered his own lunch: five loaves and two fish. Then he adds, “But what are they for so many?” How could such meager resources satisfy the hunger of even one person in the throng?
The Question within the Question
The stained-glass windows in the Dunham Chapel depict stories from Jesus’ life. One morning I was struck by the brilliant placement of the window that depicts this scene. A little boy sweetly offers his pair of fish and few little loaves to Jesus. That window is right next to the pulpit! How many Sundays have I thought before preaching, “There I am, Jesus. I’ve got even less than that boy offered. But a congregation waits to be fed from your Word. My resources won’t go very far. Please, multiply this meager offering.”
This, of course, is a metaphor for all our lives. What is the small drop of our contribution compared to the giant ocean of the world’s need? In the energy of youth, we may hope we can change the world. Through an invention. Or an insight. Or a program to lift up the poor and needy. Through making something beautiful or efficient or both. Through taking the gospel to difficult places. Through raising perfect children. Through sincere desire for the world to be otherwise.
But soon we hit the brick wall of reality hard: What are these for so many? As years go on, we learn how little control we have over anything. Even if we achieve a good measure of influence in the world, we discover that no amount of power can make people want to change, to leave defeating habits, and choose healthy ones. We can’t make people love us again. We can’t stop our children from sad mistakes. We can’t prevent accidents or make people see things the right way. What are these for so many can utterly defeat us
Jesus' Reply
The window in the Dunham Chapel shows Jesus with one outstretched hand receiving the fish and bread from the little boy. He looks gratefully at the lad for his contribution. Jesus’ other hand is lifted upwards, in a gesture of thanksgiving and intercession to his Father. Jesus himself is the go-between. He kindly takes the scrap of human offering and gives it in prayer to his Father. The Father responds by sending the Spirit through Jesus with power to multiply the little gift to feed the many. In fact, what Jesus receives and returns overflows the need in abundance.
This reveals a great secret to us. We cannot change the world. But Jesus has, does, and will. He wants us to participate in his world-transforming mission. But often Jesus uses us in ways very different from our expectations. What matters first is that I acknowledge to him my lack of influence and power. Then I offer what little I have in his service. Next, I thank him that he is the source of all love and goodness, that he is at work in the world he came to save, and that he desires my participation. Then I ask him to open my eyes to opportunities for giving that will arise throughout the day. Finally, as I review the day, I give thanks for what I saw him do, for his glory and the sake of his little ones.
Jesus is the multiplier. He set the pattern for us. Receive. Give thanks. Offer. Give love. Enjoy the surprise of how he works through us. Our participation in his care for his world could be through the daily routine or through an interruption. It could be through the work for which we are paid or the work which we offer freely. Through primary relationships or new ones. Through planning or spontaneously. It’s a world of wonders for those who enter this loop of thankful giving.

Would that I had five loaves and two fish for you!
Would that I had prepared even that much.
Oh Lord, I am so often too little and too late,
Too unaware, too tired, too ungrateful, too unexpectant.
But you graciously give a new day every morning.
Here at the start of this one, I give you thanks
For life, breath, nourishment, strength and hope.
I offer you what little I have.
All is from you and so I return it freely.
Would you make me part of your work today?
As I go to work, tend the house, finish chores,
Let it be for you.
Open my eyes to see where I can open my hands.
Open my heart to see where I can open my mouth
To encourage, cheer and care.
May I, when night comes, rejoice at what you have done.
Posted in: Lent

Day 11, Wednesday


Come Down before My Child Dies

John 4:46-54
So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus returns north from Samaria to the town of Cana in Galilee, the north country from which he hailed. Rome had installed Herod Antipas as ruler over this region. One of Herod’s royal officials has a child ill and near death. Hearing Jesus is back, this officer hurries to personally ask Jesus to come restore his son. At first, Jesus demurs. He speaks to this Roman using a plural “you” that included any in the crowd that was around. Jesus seems frustrated that people are more interested in miraculous assistance than in the Father whom he loved and served. He is saying, in other words, “You come to me for what you can get. You’re not here for what matters most, the connection to my Father.”
The desperate court official could not take that “no” for an answer. He pleads urgently. This is how I hear his words: “Sir, please come. This is not about me. It’s about the boy. I don’t know how other people feel about you or what their intentions are. I just know you can do this and there is no time to waste. Come down to Capernaum where I live. Please.”
The Question within the Question
The royal official’s plea contains the very essence of human yearning for God. In Isaiah 64:1, we read the yearning prayer of a people undergoing exile: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” We know there is a God in heaven. However, we on earth feel far from him. There is a barrier between us. These pairs never join harmoniously: flesh and spirit, unseen and seen, holy and soiled, God and humanity. We’re stuck in these skin suits, intuiting a God we long for but cannot see, hoping he (she? it? they?) turns out to be kind. We know we’re not good. We know we can’t overcome our fragility. We’re longing to be seen and known and loved. We’ve tried a thousand ways, but nothing fills that emptiness. Only God can do that, but we can’t find him. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down to where we are because we surely can’t get to where you are! Come, gather us to yourself. Heal us. Save us. Cleanse us.
Today’s story reminds us that we feel this separation most poignantly in the face of death. The worst kind of death is the death of a child. Not this one that grew in my womb. Not this one that I rocked in my arms. Not this one that inspired me no matter how tired I was to do the work that keeps our home together. This is the wrong order. Why not take me instead? It’s too soon. All that potential cut short. The hope of a young life bringing forth more life so that the world, so that we, can go on in those offspring. How can this happen? God, won’t you do something about it?
Jesus' Reply
Isaiah’s prayer goes on: “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. . . . Behold, please look, we are all your people” (Isaiah 64:8-9). We want to be seen and cared for, and, if possible, rescued from this chaotic mess, continuing grief, and lonely frailty.
Here we discover the best possible hope in the easily overlooked word choice of this passage. Twice, the official urges Jesus to “come down” to heal his son. Cana, where Jesus was, is about 15 miles west of Capernaum where the official lived. Cana is in the hill country of Galilee, so even traveling east could be a coming “down.”
Yet there is more than geography going on here. The word used here, katabaino, is loaded with layers of meaning. Literally, it means to go down or descend. It’s the same word used to describe how the Spirit came down from heaven upon Jesus at his baptism (John 1:32-33). This is the word Jesus used in giving his disciples a vision of traffic opening up between heaven and earth as angels ascend and descend on the Son (John 1:51). And Jesus told Nicodemus that no one has gone or could go up to heaven except the Son of Man who has come down from heaven. All these are ways of unpacking what it means that the eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God heard the prayer in Isaiah 64. He cracked through the barrier by coming down to us as a man. He came down to give his life in faithful obedience, all the way down into the death that would destroy death.
This exchange with the royal official offers a preview of where the story of Jesus would lead: “Your son will live.” At that moment, miles away, the boy is healed. Yes, he would, like the rest of us, have to die a natural death one day. But this miracle was a foretaste of our great hope: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed . . . and the dead will be raised imperishable” (I Corinthians 15:51-52). Christ has come down so that we might be raised up to be with him always.

My prayer is urgent,
Lord Jesus, come down before death strikes again.
The darkness falls so deep
When I am under a blanket of depression
And can barely my lift head, much raise hope.
The monster of cancer smothers the flame of life
In this season when I’ve been invaded from the inside out.
The burning, yearning promise of ecstasy
In a pill, a bottle, a screen, a swipe, or a trip is a siren call.
I tie but slip knots to the mast of resisting.
The snatching away of the words before they come,
The swirl of time, mixing up yesterday with today,
The beloved faces for which no name yet comes,
How dark is the road down which my right mind flies!
Knee catching on stair, step slowing even with lungs panting,
I can’t get my footing anymore, on the solid ground
Or in conversation, behind the wheel or
Just trying to explain. Where has my nerve gone?
Lord Jesus, come down before death strikes again.
Bring your cross and resurrection to bear
That we may know your everlasting arms
Are lifting us Father-ward today.
Posted in: Lent

Day 10, Tuesday


Rabbi, Eat!

