Devotions In John

Forbidden Force

Put your sword away! (John 18:11)

Peter was a fisherman, not a swordsman. He sliced off an ear; He meant to split Malchus wide open. His intention was good but misguided. Without knowing it, he was striking a blow against the Father's will and the Savior's purpose. You came to endure suffering, not to inflict it. You were wounded for our transgressions; You forbade wounding in Your defense.

The only sword You have allowed the church is "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17). Your people are to conquer by suffering love, not by wounding force. How sad that church history has been stained by armies that wounded and killed in Your name. They betrayed Your spirit, example, and purpose! When the church takes up any sword but the word of God is dishonors You.

You were "betrayed," "bound," and "brought," and did nothing to prevent it. The cup given You by the Father would not be refused though its contents were bitter. You secured Your disciples (vv. 8-9) but surrendered Yourself for trial and death. In so doing, You struck Your mightiest blow for God and good, for us and our salvation.

How prone to sword swinging we are! What misplaced confidence we put in brute force. Lord, help us to scabbard our swords and seize our Bibles. Help us to win by love, not lose by force.

"Nothing in Secret"

I have spoken openly to the world.... I said nothing in secret" (John 18:20).

Lord Jesus, You had no secret agenda. You practiced no deception. You were "up front" about Your person and mission. Those who wanted to know who You companied with and what You taught could easily find out. Passwords, secret handshakes, clandestine meetings, and the broadcast of disinformation were not the strategies of Your kingdom.

In contrast, those who tried, condemned, and executed You conspired, plotted, and acted with stealth. They practiced deception and encouraged betrayal. This is why Your candor so troubled and angered them. They lived behind false faces. You well described them as "hypocrites," "liars," and "murderers." Creatures of darkness, they scurried from the light.

How ironical that Christians, even ministers, would attach themselves to secret societies, some of them violent hate groups. What a gross denial of Your sincerity. Their king is Caesar, not Christ, who ally themselves with such groups.

I remember when the Klan came to my town to recruit members. Their spokesman was a preacher who insisted that the Klan wanted "good Christian people" to swell their ranks. All the while a huge masked bully stalked the crowd with a bullwhip in his hand. Nothing could have been less Christian, more demonic. Lord, make us, who claim to follow You, children of light.

When Roosters Crow

Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow (John 18:27)

Peter fancied himself a man of courage. He had boasted, "I will lay down my life for you." When You were arrested Peter wanted to fight, engaging in futile swordplay. When You refused defense and allowed events to move swiftly toward the cross, Peter's resolve collapsed. Baffled and afraid, he denied You.

Fear and sin have an unholy alliance. Fear prompts sin. To spare themselves pain or death men will often do worse things than they thought themselves capable of doing. Fear prompts sin, and sin prompts fear. Having sinned, one fears detection, alienation, and punishment. Our instinct is to cover up, not to confess.

Whenever a disciple fails You, a rooster somewhere crows. Something occurs to produce guilt and awaken self-disgust.

Reminders of moral failure will drive the guilty to the forgiving Christ or to self-destruction. Judas hanged himself. Peter wept bitterly and got a special delivery message of Your resurrection that implied his forgiveness and restoration: "Go tell his disciples and Peter...'you will see him'" (Mark 16:7).

How gracious You are, Lord! When roosters have crowed in my life, You welcomed and restored me. Your love never fails; Your covenant-loyalty is perfect.

A Strange King

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36).

Lord Jesus, the kingdoms of this world will some day be Yours. That will demand a radical change in them, for You refuse to be King on this world's terms.

The kings of this world are pretentious and insecure. To gain and keep their power they resort to brutal force. At their command their subjects kill and are killed. Their glory is a display of material wealth they did not earn and do not deserve--all "pomp and circumstance" designed to mask their fragility.

They rule by coercion, You by persuasion. They rule by brute force, You by serving love. They rule from thrones of jeweled splendor, You from a cross of vicarious suffering. They imprison, torture, and kill; You forgive, release, and heal. They fear every real or imagined claimant to their thrones; You fear no one, hate no one, slay no one.

Pilate understood the Caesars and Herods. He was mystified by You. You were undaunted, a center of calm in a hurricane of events that brought him quite unwillingly to that moment of confrontation. He didn't know what to think of a King who coveted no throne, recruited no army, feared no foe, offered no defense, threatened no reprisals, attempted no bribes, engaged in no politics.

