See This About Jesus: His Own People didn’t See Who He Was. Could they have been TOO close?

It is a remarkable point of fact that the Hebrew leaders in first Century Jerusalem and even many of his contemporaries did not see clearly who Jesus was. He performed miracles, but not in front of everybody; he was foretold by the Hebrew Scriptures, but he wasn’t raised as a Pharisee or a Levite. So why didn’t the religious rock stars in Jerusalem see Jesus as the Son of God? Could they have been TOO close?

Was John Wrong?

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11 NIV)
In these verses, John refers to Jesus as the light of the world, and points out that not only was he unrecognized by the world at large, but he was not even received by his own people. How did that happen? The old adage “familiarity breeds contempt” may explain part of it, since Mark 6:3 records his rejection in his own village; but there’s more to it than that.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that there is an obvious reason why men fail to see: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” It is hard to see without light. I think I still have a scar on my shin from the time I hit the corner of a coffee table trying to traverse an unfamiliar hotel room in the dark. When you can’t see, it can be painful. And you can go the wrong way.

Characteristics of Light

So here’s a simple intellectual principle from John 1: LIGHT HELPS YOU SEE. What is in your life that provides light for you? And what is it that shrouds you in darkness? What lifts you up, inspires you, and points your thinking towards discovery and truth? And what does the opposite of that? What points you to the light, and what happens in darkness?

It’s no accident that most violent crimes or despicable deeds are committed between midnight and four AM (although statistically many property crimes happen during the day, so be careful out there). Darkness provides cover for secret things. John 3:19 reminds us that “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Here in his introduction, John says the Word was the light of men, but that it wasn’t recognized by world. That’s not too surprising, considering the Word did not share the world’s values or agenda. The world is a pretty self-absorbed, self-centered place. (Been shopping or driving lately?)

see-greed

Lack of Recognition

The Bible says that Satan holds sway over the earth, so really we should not be too surprised when we find selfishness or deceit all around us, whether in our politics or in our culture. Heck, we even find those things WITHIN us from time to time. Consider this: being involved in sinful selfishness has never really been a great way to find God… When you are focusing all your attention on worldly things, it’s pretty hard to see the things of the Spirit, so it’s hard to argue with John’s statement about the world not recognizing the light.

Maybe it’s a little more surprising that Jesus’ own people (chosen by God) did not receive him. They were a people who sacrificed for sin, read the prophets and prayed the Shema daily. They were taught to love God with all their heart and to keep the law, but when Jesus arrived they didn’t receive him much more than the world did. Maybe they were caught up in their own agenda, or were closer to the world than they were to their roots. Or maybe they were TOO religious, and saw God as a legal system instead of a person. It’s very easy to worship religion instead of God.

Two quick things: there is lots of stuff in this world that will keep you from seeing Jesus. Don’t miss what he did; don’t miss what he said. Second, we all sometimes assume that proximity or connection to something is enough. “I live in a Christian nation.” “I read about Jesus in vacation Bible school.” “I go to church.” “I know the Golden Rule”. Don’t let familiarity keep you from seeing Jesus. His own people missed him. Just because you know SOME thing about him, don’t assume you know HIM.

Missing the Tree Because You’re In the Forest

There are so many ways that you can miss the Gospel truth:
Assume, ignore, avoid– or chase the foolishness of youth.
Sometimes what you think you know can lead you far astray,
While sometimes you don’t see because there’s something in the way.
Looking at the forest, it’s the tree that no one sees,
Unless, of course you cannot see the forest for the trees…
You may have heard the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt”;
Be careful, then, what you assume, for you are not exempt.
Lies can shackle judgment, but it is the truth that frees us;
So why not take a deeper look at the guy who said that? Jesus.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Light that Helps You See. Evidence that Helps You Decide

Light may help you see where you are going, but it doesn’t dictate which course you choose to take. John refers to the Word as “the true light that gives light to every man”. (John 1:9, NIV)

It’s What You See

I used to think this couldn’t possibly be true, since every man might not have had a chance to see or hear about Jesus (such as all who came before he was born, and everyone who was raised in darkest Africa or China, where Jesus was not a household name…)

But in thinking about him as the Word, as the creative expression of God’s personality, (John 1:3, “without him nothing was made that has been made) it hit me: every man is exposed to some revelation about God through the order and design of the universe, which reflect the creative nature and character of God. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”

disaster creator light

Sometimes It’s What You Don’t See…

We may not see Jesus directly, but because He is the Word who created all things, we see evidence of Him all around us, as well as above and beyond us. (“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” Psalms 19:1)

If you look at creation, you can certainly get a sense of the personality of the Creator. But here’s the problem: while you can infer a Design from design, you cannot empirically prove that the Designer exists. So why didn’t the Word make himself undeniably evident?