John 4:27-41
Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that town believed in[to] him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus met the Samaritan woman’s deep relational thirst by engaging the depths of her brokenness with his truth-telling, grace-giving love. He knew her. Jesus saw right into her and even so conveyed that he loved her. Now, leaving her water jar by the well, she runs in joy back to the village. She excitedly tells the people she usually tried to avoid, “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did I ever did! Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). Of course, Jesus hadn’t enumerated every event of her entire life. But he had identified her core need, the thing that defined her. He bathed that wound with the soothing, living water of his grace. Now, it seems to her that her whole life has been redeemed. Overflowing with this new fountain within, this new disciple echoes Jesus’ first words in John, “Come see!”
While Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman, the disciples had been gathering food from the village. When they return, they are surprised to see Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman. They watch her run off excitedly and know that Jesus has gifted her with that same knowing, welcoming presence they had received. Knowing Jesus is weary from travel and this encounter, they urge him to eat some of what they brought. But Jesus is uninterested. He appears sustained from within, lit up from a source beyond this world.
Jesus' Reply
In the accounts of Jesus’ temptation, the devil asked him to turn stones into bread after his forty-day fast. Jesus quoted, “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). Scripture recognizes that we have an even deeper need than physical nourishment. Merely sustaining bodily existence does not make life worth living. David wrote, in a psalm Jesus would have known and prayed, “I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord, I have no good apart from you’” (Psalm 16:2). Though it may take us many years of false starts and even catastrophic wrong turns, we come to realize that life without connection to the living God always leaves us hungry. This psalm continues, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Jesus lived the truth of these Scriptures. More than assuaging even desperate bodily hunger, Jesus desired to stay in sync with his Father’s will. His intimate relationship of fellowship with his heavenly Father energized him. Carrying out the triune mission sustained him. In this scene, the one who is the very Word of God in the flesh pulls back the curtain to reveal the absolute harmony between the Father and the Son and the Spirit; “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
As Bishop Newbigin explains, “The woman’s empty pot stands as a silent witness against [the disciples’] misunderstanding of what it is that can finally satisfy. Jesus has only one overmastering hunger—a hunger only fully satisfied when he gave a great cry from the cross: “It is finished.” He who is the “bread of life” is he who came “not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (55).
Jesus goes on to explain how his mission is unfolding. Even though it is not yet accomplished, the results were already coming in. His death, resurrection, and ascension would complete his work, but the repercussions of that future glory were already being experienced. For the obedient, faithful life of Jesus is the essential component for the cross to be effective. Only a sinless Jesus could make sufficient atonement for our sins. Only a faithful human Jesus could be the new Adam whose resurrection secures our everlasting risen life with him.
Jesus pressed more and more into his mission to give his life away in simultaneous love for his Father and for us. This obedience created redeeming transformation wherever he went. In accordance with his own metaphor, Jesus sowed seeds of faithfulness through his ministry. The full harvest would follow his passion. But that future was already coming true. Seeds were turning into fruit as people believed into Jesus.
The testimony of the woman at the well brings out a crowd of Samaritans from the village. Here we encounter that word from the disciples’ first question: the Samaritans ask Jesus to stay with them. Over two days, this Jewish rabbi who is the eternal Word stays in a village of people his own people despised. The villagers share the good water of their well with him, and, in turn, Jesus gives them his living water. That a deep union with and belief in Jesus develops is unmistakable in the villagers’ astounding gospel declaration: “We know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).

Jesus, fountain of living waters,
Satisfy me in my parched soul
By enabling me to trust you.
Lead me to see that in your service
Is perfect freedom.
Satisfaction is not in having it all my way.
I was made to sync up with you.
Give me courage to trust the paradox:
When I surrender my will,
I lose only the slavery to sin
And my humanity blossoms.
When I die to self, I am not lost,
But find new life in you.
When there is more of you,
There is not less of the real me
Rather I come to know with the psalmist,
“In your presence is fullness of joy.
In your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Spring fresh in me today.
Posted in: Lent

Day 9, Monday


Sir, Give Me This Water

John 4:11-26
The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
What Prompts the Question?
The woman’s first reply to Jesus’ tantalizing offer of living water is very similar to how Nicodemus replied to the idea of being born anew. She takes Jesus’ words in the most literal way. On that level, living water is just water from a spring or flowing stream as opposed to stagnant water in a cistern. This stranger has no vessel from which to draw any water to offer her. Plus, a well like Jacob’s that had provided water for centuries was already a miraculous gift from God in an arid land. Does Jesus think he can do better?
Just as he did with Nicodemus, Jesus does not answer her surface questions or explain his words more simply. Instead, he pushes further into the spiritual reality. The living water he can give her would arise from an ever-flowing well to perpetually quench the deepest thirst. The source is Jesus himself. Jesus can, by his Spirit, give himself to everyone joined to him by faith.
As Jesus pushes her towards the eternal, the woman still does not grasp his whole meaning. Yet, she responds by doing what Nicodemus did not do. She asks for the living water! Though her faith was built on partial knowledge, still she shows trust in this mysterious, engaging stranger. She longs for what he offers if only to be free from the daily necessity of having to carry a heavy jar through the noonday heat.
Jesus' Reply
Jesus seizes this flicker of faith as an opportunity to go to the heart of her true need. He asks her to get her husband. Speaking with the head of the family about the location of this amazing well would be socially appropriate. But Jesus already knows what she readily admits, “I have no husband.” Then he dares to say to her face what everyone in the village says with scowls and whispers behind her back, effectively, “You’ve had and lost five husbands. The man you live with now is not your husband. That’s why you’re at a well in the scorching noon. There is relational brokenness at the center of your life. You’re perceived as poisonous to family stability and community health. You bring endings and disorder.” Jesus implies he knows all of that in describing the circumstance of her life. But he says it without walking away, mocking, or condemning. He just says it and then leaves space for her reply. Jesus stays engaged and unafraid of the shame and taint he knows she bears.
Her Next Question
In reply, the woman makes a statement about a theological difference between Samaritans and Jews. It may appear to us that she is merely deflecting away from her personal life to an age-old discussion about which historically important mountain was God’s preferred place for worship. But what if this is actually an urgent personal concern? With the topic of her disgrace brought up, perhaps she really wants to know where the true God could be most faithfully met. Maybe she is saying, “I need to know because I need a real atonement. I want to be cleansed of my sin and healed of my brokenness. I want to be restored to life by the truth. You seem to be the true Prophet, so point me, please, to the true God who can help me.”
Jesus' Next Reply
It is in this conversation that Jesus makes the first of his stunning “I Am” statements. The Samaritan woman expresses her faith that a coming Messiah would teach his people the full truth about God. And Jesus unveils himself before her: “I who speak to you am he.” Or, more literally, “I, I am, the one speaking to you.” Ears trained to read Exodus 3 as a foundational Scripture for both Jews and Samaritans would have made the connection immediately: “‘I AM WHO I AM. . . . This is my name forever” (Exodus 3:14-15). She would have recalled that living water came from the I LORD AM who caused it to flow abundantly from the rock in the wilderness (Exodus 3:11). Jewish readers would have remembered that the LORD told his people that he is “the fountain of living waters” (Jeremiah 2:13). He promised a future in which water flowing from the Temple would renew the earth (Ezekiel 47:1-12). And in his promises of restoring the people through his everlasting covenant, God calls to “everyone who thirsts” to come to him to drink (Isaiah 55:1).
All these living water descriptions converge in the person of Jesus. He is the source of life, the everlasting living water that alone satisfies the purpose and need at the heart of humanity. Drinking him is believing into him, pressing into him in faith, and asking for the living water he gives as he gives us his own Spirit to dwell within.