Did he ever learn? That's academic. Have I learned? That's existential.

What Is Truth?

"What is truth," Pilate asked (John 18:38).

In Pilate's circles, truth was a rare commodity, as it is in today's political arena. A king who always told the truth would be harder to find than a bird with teeth.

You came "to testify to the truth." You told "the world" the truth about itself and about yourself. It accepted neither testimony, preferring lies that flattered to truth that saved.

"Self-esteem" is today's psycho-babble buzzword. People must have high self-esteem, though it means they lie about themselves, and lie to themselves and others habitually.

You not only testified to the truth, You are the truth (14:6). Essentially, truth is more than statements of fact or descriptions of reality. Truth is You, in all Your being and doing, in the totality of Your inner and outer life. To know You is to know the truth that sets men free (8:33).

The truth about myself is bearable only because of the truth about yourself. I can endure the knowledge of my sin because of the truth of Your accepting, forgiving, transforming love.

Cynical Pilate didn't recognize the truth when it stood before him. He was a judge on trial and didn't know it. You are the truth by which every person will be judged. Bind me, O Lord, to yourself, to the truth that frees!

 A Fatal Choice

No, not him! Give us Barabbas (John 18:40).

Barabbas had excited them. He shared a futile rebellion against their Roman overlords. They could forgive his failure, for he had tried to give them what they wanted--deliverance from political bondage. He would leave prison as a hero, a "freedom fighter."

You, however, had disappointed them. You offered what they needed--deliverance from spiritual bondage. They wanted a savior from Rome, not a savior from sin. Though You healed the sick, fed the hungry, and raised the dead, You were no hero to them. You were a "peacenik" with a profound indifference to which set of crooks held office. You offered forgiveness, peace, and life, not political clout, social esteem, and material wealth. "Not him," they shouted angrily, "Give us Barabbas."

The world remains unchanged in its choice of heroes. It still prefers the political freedom fighter to the spiritual freedom Giver. It still prefers the warmonger to the peacemaker. It still dismisses sin as a trifle and heaven as a dream. It still hails as messiahs those who promise bread without God and freedom without repentance. And the world is still tragically wrong.

Pilate freed Barabbas and flogged You. He courted the mob and crucified You. Your empty tomb is their judgment. I can't afford their folly. Keep Barabbas. Give me Jesus!

Cowardly Injustice

I find no basis for a charge against him (John 19:6).

Pilate was a coward. Twice he publicly affirmed Your innocence, yet, to please the mob and to secure his job, he allowed You to be scourged, insulted, mocked, and finally crucified. He was a "me-firster" from head to heels.

Conscience would not compel him to do justice. He was not committed to evidence, only to expedience. He would risk the wrath of God but not the anger of Caesar. He would sacrifice You to his career; he would not sacrifice his career for You.

He "tried to set [You] free but his efforts were lame and limited. One decisive word from him would have freed You, but he feared to speak it. In contempt for Your accusers he kept calling You "king" but he wouldn't acknowledge You as his king. "We have no king but Caesar," the mob rejoined, though they hated Caesar. He and they were in the same boat: better to pay homage to an earthly ruler and preserve their vested interests, than to obey the heavenly Ruler who demanded radical, self-effacing life changes.

Pilate and the mob were not history's worst persons. They are a mirror in which all who refuse You may view their ugly, guilty selves. All who prefer "the world" to Your kingdom are there in Pilate's courtyard of injustice.

"Finally Pilate handed [You] over to be crucified." What we finally do with You determines our character and destiny.

In Any Language

...the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek (John 19:20).

People from anywhere in the Roman empire could have read the sign "fastened to the cross." Certainly, every literate person in the Holy Land could have read the inscription, most of them in at least two of the languages.

In any language, Lord Jesus, the crucifixion was a travesty upon justice. The prosecutors induced witnesses to lie. The judge openly affirmed Your innocence, yet allowed a verdict of guilty and a sentence of death. How terribly frightened by You they all were, and frightened men do brutal things to preserve their standing in society.

In contempt for those who had exploited his cowardice, Pilate refused to alter the inscription: "What I have written, I have written." Poor Pilate, his defiance was too little, too late. He could have changed it, but he would not. His words have been the text for sermons on life's irreversible decisions. So used they are misused. What they represent is unadmitted guilt by an indefensible culprit.