The thing is, God has given us evidence instead of proof so that we have a choice about faith. If I could PROVE God’s existence to you, then you would HAVE to accept it, and faith would play no part in discovering who God is. The creation tells us much about God, but He has not directly revealed himself for good reason.

People who say to God, “Show me who you are and I’ll accept it” are testing the God of the universe and telling Him to come to them on their own terms… But God doesn’t do that. He comes to us on His terms, and He has already told us how that will happen.

Be Careful What You Wish For

C.S. Lewis points out that people who want God to appear before them may be asking the wrong question. “But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on the stage the play is over… That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not” (p. 65, Mere Christianity).

In our daily exposure to creative design, we encounter the Word of God. (Since He created those things, it makes sense that we would see Him in them, right?) It is interesting to compare the teachings of Christ to the structure of the universe, and to see the intimate details wrought into galaxies and microbes, to realize just how astoundingly right John was. Jesus taught about agriculture, the Kingdom of Heaven, and about seeing the Father. There is beauty in the creator’s handiwork that can only be discovered in the light of the Word.

The Power of Light

There is light coming to us from the vast reaches of space, from stars whose network of gravitational power holds us in exactly the right place in our solar system so that we can exist. Light comes from our own sun, which keeps us from freezing, activates photosynthesis in plants, provides us with vitamins, and which makes it possible for us here on earth to experience life and growth.

There is order in the ways things operate, whether you look as far out into the heavens as you can, or as deeply into the microscope as it is possible to look. Every created thing reflects principles of order and design. God’s handiwork displays infinite scale that is both massive and microscopic; there is relationship, there are consequences, there is harmony and truth.

See if Abraham Lincoln was right. Go out to the country on a clear night and gaze into the stars, past the constellations and out into space. Think about the fact that some of the light your eyes can see has traveled thousands of light-years across space! What twinkles before you originated before the pyramids. See if your soul isn’t stirred a bit, if you don’t find yourself a little bit in awe of the Creator… Compare what you feel to what you know about the Word of God. It just may be that you are receiving more light out there than you ever realized before.

The Evidence of Light

John declared that the Word was light, that somewhere in God’s plan
There is a revelation that has come to every man.
The skeptic calls this false, of course,
And says you cannot prove the source;
He hopes he will not have remorse,
But counts upon a cosmic force…
He says, “The world that we can see is just a case time and chance,
Which points not to a deity, but purely came from happenstance.”

This kind of independent thinking prospers and persists
Since God will not force anyone to know that He exists.
He offers every man–not proof– which would be undeniable;
But evidence, so that man’s faith would not be unreliable.
It may seem right to look around, and ask God for a sign;
But if there’s light when you look up, perhaps there is design…

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

“In Him Was Life; And that Life was the Light of Men”

Of this baby born in Bethlehem, John said, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5, NIV) Men have been misunderstanding Jesus since the time he was an infant. Apparently it is really easy to not understand Jesus… and one of the easiest ways to do that is to assume you already know, and to avoid really looking at him. Because you’ve heard a parable or two, you avoid looking at his entire life. People often look at small snapshots of Jesus without ever watching the whole movie.

See the Whole Picture

Or they assume that Jesus must be like people who say they know him, and the spectrum of behavior from folks who say they follow Jesus can be both incredibly varied and incredibly misleading. Jesus Followers (or those who merely claim to follow him) range from misguided religious nuts to sincere believers who make mistakes, still live in the flesh, and yes, still commit sins… It’s very easy, if you are skeptical, to look at the Church—the imperfect, stumbling, bumbling followers of Christ– and decide Jesus is not for you.

Or it’s easy to avoid looking at him closely because you think he is like “nominal” Christians, who may not actually be connected to him at all. So many people say, “Yeah, I know about Jesus, I know about his teachings”, when all they have done is given a cursory glance at what he said, or listened to a secondhand account (yeah, like this one) of what he said.