If you spoke one sentence that penetrated
Straight to the heart of my life, Jesus,
What would it be? Would you ask,
“Describe what proves you’re genuinely a good person.” Or,
“Demonstrate that you deserve to be where you are.” Or,
“What makes you think you truly love anyone?” Or,
“Tell me why anyone should stay with you.” Or,
“What’s the hardest thing to keep hidden?” Or,
“Fill in the blank: I worry I am not ________enough.” Or,
“Which idols, which substitutes for loving me
Disappoint you most often—Success? Beauty?
Wealth? Position? Comfort? Sex? Sports?
Acquisition? Perfection? Admiration?”
Lord, I don’t like any of those questions!
But some of them make me ache,
Just to know I am not alone in how they haunt me.
Just to imagine you’d be willing to listen
To the fear and regret and neediness.
If you could put your finger on my need,
Could you also bring cool, refreshing living water?
Could you quench the thirst I’ve felt all my life?
Send your Spirit of truth flowing into me
And I will drink deep in faith,
Welcoming his cleansing flood.
Posted in: Lent

Day 8, Sunday

Chris Cook. Woman at the Well. 21st c. American.


From last week’s artwork to this week’s, we travel ahead five centuries. Yet
even though these artists are half a millennium apart, they both grasp the
eternal meaning in these historical episodes from Jesus’ ministry. Truly the gospel conversations still draw us in. Jesus speaks to us through these accounts as intimately as he spoke to the original person. They pulse with life.
In this contemporary painting by Chris Cook, we feel the joyous freedom of the woman who has been talking with Jesus by Jacob’s well. She came there alone at high noon, the heat of the day, to escape the shame she always felt when encountering others. Now, as the sun sets, she runs back to the town. She wants to find the people she usually avoids to tell them the news about a man who saw her, knew her, and granted her forgiveness and new life. She has left her water jar behind. The living water of Christ is in her, and well water, so essential in the desert, is now abandoned.
This week we will listen in on conversations Jesus has in which he reveals himself to be the essence of what human beings require: living water, heavenly bread, and life that conquers death. All this is within his own person. He asks his conversation partners to believe into him. To drink him in faith. To eat him, that is to take him in as they would bread, letting all his
nourishment course through them. He offers his own blood as the lifeblood for every person.
His words are striking. In fact, they are so graphic as to be incomprehensible to many and offensive to others. How could a man be so essential to the very survival and flourishing of every person? How could a good Jew speak in terms that sounded like cannibalism? How could a worshiper of the one LORD talk in such terms about himself? Read on with a daring heart, for
Jesus will take us deep into the mystery of who he is.


How Is It That You Ask for a Drink from Me?

John 4:3-10
[Jesus] left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
What Prompts the Question?
Fetching water was usually women’s work. Women came together in the cool of the early morning or late in the day to draw water for the family from precious wells in an otherwise desert land. Yet here at high noon, Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well outside of Sychar a town in Samaria. Oddly, a lone woman with a water jar has also come in the heat of the day. Though men did not speak to women in public, a thirsty Jesus requests a drink.
The woman’s reply is feisty. She notes the reversal of the usual power dynamics. A Jew would have no dealings with a Samaritan. They considered Samaritans to be half-breeds both ethnically and religiously. And while men normally ran economic affairs, here was a man who required her assistance. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” she asks. She recognizes, perhaps enjoys, the irony of his need. Yet perhaps she is also intrigued that Jesus requests more than demands this water. Her reply challenges Jesus but also invites the conversation to continue: “Tell me some more about why you crossed the social boundaries to interact with me.”
The Question within the Question
Here was a woman who avoided routine social interaction with good reason. We will learn later in the passage that she bore considerable disgrace for her history of five previous husbands and a current unmarried living arrangement with a man not her husband. The story offers us no explanation for how all this happened, whether by tragedy, immorality, or a combination. Whatever the cause, this woman was socially tainted. Snakebit. Unlucky in love. A black widow. A homewrecker. Trouble. Not a good example for the children. Someone to stay away from lest you also be tainted. In a small-town setting, there was no escape from stigma. Everyone knew her and avoided dealings with her.
On this day, though, a man speaks to her directly without any hint that he has already judged her. Like so many men, he wants something from her, but he doesn’t just take or demand. He requests. He looks at her as she spoke. This Jewish man treats her as a person. He is interested in talking with her.
Perhaps she wondered whether she could trust him. Was this a trap? A setup for more disgrace? Yet hope had not died completely in her. It had been so long since someone wanted to talk with her without contempt hanging over every word. So why had this man seemingly shamed himself by breaking taboos?
We may well know this odd combination of attraction and hesitancy regarding Jesus. We can’t believe he sees anything except what has shamed us. We figure he won’t talk to us about anything while we are currently in 48 this disgraceful situation. We can’t believe our lives are anything more than what has ruined us. How could Jesus arrive in our lives before anything had changed? Why would he seem to want something from us, to treat us as if we had value to him beyond the black marks on our record?
Jesus’ Reply
Jesus is not put off by the woman’s pointing out how he has crossed social and religious boundaries. Rather, he presses further into unknown territory. He raises the possibility that he might be more than a weary Jewish man thirsty enough in the heat to ask her for a drink. Perhaps it isn’t too late for her to receive “the gift of God” right within her reach.
This is such a compelling phrase! Basically, Jesus is saying, “God has something for you. My Father’s interest is for your good. He doesn’t want to use you as so many have. He wants to give you life. To quench your thirst to be loved for who you are more than for what you have done or had done to you. If you could see who is standing before you and realize his intentions, you would ask him for what you long for most.”
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to carry all the negative energy of the village or the family any longer. You don’t have to be the example of what not to be. You don’t have to hide in broad daylight anymore. There is a gift from God that I can give to you. I, the man who asks you for a drink of water from this well, can give you living water, the eternal Holy Spirit that quenches the deepest soul thirst. This living water satisfies continually, and it can be yours if you just ask.
How is it that you, the King,
Walk in the lonely place and speak to me?
How is it that you, the Creator of all,
Desires something I could give to you?
How is it that you, the Holy One,
Do not get tainted by claiming me as your own?
How is it that you, the all-knowing God,
Ask to know me with such respect and regard?
How can I perceive these extraordinary truths?
I want to know that you are the Giver of all good gifts.
Like a young child waking on a birthday,
I’m so eager to see what is this Gift of God you offer.
Yes, Lord Jesus, if I may, I do ask.
Talk to me in the dailiness of life.
Arrive amidst the never-ending chores.
Be with me in the dishes and the debt.
Show up in all the sticky relationships.
Walk with me in the dreariness and
The brightness of every day.
Elevate it all with eternal light.
Posted in: Lent

Day 7, Saturday


How Can These Things Be?

