Pastor's Blog

Easter Love - Part 2

This is part two of a two part series on John 21. For part one, click here.

The final chapter of the gospel of John is a wonderful account of Jesus showing his love to his disciples after his resurrection.

But what happens when love is violated and how is that relationship mended?

In John 21 Jesus has an interesting exchange with Peter.

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?

Peter: Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you truly love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Take care of my sheep.

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you love me?

Peter: Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

Ok, so what's going on here? First, some Greek, because this is one part of Scripture that doesn't translate well into English. In biblical Greek, there are several different words to describe what we would call love. There is "phileo" which is like friendship love.

Another word for love is "ero" which is the sexual love God desires between husband and wife. It gives us the root for our word "erotic."

And then there is "agape". No that's not "agape" as in, "His mouth was agape at the sight of the huge tracts of land." It's a•gah•pey. This kind of love is the sacrificial love, the willingness to put the needs of others before your own.

So, back to the conversation. Jesus asks Peter first, "Do you love (agape) me?" But Peter replies, "Lord I love (phileo) you." See the difference? Jesus was asking Peter if he was willing to put his own needs aside, his own concerns, his own desires aside and put the desires of his Lord first. But Peter sidesteps and says, "Lord, you know that we're buds." Not good enough Peter, try again.

"Do you agape me?" But Peter doesn't get it quite yet and answers the same as before. 

Then Jesus asks him a third time, but this time he switches to "phileo." And then Peter seems to get it. John tells us in verse 17 that he was hurt that Jesus asked him the third time. And Peter replies that he loves (phileo) him. The difference is this time, his love (phileo) is prompted by the love (phileo) of Jesus.

In essence Jesus was saying to Peter: you need to put yourself second if you're going to follow me and even when you don't (because you're a sinner), I'm still your very dear friend.

Did you notice anything "coincidental" in this exchange? How many times did Jesus ask Peter if he loved him? 

Three, right? Sound familiar?

Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times, and Jesus has him publicly acknowledge, three times, that he loves Jesus. Jesus wasn't going to pretend that what happened in the courtyard of the high priest didn't occur. But he would use it for Peter to grow. If Peter was going to be the kind of pillar of the Christian church he turned out to be, he would need to put his own selfish desires aside for the sake of his friend, Jesus, who loved him very much in spite of his continual sinfulness.

Peter had violated the love of Jesus. But what did Jesus do? He restored his friend. He forgave.

Is the relationship between you and Jesus any different? Our denials may look different than Peter's, they may be quite private even, but the consequence is the same. We violate the love of our good friend Jesus. But Jesus will leave you with the same love he left Peter, because Jesus knows the power of the love he has placed into your heart. He knows that his Easter love isn't fickle. He knows that his Easter love doesn't fade. He knows that his Easter love always puts the needs of others ahead of his own. And this is the love he gives to us because he has risen from the dead.

So take that love of Jesus, your good friend who died for you, aim it at your denials and sin, and, like Peter, follow Jesus with a clear conscience.


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Easter Love - Part 1

One of my favorite chapters from the New Testament is found in the last chapter of John, chapter 21. 

This section contains two very powerful stories of Jesus' ministry after he rose from the dead. It shows what the power of unconditional love can do for sinners. A question many people ask is, "Could God love a sinner like me?" These stories powerfully illustrate what God's love is capable of doing for sinners.

But first we have to go back to very early on the morning of Good Friday. Perhaps is 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. From the courtyard of the high priest's home, Peter is observing the Jewish authorities question Jesus. And Peter does what he never thought he would ever do, he denies that he knows Jesus. Motivated by self-interset, fear and panicking at the thought of being treated the same way Jesus was being treated, he calls curses down upon himself and swears he doesn't know the man. 

Then the rooster crows, Jesus looks at him, and Peter's heart breaks.

Fast forward to the weeks following the resurrection. Jesus has now appeared to his disciples, including a special appearance to Peter (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8), several times. John 21 records a very special appearance. The disciples had returned to Galilee according to Jesus' directions. What's there to do while they wait around? Why not do what they did before Jesus called them and go fishing? So that's what they do.

