We Want to see Jesus

“Houston, we’ve had a problem.” These infamous words were uttered by Jim Lovell as a catastrophic explosion jeopardized the lives and mission of the crew of Apollo 13. The “large bang” they reported resulted in a mind-blowing example of ingenuity and innovation as the ground and space crews worked together to create a carbon dioxide filter and then operate and return their spacecraft with very little electrical power. Several agonizing days later, they miraculously splashed down safely as a captivated America watched and prayed.

Today’s passage harkens back to an earlier time of danger, when Jesus’ time on earth was drawing to its inevitable end. Greeks had come to see what all the fuss was about, and they approached Philip to ask to see Jesus. Like the Apollo mission, this passage begins with excited onlookers and high optimism:

John 12 (Common English Bible)

20 Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

But rather than revel in the potential evangelism of the moment, Jesus begins to forecast what will be a downward trajectory that will define all of them in ways no one could suspect at the onset:

23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.

This “large bang” concerned a wheat grain falling to its death in order to bring forth life. Surely Jesus is projecting his own death on the cross in order to bring the resurrection to the people. The downward spiral continues with words about hating life in this world and losing life if it is loved too much.

But the tone changes when Jesus invited the listeners to follow him. Even if the path sloped down, Jesus promised to be with them and stated that the Father will honor all who follow Jesus.

Yet as he embarks on this path, his own heart is troubled. Listen to his prayer in this difficult time:

27 “Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Jesus’ prayer was one of assured obedience. He knew that the way he had to go would involve pain and hardship, yet his willingness to accomplish it is summed up with “Father, glorify your name!” In saying this, Jesus reminded us that in order to be glorified, i.e., “lifted up,” he would have to fall down hard first.

And God confirms it:

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

2The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”

30 Jesus replied, “This voice wasn’t for my benefit but for yours.31 Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. 32 When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (33 He said this to show how he was going to die.)

His prayer is answered right in front of the crowd, and he explained what will happen next.

34 The crowd responded, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Human One must be lifted up? Who is this Human One?”

35 Jesus replied, “The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going.36 As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.” After Jesus said these things, he went away and hid from them.

Are you on a downward trajectory right now? Do you believe that God can glorify your journey? Are you following Jesus even in this darkness? Ask God to lift you up.

Jesus is the light in your situation. If you stay on the path of obedience, he surely will lift you up and return you to solid ground. There is NO problem that he can’t overcome!

Thanks be to God.

Splashdown by Michelle Robertson

Children of Light

Have you ever been truly alone? There are situations in life that can isolate us. Illness, divorce, incarceration, grief, addiction, cancer treatments, etc. can put us in a place of complete estrangement from others. I experienced that in a very small way several years ago when a highly contagious stomach virus isolated me to my room for almost five days. My husband left Gatorade and toast at the door so that he wouldn’t catch it. Laying there in the bed for long days and nights without human contact was disorienting.

As Jesus made his journey through “Holy Week” to the cross, he was mentally and spiritually preparing himself for the crucifixion. It surely was a walk in a lonesome valley, as the old gospel song says. Nobody around him could know the terror that awaited him. Nobody around him could know the glory that was about to be revealed. Nobody expected the resurrection. Nobody understood.

He was truly all alone.

John 12 (The Message)

20-21 There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”

22-23 Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

27-28 “Right now I am shaken. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”

A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”

29 The listening crowd said, “Thunder!”

Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

30-33 Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

34 Voices from the crowd answered, “We heard from God’s Law that the Messiah lasts forever. How can it be necessary, as you put it, that the Son of Man ‘be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

Who is this ‘Son of Man’? Nobody understood.

Who is this child on the spectrum? Who is this soccer mom who has to get her fix before breakfast? Who is this former CEO in the nursing home? Who is this woman trying to just function after her husband left her? Who is this brave widow sitting alone in church trying to smile? Nobody understands.

35-36 Jesus said, “For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light.”

As we journey with Jesus through the lonesome valley today, let us bring light to those who sit in the darkness of loneliness. Let us remember that the light of Christ is within us for a reason … to illuminate someone’s valley. As you go about your day, be a child of light to someone on their own dark journey.

Be the Light by Michelle Robertson

Filling the House

Do you know someone who lights up a room when they walk in? Or who instantly brings the mood down upon entering? It is interesting to observe group behavior and how it can be changed with the addition or subtraction of one personality.

