Devotions In John

Visible Love

Then the Jews said, "See how much he loved him" (John 11:36).

You teach me, Lord, that love can be seen. Genuine love comes to expression in deeds. You sorrowed with family and friends at the tomb of Lazarus. In the tears You shed people saw the love You felt.

"I love you" is easy to say. Sharing love by caring deeds is far more convincing. Where love is it does. Various factors may limit its range of activities, but love like Yours does its best with what it has. It becomes not only audible but visible.

When some said, "See how he loved him," others said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" The sisters of Lazarus were sure that had You been there before Lazarus died, You would have healed him. You could have healed even from a distance (4:43-54). Yet You did not.

From this I learn that Your love sometimes permits what it could have prevented. What is permitted may baffle me, but I trust You. Your reasons are good in all You do and in all You do not, in all You grant and all You refuse. Human love often errs because of ignorance, but You are perfect in wisdom and power as well as love. I will not interpret Your refusals to do what I wish as a flaw in Your love. I will trust Your love in its speeches and its silences, its activity and inactivity

The Voice that Gives Life

Jesus called in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out (John 11:43).

Why a loud voice, Lord? Was the dead hard of hearing? Many of the spiritually dead seem to be. Years of preaching Your word convince me of that. Whatever the reason, it was a good one. You would not raise Your voice without a purpose. You raised Your voice and You raised the dead--that's enough for me. Speak to me in whatever tones You please, but please speak.

You called Lazarus by name. Death does not destroy the personal identity of Your people. You earlier said of the good shepherd, "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." You are the good Shepherd. Your sheep know Your voice. They come at Your call. This truth is beautifully and powerfully illustrated in the raising of Lazarus.

I like what D. L. Moody said, that such is Your power, had You not called Lazarus' name every dead man in the area would have come from his grave.

"Come out," the scholars tell me, is literally, "Here!" You didn't have to make a speech; You had only to issue a command. Your words have power to effect Your desires. Your words are deeds. What they command they enable. None of them is without meaning or power.

Ours is a word-filled world. Few of them are important for my life. Most are distracting at best, irritating at worst. But when You speak, Your words are my salvation and peace and joy. They bring life.

Self-destruction

So from that day on they plotted to take his life (John 11:53).

What sad words are these, Lord Jesus. You gave life, yet they wanted to take Your life. You brought Lazarus from the grave, and they plot to send You to the grave. Nowhere is the blindness and idiocy of sin so surely demonstrated.

Your growing popularity filled them with fear. "The Romans," they muttered, "will come and take away both our place and our nation" (v. 48). How ironical! They killed You, and still the Romans came, burned the temple, ruined the city, and dispersed the people.

They should have rejoiced at Your "many miraculous signs." They should have hearkened to Your inimitable messages (7:46). They should have joined Your growing crowd of followers (v. 45). Instead, they plotted Your death. They were obsessed to protect and preserve their vested interests. Power and wealth meant more to them than justice and truth. They didn't want to get rid of sin, they wanted to get rid of the Savior. In the end they got rid of themselves, they self-destructed.

Lord, how modern that all sounds. How alike in greed and pride, in venality and cruelty are the political and religious leaders of this day. How defensive and protective of their offices! How jealous of and selfish with their wealth! What sin have they not excused, what violence have they not inflicted in order to secure their places?

But You are alive forever more! Their doom is sure.

The Hideout

Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples (John 11:54).

In raising Lazarus, You raised a furor, Lord! Jewish leaders plotted Your death and people thronged Your path. You needed a hideout and chose "a village called Ephraim." Because they were marked men, and You were concerned for their welfare, You took the twelve with You. The Shepherd was protecting His sheep.

Ephraim was obscure and insignificant. It is scarcely mentioned in Scripture and its location is guesswork today. Nonetheless, it played a vital role in Your life. It provided a refuge from the crowds and from danger when You needed to withdraw. There You could recoup Your strength, regroup Your forces, quietly instruct and encourage Your staff, and plan Your next moves.

Every busy person in public life needs an Ephraim--somewhere to escape the crowds; to change the routines; to refresh body, mind and spirit; to commune with You, with nature, with a few close friends. A little stay in "a village called Ephraim" can recreate and refocus the energies of life.

Time spent in "a village called Ephraim" makes an enriching contribution to the ministry in more crowded places. I am grateful for such times and places in my own life.

The Fragrance of Love

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (John 12:3).