But wouldn't you know it, they get skunked! Not a fish night long. If this sounds familiar, you're right. Peter and his fishing buddies had been skunked once before in Luke 5. And just like then, this would be a day of fishing they wouldn't forget. Just as they are giving up, Jesus appears on the shore (but they don't recognize him) and he asks if they've caught anything. When he finds out they haven't, he tells them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. Sure enough, a huge catch of fish (just like in Luke 5).

The reaction this time is quite different than Luke 5. In Luke 5, Simon Peter got on his knees and begged Jesus to go away because he was a sinful man. This time, Peter jumps off the boat and swims to shore! (That's so Peter, by the way!) This repeated miracle of Jesus confirmed that Jesus desired a relationship with them. I gotta think Jesus was chuckling to himself at the thought of what was going to happen when he repeated this miracle. Was there a twinkle in his eye when he told them to throw the net off the right side? He probably couldn't wait to see their reaction. In a way, this is like when a father teases his child just to get a rise out of them and see them smile.

Love made all the difference. This was their good friend Jesus. The one they thought was dead, but was very much alive. The one who had said so many important things to them. The one who meant so much to them. And because he was alive, because he loved them and they loved him, they wanted to be with him. So, go ahead Peter, swim to shore, there's no reason to be afraid of Jesus. You are forgiven. Your denial is forgiven.

Maybe you can relate, too? Jesus' victory at Easter means victory over sin. Could a sinner like you be forgiven, in spite of the horrible things you've done and thought? Love makes all the difference, doesn't it? Your Savior loved you, died for you, and rose again for you. Your sins have been destroyed. You are forgiven. And Jesus wants to be with you forever. 

That's Easter love.

Next week we'll take a look at the second half of this very powerful chapter of John 21.


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Curtains, Blood, the Old Testament and Jesus

One of the questions that people often have is, "How did the Old Testament people learn about Jesus?" In today's blog, I thought we'd depart from our normal devotional format, and talk about the important lessons God was teaching with the Temple in Jerusalem. (consult Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9 and 10)

We're told in the gospels that when Jesus died, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This curtain was a thick curtain about 4" thick and separated the two rooms of the Temple in Jerusalem: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place.

The Holy Place

In this part of the Temple, the priests performed their daily functions. They offered prayers at the altar of incense and put out, each day, 12 fresh loaves of bread. These loaves symbolized the 12 tribes which made up the nation of Israel, God's chosen people. Also in this room was the golden lampstand, which symbolized the light of God shining upon his people (symbolized by the loaves of bread). Only priests could enter this room.

The Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies)

This room contained the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was a special box which contained the 10 Commadnments, a specimen of manna (the miraculous food Israel ate in the wilderness for 40 years) and the staff of Aaron which had miraculously budded. On top of this ark were two cherubim (angels) facing each other, with outstretched wings that touched in the middle. This place where the wings touched was called the Mercy Seat. In this place was the visible presence of God's glory, perhaps an orb of light or a sparkling cloud. No one was allowed in this room except the High Priest and only once a year.

Why the curtain?

The curtain did more than separate the two rooms, it separated man from God. It was a symbol of mankind's sin. Nobody could just walk into the presence of God because they were sinful. So the curtain reminded them that sin separates them from their God.

God provided a solution to sin

Once a year, the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place with the blood of a bull and the blood of a goat. The bull would die for the sins of the priests, the goat would die for the sins of the people. In each case, the High Priest would bring the blood of the animal into the Most Holy Place. He would sprinkle that blood onto the Mercy Seat.

Now here comes the cool symbolism. God's presence which looked down from the Mercy Seat and onto the Ark of the Covenant, would see the 10 Commandments - God's law. God's law had been violated by the sins of the priests and the wickedness of the people. But the blood of the innocent animals, sprinkled on the mercy seat would cover the law of God, and cover the offenses against that law. And therefore God would not punish Israel for their sin; he would accept these animal sacrifices in their place.