In any language the sign spoke the truth about You. You are King of the Jews--and of the Romans and all other peoples. One day the hidden truth will openly and universally acknowledged. It will be seen by all that Your apparent defeat was Your greatest triumph. You are not the King men want; You are the King they need. You are the King they will have, like it or not!

Helpless, Hurting Bystander

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother (John 19:25).

Lord Jesus, how hard it is to be a helpless bystander, to watch your child suffer and die!

Simeon's dark prophecy was being fulfilled. An invisible sword was piercing Mary's heart even as visible nails had torn Your flesh. Watching You die was tortuous for her; not being there would have been even less bearable.

In Your dying hour You provided for her an earthly home (vv. 26-27) and a heavenly home (14:1-3). Though she may not have realized it at the time, she was losing a son but gaining a Savior.

There are times when nearly everyone is compelled to stand by as a helpless witness to another's suffering. I've been through that as a husband and father. I would gladly have borne the other's suffering, if that had been possible. I am no stranger to pain, as You know, but the worst pain I have ever endured was watching loved ones hurt and being unable to give them relief.

Mary could not die that You might live, but You were dying that she and all who believed in You might live. You would never have surrendered Your pain to her had she been able to accept it. You were not a victim of circumstance; You were a willing sacrifice for our sins. She endured the sight, loving You too much to leave You. You endured the cross, loving us too much to escape it. Surely costly love is better than loveless ease.

Mission Accomplished!

It is finished (John 19:30).

What was finished, Lord Jesus? Not Your work of salvation, for all who now believe are being saved. Until "the last syllable of recorded time" You will be saving from sin those who come to God through You (Heb. 7:25). Not until You return will our salvation be complete.

The vicarious suffering that provided our salvation was complete. Your self-offering was once for all, for all sins, for all time. That atonement is utterly sufficient. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. It is unique, finished, and eternally efficacious. Calvary never needs to be repeated.

Your life was filled with suffering for our sakes, Your death even more so. There on the cross, when You dismissed Your spirit, those sufferings ended. You would rise from the dead with "all authority in heaven and on earth."

Your cry was not one of mere relief, though the suffering was ending. It a cry of triumph over sin and Satan. It was an exultant "mission accomplished." What the Father had sent You to do was now done. The Lamb of God had been offered; the good Shepherd had laid down His life for the sheep. The earthly ministry was achieved, the heavenly glory now awaited. Surely, "It is finished" was a shout of conquest.

I am participating in that triumph. Hallelujah!

Open Secret

Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews (John 19:38).

The cross made secret discipleship impossible. It created a love for You that was greater than the fear of men. It brought Joseph - and Nicodemus - into the open. They gave You a hasty but reverent burial. At that point identification with a dead Christ meant more than the favor of Your living enemies. The cross engenders love, courage, and hope.

I would like to know what became of those men. What did it cost them to go public with their devotion to You? Here is another place where Your word raises questions but gives no answers. Such places remind me that Scripture was not written to satisfy curiosity but to instrument salvation.

The incident calls into question my own devotion to You. Am I willing to be openly and publicly identified with You at all times and in all situations? In the face of the world's durable opposition to You, does the cross inspire me to actions that are marked by courage, loyalty, faith and love?

Whatever became of them, the question is, what will become of me? I am going to confess You before men, follow You through thick or thin, not relying on native courage but reinforced through the Holy Spirit. I know Your love will not fail; I pray that mine will not. By Your grace, I will be true to you. I will be Your disciple openly, gladly, and eternally. The cross requires no less.

A Necessary Triumph

...Jesus had to rise from the dead (John 20:9).

You had to rise, Lord Jesus, because God ordained it. From eternity He decreed the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. He gave You authority to lay down and take up Your life (10:18).

What He ordains must occur. No evil power can defeat His purpose. Your resurrection was a foregone conclusion because He willed it. Their god is too small who think that death has no sequel and sorrow speaks the last word.

You had to rise because Scripture proclaimed it. It took a while for Your disciples to "understand from the Scripture" that You must rise. Perhaps they grasped that truth only when You met with them, formed them into a Bible class, and "opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45).

How sad that some Bible scholars today attempt to explain away the resurrection. They prove than none are so blind as those who refuse to see. They will be condemned by the very scriptures they supposed themselves to be exegeting.

You had to rise because humanity needed it. We have no Savior except You, the risen Christ. Had You not defeated death and included us in Your victory, we would be hopeless. You loved us too deeply to withhold yourself from combat with sin and death - the mightiest forces that could be arrayed against You. You fought and won for our sakes. For this I praise Your name now and forever!