In adoration and devotion Mary poured expensive perfume upon Your feet. It was an act of extravagant love. To her, You were worthy of the best she could offer.

The fragrance filled the house, a sensuous delight that all persons present could share. When we do something for You, there is an overflow of blessing to others. Each deed of love goes farther than its immediate object. Life is like that.

All should have delighted in Mary's spontaneous act of love. One did not. Judas objected, grumbled, criticized. No matter how pure one's intentions, how loving one's actions, someone will find fault. Perfume on the air is wasted on a man who has none in his soul.

Judas sounded so pious. The perfume should have been sold and the money used to help the poor. John lets us know that Judas really wanted to "help himself," not the poor. He kept the group's "money bag" and had been stealing from it. How awful for Mary to waste what he could have stolen!

You rebuked the grumbler. The poor would be around to help always. You would soon be dead. Symbolically, Mary's had anointed You for burial.

Lord, I have a choice: To do loving things for You as Mary did, or to be a critical and selfish rascal as Judas was. I can fill places with the fragrance of loving deeds--or be a stinker. Give me a heart like Mary's.

Negative Criticism Rebuked

Leave her alone (John 12:7).

Lord Jesus, I've cracked enough commentaries to know that Your statement to Judas is difficult to translate. It is even harder for us to practice than for scholars to translate.

How quickly, how easily fault is found with anyone who is doing anything to honor You. Negative criticism requires less knowledge, less talent, less tact than most any other activity. So many are instant experts when they object to another's way of serving You.

Judas had a hidden agenda in his criticism of Mary, and it was utterly selfish. Long years of watching, hearing, and doing have convinced me that negative criticism--mere carping--is nearly always done from selfish motives. Judgment will reveal how often we have impeded what we should have applauded, and will expose the petty and selfish motives behind our objections.

"Leave her alone," it seems to me, is but a first step in the right direction. The next would be positive--approve, encourage, appreciate and emulate deeds of love done by others. Leaving them alone can be done with a spirit that remains disapproving, unhappy, and rancid.

Lord, I want Your love to so permeate my being that I will honor all who honor You, however differently I see things and would do things. Save me from being a disgruntled, negative critic, for it is fatefully easy for an old man to be one.

Always the Poor

You will always have the poor among you (John 12:8).

Your words, Lord Jesus, point to a continuing situation. There always have been, always will be, poor people in society. This is partly true because the rich, powerful and greedy, exploit the helpless masses. This is partly true because the political indifference of privileged classes allows the exploitation to continue. This is partly true because many lack skills or opportunities to make decent livings. This is partly true because many do not know how to handle money wisely. For whatever reasons, there will always be "the poor."

Your words point also to a continuing obligation. To help the poor, to relieve their distress, to improve their lives, is the responsibility of all who are not destitute. Your defense of Mary's "extravagance" was sincere and instructive. Helping the poor is not our only obligation. Nevertheless, as Your words imply, opportunity and obligation to assist them is a continuing fact of life.

You blessed the poor. One thing the early church agreed on was "to remember the poor" (Gal. 2:10). Scripture declares that giving to the poor is lending to You (Prov. 19:17). Helping them honors You; oppressing them insults You (Prov. 14:15).

Keep my heart tender toward the poor. Help me to remember that Your blessings are mine to share, not to hoard.

For The Sake of Others

So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well (John 12:10).

Lord, when You raised Lazarus from the dead You did him no special favor. From that time he was a marked man. Your enemies became his enemies. They wanted both You and him dead. He died as a man who loved You and as a man whom You loved. The world to which he was going was far happier than the world to which You called him back. You summoned him from the tomb to face enmity, to live in danger, to be at risk of dying twice--a singular form of double jeopardy. He was better off left alone in death.

You raised him for "the benefit of the people" (11:42), not for his own benefit. That teaches me a valuable lesson, Lord. Sometimes You subject Your people to unpleasant, even dangerous, situations in order to help others through them.

I'm not sure that Paul needed all his beatings and jailings for his own spiritual discipline and growth. They were allowed in order to reach others for Your kingdom. The Philippian jailer is surely an illustration of that fact. Had Paul and Silas not been numbered among his prisoners, he might never have heard the gospel and become a Christian.

Harsh circumstances are not always for our education or our punishment. Sometimes they are Your way of creating special opportunities for others to benefit from Your grace and mercy. We should rejoice and not complain to be so used for Your glory.