But these animal sacrifices weren't enough. They had to perform these sacrifices over and over again becuase these were just animals. These animals served as a teaching tool to teach Israel important lessons about sin:

• Sin violates God's law and is punishable by death (blood)

• God would accept the perfect blood of another in place of the death of the sinner

These animals taught the people that they needed a substitute and they needed a better substitute than these animals. It created in them a desire that God would one day fullfill his promise to have mercy on them by sending another, the Messiah, the Christ, who would be the final sacrifice for sin.

Why did the Temple Curtain tear in two?

Jesus Christ was that final sacrifice. His blood was the perfect blood because his life was never tainted by sin. So God accepted him as the one sacrifice to pay for all of mankind's sin once and for all time. This meant that sin no longer had to separate God and man.

So the curtain tore in two. God and man are at peace now. 

Just like the ancient Israelite's looked ahead to the Messiah to be that one, final sacrifice, we look back and see that same Messiah give his life for our sins. On Good Friday, we commemorate this most important event in human history as the day God accepted a sacrifice for you and for me and for this whole world of sinners.


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The Underestimated Savior

It had been a long time since the smell of bacon and eggs filled the Clark house. Both parents, with two teenagers and one autistic 12 year old, were living life at full throttle. The morning routine went something like this: dash out of bed, dash through the shower, dash through breakfast, dash out the door. Sometimes there was even time to look at each other and say good morning!

Frustrated by this, mom and dad were in the other room talking about the last time they remembered sitting down as a family to eat. It happened that Thomas, their 12 year old autistic boy, overheard them. Now Thomas wasn’t known for being able to do much around the house. Because he was autistic they were usually taking care of him. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the next morning, perfectly cooked bacon, toast and eggs were all prepared on the kitchen table. As curious family members stuck their heads into the kitchen, they were greeted with the goofy grin of Tom, the one member of the family no one ever expected to be able to cook a meal. It turned out he had a gift for cooking.

We like those kind of stories because they remind us never to underestimate human potential. What other kinds of things don’t people expect? No one ever expects the straight-A student to fall into a pattern of drug abuse. No one expects a life-long Christian to abandon God. No one expects those kinds of things. Think about some famous "unexpecteds" from the Bible. Would you have expected King David to sin with Bathsheba? If you had been a Jew, would you expect the Pharisees to murder the Messiah? Experience teaches us to never underestimate the human potential for unbelief. In fact, Scripture teaches us that while we have no power to come to faith on our own, we do have the terrible power to abandon the faith.

So God sent his son. Already at the beginning of time God had a plan to undo the effects of sin. And his Son came with a message—an invitation, really. He was inviting humanity to believe what he was saying. But the Son also came with a warning so that believers would learn to avoid unbelief. 

And this underestimated Savior, this man who nobody thought could do what he claimed he could do, did it all. He alone paid for humanity's sin. He alone could bring us back to God.

Listen to how Jesus compares himself to some rejected building material that surprises everyone with what it becomes.

Luke 19:17, "Jesus looked directly at them and asked, 'Then what is the meaning of that which is written: The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone?'"

The underestimated stone, Jesus, would indeed become the capstone. He would do the incredible, the unexpected - he alone would save the world.


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Room for Celebration

In God's house, there is always room.

God has opened his arms of love to welcome everyone, even those who don’t want it and those who don’t deserve it. In Jesus' day, the Pharisees sneered at the tax collectors and "sinners" whom they thought weren't good enough for Jesus. They did not realize the love they were missing out on. The tax collectors and sinners were blessed by the presence of Jesus and his saving message.

God’s love for us is boundless. He will never turn us away.

But, we can certainly reject it. We can abuse it. We can waste it. Yet God waits for us to come to our senses that we would realize what good things he wants to give to us.

Sometimes we are our stubbon in accepting that God’s grace is free or it is nothing to us. We try to attach something that would give credit to us. So,  when we look down on others for not being good enough for our church, or good enough for our group, or good enough parents, or good enough church goers then we have become like those Pharisees who thought good behavior had put them into God's good graces.

We're also sometimes sloppy in handling God’s grace and we're often selfish with it. We think we can strike out on our own, we can neglect the love of God, that we can always say we’re sorry later. And God allows us to wander. He does not shut us into the church and lock us in there. He lets us go and then he waits, hopes, plans, for our return.