John 3:9-21
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in[to] him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in[to] him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in[to] the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
What Prompts the Question?
All Nicodemus had to do was ask for the mysterious Spirit to birth him anew. But he just could not take it all in. The cost was so high! Everything he had built his life upon seemed to be sinking. He had dedicated his life to preserving the faith of his people. He had done everything he could to keep them faithful to the LORD. Now he heard that it was all totally beyond his power. We may well relate to Nicodemus with feelings like these:
• I’ve always tried to do the right thing and now I hear it can never be enough.
• I’ve been told that spirituality arises from personal and private beliefs. People have their own ideas about God. We pursue our beliefs as we see fit. Now I hear that God is this way and not another way. It’s not up to me.
• I thought I was the choice-maker. Isn’t my life my own and my purpose to fulfill my dreams? Don’t I have the power to make decisions and even to create my own meaning? Now I am startled to hear that I am not in control and never was. I cannot make life work out for me on my own. How can these things be?
Jesus' Response
The young Jesus puts the venerable Nicodemus in his place. I hear him saying, “No theologian can go up to heaven and wrestle down exclusive knowledge of God. We only know about God what he makes known about himself. And he has sent his Son into the world to show you, in the flesh, who God is and what his plans are for you. The truth is nothing other than what the Scriptures reveal. But you just haven’t fully understood the Scriptures. You haven’t put all the clues together. But that’s why I’m here.”
Jesus then recalls for Nicodemus the strange story from Numbers 21. Vipers were biting the complaining Israelites as they passed through the desert. The LORD directed Moses to lift up on a pole a bronze image of a serpent, the very thing that was killing the people. Those who looked upon the image of the death-dealing snake were healed from the venomous bites. How they must have puzzled over the meaning of that scene for centuries!
Jesus next connects that story to himself. The Son of Man would be lifted up on the death-dealing cross. (We will encounter this increasingly important phrasing again on Day 19 and Day 31). But those who looked upon his death in faith would enter eternal life. In effect, Jesus says, “Everyone believing into him” would obtain life. This is not a passive assent of faith, as if to say, “Well, that’s fine with me if it’s so. Whatever you say is okay.” This is an ongoing, dynamic faith that moves ever deeper into Jesus. It means steadfastly seeking life in the one who would die in disgraceful defeat. The unexpected result would be participation in Christ’s surprising resurrection. And even more, that everlasting life can begin now as the Spirit enters our hearts and remains with us forever.
The famous John 3:16 passage that follows may be part of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, or it may be part of the Gospel’s commentary on his encounter. Either way, we’re taken straight to the heart of God. God loved the world in this way. He gave his unique Son Jesus to a broken and rebellious world. Just because he loves us.
Here is a seeming paradox. God’s love is both exclusive and inclusive. Jesus represents both the uniqueness and the universality of God’s love. The Father did what we could never expect, demand, or coerce—he chose to love us first. He stepped across the divide and gave us the Son in the flesh. That’s a unique revelation. God has chosen to save us this way and no other. All other spiritual wisdom pales in comparison to this astounding revelation. At the very same time, the Triune God did this for the world. The plan was not to further condemn the world but to save all its rebellious people. As Paul tells us, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s love is exclusively in Christ Jesus, the unique, once-and-for-all revelation. God’s love is extravagantly universal, offered to the whole world.
This paradox gets worked out in another pair of seeming opposites we have to hold together. Such salvation is God’s work, prompted by nothing we could say or do, only by his initiating love. His Spirit alone can open our eyes to see the truth of Christ. But at the very same time, we are summoned to believe into Jesus. We have a choice. We faith into Jesus. Or not. And many, many did not. The light shined in their darkness, and they turned away because they preferred the dark. As Newbigin writes, “The purpose of his coming is to bring life, not death. Yet the gift of life must be accepted and can be refused” (43).

I love the darkness
Because it whispers my thoughts are private.
No one need know
The revenge I plot, the resentments I nurse,
The lusts I entertain, the greed I fuel,
The sovereignty I celebrate, the adulation I imagine,
The pleasures I plan, the judgments I pronounce, or
The inordinate amount of time I spend
Designing my comfort and diversion.
I resist a light that would illuminate
Those cherished shadows.
I guard my dark fortress fiercely.
For what would happen to me if these
Were known? Or worse, swept away?
Yet inside my head and heart
All these thoughts foment disorde
And ferment a warring chaos.
They leave me isolated, hungry, impoverished.
Distantly, I see your light shining.
It’s on a far horizon of my night.
Could I steal away from me,
Just get out of the town of self
And run toward you Lord Jesus?
I’d arrive penniless and sick,
Naked except for this coat of shame,
And see if this light incinerates me
Or shines me into life and love anew.
Posted in: Lent

Day 6, Friday


How Can a Man Be Born When He Is Old?

John 3:1-8
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
What Prompts the Question?
After Jesus dramatically cleared the temple, Jewish leadership buzzed with concern. This young rabbi from the north seemed threatening to sacred traditions. But Jesus also awakened hope that the LORD was doing something new for his languishing people. Could Jesus be the Messiah?
One leader sought out Jesus under cover of darkness to make some inquiries. Nicodemus was both “old guard” (a well-to-do member of the ruling class) and “new guard” (part of the contemporary holiness movement of the Pharisees). He had a lively faith with ancient roots.
Sir, we wish to see Jesus! (John 12:21) Nicodemus opens by acknowledging Jesus’ prowess as a teacher who backed his words with amazing signs only God’s power could accomplish. But before Nicodemus can go further, Jesus answers his compliment with a baffling challenge: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The word translated as “again” can just as well mean “from above” or even “anew.” It’s a multi-layered word that could be quite common or deeply spiritual depending on context. In this conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus opens up the possibility of a higher plane, but he doesn’t indicate which definition of this ambiguous word he is using. Nicodemus takes Jesus on the most literal level, and to Nicodemus Jesus’ declaration sounds ridiculous. Essentially he’s asking, “Can an old man really climb back into his mother’s womb for a second birth? Is such an impossibility really what you’re talking about?”
The Question within the Question
Israel longed to see the kingdom of God come in power and glory. The people ached to be free of Roman rule. They despised being ridiculed for their belief that the LORD was the one true God. Their constant prayer was for the LORD to show up and reign perceptibly with justice in the world he had made. Pharisees like Nicodemus strove to live out a holiness that would inspire God to come and reclaim his people. But Jesus seems to be saying that something bizarre and impossible has to happen to a person to be able to see God in action.
Nicodemus’ categories of understanding God and the world are being blown apart. As readers, we know the glorious impossible had already occurred: the Word had become flesh in Jesus. He was a new kind of humanity. Conceived by the Holy Spirit. Anointed by the same Spirit to live a sinless life of compassion and truth, ever in intimate communion with his heavenly Father. This Jesus was way more than a rabbi from Nazareth. Heaven had come to earth in Jesus, and Jesus wants Nicodemus to get in on it. But it just makes no sense to the older man.
I understand Nicodemus’ frustration. Why do I have to change my whole way of thinking? Can’t I just have the benefits of God while keeping things essentially the way they are? I’d like the world as it is to work a bit better for me, and I’m happy for God to help me get there. As embarrassing as it is to say, I do want my best life now. Couldn’t we do that together Jesus? I’ll be a big fan, and you can do great stuff for me and mine. I’ve worked so hard and come so far. Why do you tell me I need to start over? I only have one life. Even if I gave up everything, I’d still be me. What you’re saying just won’t work.
Jesus' Reply
This encounter reminds us of when Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all he had. The man goes away dejected because he had such a stake in all his possession and positions. The disciples are baffled. If this guy who was young, rich, handsome, and powerful didn’t have life going right, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus answers them, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:26-27).
We can’t work our way up to God. On the flat playing board of this world, even if we gain the power to move all the pieces, we will never see the real game. We cannot on our own come to realize the deeper reality of the Triune God who is working all things according to his purposes. All our research and reasoning, service and sacrifice, achieving and acquiring won’t get us there. God has to come down to us. His Spirit has to shine a light within us, or we remain in the dark. And the Spirit, like the wind, is not within our control. The wind blows where it will. We see the effects of the breeze, but not the breeze itself.
The transformation we require comes as a gift, not a reward. The Spirit remains sovereign, and we are recipients. We cannot cajole him, leverage him, or manipulate him. We can’t even make ourselves holy enough by great effort to be wholly appealing to him. We require a triune work! The Spirit has to shine in us for us to see the glory of God the Father shining in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The next right step would have been for Nicodemus to ask for the Spirit to blow through him, to make him new, to bring him to new life. We do not control the Spirit’s reply. And he may well ask us for everything, completely remaking our lives. But we have this confidence: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).