The King

Blessed is the King of Israel! (John 12:13).

Lord Jesus, You staged Your entry into Jerusalem as a fulfillment of prophecy. A "great crowd" called You "blessed" and hailed You as "King." The demonstration did three things at once.

It honored You. The crowd who waved palm branches and shouted "Hosanna," however deficient their understanding and fickle their allegiance, fully intended their actions as homage to You. You accepted it as Your due, without reproving, correcting, or discouraging them. You knew that You were, in truth, the King.

It confused the disciples. They "did not understand all this" until You were "glorified" in Your crucifixion and resurrection. The rapidly moving events that would lead to Your cross had them shaken and puzzled. Still today, we can understand the tumultuous times we are passing through only in the light of Your atoning death and risen life. That brings light into the darkness.

It frightened the Pharisees. They exclaimed, "Look how the whole world has gone after him!" Fear exaggerates. They feared Rome's displeasure, the loss of vested interests, and their diminished stature in the eyes of the people. They did not fear God, which is wisdom's genesis, so they reacted foolishly.

You really had things popping that day, Lord! What will it be like on the day You return! You are King. You are Savior. I worship You with joy.

The Whole World

Look how the whole world has gone after him (John 12:19).

Fear tends to exaggeration. Your enemies, fearful of Your growing popularity, exaggerated the size of the crowds who were attracted by Your words and deeds.

Lord, "the whole world" has never come to You and never will. Always there will be the merely curious, the downright hostile, the utterly indifferent, the seasonal followers. But wherever the gospel has been proclaimed many have enthroned You in their hearts as Lord of their lives. The seed that died became an enormous harvest.

You could save "the whole world." You died for all and there is sufficient merit and power in Your atonement to save everyone. You love all, You invite all, but not all respond in faith to Your overtures of mercy.

You will judge "the whole world." This is emphatically declared in John's Gospel. "The Father...has entrusted all judgment to the Son" (5:22). Paul teaches that Your resurrection was God's posted notice that You would "judge the world with justice" (Acts 17:31). John beheld "the dead, great and small," raised to stand before Your throne of judgment (Rev. 20:12).

Yes, You could be the Savior of "the whole world," and You will be its Judge. Your church must busily pursue its mission of making these truths known to all people. Help me to do my part.

Seeing Jesus

Sir...we would like to see Jesus (John 12:21).

I assume these Greeks did see You, Lord Jesus, but the Gospel doesn't say so. You were informed of their "request" but whether You granted an interview or not isn't reported. John is content, instead, to share Your reply to Philip and Andrew, words that show how Your imminent death absorbed Your thoughts.

Evidently You saw those God-fearing Greeks as a symbol of the kingdom-harvest to be reaped among the Gentiles. You spoke of Your death as a "kernel of wheat" that "falls into the ground and dies" in order to reproduce and multiply. The harvest of souls would result from Your self-sacrifice.

If Your disciples are to share the harvest they must be willing to follow You in giving themselves for others (v. 26).

The request of the Greeks now adorns many pulpits, placed there to say to preachers, "Don't parade yourselves, preach Jesus Christ." Alas, I have preached from such inscribed pulpits often enough to know that many listeners do not want to see You as You really are, glorified in suffering and demanding radical commitment to the Father's will from Your followers. Many want Christianity without the cross, but those who do never really see You. They see a Christ manufactured in the idol-making imagination of their own selfish hearts.

To really see You is to become like You (2 Cor. 3:18). O Jesus, let me see You. "Show me your glory!"

Mightily Magnetic

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (John 12:32).

All are drawn to the cross, Lord Jesus, but all are not saved. All who are saved are delivered from their sins by Your death. As an old gospel song insists, "The way of the cross leads home." But some hear the gospel, face the cross, and refuse to repent and believe. The cross is the salvation of believers, the condemnation of unbelievers.

Men of all sorts, men from all nations, are drawn to You for salvation. They differ in many ways from each other, but all have two things in common: They are guilty sinners under sentence of death; they can escape their just deserts only because You died for their sins.

Your death judged the world and defeated Satan. Your death created the possibility of forgiveness and new life for all who believe. Your death surpassed martyrdom; it was atonement. It does more than inspire men to nobler lives; it reconciles them to God.

It reconciles them, also, to one another. Start from where they may, men drawn to a common point necessarily get closer to one another. Your cross renders meaningless all divisions and distinctions of race, class, culture and religion. Those drawn to You form a new humanity, one in You.