I am still experiencing a little PTSD from Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. I am sure by now that you have seen the clip of Will Smith walking up onto the stage and slapping Chris Rock for a joke he made in reference to Will’s wife. Jada Smith suffers from alopecia and is bald. Rock made a joke about “GI Jane 2,” a reference to a movie with a female character who shaved her head for combat.

Neither man was right. It is wrong to mock someone’s medical condition. It is wrong to assault a person because you don’t like what they said.

In the aftermath, much has been written about the crowd’s behavior. Regardless of your opinion about their reaction, one thing is clear: the atmosphere in the room was irrevocably changed. A few people who spoke after the assault tried to lighten the mood and help the crowd move on, but the thing that we all witnessed permeated the rest of the night. People were unsure of what they had just seen. Then ten minutes later, they gave Smith a standing ovation for his Oscar win. Twenty years from now people will still be talking about this year’s Oscars, but not for the right reasons.

This Oscar night began as a bright and spangly celebration, as the Hollywood elite joined in person after a year of isolation due to the pandemic. Even if you care very little for the event, it felt good to realize that holding the Oscars in their legendary theater was a sign that things are becoming normal again. The glitz, the glamour, and the gowns all spoke of a return to the pleasant superficially of movie makers and their stars. And let’s face it … movies helped us get through two years of isolation. But in one ill-considered exchange, two men changed the atmosphere of the event and it will always be remembered for that. Our delight in the evening came crashing down with the stink of their behavior.

This serves as a reminder that you can change the atmosphere for better or for worse by the things you choose to do and say.

We turn our attention to John now as we move closer to the crucifixion in our story. Easter is on the horizon, but we are not there yet. In this passage, watch for what Mary does.

John 12 (Common English Bible)

12 Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. 

We see another lovely picture of the Martha/Mary dynamic. Martha served. Of course Martha served! She was the one who was always focused on the practical task at hand. We need Marthas to get the jobs done around us. But we especially need the Marys, who see the world through spiritual lenses and show us what God is doing in our midst. She chose to anoint Jesus’ feet with costly perfume, and the pleasing aroma of her prophetic offering filled the entire house. Everyone received the blessing of her gift as they breathed in the fragrant perfume.

Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.)

And then comes Judas the mood-killer, questioning her actions and taking all the joy out of the moment. He calls their attention to the price of the gift and how it had just been squandered. He points out the waste of it and makes them feel guilty for having enjoyed its sweet fragrance. He changed the atmosphere. But Jesus intervenes.

Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”

Jesus saw exactly what Mary was doing and used it as another step toward preparing them for the crucifixion that was yet to come. He invited them to live for a moment in the present, warning that they won’t always have him.

The challenge for us is to heed his words. Where is God calling you to be present in the present and fill your house with joy and peace? The people in your house won’t always be with you. Is God inviting you to examine the effect your attitude has on others? Is God directing you to change your behavior?

You can fill your house with the scent of positivity or the stink of negativity. You can bring everyone up or push everyone down.

Which will you choose?

Choose Joy by Michelle Robertson

The Hour Comes

One of the blessings of observing Lent for six weeks is the focused anticipation of Easter. Some of us anticipate it with the breathless excitement of a child waiting for her Easter basket full of jelly beans. Some of us anticipate it like a child attending an Easter egg hunt….we know there are hidden treats there somewhere, but we are still looking through the high grass. Most of us just want the six weeks of self-deprivation to end.

Whatever your perspective is as we begin this fifth week of Lent, Easter is coming. The hour approaches. The culmination of this season of disciplined waiting is about to end.

How are you doing?

Have you kept up with the commitments you made on Ash Wednesday to be more diligent in your fasting, prayer, scripture reading, meditation, repentance, worship, and serving?

Yeah, me neither.

You might be like me. I have been satisfactory in one area. I’m teaching a Lent study to help me focus in on scripture and the commitment to teach gave me no out! But I totally bombed in another. I committed to not snacking in the evening and that has been a big fail. My definition of “evening” keeps getting pushed back…all the way to midnight.

Today’s scripture is a glimpse of how Jesus spent his last hours before the crucifixion. Notice his complete and total commitment to what was about to happen.

John 12 (English Standard Version)


20 
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

The hour has come. This must be finished. A grain of wheat must die in the ground to produce seed for the fruit. You must die to your life to produce seed for eternal life. Jesus invites us to follow him in this last hour.

