Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Many Convincing Proofs

READ: John 20:10-21:23

REFLECT
Joseph Smith was the only person who claimed to receive a visit from the angel Moroni and then see the golden tablets from which he supposedly transcribed the book of Mormon. Hard to believe? You’re right! Many people over the centuries have claimed amazing and preposterous things and expected others to believe based on their own individual testimony.

Not so with the resurrection of Jesus. There were literally hundreds of people who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion and burial. And they didn’t all see him at the same time or the same place, and it seems he seldom appeared to just one person at a time. Also he actually did things that living people do – he walked and talked and ate! And here’s the kicker - he only appeared to people who weren’t looking for or expecting a resurrected Jesus!

As Luke says in Acts 1:3, “After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God”. One of those to whom he appeared was Peter, who for the first decade or so of the Christian movement was its major spokesman. So, it is fitting that John ends his book with Peter’s reinstatement by a resurrected Christ!

REASON
Some have said, “But he only appeared to those who claimed later to be his followers.” Think about that for just a second. If you saw Jesus, whom you had just buried a few days before, standing before you showing obvious signs of being alive in the flesh, wouldn’t you then, and for the rest of your life, call yourself a Christian. The reality is that some of his disciples were shocked by his resurrection and had difficulty believing what others said until they themselves saw Jesus. These people went on to preach the resurrected Jesus because they claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus. Wouldn’t you do the same?

RESPOND
With all the people who claimed to have seen and interacted with Jesus, after his observed death and burial, what arguments might someone still use to deny the reality of Jesus’ resurrection? The bottom line is that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, there must be a reasonable explanation for his disciples’ claims and their willingness to hold to those claims in the face of opposition and persecution.

So That The Scripture Would Be Fulfilled

READ: John 19:17-20:9


REFLECT
There are two things that John wanted to establish here. First, he wanted his readers to know that the details of Jesus’ death were completely consistent with the Messianic prophesies. These details were things over which no one would have control. As he hung on the cross, his garments were divided up by lot among the soldiers. After his death, they pierced his side rather than break his legs to ensure that he was dead. It would be pretty hard to manipulate others to ensure that these events occurred.

Second, he wanted to make it clear that Jesus did actually die and was buried. The Romans in charge of crucifixion were certain he was dead. He was then handled by at least two Jewish leaders and his body prepared for burial according to Jewish customs. Following that, he was laid in a tomb and a stone was rolled over the entrance. The “he didn’t really die” explanation but was unconscious and later was revived by the coolness of the tomb - just doesn’t cut it. The tomb, in which Jesus’ dead body, wrapped in linen and prepared with spices, had been laid was empty on the morning of the first day of the week. Of this John wanted his readers to be certain.

REASON
We know the tomb was empty because all Jesus’ enemies had to do in order to once and for all time silence the claims of his followers that he had been raised from the dead, was to produce his dead body. But they couldn’t do it, so the apostles' preaching about his resurrection was believed by thousands of Jews less than two months later in the very city where Jesus was tried, executed and buried.

RESPOND
If you are still struggling to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, what explanation can you offer to explain the empty tomb? If you believe that his tomb was not empty, how can you explain that the apostles were able to convince thousands of Jews in the very city where he was tried, executed and buried less than two months after these events took place?

I Have Spoken Openly

READ: John 18:1-19:16

REFLECT
Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified under the authority of the Roman governor and at the instigation of the Jewish leadership. Surely he was a criminal and surely no criminal could be the Son of God. John brings forth evidence of what really happened at Jesus’ arrest and the mockery that was his trial. He wasn’t tracked down and found in hiding. He had “spoken openly” and had “always taught in the synagogues or at the temple.” Even Pilate found “no basis for a charge against him” and he tried repeatedly to secure his release. But the Jews were insistent and Pilate relented.

The story of Jesus’ mock trial is an amazing story validating the claims of Jesus and his apostles as to his true identity. It is an account that is essentially identical among all four gospel accounts. Jesus was innocent of all charges; even the Roman governor could see that and wanted him to be released. It was only at the insistence of the Jewish leaders who incited a mob, which threatened to become a riot, that Pilate finally gave in. This is really damaging to the prosecution's case - it was only the combination of trumped up charges, a mock trial and a cowardly, people-pleasing judge that resulted in Jesus’ execution.

REASON
If Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God but only a religious leader or a spiritual teacher, who taught people to love God and love one another, then how can his execution at the insistence of the Jews and the hands of the Romans be logically explained? However, if he indeed claimed to be deity, the Jews who refused to believe would indeed be able to accuse him of blasphemy and the Romans could be convinced that he was a threat to stability of the region and thus agree to have him executed as a criminal. Jesus’ crucifixion is, in and of itself, proof of who Jesus repeatedly claimed to be.

RESPOND
Go back through these verses and make note of the statements that were made by the Jewish leaders, the governing authorities and by Jesus. How do these statements support John’s premise that Jesus is the Son of God?

The Lord's Prayer

READ: John 17:1-26

REFLECT
Jesus' prayer reinforces his claims and demonstrates the nature of deity. He prays as a Son to his Father, with an intimacy and a confidence that declares their eternal relationship. He prays with selflessness, on the eve of his physical and spiritual torture, for his disciples and for those who would believe on him through them. He prays with determination because he knows this is what he came into the world to do.

If a man is fake in his private prayer life, then he truly is a fake. One would expect that a person’s prayers when he is alone would reveal who he truly is. In Jesus we see no difference between his public claims and concerns and his private ones. There is nothing hidden about Jesus. He prays about the things that really matter to him, but these are the very things he had spoken about in public. He is completely transparent and completely consistent. He is the Son of God!