What powerful magnetism the cross exerts!

Life as Feet-washing

Jesus knew...that he had come from God and was returning to God; so...he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet (John 13:3-5).

You speak to me, Lord Jesus, about life's origin, destiny and purpose.

Life comes from God. No other came from Him exactly as You did, for You are the eternally begotten Son. But God is the source of every person's life. He animates the dust that becomes a human being. He "gives all men life and breath." My life is His gift.

Life returns to God. With the gift comes accountability. I must answer to Him for how I spend my life. History has its terminus at His judgment seat. "Each of us will give an account of himself to God."

If God is life's origin and destiny, life's purpose is to do His will. His will, as Your feet-washing illustrates, is humble and costly service to human need. Costly, because the feet-washing was "a parable in action," anticipating the atoning death by which we are cleansed from sin. All who refuse to live for others will stand before You in shame and be parted from You forever.

Your service, culminating at Calvary, was rendered in love. In this way You "showed them the full extent of [Your] love." Lord Jesus, grant me Your cleansing that I may reflect Your love, ruled by it in my words and deeds each day.

Cleansing and Communion

Unless I wash you, you have no part with me (John 13:8).

You were before Peter in loving humility, and he reacted in foolish pride. "You shall never wash my feet!" Like millions of others, he wants to dictate the terms of a relationship with You. If the Lord washes feet, so must His servants. Peter wasn't ready for that! Lord, I well remember when I shared his attitude, and sometimes I am still briefly tempted in that same direction.

Communion with You is conditioned upon cleansing by You. No person is fitted by nature to walk with You. You must give us hearts like Yours if we are have lives like Yours. By nature we are proud, corrupt, selfish and rebellious. Only by grace can we become humble, loving, and other-oriented.

Your cleansing grace requires more than basin, water, and towel. It takes the blood of the cross to cleanse from sin. Your actions here pointed to that. Nothing external, no mere ritual, however faithfully practiced, can effect the inner cleansing. Human expressions of worship cannot effect it. Spirit must with spirit meet, and the meeting place is Your cross, Your atoning, reconciling, liberating, cleansing death.

You are the knower and cleanser of hearts (Acts 15:8-9). I want a part with You. Let cleansing and communion be mine, O Lord!

Knowing and Doing

Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:17).

Knowledge brings a measure of blessing, Lord Jesus. I praise You for all the truths I have learned, and for whatever blessing those truths have supplied. Ignorance is not a fruit of the Spirit, nor does "great learning" cause insanity, contra Festus (Acts 26:24).

Looking back on my own life I can see that I have often been helped by non-intellectuals, but never by anti-intellectuals. The capacity to learn and keep learning is Your gift, not to be despised or wasted.

But knowledge also brings responsibility. "These things" refer to Your "example" of humble service, an example Your disciples are to emulate. "These things" are not academic or theoretical. They are behavior patterns. They are truths to be practiced. Unless knowing leads to doing, it forfeits blessing.

This Gospel is concerned about knowledge and truth, not for their own sakes but for life's sake (20:31). It isn't stuffing for the head but inspiration for daily living. The blessing comes in the doing.

Some possess a knowledge of Scripture who are not possessed by it. Learning and doing were poles apart, and "blessing" was absent. Help me, Lord, to know and do. I need all the blessing I can possibly receive.

Inner Darkness

And it was night (John 13:30).

I don't think John was simply commenting on the time. When Judas consented to betray You, the light began to dim in his soul. When "Satan entered into him" the darkness deepened. When he left Your company to actually carry out his infamous bargain "it was night." Earlier You had said, "If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matt. 6:23-24). Committed to mammon, Judas was filled with darkness. He traded "the light of the world" for terrifying inner darkness. Night came to his soul.

In that awful darkness he sold himself into unbearable bondage. Unable to live with his guilt he killed himself. He went "where he belongs" (Acts 1:25), "to his own place" (KJV). Who we belong to in this world determines where we belong in the next world.

Lord, where You are not, it is always night. The darkness encloses all who part company with You. The night, with its distorted sounds and deceitful shapes, is the fate of all who prefer darkness to light because their deeds are evil. Judas is not in solitary confinement. He has the company of all who choose darkness. From that company, however, he exacts no comfort or pleasure.

Jesus, light of life, I choose to walk with You. I cannot get home in the dark.