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Jesus didn’t waver at the end. Neither should we. Let us push on with our Lent practices and finish strong. Remember that the whole point of Lent is to bring us closer and deeper into God’s Holy presence. It’s not so much about “giving up” as it is “focusing in” on who God is and whose we are. That focus allows God to be glorified in our lives and the crowd of people around us will know we are Christ-followers by our example.

No turning back.

Glorified by Kathy Schumacher

Betrayal

Think of a time when you were betrayed. It happens to everyone sooner or later. It might be as simple as a confidence that was shared inadvertently, or as devastating as a spouse cheating on you and destroying your marriage. Maybe it happened in your family, with siblings or parents. Perhaps it was a co-worker who stabbed you in the back in order to further their career. Whatever the circumstance, betrayal is a gut-wrenching experience. You suddenly feel like the floor has dropped out from under your feet and you are riding one of those centrifugal-force carnival rides that presses you up against the wall. All you can do is wait for it to stop spinning.

Imagine being Jesus, sharing a last meal with his buds, and realizing that one of the cherished twelve was about to do that very thing:

John 12 (The Message)

21 After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “One of you is going to betray me.”

This tight-knit group was confused and somewhat horrified. Who, among them, could do such a thing? You probably felt the same way about your betrayer.

Note the tender care John takes to describe his own relationship with Jesus here. I love the image of him reclining next to Jesus with his head on his shoulder:

22-25 The disciples looked around at one another, wondering who on earth he was talking about. One of the disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder. Peter motioned to him to ask who Jesus might be talking about. So, being the closest, he said, “Master, who?”

Now watch what happens with the bread. In our understanding of Jesus as the Bread of Life, and realizing that this meal is the institution of Holy Communion, it is fascinating to see how bread is used here:

26-27 Jesus said, “The one to whom I give this crust of bread after I’ve dipped it.” Then he dipped the crust and gave it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. As soon as the bread was in his hand, Satan entered him.

“What you must do,” said Jesus, “do. Do it and get it over with.”

28-29 No one around the supper table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that since Judas was their treasurer, Jesus was telling him to buy what they needed for the Feast, or that he should give something to the poor.

30 Judas, with the piece of bread, left. It was night.

Jesus broke the bread (his body,) dipped it in oil (an anointing,) and offered it to his betrayer. The betrayer took it, but did not consume it. Satan took that opportunity to fill the void.

Then Judas left, bread in hand.

This is what happens to us when we are offered the Word of God but fail to internalize it. It opens us up to all kinds of influences. Jesus is the Bread of Life, but in order for that take hold, you have to consume him by taking in EVERYTHING he taught, and by following the example of his life. Otherwise, you are simply getting up from the table and walking away unchanged, with the bread in your hand.

Jesus said, “Take. EAT. This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

So eat the bread, people. Let him fully enter in to your mind, your heart and your life. He died for it, so that you might live.

The Garden of Gethsemane by Michelle Baker

Reckless Love

The first time I heard Reckless Love by Cory Asbury was at a Youth Sunday worship service several years ago. Three teenage girls sang it, and I thought it was one of the most wonderful things I had heard in a long time. Those sincere young voices are in my heart today, as we have realized that we most likely will not have our annual Youth Sunday as a live worship experience this year.

Here are the lyrics to the chorus:

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.

Our scripture today describes Jesus’ act of reckless love as he faced his final days on earth. He was speaking to a crowd of people as his death was drawing near, and explained reckless love like a grain of wheat, which must be buried in order for it to bring forth life and multiply:

John 12 (The Message)

24-25 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

Truly his love for us is reckless. It is never-ending and overwhelming. Here he was in his final week, feeling storm-tossed about what was about to happen. But did he think of himself? No, he thought of you. He would not ask his father to get him out of it. Instead, he invited God to use his death to display his glory.

27-28 “Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”

”Father, put your glory on display.”

Jesus is committing to following through. He, who was present at the creation of the world, was willing to be falsely tried, spit upon, ridiculed, beaten, scorned, pierced, and nailed to a tree for us.

How can we possibly respond to this kind of reckless love? This is a love that you can’t earn or deserve. This is a love that chases you down. This is a love that brings the gift of eternal life.

Are you ready to stop running?

26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

Then follow him.

Following Footsteps by Elaine Walls Reed

Reckless Love