We are so proud of you. If you had a little reward chart, we would give you 4 gold stars. Keep it up!
So Jesus is wandering around Galilee just trying to avoid being killed. Can’t say we relate, Jesus, but we do understand the motivation.
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be Jesus’ sibling? Constantly hearing, “why can’t you be more like your brother, Jesus?!” While we don’t know exactly what Jesus’ childhood was like with his siblings, we CAN learn from Joseph that being the favorite kid with an awesome wardrobe doesn’t always lend itself to super healthy relationships with siblings. (did someone say thrown into a pit and sold into slavery?) We also don’t know what your family background looks like, but we can take comfort that even Jesus experienced family weirdness and some resentment within his own family unit. Like Jesus, let’s do our best to not let the thoughts and opinions of others (even our own family) deter us from doing what we know God has for us to do.
Imagine the scene. Jesus, trying to avoid being killed, sneaks into the Jewish Festival of Shelters…all ninja like. He overhears all these people looking for him and many others grumbling about him. He hears all these differing opinions about who people think he is, and everyone is afraid to say anything positive about him. Good thing Jesus is very secure in who he is and is so focused on what he came to do, because there is NOTHING more awkward than overhearing a conversation about you when no one thinks your listening. Am I right? So after all this sneaking around, trying to avoid detection, what does Jesus do? Plot twist! He walks right up from the stage and starts teaching! Bold move Jesus. As he senses more confusion and grumbling from the crowds, he says something interesting. “My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him, speaks truth, not lies.” If you are seeking the heart and will of God, THEN you will know. Jesus knew that so many in the crowd were not actually concerned with the will of God. They were just trying to preserve their power and privilege or they were just there, invigorated by the drama of it all. Because their hearts were not seeking after God, their eyes were closed to the true beauty and reality of the Messiah standing before them. As we know, the whole reason for writing (and reading) John is so that YOU would believe with your whole being, and that would cause you to have LIFE in his name. So we ask: Are you seeking the will of God? Do you truly want to understand the heart and character of the one who created you? It’s this kind of curious and humble heart that will lead you to the answers you seek.
One of the common themes we see in John is how so many people miss the point completely because they are so stuck in their expectations and preconceived notions of what the Messiah will be like.
So many people get hung up on Jesus being from Galilee…they never stopped to dig a little deeper because they assumed they knew all there was to know. The Pharisees and many others in the crowd get so fixated on either taking Jesus’ words literally or their own expectations (the Messiah is just going to…POOF!…appear one day!) that they miss out on so much! What about you? Are you stuck in your ways and long-held notions about Jesus that you’re no longer open to Jesus blowing your mind and reshaping the way you think? This is true for those who are just starting out on their journey and those who have been following Jesus their whole lives. Let’s pray a risky prayer together. God, I ask you to open my mind. I confess that I have my own expectations for what you are like. I’ve fallen into ruts and habits of making assumptions about you rather than actually coming to you as my source. I DO NOT want to miss the point. Break down barriers that keep me from growing and learning and transforming. I want to renew my mind. Over and over again. Amen.
As the festival is coming to a climax Jesus shouts, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart” Seems we’ve heard this somewhere before…hmmm. We probably should pay attention if Jesus is repeating it. This living water that quenches our spiritual thirst for.ev.er. is flowing out from the heart of Jesus. If we want to live a life of satisfaction and not of eternal longing and disappointment, it seems like we should become well acquainted with the heart and character of Jesus.
Also, John notes that “living water” refers to the Holy Spirit which has not yet been given. Foreshadowing. Nice literary touch, John.
Good buddy Nicodemus is back! Remember him? I knew we hadn’t seen the last of him. He’s still a bit too timid to outright challenge his Phari-friends, but I think we are starting to see the seeds Jesus planted in that conversation about being born again. Looks like the seeds are beginning to grow and Nicodemus is starting to see.
The story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. I have so many questions. If she was caught in the ACT…where’s the man? Why wasn’t he brought to Jesus? Isn’t he just as guilty? (We probably already know these answers.) What did Jesus write in the dust while the religious leaders were contemplating their sin? The Bible is such a mystery. Our Western-thinking minds want all the gaps filled in…but John isn’t concerned with all the details. He’s concerned with The Point. (we are’t going to miss it)
When you read this story, who’s shoes (or sandals) do you find yourself in? The woman’s? The accusers? The truth of the matter is the more we read the Scriptures, the more the Scriptures start to read us. For that reason, we will probably identify with all the characters in some way each new time we read it.