I know there is more than what I see.
I must be made for more
Than the rush and press of this feverish world.
But I fear the cry of faith that might lead me
To get up and leave what is familiar
For a new life of seeing and serving you.
I long for a full make-over
But I also hate change!
Why must I take a step into the dark
By faith before you shine a light on the path?
Yet I cannot stay where I am any longer.
Come Holy Spirit!
Arrive in my heart.
Make me new. Birth me from above.
Let me see the kingdom of God
In which Jesus is brother, Savior, and Lord
And I am a child of the Father
Sent in your power to serve.
Posted in: Lent

Day 5, Thursday


What Sign Do You Give Us?

John 2:13-25
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 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.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 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.
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in[to] 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.
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus joined the thousands of faithful Jews who made their way to Jerusalem for the annual celebration of Passover. The sacred holiday commemorated the LORD saving his people from slavery in Egypt. God spared his people the final plague, commanding the angel of death to pass over the homes of the Israelites who had placed the blood of a lamb on their door. Then he led his people to pass through the parted waters of the Red Sea into freedom.
The temple in Jerusalem was at the center of Hebrew faith. The LORD whom even the highest heaven cannot contain, graciously promised that his name, his special presence, would reside in the temple (2 Chronicles 6:1-20). There the people would go to give thanks and make their petitions. At the temple, sacrifices would be offered, in particular on the Day of Atonement when the priest brought the blood to the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. The temple thus meant presence, blessing, reconciliation, and hope. It was the meeting place between God and humanity.
But as so often happens, daily business overshadowed the deeper, more enduring purpose. The buying and selling of animals for sacrifices eclipsed the actual worship. The currency exchange for the pilgrims dampened the joy of the reconciling exchange of God’s forgiveness for our sins. The wrong kind of trading dominated. The whole elaborate system blocked the intimacy with God which was the heartbeat of Jesus’ life. Passion for his Father and passion for his people to know his Father coursed through him.
John tells the story in two brief verses, but Jesus’ actions must have taken many minutes. He does not act impulsively but deliberately. He makes a whip from some cords. Jesus drives out both the merchants and all their animals. He grabs the coins of the money changers and scatters them. He overthrows their tables. Think of how witnesses might have described Jesus: loud, disruptive, frightening, strong, intimidating, authoritative. No one stopped him! Where were the guards? How powerful his presence must have been to carry this out. We see why his disciples thought of Psalm 69:9 which says, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Jesus interrupts both legitimate commerce and vital spiritual rites. Then, he won’t leave. He waits while the authorities finally find their voice. Still frightened, they don’t dare arrest him. But in essence, they demand, “What sign proves you had the right to perpetrate this outrage? Explain yourself for this attack on our religion!”
Jesus' Reply
Unintimidated, Jesus flummoxes them further: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” This seems to confirm his madness. Herod’s magnificent rebuilding of the temple had already been over four decades in construction. What kind of lunatic would want it destroyed, let alone claim it could be raised again in three days?
The Gospel tells us the meaning everyone missed in the moment. John explains, “He was speaking about the temple of his body.” Jesus had opened a new temple and declared the old one obsolete. The significance of this cannot be overstated. Jesus had himself become the temple. The unique presence of God in the world was no longer at the Jerusalem temple. The Word became flesh. God dwelt with humanity in Jesus, the eternal Son of God who came to us as a man. Jesus himself would become the reconciling sacrifice. John the Baptist previews this for us when he says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus was now the Passover lamb whose blood turned away wrath and death. The offering of Jesus’ body on the cross would atone for all sins. So Paul would say, “God made him who knew no sin to become sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In effect, Jesus says, “I am the temple now! Meet God in me. Find forgiveness in me. For even after I am killed, I will rise on the third day. Then my temple will expand as more and more people become joined to me and fitted as living stones in my house of worship.” His life and ministry meant the dismantling of the entire system of temple sacrifice. The true temple was here. The entire relationship between God and his people was now centered on Jesus

I have my system, Lord Jesus.
The way I make myself feel okay about my life.
Boxes I check, work I accomplish, degrees I earn,
Services I render, resumes I write,
Stories of worth I tell myself at night.
The whole world runs this way, assuring me
That I can justify my existence if I just keep up
With what is expected, do what good people do
At any given time.
I have run until I am spent, and it didn’t work.
I can’t calm the restlessness,
Silence the nagging voice of guilt
Or even believe the stories I spin.
What a relief to learn that you have come
To dismantle the whole business!
You cleanse the temple.
You evacuate the old measures and mechanisms
That dominate me every minute.
You fill me with your Spirit.
You are the meeting place between God and humanity.
You are the atoning sacrifice
That makes me right with your Father again.
You are God reconciling the world to yourself.
Oh meet me afresh in this moment.
Turn over, blow away, knock down
Whatever I rely on that is not you.
Be the temple where I worship today.
Posted in: Lent

Day 4, Wednesday


They Have No Wine

John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in[to] him. 
What Prompts the Question?
At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus previews the finale, the wedding of Christ to his bride the church and the joining of the Lamb to his people. His hour had begun.
Jesus, his family, and disciples were invited to a wedding about nine miles from Nazareth in the village of Cana. In this culture, wedding celebrations lasted several days. Everyone came, and the host was expected to make sure food and drink were abundant the entire time. However, Mary the mother of Jesus notices that the wine was running perilously low. We don’t know her exact relationship to the bride’s family, but it was close enough that she takes responsibility to avert this social disgrace. So she approaches her son. Mary does not make a direct request. She simply states the fact, “They have no wine.”
The Question within the Question
Scripture associates wine with the celebration of God’s blessings. In God’s grace, the union of a man and woman brings forth the fruit of the womb. By his providence, the land yields a bountiful harvest of grapes from which wine is made. The people bless the LORD of marriage, children, and harvest as they raise their glasses.
But in Jesus’ day, the Romans occupied Israel. Under Roman rule, the people of Israel languished under exorbitant taxes. Their harvests were not their own. Political freedom vanished under the emperor’s sword. The pagan Romans ridiculed the Israelites’ faith in the LORD. Mary’s statement sums up these oppressive conditions: “They have no wine.” They have no reason to celebrate.
A deeper look reveals that this is an apt metaphor for the universal human condition following the fall. We toil in sweat, thorn, and frustration to make a living. Discord breaks families. Scoffers steal joy. Rulers squeeze. Thieves deceive and plunder. Illness debilitates. Death steals every life. They have no wine. What, after all, is there to toast?
Yet Sabbath by Sabbath, the LORD’s people read the ancient Scriptures and clung to the hope that the God who seemed to have cast them off would marry them again and make their lives flourish as intended. Hosea prophesied this union: “And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD” (Hosea 2:19-20).
Isaiah foresaw a mountaintop wedding banquet:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him,
that he might save us.
This is the LORD; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9)
These ancient longings underlie Mary’s calling attention to this critical need. Jesus, they have no wine. Isn’t this the time to begin regathering your people with the glad wine of God’s tender mercy? With the news that the Creator has betrothed his people?
Jesus' Reply
At first glance, Jesus’ response to Mary seems rude, but scholars assure us that word “woman” was akin to saying “Ma’am.” And the idiom he uses was more like saying, “I’m not sure I can do anything about this now.” He knew that meeting the need Mary identified would begin the public portion of his redeeming ministry. He had to consider the timing and the method. With faithful confidence, she deftly responds by saying in his hearing to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Jesus does not disappoint. The six huge stone jars in the house could each hold twenty to thirty gallons of water used for the ritual washing required for holiness before the LORD. Jesus orders them to be filled to the brim. The water becomes wine, and the party goes on. Of course, now there is no more water for purification. That old system had been replaced. The true bridegroom of his people had arrived. He had begun the washing of his bride that would ultimately be done by his cleansing blood.
As Paul would write, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). The days of celebrating redeeming love had begun.
Jesus, our radiant husband!
Master of the feast of life,
Provider of the bountiful banquet,
I bless you for restoring joy.
And I long for the day when what you began
Is fully consummated in a renewed world.
I join my heart and voice to the song
Your servant heard in the heavenlies,
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice
Of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and
Like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure.”
Indeed, this day, Jesus, I get dressed
In the righteousness you purchased for your bride, the church.
I would adorn myself for you
With the jewels that are the fruit of the Spirit,
The very Spirit you gave me as a pledge,
As my eternal engagement ring.
Posted in: Lent

