John 8: “Defender of the Weak”

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I have a fond story of my dad that I’ve never shared publicly, probably because it happened at one my weakest moments as a kid.

Growing up I was never the strongest, fastest, or best athlete on my street. There were five, yes five, boys on my block that grew up within months of each other. The birthdays started in April and rolled right on through till August in our neighborhood. One day we were out playing street hockey when a teenager decided to play with us. It wasn’t uncommon for the older brothers to come and play hockey with us, but while we were elementary school, the older kids took it a little easy on us since they were in middle and high school. This particular older boy however served more  as the neighborhood bully than anything else, and decided he was going to come out and beat up on us younger kids.

After getting knocked down a couple of times, I got really hurt when he checked me into the side of the house where we were playing. I got really hurt and gingerly started to skate for home, which was only two houses down. As I was skating home my dad was getting home from work and saw that I was crying and holding my head. After finding out what happened from me he walked over to the boy and began to give him a lecture on his obvious difference in size. One thing you have to know about my dad is he wasn’t just larger than life in my eyes, he was actually 6′ 3,” 250+ in everyone else’s eyes as well!

I remember him yelling at this boy and at one point even picked up the hockey ball and through it into the net just inches from the teenager in question. At that moment I didn’t care that I broke an unwritten street rule and would potentially get beat up because my dad defended me. I didn’t care because I watched my father defend me against an outmatched and outsized opponent. I remember thinking, “that’s my dad.”

In John 8 we find one of the most famous stories of Jesus encountering two things:

  1. The righteousness of the Pharisees
  2. Sin

The break this story down there’s a couple of things we need to know. First of all, the woman was literally caught in the act of adultery (v. 3). This makes for a very testy situation since there are direct consequences to this action. Here’s another thing that we need to be aware of; this woman was used to lure Jesus into a trap. They knew, and he knew that they were trying to catch him up. But here’s the first problem, where was the man? The law of Moses indicated that both the woman and the man were to be held accountable. So here’s the trap:

  • Don’t Stone Her = Violate the Law of Moses
  • Stone Her = Breaking Roman Law

So what does Jesus do? Of course, he writes in the sand! What every ordinary person would do…write in the sand. We have no record of what Jesus wrote, but here’s some of the speculations:

  1. The sin of the Pharisees
  2. The Ten Commandments
  3. Exodus 23 regarding lying

 

John 8:7-10 (NLT) 

Think about ultimately how Jesus defended this woman. She was obviously caught in the midst of sin, but instead of beating her up more than she had already experienced, he defends her and exercises love and compassion. Here’s a key takeaway: Jesus loved her, but he didn’t approve of her sin. It’s important to know that love doesn’t equal approval. You can deeply love someone, but it doesn’t mean you approve of their sin. The reality for us is found in Jesus’ admonishment of the woman. He didn’t say, “Go and commit adultery no more.” He said, “go and sin no more.” Sin is sin no matter how big or little we deem it. Her sin that was made public is no more or less sinful than the sin you commit in private.

In this case, Jesus was the defender of the spiritually weak. He communicated to her that she was more important than what she did wrong.

 

Mark 11: “For All Nations”

I’m not sure why everyone was so surprised that Jesus walked into the Temple and set things straight. The prophet Malachi told them this would happen:

Malachi 3:1-3 (NLT) “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

2 “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. 3 He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.

Like we’ve seen before, no matter how many prophecies Jesus fulfilled, it didn’t stop the Pharisees (Levites) from plotting to kill Jesus.

Mark 11:18 (NLT) 18 When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him.

But this still doesn’t answer the question why Jesus was so upset. Until further study, one of the things I never realized was the actual location Jesus cleared out.

Court of the Gentiles

Located in the outer court of the Temple was the location called the Court of the Gentiles. This is the furthest point that a Gentile could go in the Temple. In fact, there were signs in both Hebrew and Greek warning that Gentiles would be executed if caught past that point.

Here’s the other thing about the Court of the Gentiles. It was the only place where Gentiles could observe the Jewish worship of God. If you attend a church, picture a room off the sanctuary where non-believers could gather and watch to see what was going on during the service. So basically the Jewish religious leaders took up the one location where Gentiles could see their interaction with God.

