Saturday, April 30, 2016

John 14:23-29 -- Home in the Heart

"Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words:  
and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him,
 and make our abode with him.”   John 14:23

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Continuing their walk from the Upper Room to Gethsemene, the conversation between Jesus and all the apostles except for Judas had taken a heavenly turn.  Jesus spoke to them about his spiritual home as he centered himself in preparation for the events surrounding the Crucifixion.  Importantly, he talked about this eternal dwelling place as a home to be shared by all who love him and cherish his words.  With such people, he promised, God the Father and the Son would come and make their home.  Charles Wesley reminded us of where this home is, concluding his lengthy hymn, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (1739) with the words

Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

Jesus promised the Father would send the Comforter in the name of Jesus. He identified this Comforter as the Holy Ghost, who would teach us and bring the teachings of Jesus into our remembrance.  He also promised us his own divine form of peace.  His peace is different than any other peace, the types with which we are familiar.  The peace of Christ is the kind that stills our hearts and vanquishes our fears. This is the centering peace Jesus demonstrated on that very evening as he made his way to Gethsemene to be arrested.  It is the peace of one who is at home in a loving heart.

Jesus wants to share this heavenly home with us even now, and during every moment of our life in this world and extending throughout the life of the world to come. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20 NIV).  At the beginning of this same chapter fourteen, John reported how Jesus told the apostles about the many dwelling places in the Father's house, and his promise to take us there. The Bible concludes with a description of the City of New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, 
and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, 
and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; 
and there shall be no more death, 
neither sorrow, nor crying, 
neither shall there be any more pain (Revelation 21).


Sunday, April 24, 2016

John 13:31-35 -- Mandate to Love

"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; 
 as I have loved you, that ye also love one another."  
John 13:34

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Jesus and eleven of the Twelve were walking from the Upper Room to Gethsemene on the night he gave himself up for us.  Judas was off making arrangements to betray Jesus with a token of love, a kiss. They had all been celebrating the Passover.  Jesus had instituted the Lord's Supper and washed his disciples' feet.  As this group of friends walked, they talked and sang hymns.  Soon they would arrive at the Garden, where Jesus would pray, "not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42).  He would be arrested and spend the night being tortured in mock trials before his crucifixion the next day. As they walked along, Jesus told several parables and summarized his teaching and ministry.

The New Commandment is the core and apex of the Gospel.  By precept and example, Jesus had demonstrated love and had elevated the Old Testament commandments about love for God and neighbor to the most prominent place among all commandments. On this night of his betrayal and suffering, he fulfilled the meaning of the ancient commandments, bringing them together in his relationship with all who love him.  Our mandate is to love as Christ loves us.  This way of living out the commandments to love, Jesus revealed, would be the mark by which everyone would be able to distinguish his true followers.

Loving as we have been loved makes love personal.  We each have experienced something we are expected to faithfully share with each other and the world.  Together, our relationships formed through the bond of this shared authority reflect God's infinite love for all.  Our commission is to love everyone into fellowship with Christ.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

John 10:22-30 -- The Voice of Love

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."   John 10:27

The shepherd knows the sheep.
Photo courtesy of Free Bible Images.
The religious leaders complained that Jesus wasn't being clear with them about his identity.  From the beginning Jesus had been clearly stating his mission. They seemed to be using their constant challenges to undermine him.  He said that his works bear witness to the truth of his words. Jesus concluded the Good Shepherd analogy he had been using, having declared himself "the Good Shepherd" (John 10:14), by comparing the response of those who hear his voice to that of the sheep who recognize the voice of their shepherd.  He had emphasized that with the right kind of shepherd, the sheep are safe and free to come and go as they please.  The Twenty-third Psalm, best known since a thousand years before Christ, continues to communicate the message of God's love and protection through the pastoral imagery of a shepherd.  Jesus stated plainly enough, "I and my father are one." 
      God communicates with believers.  We hear God's voice, and God hears ours. "In the rustling grass I hear him pass; He speaks to me everywhere" (Maltbie D. Babcock, This is My Father's World, 1901).  Elijah testified that his encounter with God occurred not in the wind or earthquake or fire, but in a "still small voice" (1 Kings 19:11-13).  God hears everything we say, but how much of what God says do we hear?  We each have a personal relationship with God. With any relationship, we enter into friendship, cultivate growth and explore the infinite mystery we discover in each other.  As the sheep learn to trust and follow the shepherd, so we learn to trust and follow the leading of Christ.
     We are invited to listen to Christ as our Good Shepherd.  Listening begins with a sincere desire to know what God wants to communicate.  Our intentional effort to concentrate on hearing and recognizing God's voice is required.  Cheryl and Kelly and Ryan have a contest every year for who is first to hear a whippoorwill.  If they want to hear, they have to know what one sounds like and be listening for the call.  Another part of hearing God speak is to implement what we have already heard.  Collectively, we are invited to share what we are hearing.  This we do by listening to each other's testimonies, coming to a common understanding of what God is saying to and through us, and following Christ in consensus.  We are also invited to help the world learn to listen.  We are invited to be the messengers and to communicate God's love through our good works.  We demonstrate what it means to listen to the Good Shepherd by listening to those around us.