Day 3, Tuesday


How Do You Know Me?

John 1:43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
What Prompts the Question?
Jesus calls Phillip to follow him, and Phillip seems to believe instantly. Clearly, he has been yearning for the Messiah. Immediately, Philip goes to his friend and fellow seeker Nathanael with the news. At first, Nathanael balks over Jesus’ hailing from Nazareth, a little village that was a relatively new settlement and therefore not mentioned in the Scriptures. Nathanael’s skepticism is understandable since it seems unlikely that the promised Christ would come out of such an insignificant place. Nathanael is rightly dubious, but he is also intrigued. Philip imitates his new rabbi Jesus by Sir, we wish to see Jesus! (John 12:21) 25 saying, “Come and see,” and Nathanael begins his quest to see Jesus and discover who he was.
Meanwhile, Jesus keeps an eye out for Nathanael. When he sees him coming, Jesus declares, “Look, here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Jesus identifies him as an earnest seeker knowing that Nathanael’s skepticism was not a cover for a hardened heart and that he longed to see God arrive to deliver his people. But Nathanael wonders how Jesus could have already perceived this: “How do you know me?”
The Question within the Question
We long to be seen and truly known for who we are. We feel most valued when someone “gets” us. Of course, we know our motives are never entirely pure. We’re often ashamed that we don’t live out of our best values. But those failures are not all there is to us. We long for God even when we have run or rebelled. We want the good even when we seek it in the wrong places. We feel like we were made to do something, to express something, to serve something that makes our lives more than about our basest needs. We want to give our lives to something significant.
When someone sees us this way, identifying and affirming that core longing, we feel like we’re coming alive. This happens at every stage of life. When we are young, great teachers see beneath our adolescent struggles and recognize and foster our more mature qualities. These mentors remain beloved by us all our lives. In our working days, good leaders call forth the potential they see in us making it a joy to labor with and for them. In our elder years, we feel so valued when others see beneath our failing skin suit and call forth the passion, interest, and curiosity we’ve had all along. Throughout our lives, to be seen and known is to glow with value.
But such love remains a mystery. How do you know me? How can you see beneath the demands of my relationships, the shackles of my obligations, and the projections of my position? How did you find those long-buried desires? Why didn’t you overlook me like so many? How did you make me feel hope again? 26 Nathanael’s question overflows with wonder. He’s ready to give his life to someone who knows him and values him.
Jesus' Reply
“I saw you under the fig tree” sounds like an enigmatic answer. Before this encounter, Jesus noticed Nathanael from a distance. But they didn’t talk. Clearly, Jesus knew Nathanael beyond mere appearances. Was it intuition based on a few external clues? Was it Holy Spirit insight, a discernment granted to him in the same way healing power would flow through him? The Gospel will tell us later that Jesus “knew people, and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). The Word, through whom each and every person was made, knows every one of his creations intimately.
Nathanael seems to realize he has come face to face with his Creator. Far from perishing because of this encounter with holiness, he comes awake and comes alive. A skeptic just hours earlier, Nathanael advances our understanding of who Jesus is when he declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus accepts his praise, but adds, in essence, “I’m just getting started! You’re going to see the ancient barrier between heaven and earth removed. Traffic will flow joyfully and freely again between God and man. It will all run through me, the Son of God and Man!”

Lord Jesus, you see me and you know me!
You call me to life by your regard.
You awaken my unique call to serve you
And so find my very joy and purpose.
How astounded Nathanael must have been
To realize he was living face to face
The words of David’s Psalm!
With Nathanael and David, I say to you, Jesus,
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You search out my path and my lying down
And are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. . . .
For you formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. . . .
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I awake, and I am still with you.”
Your joy in my being
Reveals how you are the joy of all my desiring.
I want the one who wants me.
I crave to know the one who knows me.
Yes, Jesus, with Nathanael I believe.
Show me wondrous things today.
Posted in: Lent

Day 2, Monday


Where Are You Staying?

John 1:35-39
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
What Prompts the Question?
The Prologue tells us that John the Baptist came to bear witness to the light (John 1:8). John’s task had two parts. First, he had to prepare the people for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, the one anointed by God’s Spirit to be the King and Savior of Israel and the world. The people came to John to confess their sins and amend their ways. As the seal of their cleansing and repentance, John baptized them in the River Jordan.
Second, John kept his eyes open for a unique sign that the Christ had arrived. The Holy Spirit would descend like a dove and remain on the man who was the Son of God (John 1:32-34). After he had baptized Jesus, John knew that Jesus was the long-expected one. John did not hesitate to point out Jesus to his own disciples: “Behold the Lamb of God!”
To two of the men who had been with John, Jesus is the fulfillment of their deepest hopes, and they immediately follow behind Jesus. Sensing their presence, Jesus stops and turns to them. His question prompts their question of him. Jesus asks them, “What are you seeking?” He wants them to declare themselves. They answer with their own question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” In other words, “We’re going where you’re going, so can you tell us where that is?” John tells us it was near the end of the day, so, on the obvious level, these men are asking where Jesus would be bunking down.
The Question within the Question
However, as readers, we feel immediately that something more is going on in this conversation. Jesus “turned and saw them.” We all want to be seen, to have another confer worth upon us by looking at us and accepting us as we are. This is the deep human desire—to be regarded by our Creator and blessed by him. On a personal level, this turning of God’s attention toward us saves us from loneliness and isolation and can see us through trouble. As David prayed: 
Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love. (Psalm 6:4)
David’s prayer also expresses the desire of all of God’s people throughout their history:
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock that your right hand planted. . . . (Psalm 80:14-15)
And this longing for God to turn to us demands a turning inside us, from self-focus to God:  
Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:7)
Jesus fulfills our ancient longing as he turns toward those who were drawn to him. Next they ask Jesus where he is staying, they use the word meno, a word that has layers of meaning. Meno can simply mean “to remain.” It’s used to speak of where someone lives. But on a deeper level, meno can also mean to live connected to someone. We stay spiritually united to someone, even living from the love and strength of another. 
We will encounter this word again in John 15 when Jesus tells his disciples to abide in him the way a branch stays connected to the trunk so it can bear fruit. Jesus and his new followers are bonding. Living joined to the Word who became joined to us turns out to be the ultimate goal of human life! As Bible scholar Lesslie Newbigin tells us, “We shall learn as we go on that the goal of all human seeking is that place where Jesus abides in the Father and the disciples abide in him” (9-20).
Jesus' Reply
They call him Teacher, and Jesus’ first lesson is to answer their question with a direct invitation: “Come and you will see.” In essence, “Walk with me now and as we go on, you will arrive where I am staying.” John writes, “So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour” (John 1:39). 
The juxtaposition of this little scene with the magnificent Prologue jars us. Before there was anything, there was the Word. Nothing that exists came into being except through the Word. That’s how eternal and immense the Word is. Now the Word is here in the flesh, and he walks on two feet like the rest of us. The God beyond time takes time to get someplace. He makes camp. He’s got a tent. A bedroll. A cook fire. A place he makes his toilet. 
We’ve gone in one chapter from eternity before time to “it was about four in the afternoon!” That’s how close God draws to us in Jesus. That’s how God blesses all the little moments of ordinary life that comprise our day. I’m here. Come along with me. See where I stay. It’s with you. In every minute and every task. See me here with you.
“Come and you will see” is an invitation that will draw Jesus’ disciples for the rest of their lives. And it’s a continuing invitation to each one of us. Move out from yourself. Go along with Jesus. Take the time. Make camp with him. Watch. See if he is the goal of your most spiritual quest.

