Following Jesus • 43 / Answering the right question

Read This: John 3:1-3

A non-sequitur is a statement that doesn’t logically follow from the previous statement.

Nicodemus wouldn’t have come to Jesus if he wasn’t looking for something. He was trying to understand who Jesus was. God must have sent him because he’s doing things only God can do.

Acts of God were nothing new. The Scriptures were full of them, from His creation of the universe to His calling of Abraham, delivering His people from Egypt, guiding and providing for them in the wilderness, protecting them from their enemies — and all the miracles done through Moses and the prophets. The Jewish people knew the power and presence of God.

Now here was this Jesus, saying and doing things that reminded Nicodemus of stories he’d read in Scripture. Stories about prophets seeing and hearing things they were not privy to, causing jars of oil to not run out, multiplying food to feed groups of people, and facing kings down with righteous indignation.

God, the Creator of everything, was known to supernaturally intervene when His people needed provision, protection, or confrontation. And He usually did it through men. Such men served God’s interests and communicated His will. And God had promised to send another such man in the future. A Messiah, who would restore the kingdom to Israel. God’s kingdom. God’s king.

When you read Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’s question, it seems a non-sequitur. Actually, it was exactly what Nicodemus was looking for — but could not yet see.

Following Jesus • 42 / Acting on belief

Read This: John 3:1-2

Jesus’ upending of the temple bazaar produced results. Many who were there believed what He said because of what He did — including Nicodemus, a national leader. Not just a religious leader, he was a member of the elite group who ruled the nation.

Nicodemus didn’t approach Jesus in the temple. He came after hours. Some accuse him of stealth, while others suggest it’s easier to talk in private. Both make sense given the context.

An expert in the Scriptures, Nicodemus was working to reconcile them with what he saw and heard from Jesus. He was also respectful, addressing Jesus as Rabbi and acknowledging that Jesus must have come from God. “No one can do these signs (miracles) unless God is with him.”

This was not flattery. Jesus had done things only God can do. Nicodemus understood this and believed Jesus was from God.

What Nicodemus apparently didn’t believe, and likely couldn’t imagine, was that Jesus was God. No one could comprehend God becoming a man. Why would He? They had a religious system for relating to Him, and Nicodemus was part of it.

Yet, Jesus was doing things only God can do, He referred to God as His Father, and John the Baptist had referred to Him as God’s Son.

Nicodemus was a wise man. The implications of these things were too significant to ignore, so he set an example for us. He went straight to the source and started asking questions.

Following Jesus • 41 / Belief and trust

Read This: John 2:23-25

So much hangs on belief. From substantive decisions to daily choices, what we believe shapes our seventy years — and the people following in our wake.

The question is, what shapes our belief? Ideally, it’s rooted in careful study, reliable testimony, or first-hand experience. Yet, we’re relational and emotional creatures. Many of our beliefs sprout from impressions, assumptions, or traditions.

The religious leaders who confronted Jesus in the temple believed in God, Scripture, and the coming Messiah. But they also seemed to harbor assumptions about their Messiah. It appears they didn’t believe he would be God. Despite the signs and Scriptures indicating Jesus was their Deliverer, they didn’t see it.

But others noticed. They too knew the prophetic Scriptures, and they were watching and listening carefully.

John’s use of the word sign points to the authority and validity of a messenger and his message. Extraordinary things were happening. Stories were circulating. Jesus’ powerful demonstration of authority in the temple matched the authority, character, and moral force attributed to the Messiah in Scripture. These people took note, observed the details, and weighed the evidence. Things lined up, and they were persuaded that Jesus was the Messiah.

It seems clear they believed in Jesus. The language John uses points to valid belief. But the passage also states that Jesus did not believe* in them. Why not?

The narrative tells us He knew what was in their hearts. He likely knew their ideas about the Messiah were not the same as His. And He knew that first impressions don’t grow into mature convictions overnight. Not everyone who picks up an instrument learns how to play. It wasn’t time. There was more to be done.

But it was a start. These people believed. Some of them may even have joined the large group of disciples who followed Jesus throughout His public ministry.

This is how we become disciples. We read, consider, believe, and follow. And in the following, we learn the ways of our Master.

 

* The Greek word for entrust is the same word as believe.

Following Jesus • 40 / Homecoming and housecleaning

Read This: John 2:13-22

When He was twelve, Jesus spent the Passover in Jerusalem with His family. They went every year, but His twelfth year visit was noteworthy. When everyone else left for home, Jesus stayed behind.

It took several days of frantic searching before Mary and Joseph found Him. He was in the temple dialoguing with the priests. Mary pressed Him on this. “Your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.” Jesus seemed surprised. “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”

That episode provides the correct orientation for all that follows. Jesus is the Son of His Father.

Now, eighteen years later, He returns to this same place to begin His public ministry. His Father’s house, in Jerusalem, during the Passover. This time, however, He is not dialoguing with the priests. He is confronting them.

The temple was supposed to be a spiritual sanctuary. It represented God’s presence on earth, and everyone was welcome to pray, worship, and find mercy there. But the Court of the Gentiles — the only place non-Jews were allowed — was filled with animals, merchants, and money-changers. The religious leaders had turned it into a giant bazaar.

Jesus did not tolerate this for a second. He made a whip and drove out the sheep, oxen, merchants, and moneychangers. He drove them out. He overturned their tables and scattered their coins. (It’s worth noting that He didn’t harm the doves, helpless in their cages. Rather, He told their sellers to take them away. Jesus wields authority, not cruelty.)

