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).

Following Jesus • 36 / Followers are intentional

Read This: John 1:35-51

At first glance, the men in this story (Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael) seem to follow Jesus suddenly. He appears and they follow. Was that the case? Becoming a disciple was not a trifle. They were committing themselves to a life change. Why did they respond so quickly?

Because they were actively interested. Looking for someone, waiting and ready. The word Messiah is the key. John and Andrew were following John the Baptist because he was talking about the Messiah. When John said, “That’s Him,” they turned and followed.

Andrew told Peter, “We have found the Messiah.” Peter came right away.

Jesus initiated the connection with Philip, yet Philip understood Who Jesus was — “Him of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote.” That’s what he told Nathanael, and it’s what Nathanael responded to.

Following Jesus is not natural. It changes who you are and what you do.

Humans were created by God and in His image. We can reason, communicate, choose, and love. When people do wonderful things, they are revealing their Creator. But no one does only wonderful things. We all occasionally violate what is good, right, and loving (some of us more occasionally than others). And we all resist the notion that God is our Creator, and that He has every right to expect our worship and obedience. We tend toward self-interest, and we fail to love others as more important than ourselves.

Following Jesus means surrendering our self-interest and sovereignty, and yielding to His way — the way of love. He has the right to expect this since He made us. He also came to earth as one of us to pay the penalty for our sin. That’s what being the Messiah is about, and it’s why the men in this story followed Him so quickly.

It’s no different for us. When I choose to follow Jesus, I am surrendering my interests and embracing His. This isn’t something one “tries for a while.” The men in this passage surrendered everything to follow Jesus.

At some point we must all decide whether we’re in or out. I believe it’s the most important decision each of us will make in this life.

Following Jesus • 35 / Followers are contagious

Read This: John 1:35-51

When something matters to me — a book I’m reading or a meaningful experience — I usually tell a friend about it. That’s how we influence each other. We share what’s important to us.

In today’s passage, two young men* are following John the Baptist, who is teaching them about the Messiah. Then, Jesus arrives, and John identifies Him as the Messiah. Immediately, the two men leave John to follow Jesus.

After one day with Jesus, Andrew finds Simon, his brother. “We’ve found the Messiah,” he tells him, and brings him to Jesus. That encounter changed Simon’s life. Jesus even gave him a new name — Peter.

The next day Jesus invites Philip to follow Him, and the first thing Philip does is he tells his friend, Nathanael. “We’ve found Him of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote.” These young men grew up learning the Old Testament, so they know about the Messiah. They may even have heard about Jesus, since Philip references Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

Nathanael scoffs at this, skeptical that the Messiah would come from Nazareth. Philip doesn’t argue with him. He invites him to come and see.

When Nathanael arrives, Jesus greets him with, “A man in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know this about me?” Nathanael asks.

Jesus reveals that He saw Nathanael prior to his coming, just as God sees all things. Nathanael connects Jesus’ supernatural knowledge with what Moses and the Prophets say about the Messiah — and declares that Jesus is God.

In response, Jesus reveals more things about Nathanael — things that haven’t happened yet. What were Philip, Andrew, and Peter thinking as they listened to Jesus talk to Nathanael?

This is how followers multiply. As you follow Jesus, I learn from you. As I follow, someone learns from me. It’s personal, genuine, and organic. It’s how we grow. Together.

 

*Andrew, who is named in verse 40, and the Apostle John, the author of this Gospel, who doesn’t name himself.

Following Jesus • 34 / John the Baptist’s finest hour

Read This: John 1:29-34

When someone is in the spotlight, take note of what they say. Spotlights reveal the heart.

In our previous passage, John the Baptist is in the spotlight. All the people, from regular citizens to Roman soldiers, are listening to him. Even the nation’s leaders are there, trying to learn what all the fuss is about. “Who are you?” they demand.

John’s answer should have captured their attention. Isaiah the prophet wrote about me. I am the “messenger” God sent to announce the coming of the Messiah. All the Jewish people were waiting for their Messiah. He was first on everyone’s “most wanted” list.

And then John did something even more startling. He identified the Messiah! Pointing to Jesus, he said, “That’s Him! He is your Messiah!”

John continued by calling Jesus, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This statement highlighted Jesus’ spiritual mission by connecting Him to the Old Testament teachings on deliverance from bondage (the Passover) and cleansing from sin (the temple sacrifices). John even quoted from Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would become the sacrifice for everyone’s sin, not just the sin of the Jewish people.

It would have been natural for the crowds to wonder how John knew Jesus was the One, so John explained how God revealed it to him. God had given him a sign. He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him. This wording connected the miraculous circumstances of Jesus’ baptism to Isaiah’s prophecies about the Holy Spirit resting upon the Messiah.

John’s testimony not only identified who the Messiah was, but what He was (as declared by God Himself at Jesus’ baptism). He was the only One who could ever be qualified to be the Messiah. The only One who could do what the Messiah came to do — deliver the world from sin. Because only God can do that.

And Jesus is God.