New Commandment

A new commandment I give you: Love one another (John 13:34).

What's new, Lord? The command to "love your neighbor as yourself" is as old as the law of Moses.

This is Your first and only use of the word "new" in this Gospel. You had issued other commandments, now You add a new one.

You give to the ancient commandment a new motive, a new dimension, a new context when you add the words, "as I have loved you." We are to love one another because You have loved us all. We are to express a love like Yours--unconditional, accepting, patient, forgiving and enduring. We are to love as You love and to do so for Your sake.

You created a new fellowship--the church. Within that new relationship we are to love those chosen by You to share the mission and destiny of the church.

Lord, a new heart is needed if the new commandment is to be obeyed. From the native soil of our corrupt hearts, hatred grows, not love. The heart by nature is impure, selfish, deceitful and "beyond cure" by any power except Yours. Until You create in us a pure heart, we cannot love as You have loved us. What You command You must enable.

You do so by attaching us to yourself as branches of the vine. You do so by filling us with the Spirit, whose fruit is love. Your love "shed abroad" (KJV) in our hearts is the inspiration of our love for You and one another.

Homeward Bound

In my Father's house are many rooms.... I am going there to prepare a place for you (John 14:2).

Heaven will be crowded. Before the throne of God John saw a multi-racial, multi-national, multi-lingual throng too numerous to count. Heaven is filled with people.

But heaven will not be overcrowded. There are many rooms, enough to house all. People there won't be on each other toes or nerves. Each will have needed space, and society will be irenic.

Three times, Lord, You said, "a place." Heaven is more than a state of mind. It's a real place, a fitting destiny for embodied spirits. The cities of earth are unreal, existing as places of sin and death. Heaven is holy, and therefore happy; reality indeed!

Exactly what heaven will be like I don't know, but it's being prepared by Jesus. That assures its perfection. When Jesus came to earth there was "no room" for Him (Luke 2:7). Now He is making sure of rooms for us in the Father's house. What amazing, forgiving love is His! That love is our only hope of dwelling with Him forever.

Like many old persons, I often think of heaven. I'm headed home--the happiest home a fellow can imagine. I'm on the way with Him who is the way.

The Known and the Unknown

You know the way.... how can we know the way.... I am the way (John 14:4-6).

The way to heaven has already taken me over strange roads and through surprising events. Some have been good, some bad; some happy, some sad. The unexpected has been the norm; the unrewarded has been a test; the uncharted has been a risk. Much of the time the question of Thomas has been mine--"how can we know the way?"

Jesus points to himself as the answer. "I am the way...to the Father..." The Father is my goal, the Son is my way. I know Jesus. I am personally and happily acquainted with Him, therefore I know the way, the true and living way.

The earliest Christians were called "followers of the Way." That's what I am. I don't need a road map. I need only to follow Jesus. The years have taught me that He is always there, more eager to guide than I am to be led. He will not send me where He has not been. He doesn't point the way, like a signpost that doesn't journey itself. He is way, the path-breaker, the trail-blazer, who says at every turn of the road, "Trust in God; trust also in me."

He is the whole way. He will never forsake His followers. I remember when my little son jumped from a moving automobile into the night. Through tears he said, "You were leaving me." I can jump the trail, I can quit the journey, but Jesus will never leave me. He is faithfully and forever the way. He doesn't coerce my following, but He invites and rewards it.

Seeing God in Christ

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).

I can see You, Lord Jesus, as I read the Gospels. I have no other way of beholding Your glory. Their light is sufficient. They bear faithful testimony to Your being and doing. In them I follow You from place to place, from person to person. I hear Your words. I observe Your deeds. How You relate to friends and enemies is made clear. How You interpreted Your person and mission is revealed. In the events and situations of Your life on earth I trace the patterns of Your actions, reactions and interactions.

In all this I see the Father. You reveal God without distortion. You image forth what He is like. All I can know of Him is mediated through You. Your words are His; Your works are His. You are in Him and He is in You. Father and Son are one.

This means that I am related to the Father through You. Through You, I come to Him. You are the way to Him, the truth of Him, the life of Him. I cannot reject You but accept Him. I cannot disobey You but obey Him. You came to save from sin, not from Him. His attitude toward me is Yours. His mercy upon me is Yours. His love for me is Yours.

I have no unmediated experience of God. He is known to me, loved by me, served by me in You alone.