Jesus, you came to us!
Seeing us, you did not turn away.
You beckoned us to go along with you.
You love the details of this world!
You love us, you love me.
Your presence awakes my desire for you.
I do not want to stay stuck in myself.
I do not want, in my heart of hearts,
To be my own goal and purpose.
For all my desire to be my own god,
To declare “I am and there is no other,”
I know now that is the way of death,
A drowning in a stale pool of self.
I seek you. Because you draw me.
You arrived in our midst
And regarded us. You turned toward us,
You invited us.
I don’t have to be alone anymore!
I can stay with you and live in you.
I can live from you and for you.
I don’t have to be undone by sin anymore.
You are the Lamb of God who takes away
The sin of the world.
Keep calling me this day!
I want to see where you are at work,
Where you are showing up.
I want to be part of what you are doing
So that I can walk the way of life.
Posted in: Lent

Day 1, Sunday

Quentin Matsys. Christ Driving the Money Changers from Temple. 1520s, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.


I invite you to take a few minutes to contemplate this vivid painting by the Belgian painter Quentin Matsys. Matsys depicts the episode we will read this week from John 2 in which Jesus clears the Jerusalem temple of all commerce. 
This painting is alive with movement. We feel the strength, passion, and virility of Jesus. The merchants and money changers wilt before him. They’re scattering in every direction. One tries to get away with a sack of coins. Another grabs a lamb on the way out. In the foreground, the trader on his back by an overturned table shields his head from a potential strike by this powerful man with a whip. The religious leaders in the upper left corner discuss this outrageous interruption.
Jesus is lit up with zeal for his Father’s house. This encapsulates his passion for his mission to bring his people back into harmony with his Father. No matter what it costs him, Jesus will not shrink from telling the truth. He, as the light of the world, came to challenge and dispel the darkness. His presence in the temple meant radical change. The old way of doing things would be upended. The true temple where God and humanity meet had arrived in our midst. And, as is always the case in his encounters with people, Jesus leaves no one indifferent.
This scene is emblematic of the stories we will read this week. Jesus keeps flipping us upside down. The Creator Word of God has now pitched his tent on earth. He saves a wedding feast that has run out of wine and baffles a Pharisee by suggesting he must be born from above. Then he reveals the mysterious way salvation will come by the undying, eternal Son’s giving up his life. 


The Only Reason We Can Ask Anything!

John 1:1-5, 9-14, 18
Please read this passage slowly several times, at least once aloud.
In the beginning was the Word, and
The Word was with God, and
The Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him, and
Without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and
The darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which gives light to everyone,
Was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and
The world was made through him,
Yet the world did not know him.
He came to his own, and
His own people did not receive him.
But to all who did receive him,
Who believed in[to] his name,
He gave the right to become children of God. . . . 
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and
We have seen his glory,
Glory as of the only Son from the Father,
Full of grace and truth. . . .
And from his fullness, we have all received
Grace upon grace . . . 
Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God,
The only God, who is at the Father’s side,
He has made him known.
What Prompts the Question?
Each day we will consider who asks Jesus something and what may have prompted the request. But as we read John 1, if we ask what individual is asking Jesus in this passage, the answer is “No one!” This is the beginning. God makes the first move. We couldn’t ask Jesus anything until he came to us. As John tells us, “No one has ever seen God.” He’s beyond our grasp. God has to show himself to us for us to know him.
As John tells us in his first epistle: “We love him because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). Any movement we make towards God is a response to his love which created and then redeemed us. Any affection we express towards God merely replies to the overflowing affection he initiated towards us. Jesus is the proof of that ardent love. While we were in the dark, God shined his light. While we thought we were so alone, God showed up next to us. While we withdrew in angry shame for the sins done to us and by us, God drew us out of ourselves and into his reconciling arms. All this came through Jesus.
This Jesus will be revealed in the chapters of John’s Gospel as Jesus responds to the questions and requests people made of him. What Jesus says and does prompts their queries. Some pose their questions as seekers, some as haters. We will overhear people yield, struggle, receive, reject, believe, and deny the God who came to save them. More and more strikingly, Jesus will reveal his oneness with God the Father. In the end, it will be Thomas who will name, in deepest worship, the radical truth about Jesus of Nazareth: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
John, however, doesn’t want his readers to wait until the end to discover that identity. He wants us to know the destination before we start the journey. In today’s passage, known as the Prologue, we get taken to high and holy places no human had ever before described. And all this beauty we encounter revolves around the one essential question: “Who is this Jesus?”
The Deep Answer to Every Question
Like a magnificent play, Genesis starts with the curtain opening: “In the beginning, God. . . .” But John pulls back an inner curtain to reveal even more: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It turns out that God is not a solitary being. There was another present at creation—the Word, the Word who is the eternal Son of the Father. Through the Son, this Word, all things were made. This Jesus whom people saw and touched is the eternal Word in skin and bone. 
The man with whom the disciples ate meals and walked dusty roads turns out to be the originator and the point of everything!
  • He is the life within our life.

  • He is the light that shines in the darkness of the world and the darkness of our hearts.

  • His light is the clarifying truth that sets us free from the evil that entangles us.

The startling news of the gospel is that he who made the world came into the world. The eternal Word became flesh and blood. He “pitched his tent” among us. Yet, just as startling, most did not welcome him or trust him or desire him when he came. But those who did receive him into their inmost hearts with the welcome of faith discovered a wonderful, mysterious intimacy. The Word became our brother in the flesh so that we could spiritually join him as sons and daughters of his Father. We who welcome Jesus into our hearts feel taken into the heart of his family, into the triune relationship of everlasting life and love. Jesus overflows with grace upon grace for us because he gives us nothing less than himself. Adjusting to Jesus’ arrival in our midst will prompt all the questions and requests in the characters we will meet. We will discover these are the very same questions he evokes in us.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You were in the beginning with God the Father!
Eternal Word by whom all things were made,
You are light and truth,
Full of grace and shimmering in glory,
You have made the Father known!
What is man that you are mindful of him,
And the son of man that you care for him?
Yet, you came into the world you made!
You took up flesh and blood, skin and bone.
Such is your glory
To come all the way down in order
To lift us all the way up!
You came to show me clearly
What I could never see on my own.
Blinded by creaturely frailty,
By willful ignorance and
The tangled, strangling web of sin,
By myself, I cannot see who you are
Even when you are standing right in front of me,
Even when the Word is plain.
Oh send your Spirit this Lent
As I join my heart to the questions others asked you.
Open my eyes to see who you are day by day.
Prompt the questions in me that ask who you are
So that I might give you ardent glory.
Posted in: Lent