Tears, Triumph, Testimony

Woman, why are you crying? (John 20:13, 15).

The question was put to Mary of Magdala twice, once by angels, once by You.

She wept from grief, deep and sincere. All sorrow is caused by loss, and she had suffered the greatest loss possible. Her teacher, healer, and master had been killed. Now even the body was missing, and she was dazed, confused, frustrated, as well as sorrow-laden.

Sorrow warps perception, tears impair vision. She thought You were "the gardener." But when You gently spoke her name, recognition was immediate. You call Your sheep by name and they know Your voice. This incident is fitting commentary on that truth.

You sent her to Your "brothers" with the glorious news of Your resurrection and imminent ascension. To that confused and sorrowing group she exclaimed, "I have seen the Lord!"

What does this magnificent passage say to me? It tells me that You are alive forever, the conqueror of sin and death. It tells me that You know me and care for me as an individual. It tells me that I can be intimately related to You without being able to see or touch You. Invisibly but powerfully, You are present with me on earth while present with the Father in heaven. It tells me that sorrow is temporary and it's time to dry my tears and bear Your good news to others.

Mood Swing

The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord (John 20:20).

One word describes the disciples before You appeared-fear. Fear of Your enemies kept them in a locked room, dreading a knock on the door that could mean prison, torture, and death.

One word describes them after You came - joy. They had bottomed out in confusion, guilt, and fear. Suddenly they were on cloud nine and still soaring. It was the greatest mood swing of their entire lives.

There You were, the conqueror of death, showing the marks of the cross in Your hands and side, and saying twice over, "Peace be with you." Peace with God, with others, with ourselves is only possible because Your death atoned for sin and reconciled to God. The wicked have no peace (Isa. 57:21). Peace is for the forgiven.

Besides peace You offered purpose. "As the Father has sent me, I am sending You." Forgiven failures were now enlisted to help You reach a lost world with the gospel. Life was invested with meaning, purpose, and value.

For success in the mission You offered power: "Receive the Holy Spirit." Human resources and assets do not assure success in gospel work. Only the Spirit convicts of sin and draws to You. His power is available to all who live to make You known to others.

Lord, I share the joy, peace, mission and authority!

Doubting Thomas

Stop doubting and believe (John 20:27).

Can a person stop doubting and start believing in a moment? Thomas did, and Saul of Tarsus did, when confronted by You as the risen Lord. You can come suddenly and uninvited into people's lives, making life-changes eminently possible.

Thomas' doubt was volitional, not intellectual. He did not say, "I cannot believe," but "I will not believe." In Your presence doubt vanished; it died of supernatural causes.

Thomas did not accept the testimony of fellow disciples. Their sincerity was evident but their testimony unconvincing. Nevertheless, he valued their company and was with them when You next appeared. He didn't join a society of doubters. The just may have doubts, but they live by faith. The best thing for a doubter is a group of friends who contradict his doubt, not a group of skeptics who reinforce it.

He soon shared their victory. In their presence, in Your presence, he dismissed his doubt and confessed his faith. A grand confession it was - "My Lord and my God!"

Lord, when doubts come, please come yourself. My awareness of Your presence will bring victory over doubt. The question marks will straighten into exclamation marks. With the community of faith I will confess my personal faith: "My Lord and my God."

A Vital Sequence

But these are written 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).

There is a vital sequence here: signs, records, life.

"Signs" are what Jesus did. All of His miracles are not recorded in John's Gospel. Seven were selected because they were adequate for the author's purpose. They are not related to emphasize the power they demonstrated or the effect they produced. They are "signs" - they point to Jesus as God's Son and mankind's Savior.

"Records" are what John wrote. Eye-witness testimony, orally delivered, could benefit a limited number of people during a limited period of time. Written testimony could extend, through all succeeding generations, the world vision and saving mission of Jesus. Scripture bridges the distance between the apostles and ourselves. Over that bridge Jesus comes to save us.

"Life" is what believers receive. Eternal life is God's gift to us in Christ. John does not record truth for its own sake or urge faith for its own sake. They are for life's sake. God's love and our faith create that fellowship which is life eternal (17:3).

The record informs me, the signs convince me. I believe and live. Thank You, Lord, for this Gospel and all other scriptures.

Jesus Appeared

Jesus appeared again to his disciples (John 21:1).