It’s important to note what Jesus says while he’s “cleaning the Temple.” We hear people say that Jesus declared, (v. 17) “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” Now, this is true, but we tend to leave off one of the most important part of his statement. His full statement is, (v. 17) “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.

This declaration by Jesus would not have set well with the Pharisees. In their mind there, and the mind of others as well, Jews were the only ones who could truly worship God. In fact, it made the Pharisees irate when they heard that Jesus was extending grace to both Jews AND Gentiles.

 

What Do We Learn?

I can’t tell you what to learn from this story, that’s the role of the Holy Spirit. However, I can tell you what I learned. I learned that still today as a church we struggle with making it harder for people to follow Jesus in the church. Yes, there was major corruption with the money changers and sellers of doves, oil, wine…etc, but at the root level, they ended up cluttering up the only area were Gentiles could experience worship of God.

The question to consider today is this: How have we cluttered up or made it more difficult for people to experience worship today in our churches?

Mark 8: “The Test of the Pharisees”

Unfair Test

A young college student had stayed up all night studying for his zoology exam the next day. As he entered the classroom, he saw ten stands with ten birds. A brown paper bag was over each one of the bird’s heads and only the legs were showing.

He sat right in the front row because he wanted to do the best job possible and maintain his 4.0 grade point average. The professor announced that the test would be to look at each set of bird legs and give the common name, habitat, genus, species, and identifying characteristic.

The student looked at each set of bird legs. They all looked the same to him. He began to get very upset. He had stayed up all night studying, and now he had to identify birds by their legs. The more he thought about it, the madder he got. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore.

He went to the professor’s desk and said “What a stupid test! How could anyone tell the difference between birds by looking at just their legs?” With that the student threw his test on the professor’s desk and started to walk out of the door.

The professor was surprised. The class was so big that he didn’t know every student’s name, so as the student reached the door, the professor called out “One moment, son, what’s your name?”

The enraged student pulled up his pants at the leg and said, “You guess buddy! You guess!

The Test of the Pharisees

Tests, just the word to some sends shivers down your spine. On the other hand there are some who hear the word test and get all giddy. I don’t understand these people but I do know they exist. Tests are interesting if you think about it, because you are at the mercy of answering the test based on the desire of the person giving the test.

It’s here in Mark 8 that once again Jesus is being put to the test.

Mark 8:11-13 (NLT) 11 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had arrived, they came and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority.

12 When he heard this, he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why do these people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not give this generation any such sign.” 13 So he got back into the boat and left them, and he crossed to the other side of the lake.

Now before we jump all over the Pharisees we have to as ourselves, how often do I test God in this way?

  • “God, if you love me, you’ll…”
  • “God, just                                             and I will                                       
  • “God, if I could just see a sign, then I’ll believe

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s true. At one point or another in our lives, we too have gotten to the place of testing God. But here’s what’s strange about the Pharisees. They have been traveling with Jesus for a while and he was performing miracles right in front of their eyes, but what they were looking for wasn’t a miracle, it was an astrological sign from the heavens.

Jesus’ Response

The thing that scares me about this scripture isn’t that the Pharisees were demanding a sign, we anticipate that. Instead, it scares me that Jesus got so frustrated he got in the boat and left them. He had enough. He was angry, frustrated with their faithlessness.

The Zondervan Illustrated Bibles says, “The English translation misses how sharply Jesus refuses (v. 12). The text reads literally, “If a sign shall be given to this generation.” It comprises part of a vehement oath formula that would begin or conclude: “May God strike me down” or “May I be accursed of God” if a sign is given to this generation. Only false prophets will give signs to this generation.”

I’m a firm believer in God’s omnipresence (his ability to be everywhere at one time), but I’m also astute enough to realize that there were times that “God’s glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:12-22).”

Takeaway 

The thing about this story, or even God’s glory, is not the God ever “leaves” us. It’s the exact opposite. Instead, we leave God. Jesus got in the boat and left because the Pharisees didn’t want to believe. If you too are fearful of this today, cry out to God, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief (Mark 9:24)!” More on that tomorrow…

Acts 23: “Hope in the Resurrection”

What Do You Hope For?

Hope is a word that get’s thrown around pretty willy-nilly these days. Shoot, I do it myself when I say things like, “I hope Michigan beats Ohio State this year!” Or, “I hope that light stays green!” These aren’t bad uses of the word “hope,” but they just don’t really mean anything in the end. As we begin today, ask yourself this question: What do you hope for in the end? I mean, really hope for? You have to know that what we hope for determines a lot about how we live. It’s been scientifically proven that mentality helps shapes your future.