And when we do...When we hear the news that our sins have been forgiven, when someone else apologizes to us, when we hear someone say that we are forgiven, it’s time to celebrate that.

"'Bring the fattended calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate." Luke 15:23-34


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The Gardener Hard at Work

Luke 13:8, "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave [the fig tree] alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"

Our desire is often to point to others in order to compare our spirituality to the lack of spirituality or lack of morality in other people. It makes us feel better to know that we’re better than others. If we do that, then we don’t have to confront the ugly reality of our own hearts: that we are just as sinful and vile as the rest; that our sins are just as serious a matter as anyone else’s. And if we lose sight of that, then we lose sight of our own deserved condemnation while we’re busy condemning the rest of the world or the rest of humanity.

But the gardener is hard at work. Jesus, like the gardener in Luke 13, is there to work on our behalf and bring us back to health so that we do produce fruit. We are not forsaken to our own efforts, we are not written off becuase of our sinfulness. We are very much loved and taken care of. Jesus lived his perfect life, he died his innocent death for sinners like you and me.

There will come a time when judgment comes, but right now, the time is right to leave our sins behind and take hold of the joyful and freeing message of our gardener, Jesus Christ, who worked hard and is working hard to help us produce fruit.


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Rejoice and Hold On

How many happy and giddy people have you ever seen lifting weights? Let's say, a real tough guy lays down on the bench press, “Put 200 on there,” he says to his spotter. He begins and as he struggles under that tremendous weight, is he laughing? Is he shouting for joy? No, he’s grunting and exerting all his strength. And the next day, his shoulders, chest and arms are sore. But his muscles grow stronger.

Our sufferings are like weight training. And God knows exactly how much weight to put on there. And it hurts for a time. But in the end it makes his believers stronger. Paul puts it this way in Romans 5, “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope…” Perseverance is staying power—endurance. Suffering, for as much pain as it brings, makes believers able to endure the hard times. And that endurance shapes them and makes their faith stronger. It gives them character so they see their faith is proven true in suffering. And that character forces them to focus on God’s promises which leads to hope. Suffering -- Endurance -- Character -- Hope

God loves us so much that he wants to make us better Christians. So he trains us with suffering. Suffering teaches us to hold on to God’s promise that no matter what, he has declared us not guilty through Jesus' death on the cross. Holding on to that promise is perseverance. Holding on shapes your character so that you become stronger and stronger. Isn’t that a good reason to rejoice when you suffer? God is not punishing you; he’s training you, making you stronger. Doesn’t that put our hard times into a different light? They are meant for our good. A bad economy: for our good! Hard times for my family: God is training us, teaching us to persevere and hold on to hope.

God’s answer to suffering is different from the world. He teaches us to rejoice in his verdict—we are declared not guilty. Rejoice and hold on!



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Light Up This World

A lot of people today want Christians to keep their faith to themselves. But do you think people would say that if they could see how good the Father was? Honestly, I can’t answer that. But here’s what I can say: it’s a lot harder to say no to someone who is so good to you all the time.

People need to know about God’s love. Jesus says to light up this world so that people would praise the Father in heaven. Has this ever happened to you? It could. When you come alongside someone who is grieving the death of a loved one and you show them true compassion that comes from the Father’s love. They may just listen to you and their heart may open just a bit, and God’s love might just get an opportunity to go into the inner chambers of their heart and find a home just like in your heart. When you stand up for someone because God’s love has taught you to love all people regardless of who they are, you might just earn their respect and you might just begin a friendship and you might just get a chance to explain the love God has put in you. When you receive an unexpected blessing and give your thanks to God, you might just show this world how good God is; or, if God takes something away from you and you struggle and yet in that struggle draw closer to God, you tell people, “When you love someone this much, it’s worth suffering for.”

Take the love that God has put into your heart, the love that comes from Christ who died on the cross, and light up this world.


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Ash Wednesday - From Death to Life

Genesis 3:15, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between her offspring and yours; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel."

It all began in a garden, the Garden of Eden. God the Almighty broke into our world and announced the very first gospel promise. Without this promise there would be no Lent and no Easter. There would only be death and damnation for us. But the seeds of our salvation were first planted in this Garden of Promise.