A whip was the sign of authority and judgment. Jesus used it as both, justifying His actions by citing His ownership interest in the matter. This was His Father’s house!

Reacting quickly to the pandemonium, the religious leaders challenged Jesus and demanded a sign that His claim was true. Had they thought about it, His very actions were the sign. Zeal for God’s house, the Lord suddenly coming to His temple, purifying the sons of Levi, and casting the merchants from the house of the Lord. These were all messianic prophecies, unfolding before their eyes.

But they didn’t make the connection. So Jesus gave them another sign. Since they were confronting Him about His behavior in the temple (the symbol of God’s presence), He confronted them about destroying the temple — God’s actual presence. Then He told them He would raise it up again in three days. Another reference to prophecy.

These men knew the Scriptures by heart. They knew all these passages. But again, they missed the connection. (So did the disciples until after His resurrection).

Jesus’ decision to launch His public ministry at the Passover was no coincidence. Passover is the celebration of God’s deliverance from bondage and death. It involves the sacrifice of a lamb who dies in the place of the celebrants.

Jesus is that Lamb.

Following Jesus • 39 / Jesus makes a key decision

Read This: John 2:12

Tucked between Jesus’ first miracle and His three years of public life is a quiet verse rarely addressed in commentaries. Jesus, with His family and disciples, stayed in Capernaum for a few days.

This quick trip signals Jesus making a decision. After thirty years of living at home in Nazareth, Jesus now steps into His life’s work. And He doesn’t stay in Nazareth. Why not?

Probably because Nazareth was a small, isolated village. Jesus’ goal was to spread the “good news of great joy” to “all the people.” To the nations. Which is likely why He chose Capernaum.

Capernaum* was “the conduit through which coursed a steady stream of humanity.” It was situated on the Great Trunk Road, the most important highway in the biblical world. It stretched from the major cities of Egypt through Gaza, the coastal cities, the garrison cities, and along the trade routes to Damascus, Babylon, and the Persian Gulf. It linked every part of the region and “pulsated with the activities and congestion of internationalism.”

What happened in Capernaum found its way throughout the near east and beyond.

If your plan is to reveal God’s way of salvation for “all nations . . . to the ends of the earth” (see Psalm 67), what better place to set up than at the crossroads?

Every decision Jesus made was for God’s glory.

 

* All descriptions of Capernaum and the Great Trunk Road are taken from The New Moody Atlas of the Bible, by Barry J. Beitzel.

Following Jesus • 38 / Following Jesus is simple

Read This: John 2:1-11

Following Jesus may take effort. The servants in this story filled six large pots with 180 gallons of water. That’s hard work. But the idea is simple. As Mary said, “Do whatever He tells you.”

For their trouble, those servants experienced something supernatural, firsthand. All that water became all that wine. The headwaiter was amazed, the groom was relieved, and the disciples believed.

From the stories I’ve read about people learning to follow Jesus, the experience of those servants isn’t uncommon. I’m thinking of God’s Smuggler, J. Hudson Taylor, George Muller, Lords of the Earth, Rosalind Goforth, and many others.

Jesus used the people and resources close at hand to glorify God and bless others. Servants, water, and pots. Plus, Mary’s insistent “prayer” on behalf of her friends.

He will use us as we follow Him.

Following Jesus • 37 / There’s no better person to follow

Read This: John 2:1-11

Now we’re moving into the story. Jesus, fresh from His baptism and temptations, is attending a wedding. His mother, siblings, and disciples are there, and they’re not merely guests. Mary feels some ownership, whether as a concerned friend or in a hostessing role we’re not told. But when the wine runs out, she takes charge.

Weddings were noteworthy events. They could last for days, hospitality was central, and it was an indignity for the host to run out of wine.

We’ve been “following Jesus” through thirty-six installments featuring His arrival, early years, and public emergence. We can’t miss the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. But this was not yet common knowledge. These people knew Jesus in relation to His family. They didn’t know He was their Messiah, and they really didn’t know their Messiah was God Himself.*

But Mary knew. And after thirty years of living under the same roof as God, she knew His heart. So when the wine ran out, she approached Jesus. “They have no wine.” In other words, “Their reputations will be ruined. They need help.”

Jesus’ response that His hour had not yet come was true. His redemptive work was yet ahead of Him. But He also had compassion on those in need, and Mary knew that.

“Do whatever He tells you,” she told the servants.

There were six large water pots nearby, holding about thirty gallons each. Jesus told the servants to fill them with water, which they did. To the brim. Then He told them to scoop out a cupful and bring it to the headwaiter.

I would love to have seen those servants hand that cup to the headwaiter. It was a cup of water. Did they make eye contact? Maybe servants just looked down, but if not, I’ll bet their eyes were riveted on his. We’re out of wine, this is a disaster, and we’re handing the headwaiter a cup of water . . . 

Imagine their reaction as his eyes widened and he immediately sent for the groom. Did they know what had happened? When the groom arrived, the headwaiter upbraided him. “Everyone else serves the good wine first, but you have kept the best till last!”

Jesus turned 180 gallons of water into wine. Excellent wine. And He did it from across the room while socializing at a wedding.

Only God can do that.

Jesus did two things here. He revealed that He was God, and He revealed what God is like. Compassionate and all-powerful. Mary already knew this, but now the servants and the disciples knew it. As a result, they believed in Him.

Choosing to follow someone is an expensive endeavor. It costs you your life. The disciples just received their first affirmation that they’d made a wise choice. They’d chosen to follow the One who is all-powerful and compassionate.

So have I.

* “Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth” (Isaiah 54:5b).