Hopeful

A man approached a little league baseball game on afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, “Eighteen to nothing-we’re behind.”

“Boy,” said the spectator, “I’ll bet you’re discouraged.”

“Why should I be discouraged?” replied the little boy. “We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”

Hope in the Resurrection

Hope: “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Let me be clear, what we hope for determines a lot about how we live. Paul in Acts 23 makes a bold declaration both philosophically and theologically. Continue reading Acts 23: “Hope in the Resurrection”

Acts 7: “Cut to the Heart”

One of the greatest sermons ever preached is found in Acts 7, and it’s preached by a guy who’s only been an “official” apostle for a short amount of time. Starting with Abraham, Stephen powerfully retells all the spiritual history that has led up to this point in time. In fact, the Jewish religious leaders would have agreed with Stephen and supported his retelling of the history… right up until verse 51: “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you!” I even wrote next to this verse in the margin of my bible, “uh-oh.”

As I read this, I pictured the council listening intently up until the point of Stephen calling them murderer’s of the Messiah. It’s no wonder the leaders killed Stephen, but there’s something in the language of verse 54 that began to stick out to me.


Acts 7:54 (NLT) 54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage.

Continue reading Acts 7: “Cut to the Heart”

Luke 20: “Stewards, Not Owners”

January 15, 1989

WEST PALM BEACH — FILMING HITS SNAG. Burt Reynolds’ film crew was busy exploding a front lawn for an episode of the B.L. Stryker television series when the home’s angry owner called saying they didn’t have permission to use the property. When Daniel O’Brien of Ardsley, N.Y., learned that Reynolds’ production company was crashing cars in front of his West Palm Beach home and had given his living room the look of a motel, he called, demanding answers. ”They’re blowing up the front lawn. They put carpet down and put new paintings up. They have no permission to do this,” said O’Brien’s son, Kieran, from New York. Neither watched the filming in person. Blue Period Inc. told O’Brien they had permission from his tenants, Ricardo and Laura Gonzalez, who signed an agreement allowing the filming. Mrs. Gonzalez refused to answer questions Friday. Officials of Reynolds’ company said they were under the impression the Gonzalezes owned the three-bedroom house until O’Brien telephoned Friday morning.

Can you imagine sitting in New York and getting a phone call from your neighbor in West Palm Beach? “Ah, Daniel, did you know they’re shooting a T.V. show at your house? Yeah, I’m looking out the window right now…watching the whole thing. I’m pretty sure they just blew up a car on your front lawn.” This story almost sounds too crazy to be true, but you know what they say, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

In Luke 20, Jesus tells an equally crazy parable that unfortunately was about to become all too true. If you haven’t already, turn to Luke 20:9-16 to get caught up on the Parable of the Evil Farmers.

Could you imagine the audacity of these tenant farmers? Just so we’re clear: Tenant farmers would have worked on land that they rented, not owned. So it would have been crazy for renters to beat up the person who was going to the farm to collect the rent for the owner.

To truly understand this parable, we must identify the characters:                               Owner of the Vineyard         God
The Vineyard                        Israel
The Tenant Farmers            Religious leaders of Israel
Servants of the Owner         The Prophets and Priests
Son/Heir of the Owner         Jesus Christ                                                                                 The Others                            Gentiles

Here’s the simple fact: The religious leaders forgot that they were the stewards, not the owners of religion in Israel. The whole reason why Jesus even tells this parable was ultimately to answer the religious leaders question,“By what authority are you doing these things (20:2)?” Jesus shows that he has authority by pointing to the fact that his father is the owner of the vineyard (Israel) and he is the heir.

Our takeaway for today is simply this: Don’t fall into the same trap as the Pharisees and think that you are the owner when you’re simply the steward. This can apply to multiple areas of your life, take for instance your finances.

We tend to think that we are the owner and the manager of our finances. But the truth is, God is the owner, he owns it all, but God trusts us with what’s his and calls us to steward (manage) it well.

The sooner you can understand that we steward God’s possessions and properties, the sooner he will start trusting us to keep stewarding. Don’t forget what we read earlier this week in Luke 16:10-12 10 “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. 11 And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? 12 And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own? 