REASON
If the purpose of John’s gospel is to convince people that Jesus is the Son of God, why does he include this account of Jesus’ prayer the night before his crucifixion? It must be because John wanted to reveal to his reader both the personal life and thus the inner motivation and purpose of Jesus. Many have claimed that Jesus was a good man who taught about God’s love, but that he was misunderstood and opposed and that is why he was crucified. Jesus in his prayer bears witness that he came into the world for this precise moment. His hour had come to glorify the Father, and that, after all, was his life’s purpose.


RESPOND
If this is truly the prayer that Jesus prayed the night before his torture and crucifixion, how does this help or hinder your decision about his claim to being the Son of God?

It Is For Your Good

READ: John 16:5-33

REFLECT
This was a really difficult time for the disciples. They were confused by Jesus’ references to his “going away”. Jesus had predicted his suffering and death, but they had not wanted to hear what he had to say. In order to help them understand and accept his “going away” Jesus told them, “It is for your good that I am going away.”

How could that be for their good? Jesus told them that not only would the Counselor come to them and comfort them, but “he, the Spirit of truth” would come to guide them into all truth. He would make God’s truth known to them. But also, they would be able to ask anything in his name and receive it from the Father. Jesus was not leaving them as orphans. By going away, he was able to equip them in ways he could not while he was with them. They would have everything they needed to testify to the world on his behalf.

Jesus’ “going away” was not only for the apostles’ good, it for ours as well. We now have the gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament because Jesus sent the Spirit of truth who guided the apostles into all truth. They have made the life and teachings of Jesus more certain by their selfless testimony, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit!

REASON
Jesus’ promise that the apostles would be guided into all truth is, for those who believe him, his guarantee that what we call the New Testament is indeed the inspired word of God. Jesus spoke, the Holy Spirit guided, and the apostles have made it known to us. Many who reject Jesus claim that the New Testament documents were written and compiled a very long time after the time of Jesus, but such a claim is unsupported by the facts. Early copies of the four gospels clearly show that they were written within 40 years of Jesus’ death – a period far too short to create legends and myths about Jesus and then convince others of their truthfulness.

RESPOND
You don’t need to believe that the Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth in order to take the gospel accounts seriously, because they seriously claim to be historically accurate accounts of the words and deeds of Jesus, in and of themselves. If, however, you believe that their claims for Jesus are true, then you will believe that they were guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth.

You Also Must Testify

READ: John 15:1-16:4

REFLECT
Jesus knew that after his “departure” he would need others to testify in his behalf, otherwise all that he accomplished by taking on flesh, living, dying and being raised to life, would be lost. He had spent much of his last three years training and equipping these men for the task of being his witnesses. And they were qualified to do so because they had been with him from the beginning (15:27).

The apostles, and other early Christians were to be witnesses of his life, teaching, miracles, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, but in doing so, they would face intense and ongoing persecution. Of that Jesus assured them, but he also promised that they would have each other and the Counselor to help and support them.

These men were indeed credible eyewitnesses, for they not only were individually consistent in their testimony, but collectively complemented (not contradicted) each other, and they were willing to suffer and even die for what they said they saw and heard. As far as human testimony goes, it doesn’t get any better than that.

REASON
Would the consistent and complementary testimony of 11 people be rejected in any court of law today, especially if it could be established that none of them gained anything by their testimony (no book or movie deals, no get out of jail free cards)? Instead, they suffered ridicule, rejection, imprisonment and execution rather than renounce their faith. Why is it, then, that people can dismiss the testimony of the apostles so easily?

RESPOND
What do you personally think about the testimony of the apostles? Why would you not believe their testimony? What are you going to do with what they claim to be eyewitness accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?

The Way, The Truth, The Life

READ: John 14:1-31

REFLECT
There is much in this chapter to comfort disciples, both then and now. However, in keeping with John’s purpose, what stands out in this chapter are the many strong claims Jesus makes about himself. Instead of reading this chapter for what it is telling you to be or do as Jesus’ disciple, read it for what Jesus is saying about himself. Reread the chapter now if necessary.

He is going to his Father’s house to prepare a place for his disciples and he will come back and take them with him (14:1-4). He is THE way, THE truth and THE life and no one can come to the Father except through him (14:5-7). He said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” and he challenged people to believe “on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (14:8-11). He promised that they could ask for anything in his name and he would do it (14:12-13). He admonished them that anyone who loved him would obey his teaching (14:15, 23-24). He said that he is going away (to the Father) but that he would send them the Holy Spirit. (14:16-19, 25-30).

The only conclusions that are possible are: 1) The apostles and other early Christians are all liars because Jesus never claimed any of this; 2) Jesus made these claims, but he was either a nut case or a con artist, or; 3) Jesus made these claims and his is Lord. For you, which is it going to be. The option that he was a good man, a religious leader or even a prophet are simply not logical in light of the evidence presented.

REASON
Father, thank you for making it so clear what our choices are with regard to Jesus. You have called people to decide that either he is who he claimed to be, or that he is not. Since I've decided that he is who he claimed to be, help me live my life today demonstrating my faith in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. I know I have nothing to fear in this life; nothing that can ultimately harm me or rob me of the gift of eternal life. I will go through challenges and experience troubles in this world, but you, dear God, are with me and you live in me through your Holy Spirit. I have the truth in your written word and I have other disciples as my family in Christ. I have everything I need today to live victoriously for you and to that end I pray for wisdom and strength. May I bring glory to you!

RESPOND
One of the claims of Jesus that really bothers the non-Christian world is the one found in John 14:6. What do you understand Jesus to be saying here? If he spoke truth, what implications does this have? How do you feel about his claim?