Have you ever heard of Disney Princess Syndrome? It’s not a curse that makes everything you touch turn to ice. (Let it go.) No, it’s the faulty thinking that causes us to hear a story and immediately identify with the hero. We don’t ever want to see ourselves as having more in common with the villain. Obviously. Because of this, when you read through the first portion of chapter 8 you probably found yourselves thinking, “Wow, these mean, callous, religious leaders! How could they? Don’t they care about other people? Do they not have a heart?” You probably didn’t find yourself rooting for them or identifying with them. However, if you’ve been following Jesus for a while, if you’re serving in ministry, if you’re leading others, if you have a tendency to think you know all you need to know…chances are, you have more in common with the accusers in this story than you’d care to admit. You are right though. These men didn’t care too much about this woman. They probably didn’t even care that she was actively sinning. They saw her as a pawn. A means to an end. A tool to help bring down the threat to their power, their privilege, their wealth, and the status quo that enabled all those things. But we’ve never been there, right? Wrong. When we hold on too tightly to the temporary things that bring us comfort and make us feel important, we are tempted to see other people this way. Spend a few minutes here in the posture of repentance. Recognize when you’ve been afraid of change, that maybe you’ve hurt others in your quest to maintain your illusion of control. If you need to make amends, pray for the courage to do so.
Have you ever felt shame before? Maybe not to the extend this woman felt, but also, maybe you have. It’s interesting, in the Garden of Eden one of the first things that enters paradise after Adam and Eve decide to disobey is SHAME. They immediately realize their nakedness and they run and hide and they try and find something completely inadequate to cover their bodies and their shame. While Jesus doesn’t diminish the severity of this woman’s sin, he does treat her with dignity and alleviates some of her shame. You see, shame is a direct result of the Fall. It was never meant to have a place in the Kingdom of God. There’s no room for shame when you are in the presence of the Lord. Not since Jesus entered the scene. There is something to be said about conviction. Jesus acknowledges that she is not living the life she was created to live and tells her to turn completely away from that life. While conviction will move us closer to the heart of God, shame will only cause us to run and hide, deepening the divide. So it’s time to let that shame go. Come to the feet of Jesus, baring it all to him. Let him look at you and say, “Neither do I condemn you. Go! Don’t waste anymore time on your shame and get living how I intended you to live!”
“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free…if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”
FREEDOM. We Americans LOVE this word. But what does actual, spiritual freedom look like? Spoiler alert. It’s not getting to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. No, this freedom that Jesus speaks of is deeper than that…and (surprise, surprise) the majority of this crowd missed the point (again.)
Lamentations (stick with me) is a collection of poems in the Old Testament that were written during a time when Israel was suffering greatly, sitting in the consequences of their sin and disobedience. In this book is some profound and deeply beautiful imagery that encourages us to pour out our heart and our grievances to God. Chapter 1, verse 14 says, “He wove my sins into ropes to hitch me to a yoke of captivity.” This is the progression of living on our own terms, apart from the life-giving teachings of Christ. Let’s be honest, sin looks like freedom…and it even feels a bit like freedom (in the beginning). The devil is cunning enough to make sin look fun, to convince us that we deserve to be the master of our own domain and make our own choices. However as Jesus so bluntly puts it in this chapter, “You are the children of your father the devil…He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Make no mistake about it. The end game of sin is YOUR DESTRUCTION. It is not your good time, It is not your “freedom”. Sin (and the devil) are always moving you toward death. That may seem harsh but it’s true. Over time, the deeper we get into our sin, the more and more that sin weaves itself into ropes that, in turn, bind us to that sin. What felt like freedom in the beginning ends in our captivity. What chains need to be broken in your life? What have you become enslaved to? Jesus is the chain-breaker and he wants to see you live in real, true, and lasting freedom. He knows that he and his truth is the source of that freedom. The binding ropes of sin are strong and hard to break, but not for Jesus. He wants to set you free. Do you want freedom?
Jesus makes some BOLD claims in the 8th chapter of John. He literally says, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!” Jesus is claiming to have always existed, with God and as God. (insert mind-blowing emoji). This carefully chosen phrase, I AM, would not have been lost on these devoutly Jewish ears. They realized what he was claiming…and it’s this very claim that caused so many religious leaders to want him dead. But if they realized, would they believe? Many didn’t, for many different reasons. There was no room in their hearts. Their ears had been closed off to the truth because they were so bound to their sin. Their hearts didn’t belong to God. So we come back to John’s central question: Who do you say that HE IS? Don’t let your hearts be hardened to this truth. Believe and have life!
Jesus heals the man born blind. This might be my favorite Jesus healing because it’s how I Imagine every healing would happen if a ten-year-old boy was allowed to be Jesus for the day. Spit in mud. Make mud pies. Rub saliva-mud-pies on people’s faces. It really is quite odd that Jesus chooses to heal the man in this way. Why do you think he does this? Is he showcasing the duality of his divinity and his humanity? Is he just messing with the Pharisees again? We probably will never know the actual answers, but that’s not really the point (see above) of the story.