Luke 19: “Hang On Every Word”

Since I’m a pastor I have to go to church on Mondays. Sure, I could count my time preaching and teaching on Sunday’s as church, but since that’s a time of pouring out for me, I need to find a time to be poured into. So on Mondays, I go to Brooklyn Tabernacle and am taught by my pastor, Jim Cymbala.

Now Pastor Cymbala doesn’t know me, and because I live in Chicago he couldn’t pick me out of a crowed, but faithfully each Monday I stream the message from that Sunday praying his words will pour into me and fill me.

This past summer Pastor Cymbala and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers came to my town in Naperville. Literally two miles from my church, Pastor Cymbala, along with Tim Delina, and Michael Durso, came for a conference. Listening to your pastor online is one thing, but when he’s standing ten feet from you, needless to say, I was on the edge of my seat hanging on every word.

I thought for sure today I would cover the story of Zacchaeus in my reflection, but boy did God have other plans.There are two lines of scripture right before Chapter 20 begins that I want to reflect on today. Continue reading Luke 19: “Hang On Every Word”

Luke 15: “Found Things”

Having a nine-year-old daughter is quite an interesting time of life. Your eyes are opened to a world that for some, didn’t even know existed. Oh, but it does. It’s a magical world filled with Fairies, Princesses, Barbies, and American Girl Dolls.

One of my favorite areas of this magical world are the Fairies. If you haven’t had the opportunity, you should sit through one of the many Disney fairy movies: “Tinker Bell,”Pirate Fairy,” and “Tinker Bell: Great Fairy Rescue” are some of my favorites. It’s amazing how many sermon illustrations you can find in one of these movies. That’s why I watch them… for sermon material… really…

In a scene where Tinker Bell meets her long lost sister Periwinkle, they discover something they have in common, collecting lost things. There’s only one difference between the two of them. Tinker Bell calls them “Lost Things,” while Periwinkle calls them “Found Things.”

According to disneyfairies.wikia.com, lost things are “human items that wash up on the shores of Never Land. Fairy Mary initially regarded lost things as worthless in the film Tinker Bell, but Tinker Bell was able to use the things she’d found to create some extremely efficient machines.”

Oh boy, I’ve gone too far… Continue reading Luke 15: “Found Things”

Luke 13: “Really?”

You may have noticed by now that there seems to be a pattern by Jesus to heal on the Sabbath. I was talking with a gentleman in my congregation the other day, and he even noted,”Really?,” next to a passage where Jesus heals on the Sabbath…AGAIN!  The point being, it infuriated the Pharisees and the Sadducees that Jesus would “work” on the Sabbath.

7 Sabbath Miracles

There are seven stories in the Gospels of Jesus healing on the Sabbath:

  • Jesus sends a demon out of a man                (Mark 1:21-28)
  • Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law              (Mark 1:29-31)
  • Jesus heals a lame man by Bethesda Pool  (John 5:1-18)
  • Jesus heals a man with a shriveled hand    (Mark 3:1-6)
  • Jesus restores a crippled woman                   (Luke 13:10-17)
  • Jesus heals a man with dropsy                       (Luke 14:1-6)
  • Jesus heals a man born blind                          (John 9:1-16)

So what’s the deal? Is Jesus just really bad at keeping track of his days, or is there something more going on? There’s always something more going on with Jesus, he’s trying to point out a truth. Continue reading Luke 13: “Really?”

Luke 5: “Old Dog, Same Tricks”

Dogs

You’ve heard the saying… “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I know dogs. I grew up with dogs. Just when we thought we were done with dogs, my mom would go out and get more dogs. Just look at the photo above. Yup, that’s me in the back left holding Lizzy, our second dog. At one point we had four dogs! The other two at the bottom were my sister’s and brother-in-law.

It’s true! You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Every time we would get a dog we taught them the two basic tricks right away: sit and shake. Buster, dog number four held by my brother-in-law Eric (top right), learned how to sit, shake, speak, and roll over. But as he got older when you would tell him to do a trick he already knew, he would revert back to the old faithful, shake. Basically, his attitude was, “hey, shake got me a treat before, it should still work now, right?”

Patches and Wineskins

Continue reading Luke 5: “Old Dog, Same Tricks”