Introduction: "Come and See" Lent Daily Reading

Questions and requests invite relationship. Maybe I hope to grow closer to you. So I ask you a question about yourself. It’s an invitation for you to let me in a bit on your life. If I ask for your help, I’m hopeful that you care enough to respond. When you do, I’ll be grateful, and we’ll grow closer. These interactions connect us to one another.
When we read the Gospels, we see how often people asked questions or made requests of Jesus. Last year, we considered these interactions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We noted how people presented questions and requests to Jesus based on what they had witnessed or heard about him doing for other people. This year, we’ll see how John’s Gospel also overflows with people asking questions and making requests of Jesus. Yet, there’s a difference. In John, people’s “asks” are prompted by how Jesus has already interacted with them. He evokes the questions through his stunning statements and mighty acts. This tells us how much Jesus wants to engage with us. In Christ, God came down to seek us. He initiated. He truly desires the interaction.
The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of John are just such an invitation: “Come and see.” Something has happened. Come and see. This may be just what you’re looking for. Come and see. Find out about me. Get in on what is happening. Come and see.
Day by day this Lent, we will accept his invitation to come and see. I’ll be leading you into the episodes of Jesus’ interactions with people. We will try to get in on the conversations, and we’ll see how the questions and requests of people back then are identical to ours today. Our goal is that each of us, in our daily prayers and weekly groups, will then have personal, present interactions with our Savior.
Who Is Jesus?
Most explicitly of the four Gospels, John’s book revolves around the crucial question “Who is this Jesus?” John wants us to ponder just what kind of man could say things like no one ever had. We’re led to ask, who could possibly do the unique things Jesus did? He seemed so passionate about his Father as if he had known God intimately for eons. He quoted Scripture all the time, yet spoke as if he had written every word, as if he knew how it all fit together. Who is this Jesus?
John doesn’t keep his readers in suspense. He gives us the answer in Chapter 1. Jesus is the eternal Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us. Jesus makes known the invisible God because he is the one and only Son sent by the Father. Jesus is the true light and source of life for every person.
The rest of the Gospel explores how this identity of Jesus is revealed through his interactions with the people he came to save. The story moves forward through a series of conversations. People respond to his presence, quite often missing the deeper point of something Jesus said or did. But Jesus responds to them with grace and truth. He invites them and us to participate in the love he shares with his Father in the bonds of the Spirit.
Once again, preparing this work has been transformative for me personally. I realize that the depths of the riches of the person of Jesus go on eternally. He will be everlastingly fascinating, compelling, beautiful, demanding, and worthy of worship. Pressing into him more yields a profound joy. I pray this will be the same for you. And because this is God’s Word we are studying with reliance on the Holy Spirit, I am confident you too will encounter Jesus this Lent!

How to Use The Study in Twenty Minutes a Day

To engage both heart and mind, soul, and intellect, we’ll walk through 42 encounters with Jesus following a similar path each day:

Daily Scripture

Every day, two Scriptures will be presented in boxes. I’m asking that we each read these verses both aloud and prayerfully. By the end of the 42 days, we will have them committed to memory. These passages are important! 
The first represents our sincere desire to meet Jesus in these episodes: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus!” (John 12:21). I don’t want helpful hints for an easier life or even wise philosophical statements. I want to see Jesus. I pray that I would meet him in the place he promised to meet me—in his Word.
The second reminds us of the goal of reading the Gospels and how incredibly important that goal is to us: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Then, of course, each day we will read a narrative that contains a question or request made of Jesus. 

What Prompts the Question?

In this section, we will consider how Jesus provokes people to interact with him. We will seek to understand how each episode fits into the larger context of the story of Jesus’ life and God’s dealings with his people. We’ll get a sense of why people make the requests and raise the questions they did. We’ll note how some queries are hostile, some affectionate, some desperate, and some full of faith. In some of the daily readings, we’ll probe further into the real request underneath the surface of someone’s question.

Jesus’ Reply

This gets us to the good stuff! We will meditate on the meaning of Jesus’ replies. We’ll read some of his most beautiful and memorable phrases. We’ll see how both the identity of Jesus and the purpose of his mission always inform his answers. He wants to make known the love of the Father who sent his Son to save the world. The mystery of the person of Jesus is paramount in John’s Gospel. So we’ll explore Jesus’ famous “I Am” statements as he steadily reveals how seeing him is indeed seeing the eternal Father. And of course, we’ll recognize how Jesus’ replies to the people then are still his powerful answers to us today.


I’ve also provided prompts for your own prayers. I’ve tried to model responding at a heartfelt level to Jesus’ replies to us. The hope is to let the implications of Jesus’ answers flow within us. In every encounter, Jesus exposes our sin and need, he calls us to deeper commitment and communion, he assures us of his love and forgiveness, and he directs us to participate in his mission. These prayers attempt to lead us to make a faithful reply to what Jesus has said. I hope you’ll jump off from here into your own response to all Jesus has made known to you of himself.


For the beginning of each week, I’ve selected art from different eras, each of which reflects a story or theme that is essential to the week’s readings. (There are a few bonus images as well.) The purpose of the art is, once again, to get us to engage with Jesus using different aspects of ourselves: mind, heart, senses, and soul.
For the cover art, we’re so blessed that elder Keith Morris has given us use of his evocative painting “The Key of David.” The open hand of Jesus reaches through the key hole, beckoning us to “Come and see.” So as we accept his invitation, we see that the wrist of that welcoming hand is nail-pierced. We see that the face on the other side of the door has been crowned with thorns. The one who calls us is all sacrifice and love. He has made a way for us to return to communion. Christ’s offering of himself is the key that unlocks the very meaning of life. This is the conversation we want to have this Lent!

A Note on “Believing Into”

Seventeen times in this guide when I quote from John you will see that I have added brackets to make the phrase “believe in” be read as “believe in[to]. I think this is important because of the dynamic quality it gives to the idea of belief. We’re moving from one place into another. We’re pressing into Jesus by faith. John’s Gospel uniquely employs the Greek word eis, a word usually translated as “into,” with the word for faith or belief. The rest of the New Testament as well as other places in John use the word ev, which we render as “in.”
To me, believing into Jesus adds vibrancy to belief in Jesus. Scholar Raymond Brown says this phrase describes an active commitment to Jesus; “It involves much more than confidence in Jesus. . . . [I]t is a dedication of one’s life to him. The commitment . . . involves a willingness to respond to God’s demands as they are presented in and by Jesus” (513). The translation we use, the English Standard Version (ESV) translates both phrases the same, as “believe in.” So I’ve chosen the more literal reading to encourage us to consider faith as propelling into Jesus. See what you think of that idea as you read!


I’m indebted in particular to several excellent commentators. Their insights have so intertwined with my own reading of the text that it would be impossible to quote every time they influenced me. However, I especially want to mention Lesslie Newbigin, a longtime Scottish missionary to India who became a bishop in the Church of South India. Our precious dinner together decades ago propelled me into his books which have been foundational to my theology, preaching, and writing. 
The seminal John commentaries:
Brown, Raymond E. The Gospel According to John, Vols. 1 & 2. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1966.
Klink, III, Edward W. Klink. John: Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2016.
Newbigin, Lesslie. The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
Finally, I work daily with a loving, passionate, and skilled team of pastors and program and support staff. They make wonderful conversation partners about Scripture. Thanks especially to Katie Robinson in this our 12th effort together. The beauty she adds to this in its layout and graphics makes all the difference! And we were very happy to welcome elder Jean Rohloff to the editing team.
This Lent, as every Lent, I relish taking this journey into Jesus with you, beloved congregation, and I pray that each and all of us will experience the wonder of interacting with our savior in a personal, transformative way!


Posted in: Lent