As with so many other moments of John, the healing of the man born blind, shatters old thinking and forces people open their minds and hearts and ask themselves, who is this rabbi? The first way Jesus shifts people’s thinking is by explaining that this man’s blindness is not the direct result of sin (his or his families). This was a commonly-held belief amidst Jewish culture. However, Jesus makes clear that we shouldn’t judge those who have a disability in these terms. Instead, Jesus says the reason for his ailment is “so that the power of God could be seen in him.” It’s important to note: just because Jesus states that this is the reason for THIS man’s blindness, that doesn’t mean this reasoning extends to everyone born with a disability. Sometimes we can do more harm than good by using phrases like, “everything happens for a reason.” We don’t want to inadvertantly diminish people’s experience with our often well-meaning but not always helpful words. One thing is clear from scripture…God can and will use any situation to reveal himself and his glory. This also doesn’t mean that God will physically heal anyone who asks in they way they expect. I think we all know this from experience. I know it’s tough to comprehend, but I am sure there were many other blind people whom Jesus walked by and they didn’t come to have physical sight. These are complicated issues that can’t always be glossed over by a happy platitude. That’s why it’s important to treat all people with compassion and humility as we don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. Moreover, as we’ll learn later in this chapter, Jesus is more concerned with our spiritual blindness…an ailment we all can be healed of.
So Jesus rubs some mud pies on this guys eyes and asks him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam, which would have been a very public place with many eyes to see the miracle taking place. Also interesting that Siloam means “sent” because this guy is about to be sent out to share the Good News of Jesus to all who knew him. (Side note: this location was discovered and partially excavated in 2004. It is always so fascinating to see modern photos of places that Jesus walked and healed and ministered).
As with most things Jesus does, this healing comes back with mixed reviews. Many saw with their own eyes that this man was the same blind man they used to see begging all the time. They were astounded and believed that Jesus must have been sent by God, as he’s been claiming. Yet, still many more were skeptical. This newly healed man had to repeat over and over again his account of what he experienced. Yes, I am that guy who used to be blind. Yes, I can see now. Yes, it was Jesus who rubbed saliva-mud on my face. No, I don’t have all the answers or know exactly HOW he did it. They even brought in his parents to confirm his identity.
You know, the same thing happens to us when we have had an encounter with Jesus that radically transforms our lives. People question the validity of our experience. “But really, HOW did you change your life? Was is something you ate? Was it a class you took? Are you just getting more sleep?” No! You encountered the living God, were baptized in the Holy Spirit and you were changed from the inside out! Keep telling everyone you know. Like this man formerly known as “The Blind Guy”, you don’t need to have all the answers; your experience speaks for itself. If we’ve been changed in the presence of God, the proof (as they say) is in the pudding. (What does that even mean??) The way we live, the choices we make, the unshakeable hope we carry…they should all point to a life-changing encounter with Jesus.
And when someone (or the devil) comes along and tries to make you question your transformation (which will inevitably happen), you can say to them, “Yes, I used to be that person, but I’m not anymore. My identity is not in the past. I used to be blind, but now I see.”
Have you been transformed by the life-giving presence of God? What is different about you now than before you met Jesus? How would the trajectory of your life be different if you had never encountered the living God? Is there proof in your pudding? When someone observes the way you live, is there anything noteworthy or different than those who live according to their own desires and wisdom?
If you’ve experienced positive change in your life, who have you shared that with? Are you too scared to share your experience because you don’t think you have all the answers? Spend some time praying that God would reveal your story to tell. Write it out. Let’s be prepared to give an answer when someone asks about the hope that is evident in your life. Also spend some time in prayer, asking God to reveal the name of someone who could benefit from hearing your story of transformation. Pray that God would open doors for you to share it with them.
This story comes full circle when the former-blind-man meets Jesus again. Not only does Jesus heal his physical blindness, he also offers him spiritual sight. This man proudly exclaims, “Yes, Lord, I believe!” which is, in fact, the entire point of the healing in the first place. Do you believe?
Then Jesus gets very deep with this newly healed man. He reveals that the reason Jesus entered our world is to “render judgment – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” Who is Jesus talking about? Clearly he is speaking of things beyond physical sight. He is speaking so that the Pharisees, who are basically his shadow at this point, can hear his words….and they do. To them he says, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty…but you remain guilty because you claim you can see.” Ouch. Jesus, as we will come to know better, is not a fan of pretending to be spiritual. He’s not a fan of hypocrites and he’s definitely not a fan of people who think they know all the answers. I know it’s not easy when someone (even Jesus) points out our blind spots…when our deeply-held opinions and worldviews are called into question, perhaps by Jesus himself. But, friends, we can’t miss this! For too long too many of us “church-folk” have claimed to be able to see…even claimed 20/20 vision. Is it possible that we’ve gotten somethings wrong? That we’ve made assumptions or generalizations without truly investigating the heart of Jesus? May we be humble enough to cling to the person of Jesus rather than our opinions. May we open ourselves up to the possibility of having our minds (and hearts) changed again. Like the Pharisees, we aren’t done on this journey yet, friends. We haven’t arrived. There is more of God’s heart that we haven’t explored. Let’s not claim to have all the answers, be humble enough to admit we might be wrong, and keep seeking, keep knocking, and keep asking for God to reveal more and more of his character to us.