The promise completely reversed what had just taken place. Satan had planted the seed of unbelief by tempting Adam and Eve to sin. They no longer believed God’s words. They ate the forbidden fruit. That single seed of unbelief immediately sprang to life and, reaching out like some horrible death-plant, wrapped its tendrils around this man and woman to squeeze the life out of them.

They felt the squeeze of God’s decree: “The day you eat of it, you will surely die!” They didn’t turn to God for mercy. They didn’t look to him for a second chance. They ran for cover and tried to hide from God.

The death-plant produced a foul fruit: enmity. They felt nothing but enmity—in other words, the opposite of peace. They shook their fists at God. They shook their fists at each other. They shook their fists at Satan. They were quick to blame God for their circumstances. They were willing to throw each other under the bus if it would save their own skin. What had seemed like such an inviting friendliness from Satan was now unmasked as a malicious trick to destroy them. In great irony they had become unwitting allies of this serpent who hated them and wanted them doomed like himself. Inside and out, they now felt the permeating, damning hatred that a holy God has for what they had become. It was sheer terror.

But God announced a reversal of that enmity. Speaking to the devil, God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” God would change things! The woman wouldn’t be an ally to the devil anymore. God would create enmity between her and the devil. God would put her at odds with Satan.

That means she and God would have to be reconciled and be at peace with each other and be friends again. For to be an enemy of Satan is to be a friend of God. And this announcement of friendship was not offered to the woman only, but also to her husband and to all their descendants—that means you and me. God said to the snake, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.”

Notice how wonder-inspiring our God is. He did not advise Eve to redirect her hatred upon the serpent. He did not command her to hate the evil one. Nor did God urge her to reach up to heaven with her prayers to invite the change. The fact is, when God did give her the opportunity merely to fess up, she couldn’t do it. She utterly lacked the power to change her feelings about God and save herself.

So God would do it. He said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” God cut off the tendrils of death at the roots and saved the man’s and woman’s lives by promising to send a Savior.


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What are You Doing Down There? Get Up!

She sits in your living room sobbing. Not sure what to do, not sure what to say. But it’s happened again and once again she feels guilty. Christians aren’t supposed to do this. Christians aren’t supposed to sin like this. And as her tears fall onto your carpet, you can’t help but share her feelings. You’ve been there to, face-to-face with your own guilt. Face-to-face with the guilt of the same sin repeated a thousand times before. And whispering a quiet prayer in your soul for your guilt and for the guilt your friend is feeling, you kneel down, put your arm around your friend and say: “My friend, get up, Christ has healed you.” In fact, Christ says this very thing to you, too: “My child, get up, I have healed you: I have forgiven your sins."

The sickness of sin is a serious one. It comes from our sinful nature which is in constant battle with God. And the devil compounds the sickness by clouding the issue with lies like: this sin is too great for God to forgive, or, no Christian would ever repeat the same sin over and over. And in all of this confusion and conflict we can forget that God still loves us despite our sin. And finally this sickness leads ultimately to hell.

But Jesus says to us, “Get up, your sins are forgiven.” It was his job to forgive sins. His very purpose in coming down to earth was to earn God’s favor for the unlovable. His job was to reveal the lies of the devil and show us that there is an answer for sin. Best of all, it is his joy to tell us that our sins are forgiven. His job was to comfort people who were ridden with guilt with those words, “your sins are forgiven.”

When you and I are frustrated by our stupidity to repeat the same sin over and over again, Christ is there to soothe our conscience with his perfect blood shed on the cross. When the devil throws our past sins at us, Christ is there to tell us that he has paid for them and the empty tomb on Easter morning is God’s promise to us that he has forgotten our sins.

And so when you or I sit in the cesspool of our own sins, and we look around us and all we see is the guilt of our own actions, and all we hear is the devil whispering his lies in our ear, Christ marches into the midst of our darkness and says to us, “My child, get up, I have healed you, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2, "A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home...Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them...When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sons are forgiven...I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.'"


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Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. ~ LUKE 12:32