Factual and Actual

But I would say to you and to anyone who encounters the actual Jesus of the Bible, the rabbi who gave the Sermon on the Mount, the teacher who confounded the Pharisees, or the healer who healed, the same man whose birthday we celebrate every year at Christmas,  that John’s description of the Word is accurate and applicable. Use the “It’s a Wonderful Life” template, and let’s pretend Jesus had never been born… How different would the world be today? How much has his teaching and his sacrifice influenced the affairs of men?

life

It certainly influenced John. After 3 years of walking daily with Jesus, of watching him heal and listening to him teach, and after having meals and walking along the road and going to parties with him, he understood who Jesus was, and he captured it perfectly here in his introduction: “In him was life.” To Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8, Jesus was life. When Mary questioned him just after Lazarus died, he said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” To Lazarus in John 11, Jesus was life; and to the thief on the cross beside him in Luke 23, Jesus was life. To Stephen in Acts 7, even as he fell beneath the stones, Jesus was life. Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul, said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)

Ripples on the Pond

To me, in the 20th century as an insecure teenager, Jesus was life. As an adult who could be living in Pottersville instead of Bedford Falls, Jesus is life. The life of a Jewish Rabbi from over 2,000 years ago has reached out to me. His influence is undeniable, not because I’m so good but because without him my life would have been a train wreck. Here’s the Question you should be asking yourself: have you REALLY investigated Jesus of Nazareth? Do you know what he taught, have you truly looked at what he was about? John says that “in him was life, and that life was the light of men.”

I would suggest that there is indeed darkness in this world, and that the darkness not only doesn’t understand Jesus, it doesn’t want anyone else to understand him either. To those who understand Jesus and discover life in the Word, John promises illumination in the darkness. He promises the ability to see new things, to grow, to stretch outward and upward to life-giving rays of hope! I hope you investigate. I hope you understand. You know who said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”? Yep. But don’t take MY word for it. You can read it all yourself. And you should.

Would You Say This About Your BFF?

He walked with Jesus every day. John talked with him along the way;
He heard what Jesus had to say. He ate with him. John watched him pray.
He saw the things that no one sees, saw him confound the Pharisees!
He heard him preach and saw him heal, and decided Jesus was for real.
Then, finally, he wrote a book. It’s short. Go read it, take a look–
A book I heartily commend, John’s own account of his best friend:
He wrote this down, and it’s worth saying again:
“In Him was life. He was the Light of Men.”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Light of the World: How Well Can You See Without It?

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NIV)
In John’s composition, Jesus said this to the crowd who had just watched him shame the judgmental Scribes and Pharisees who brought him the woman caught in adultery… The event happened in the temple during the week of the Feast of Tabernacles, so there was a large group of religious folks looking on, both rabbis and students alike. Since the Pharisees immediately challenged him on this statement, apparently not all of them had left with the shamed rock throwers.

A Startling Announcement

Why did Jesus make this announcement right here? This “I am” statement might seem unrelated to this event, like John inserted it for emphasis, but it really makes sense if you think about it. The Feast of Tabernacles was a celebration to remember God’s provision in the desert during the Exodus. It began on the first night with a festival of lights, in which pilgrims all lit lamps in their tabernacles. That mean hundreds of small tents or booths were illuminated all around the city. (It had to be a beautiful and moving sight.) If that wasn’t enough, there were also four very large candles were placed on the corners of the walls around Jerusalem for all to see.

light

There was probably one within sight of him as he taught. (You might think, how would people see a candle? But these were HUGE candles, and there weren’t any other large sources of light like we have in today’s cities. Any resident of or visitor of Jerusalem would have made an instant connection with his reference. Light versus darkness is one of the oldest archetypes for mankind. Jesus here calls it to everyone’s attention.

I’m sure the average Festival attendee didn’t connect ALL the dots, but surely it was a dramatic statement that drew their attention to the polarity that existed in their culture. He was contrasting his Father and himself with the legalistic system of the Pharisees. He offered light; they walked in darkness. They emphasized law and punishment; he was pointing to celebration and life.

Characteristics of Light

Let’s make a couple of quick observations: First, Light dispels darkness. It helps us to see clearly and to act accordingly, in both a physical and a spiritual context. If there is something clouding your outlook, or darkening your attitude, light can brighten things up. This statement about light could have pointed Hebrew teachers back to the Shekinah Glory, which led the children of Israel through the wilderness. Was Jesus identifying himself with God? Jesus correctly points out that light provides life. Enlightenment saved the life of the woman caught in sin, and it does the same thing for us.

The Psalms says that God’s word is a lamp that lights our path (119:9). Here among the teachers at the temple, Jesus was equating himself alone to the Word of God, which John later expressed so well in the introduction to his gospel. John said of the Word, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Getting to know the Word better is absolutely the same thing as getting to know Jesus better.