You appeared and disappeared at will. One moment they were alone; next moment You were there. One moment You were with them; next moment You were gone. This prepared them for Your going to the Father, for the Spirit's coming to them. When they could not see You they would think of You as near and would rejoice, not mourn.

They could not coerce Your coming and going. They could not conjure You up as Aladdin did the genie. You never surrendered to them Your sovereignty. Your appearances and disappearances inspired no magic, supported no superstitions.

On this occasion You appeared to weary fishermen whose night-long efforts were mocked by empty nets. When they fished at Your direction the nets were filled with "large fish." What exegetes and commentators have made of this incident is more a tribute to their imagination than to factual reporting. One lesson, however, is too obvious to miss: What we do at Your bidding is sure of success.

With the surprising catch came instant recognition: "It is the Lord!" To the disobedient You remain a vague figure; to the obedient You are "the Lord." Doing Your will is a condition for growth in knowing You (8:31-32). Lord, keep me fishing at Your direction, for I want to know and love You more.

He Rules by Serving

Come and have breakfast (John 21:12).

Lord Jesus, this portion of the Gospel challenges and humbles me. You conquered sin and death. You possessed all authority in heaven and on earth. At Your name every knee will someday bow. And here You are, the holiest, bravest, mightiest person who ever lived, and You are cooking and serving breakfast for the disciples who forsook You in Your hour of trial and death. No wonder the world cannot understand You. No wonder the church often misunderstands You. You govern by serving. Your throne is a cross. You contradict and condemn the prevailing concepts of power and its use.

Judged by Your example, how proud, arrogant, and self-indulgent are the rulers of this world's kingdoms, including its ecclesiastical kingdoms.

The disciples did not ask for Your I.D. "They knew it was the Lord." Who else was so self-effacing, so humble, in the exercise of superior wisdom and might? Who else cared like that for dispirited, guilty failures? Yes, it had to be You!

Earlier You washed their feet. Now You serve their breakfast. You sure make it hard for disciples to jockey for positions and demand their rights. Christians who try to domineer can smell fish and bread cooking and hear a gentle voice inviting, "Come and have breakfast."

Lord, let me dine with You and be like You.

The Ultimate Question

Do you love me? (John 21:15, 16, 17).

Peter was handled more roughly by Your gentle question than he would have been by Your brutal crucifiers. This barbless, persistent probe pained his soul, evoking memories of empty boasts and crushing failures. "Peter was hurt" - oh how hurt!

You are no sadist, inflicting pain for the pleasure of seeing people squirm. You are the Great Physician, wounding only to bring healing. Never again would Peter deny You. He would endure prison, torture, and death. That You wanted his love and service elicited from him love, faith, courage and loyalty.

Each time he affirmed his love for You, he was given a shepherd's task. Love for You was to be expressed in service to Your people. Love is validated in deeds, not words - deeds done in Your spirit of pity for the weak, of pardon for the straying. Love's service can be costly. Peter would not retire with honors, speeches, and awards. In old age he would be rudely dressed and taken to a cross. Whether others suffered similarly or equally was not his business. He was to follow You at any cost to himself. Love is validated by submission.

Lord, all that finally matters is my response to Your question, "Do you love me?" At all times, in all places, under all circumstances, I want to be able to say, "Yes, Lord...I love You." Enable me by grace to so love.

The Odd Phrase

I suppose...(John 21:25).

This phrase has a jarring effect. In a Gospel replete with positive affirmations, how unexpected is "I suppose" in the final sentence. Perhaps, when we have read the Gospel, have agreed to its testimony, have echoed its confession, we need to humbly remind ourselves that we don't know all about You, Lord Jesus. You are greater than all our thoughts of Your greatness. You escape the margins of every page written about You.

Some scholars read these words as the final editor's defense of the omissions of this Gospel. The included materials are highly selective. Only seven "signs" have been reported. Much else is found in other Gospels, materials exciting and significant. Well, you can't include "all" that Jesus did. "I suppose," he replies, "that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." It's a grand supposition; it expresses faith, not doubt. It imposes limits on human knowledge, not on divine activity. And any more would be more of the same - alike in content, meaning, purpose, and effect to what has been written.

To know as much as the Gospel proclaims is to know enough to be saved from sin, enlisted in service, and assured of eternal life. Anyone confronted by Jesus who can say, "I believe," may add an occasional "I suppose" without dislodging truth or disturbing faith.