Finally, Isaiah 9:2 is talking about the coming Messiah when he says “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” When he proclaims himself to be the light of the world, Jesus is connecting the dots. Are they connected for you? Today, may light warm you, illuminate you, brighten your world, and help you see!

Shining a Spotlight on God

A Festival of Lights

Picture this: a thousand camps, the glow of candlelight, and lamps,
Without the glare of electric lights to minimize the darkest nights.
Within this glow, a statement’s hurled:
“Listen! I am the Light of the world!
Follow me, and leave your fright
of the darkest world on the darkest night…”
Men can follow, if they will, but many walk in darkness still,
Where evils in the shadows hide, with sin and ego full of pride:
Perhaps it’s time to just abide, to stop and listen to this guide,
Who said, when it was hard for us to see:
“I am the Light of the World; come, follow me!”

To purchase my newest book Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Shine: When the World Around You Seems Dark, Be a Glowing Alternative

A Different Approach

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16 NIV)

Do you ever grumble? Argue? Does it do any good? We live in a society characterized by grumbling and arguing. We run into it everywhere we go! Whether it’s on social media or in conversation, people are ready to do either or both.

The Wrong Kind of Spiral

It seems that every topic in our culture creates polarity and division. People loudly complain that they’ve been offended. Debate almost always seems to get personal rather than productive; and small-minded, selfish people grumble about everything, hoping to pull happier people into their discontent. There’s an old saying: “Misery loves company.” Look around and you’ll see how true that is. Unhappy people love to create a spiral of discontent that draws in everything around them.

Most miserable people want to pull others down rather than lift them up. From ugly comments about leaders to self-serving political media, from the promoting of racial division to “religious” extremism that calls for the deaths of its opponents, the grumbling and arguing in our world are spiraling towards something worse. Everywhere you look, there are warped and crooked people driving events towards more bad news.

Perhaps followers of Jesus are supposed to stand apart from the ugliness, to offer encouragement rather than criticism. What if more people spread love rather than hate, gave forgiveness rather than criticism, and offered contentment instead of contention? Paul says that God’s children are meant to shine as lights in the darkening sky. (Hmm, very similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Amazing considering Paul never followed Jesus or listened to his teachings before the crucifixion…) But both challenges call us to the same action.

Onward, Through the Fog

A child in Elizabethan London was looking out the window in the gloomy dusk, watching a worker far down the street come towards them, lighting the new gas streetlights one by one as he came towards their house through the foggy night. The closer he came in the distance, the illumination provided larger circles of light in the foggy night The child exclaimed, “Mummy, come quick! Look! There’s a man outside punching holes in the darkness!” As I look around this world, it sometimes seems to me that it is darker than I remember, that the night is hastening. Perhaps it is time for all of us to shine, and to punch some holes in the darkness.

shine

The world will not gravitate naturally towards unity. It never has before, and it won’t start now. Selfish men, motivated by a carnal spirit and spurred on by the grumblers and the haters, will always point their generation down a warped and crooked road.

Paul says that the only way to bring light to the darkness, the only alternative to living in a twisted reality is to “hold firmly to the Word of Life”. If Christians don’t do it, who will? Become familiar with the Word of Life. Let your light shine in the gathering gloom. Serve others. Reach out to the marginalized. Live without bigotry. Do what Jesus told us to do: love one another. Get out there and punch some holes in the darkness. Shine.

Punching Holes

The London night was damp and cold as dusk began to fall;
Mollie, looking out her window, couldn’t see at all.
She sat there in the living room and quietly watched the gathering gloom,
While twilight bathed the Promenade and turned the world from light to shade.
But magically, and suddenly, a light appeared that she could see,
A sudden glow way down the street that shone with radiance soft and sweet.
And then another spot of light, just nearer now, and glowing bright–
A halo in the cold and damp atop the gas-lit street-side lamp.
One by one the lamps were lit. The night gave way a little bit,
While Mollie, looking through the glass, was wondering how this came to pass.
And then she saw him as he came, the street-lamp man who lit each flame,
Stopping on the avenue where she could see the Park less…
She called out, “Mummy! Quick, come see! The fog is all along the street,
But there’s a man outside who’s punching holes into the darkness!”
And as we sit here in our rooms, while we can see a gathering gloom,
Perhaps it’s time for each of us to climb up on our poles,
To light at least one flickering flame–this world would never be the same,
If we just took the time to shine. Go out and punch some holes.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread