There is no way to describe the feeling I get when one of my girls surprises me by running toward me and giving me an unexpected hug. Of course, as they are getting older the feeling I get is sometimes fear of being knocked over, but my heart is always warmed when they show me this type of affection. I can remember many occasions when one of my little girls would run down the aisle toward me after worship service on Sundays. She would jump into my open arms or crash into my legs if I was not paying attention. Either way she just wanted to give me a hug. These hugs came as a result of her being excited and happy to see me, but they also happened on occasions when she was unsecure or fearful.
On one occasion after Sunday morning worship, a group of men and I were talking while my youngest daughter was playing a short distance away. For some reason she began to feel uneasy and wanted her dad. Without thinking, she turned and ran toward a pair of legs and grabbed hold as she has done so many times before to me; however, this time the legs were not mine. When she looked up and saw that she had the wrong dad, panic came across her face for a moment. She quickly backed off and began scanning the group of men until she came across the face in which she found her security. She then ran to me and I picked her up and she gave the biggest hug and smile possible.
In John 20:1-18, Mary Magdalene has gone to the tomb to pay her respects to Jesus. No doubt she is still distressed and grieving the events of the Friday before. What an emotional week for her and all the followers of Jesus. They had experienced the excitement and motivation of entering Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna,” and now they were experiencing the lowest of lows. If ever Mary needed Jesus, this was the time; but He was dead. She had seen Him die with her own eyes, there was nothing that could be done now and everything she hoped for was buried in a tomb behind a boulder.
When she reached the tomb Mary saw that the stone has been rolled away and she immediately thinks that things have just become even worse; now even Jesus’ dead body has been stolen. Peter and another disciple ran to the tomb and simply confirm Mary’s fear that the body had been taken away. Even the sight of two angels does not ease Mary’s pain. In my mind I see her hunched over on her knees weeping, when she hears someone behind her and turns to see who could be standing there. Through her tears and distress she simply glances at the figure behind her and assumes the man to be the gardener; of course she would not expect to see Jesus, he is dead. She resumes her position of mourning at the feet of this gardener and pleads with him to help her make sense of this unthinkable situation. Then Jesus calls her name and Mary looks up from her weeping and through the tears she looks into the eyes of the last person she expected to see, but the person she needed to see the most.
As we read this story we have the advantage of knowing the whole story. What Mary did not know was that the victory had already been won before she even saw the empty tomb, but Mary needed to see Jesus to be assured of the victory. We really are not much different when we are going through the dark times of our lives. We tend to forget that God has already won the victory and that he will carry us through these difficult and burdensome times of life. Sometimes the darkness becomes so dark that we feel like Mary and just want to fall to the ground and weep. Only when we look up and fix our eyes on Jesus will the darkness surrounding our life begin to fade into the light of Jesus’ victory.
During the trying times of our life we need to act like my little girl and run to where our security and encouragement resides. We need to run to Jesus and allow Him to comfort us, cry with us, encourage us, and strengthen us. You may find yourself in a dark place right now and there seems to be no light anywhere. Remember that this darkness is only part of the story; the full story ends with an empty tomb and the light of Christ filling all the dark corners of our lives.
There will always be dark and difficult times until Christ comes again, but even in the midst of this darkness we know that the victory is already won. Jesus told Mary to go and announce His victory over death. In a world so consumed by death, violence, immorality, and hopelessness there needs to be a message of hope. Jesus is that message. We need to go and proclaim that darkness has not prevailed, that there is light to be found in the midst of the darkness, and that the light of Christ will extinguish all remnant of darkness. Let us live in the light and share the light with those who are still lost in darkness.
The movie scene is intense, and has the audience sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what will transpire during the tension filled press conference. Harvey Dent, Gotham City’s District Attorney in the movie “The Dark Knight,” is addressing reporters and the city in a live interview in which everyone anticipates that the true identity of Batman will be revealed. The city has been gripped by fear due to the psychotic actions of the Joker. The Joker has terrorized the citizens of Gotham and now has assured the city that if Batman turns himself in he will stop his murderous ways. The city is paralyzed with fear and is willing to sacrifice someone who stands for justice in order to ease their apprehension.
Harvey Dent knows that giving in to the demands of evil, personified in the Joker, will only weaken the city and lead them down a path of uncertainty and chaos. Dent knows the difficulty of standing up for what is right. Criminals have already tried to take his life, but that has not stopped this intrepid District Attorney. Dent appeals to the city not to sacrifice Batman, but remain strong and determined as they endure the evil of the Joker together. As he nears the end of his plea, he makes this statement; “The night is darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”
I believe the crucifixion and death of Jesus is by far His darkest time on earth. Jesus has spent the last three years of His life impacting the lives of everyone He came in contact with. He transformed people’s lives by healing them of all sorts of diseases and physical limitations. Jesus offered people a new life through believing in Him. He brought hope to the hopeless and proclaimed freedom to the captives. Jesus gave all that He was and all that He had for the very people who now were crying out, “crucify Him, crucify Him.”
Evil has powerfully responded to Jesus’ message of hope and new life and now evil is celebrating as the loving and compassionate Christ is hanging on a cross. As Jesus hangs on this cross He is enduring more than He has ever experienced before. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, is taking upon Himself the sin of the world. Not only is He taking our sin, but also the punishment for our sin. Jesus feels the pain our sin inflicts on us and the world. He is now riddled with the guilt and shame that always accompany sin. The full fury of darkness has descended upon Jesus and He must endure all the pain and suffering the darkness brings. Finally, Jesus raises his voice one last time and speaks to the heart of the darkness saying, “It is finished.”
At these words evil must have rejoiced as never before. The darkness had succeeded in extinguishing the light of Christ in one twenty four hour period. While darkness and evil are ecstatic, the followers of Jesus are crushed when they hear His last words. Is it really finished? Were the last three years for nothing? At this point darkness seems to have won the victory, and even the reader of the Gospel must acknowledge defeat if she or he does not already know the ultimate ending. Truly the night must have seemed so dark and the dawn was nowhere in sight.
The darkness was unbelievably dark as Jesus was uttering His last words, but was there a ray of light shining on this day? John specifically mentions two unlikely individuals who are there for Jesus on His darkest day. Joseph of Arimathea is part of the religious structure that has sent Jesus to the cross. This whole ordeal must have been unbearable for Joseph. When he sees an opportunity to do something for Jesus, he offers to provide the burial site for our Lord, even though he would no longer be a secret follower of Jesus. Joseph was willing to stand up to the darkness even though I am sure he believed the ministry of Jesus was finished. He could no longer keep his love for Christ a secret and he shows us a tiny ray of light.
Joseph of Arimathea is helped by a very interesting and profound character in the Gospel of John. Nicodemus is the man who approached Jesus at night and asked how he could enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus responds by telling Nicodemus to be born again. As far as the reader is concerned, Nicodemus leaves Jesus just as confused and wrapped in darkness as when he first approached Jesus; however, clearly this was not the case. At some point, Nicodemus appears to have understood the message of Jesus because he is now stepping out of the darkness and serving Jesus when all others have abandoned Him.
As a reader of the Gospel of John, I must ask; if Jesus was able to overcome the darkness in Nicodemus’ life, could He overcome this darkness that has now consumed Him? The crucifixion and death of Jesus is undoubtedly a dark day, but this is not the last of Jesus. When Jesus said “it is finished,” he meant for sin, death, darkness and evil. Even in this dark hour, Jesus knew that the light was coming. No matter how dark our lives become, maybe we should remember that the night is darkest just before the dawn, and Jesus has promised the dawn is coming and the darkness will have no place to hide.
Good versus evil and light versus darkness are themes we see throughout our daily lives. The struggle between good and evil pervades all aspects of society, sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of darkness and at other times the light disperses the darkness and brings hope and security. The entertainment industry has realized how effectively the struggle between good and evil draws an audience into the story. “The Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter,” and numerous other books and movies portray the conflict and tension brought about when good and evil collide. In my opinion, the one movie saga that captures the epic nature of the relationship of light and darkness or good and evil is “Star Wars.”
There may be some who are uncomfortable with “Star Wars” being the favorite movie of a pastor. I assure you I am not converting to the Jedi religion in any way; of course I have tried to summon the remote control to my hand only using my mind, but who hasn’t done that? “Star Wars” actually illustrates the battle between light and darkness very effectively. The original trilogy started out with the movie titled, “A New Hope.” The Galactic Empire, ruled by the Emperor and Darth Vader, rule the Galaxy with an iron fist and this empire symbolizes evil and darkness. The light is represented by the small but determined group called the Rebellion. By the end of the movie the Rebellion and the Empire have an epic battle and the Rebellion is able to destroy the Death Star and bring about a new hope to the galaxy; however, just like life, evil is still waiting around the corner. In the second movie, “The Empire Strikes Back,” the Empire is able to reorganize and force the Rebellion into hiding. Good and evil battle one another throughout the movie saga just as they do in life today. In the final movie, good overcomes evil, but not without difficulty and determination by the Rebellion.
In John 18 we begin to clearly see the power of evil as Jesus is arrested and then taken to trial. Over the past few chapters Jesus has been talking to the disciples about His goodness and how they have the opportunity to help spread His goodness throughout the world. Darkness will not quietly allow the light of Jesus to drown out the stronghold of evil in the world. The one person who is the epitome of goodness, love and light in a dark world is now going to be attacked full force and ultimately killed. This must have been an unimaginably difficult time for Jesus and he could have used all the support he could get. The support did not come and darkness descended on the earth as never before.
There are three different responses to Jesus in chapters 18 and 19 and each response allows evil to continue the work that had been started. The first response is that of Peter, a fierce and devoted follower of Jesus. In the heat of the moment during Jesus’ arrest, Peter impulsively cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Now Peter finds himself with time to think and when the question is posed to him regarding his relationship with Jesus, Peter denies knowing Jesus on three separate occasions. Peter was so scared he would be put through the same thing Jesus was going through that he felt the need to deny and abandon Jesus when Jesus needed him most.
Pilate’s response to Jesus ultimately paved the way for Jesus to be crucified. Pilate acknowledges the fact that Jesus is innocent and even proclaims Jesus is king of the Jews, but in the end the pressure of the crowd and fear of what others would think prevented Pilate from doing what was right. The third response in these two chapters is seen in the religious leaders. These were God-fearing people who desired to follow God and were looking forward to the coming Messiah; however, they were entrenched in the man-made traditions of their religious façade. If God was not going to conform to their understanding and preconceived ideas then even God would be allowed to be nailed to a tree. Each of these responses allowed evil to gain a stronghold that would lead to the Messiah being crucified like a common criminal.
I wonder if sometimes our responses to Jesus allow darkness to gain a stronghold today. Jesus has called us to be light bearers in this world today which means we live our lives for Christ each and every day. Sometimes we may respond as Peter. For the most part we live for Christ and serve Him, but when following Jesus will cause personal difficulty, will we deny Jesus as Peter did? Are we still concerned more about our personal comfort and security than following Christ?
Maybe we respond as Pilate; we know the right thing to do, but we are afraid of what others might think. Does maintaining our social status keep us from ministering to all people no matter who they are? Do we put what others think about us above what God desires for us to do? Finally, I am afraid that at times we respond the way the religious leaders responded to Jesus. How often do we let tradition keep us from ministering in a new way? Do we only follow Jesus in the areas were we feel comfortable or are we willing to see Jesus from a different perspective? If we allow anything to keep us from serving Christ, we are allowing darkness to overcome the light.
When we are struggling to follow Christ, I hope we will remember that Jesus himself faced evil and overcame the darkness. At our weakest moments, when we are tempted to disregard God’s calling in our life we must remember to turn our focus on the one who has overcome the darkness. Jesus faced all that evil could throw at Him and He conquered death and darkness with life and light. I hope we will take part in pointing people away from the darkness and into the light that Jesus revealed when He overcame death and radiantly burst forth from the tomb.
We have three daughters, which makes my house exciting and emotionally charged at all times. I remember when our youngest daughter entered into the dreaded time of life so affectionately called the terrible two’s. She started to become very independent and she knew what she wanted. The biggest problem was that, even after three children, I do not always understand random finger pointing and incoherent noises, which was her preferred method of communication. If this method failed she resorted to screaming and making noises that would make a wounded animal proud. We try to be good parents so we began disciplining our child so that at age sixteen our daughter does not throw herself into the floor kicking a screaming when she does not get her way.
When we got to the point of correcting our youngest little angel/heathen, I found that our oldest child, who was eight at the time, would immediately come to the aid of the little angel. She reminded us that our little angel is very young and does not know any better. I must admit that she came up with some very clever excuses for our youngest daughter’s behavior. While her actions did not stop us from dealing with our youngest daughter’s misbehavior, the love she showed for her little sister was precious. She became her advocate. She spoke for her and stood up for her even in times of trouble.
The Encarta Dictionary defines advocate as, “somebody who acts or intercedes on behalf of another.” I think all of us have a desire for someone to be our advocate and I know that we all need an advocate. The problem is that in this world we seem to be so focused on ourselves that we seldom take the time to be an advocate for others. In these passages, Jesus is continuing to tell the disciples the hard truth of the future while at the same time giving them hope and encouragement. Jesus promises that the Father will give us an Advocate in this world. An Advocate who will help us, strengthen us, and speak the truth to us. An Advocate who will never leave us, no matter how difficult life may get. Jesus tells the disciples that life will not be easy for them and that they will come under attack, but the Advocate will never abandon them. I am comforted knowing God has sent us an Advocate who will never fail us because our Advocate is God himself through the Holy Spirit. Human advocates may fall short of our expectations or needs, but with God as our Advocate we will never lack for His support.
Not only does the Advocate sent by the Father intercede for us and support us, but also testifies about the one who overcame the darkness of sin and death, who is Jesus Christ. In John 15:27, Jesus tells the disciples that they must also testify just as the Advocate testifies about Jesus. I believe this applies to us as well. The Father does not send us an Advocate just for our own personal security, but also to help and encourage us to become advocates to this world.
Jesus says the Father will send us an Advocate so that we will not be as orphans, abandoned and alone. A man named James Lual Atak grew up in Southern Sudan and spent his childhood fighting for his life in ways that we cannot even imagine. Fighting for food was minor compared to avoiding capture, enslavement, and death at the hands of the Northern aggressors. When James was in his early teens he was forced to fight as a soldier for the Southern Sudanese government and became part of the group known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” Finally, James ended up in Kenya and was given the opportunity of a lifetime: a visa to come to the United States and start a new life. James had been waiting for that day, but when the day arrived something stirred inside of James that changed his life. Listening to the stirring within him from the Advocate, James turned down the new life in America and went back to his hometown in Sudan and started New Life Ministry. He now ministers to over five hundred orphans who have been ripped from their families because of the overwhelming violence all around them. James returned to the place that took everything from him. James is now giving back by being an advocate to those orphans. He is standing up for them when the world has turned its back on them. He gives these orphans a voice in the midst of the violence and evil. James is being an advocate because he has experienced and listened to the Advocate Jesus told us would be sent. The Advocate does not only comfort us and strengthen us in times of need, but empowers us to impact the world for Christ.
If you believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior you can be assured you have an Advocate. The Holy Spirit will be with you, even if sometimes you may not realize His presence. The question for us is not whether we have an Advocate, but are we being an advocate? Are we encouraging those who need to find courage? Are we being a voice of comfort and peace to those who are in the midst of the storms of life? Are we speaking for those who the world refuses to acknowledge? Are we helping those who so desperately need to see that there is someone who cares for them?
You can be an advocate in this world and make a difference. Open your eyes to those around you and be their advocate and share the light of Jesus that overcomes the darkness of this world.
I must confess that I am a Dallas Cowboys fan. Some of you may mock me, others pity me, but deep down many of you sympathize with me because you suffer from the same affliction. Being a fan of the Cowboys is like riding a never ending roller coaster. There are times of great joy and excitement followed by some slow mundane and even boring stretches of time. There are times of fear and eye covering moments as well as moments you just feel sick. If drama and continuous change is what you want, then this is the sports team for you. I do not know the reason, but I am a committed fan despite many who have given up and question my sanity.
As I look back at my relationship with the Cowboys I realize that the most frustrating times were when my expectations of the team did not match with reality. There have been times, such as this past year, that the Cowboys have performed well below what they were capable; however, many times they performed as they should have, but caused me frustration because my expectations were too high and unrealistic. I have learned that in order to continue being a Cowboy’s fan I must remove all expectations and just enjoy the roller coaster ride.
We tend to develop preconceived ideas regarding just about everything, including people, movies, politics, countries, religions, churches, denominations and the list continues on and on. Unfortunately, we are usually making these judgments on misunderstandings or our own biases. When we allow our expectations to guide the way we think and act we are no longer living in reality, but rather our own perceived reality created by our own limited expectations. When we live this way we are walking a tight rope and the wind is beginning to blow. As soon as reality does not match our own preconceived expectations, life may seem out of control.
This is the situation the Disciples find themselves in when Jesus begins to talk about his betrayal and death in John 13:31-14:14. Imagine how excited the Disciples must have been. They had been following Jesus for around three years and had come to the realization that this man was the Messiah. The march into Jerusalem earlier in the week must have reinforced the notion that now was the time. The Messiah was going to take his rightful place as king. As they gathered with Jesus, the Disciples were probably expecting Jesus to lay out his strategy for retaking the city from Roman control and then reclaiming the twelve tribes of Israel as his own. The nation would be strong again, united under God. These were expectations built on tradition and misunderstanding. Reality was going to be much different.
Instead of a master battle plan, Jesus begins talking about his own death and betrayal. There is no doubt the Disciples are confused and concerned. Had they given up three years of their life only to see the end marked with death? Jesus was falling short of their expectations and they were quickly trying to make sense of their unraveling hopes that had been based on Jesus being the Messiah.
Peter bravely states his undying loyalty to Jesus. Peter loved Jesus with passion, but Jesus knew that Peter’s expectations would be destroyed and even the brave and loyal Peter would deny Jesus. Peter was not ready for his Messiah to die and when faced with that reality Peter found his life spinning out of control and his natural thought was self preservation which led to denying the one he loved.
Thomas asks Jesus to clarify where he is going, because Thomas wants to go with him. Thomas is looking for the battle plan and desires to play his part. Jesus’ answer only brings more confusion because the preconceived expectations of the Disciples are being shattered. Thomas’ ideas about Jesus are going to be destroyed and he begins to doubt everything he had believed. Philip pleads with Jesus to offer them some hope and show them that he truly is from God. After all the signs Jesus had performed Philip needed another sign as soon as his expectations started to fade.
I can nearly hear the tone of Jesus’ voice and see his compassionate gaze as he senses the discomfort of the Disciples. Jesus knows the expectations of the Disciples are unraveling and he knows the words he speaks may not bring comfort or strength just yet; however, the words he gives are powerful and will replace the unrealistic expectations of the Disciples with truth that can never be shaken.
Jesus promises he has prepared a place for us. Our future is secure in him. Jesus states he is the way, the truth and the life. Through him we find the way to live our lives for God and enter into a relationship with our Heavenly Father. Jesus also reminds us that he is God and that through him we will be strengthened and enabled to live our lives for God. Jesus’ words replace the shaky ground of our own expectations and give us a firm foundation of truth.
We all need to be cautious of letting our expectations of God cloud our relationship with him. When we feel that God is not following our plan we need to go back to his words of truth. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (14:1). “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me” (14:3) “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). These are words we can hold onto when our expectations of life are crashing around us.
When have your expectations of God been based on tradition or misunderstanding like the Disciples? Have unrealistic expectations of God hurt your relationship with him? In times of confusion and trouble do you turn to the truth God has given us or do you rely on your own understanding? Will you allow God to strip away your expectations and replace them with the truth of his love, hope, and strength?
I usually do not spend much time thinking about feet, but when I do I must confess that the words “No Trespassing” come to mind. I am not sure when or how I developed such an aversion to having someone mess with my feet. During my childhood, my Dad would wrestle with my brother, two sisters, and myself. Perhaps holding us down and tickling our feet left a permanent mark deep within me. Or maybe I cannot shake the thought of the many times one of my three precious girls would come and tickle my feet while I was peacefully resting in the permanent indention of my recliner. The thought of their little eyes peering over the foot rest brings warmth to my heart and yet confirms the reality of how much I dislike people messing with my feet.
I have always assumed that because I do not want someone touching my feet all others felt the same way. I was mistaken. During each of my wife’s pregnancies, I was asked, begged, or coerced, depending on your perspective, into massaging her feet. I must admit this was not easy for me. I understand that she was uncomfortable and miserable, but can I just go get the stereotypical pickles and ice cream at 1 AM? After weighing my options, I decided that a few foot massages were probably deserved under the circumstances brought about by pregnancy. Ultimately, my love for my wife overcame my phobia of feet and made getting out of my comfort zone bearable and even rewarding. I knew that this simple act helped make the pregnancy more endurable for my wife. Even in this simple act of massaging my wife’s feet I realized that there was nothing I would not do for her because of the love I have for her and she has for me.
All of this talk about feet leads us into one of the most powerful acts Jesus performed, and there was not one miracle to be found. John 13:1-17 is the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. This is the first story written by John in the second major part of the Gospel. The first major section of the Gospel focused on the signs Jesus performed which showed that he is the light shining in the darkness. This second section begins to show how he is also the light who will overcome the darkness. Jesus is clearly focused on the cross and the rest of the Gospel of John builds to the culmination of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
These next few chapters of John’s Gospel are powerful and amazing, but the section begins with the simple yet profound act of washing feet. Imagine what the disciples must have been thinking when Jesus, the Messiah, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and proceeds to reach for their rough, dirty and smelly feet. Feet stained with the dirt from the roads of Jerusalem Jesus and the disciples had recently walked as Jesus entered the city with cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is the king of Israel.” Now this king, this Messiah is bowing before them and washing their feet. As Jesus scrubs and cleans the disciples’ feet his hands are stained with the dirt and grime that have built up after the miles of walking. The “King of kings,” “Lord of lords,” humbling himself to take up the work of a common slave. The silence in the room must have been deafening, only broken by the splashing of water. Surely the disciples simply sat in awe of what they were experiencing and witnessing. Jesus, washing each of their feet, even the feet of the one who would commit the ultimate act of betrayal.
When Jesus finishes, he no doubt has the complete attention of the disciples, and he says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (13:14-15). This last week of Jesus’ life was not just about defeating sin and death. Jesus is showing the disciples and us what living a life in Christ is all about. Jesus is demonstrating the true nature what following him is all about; serving. We are called to serve God which means we serve others. Jesus does not simply talk about serving or give some spiritual, mystical definition of what serving means. Jesus physically serves through the washing of feet and ultimately through giving his body to be crucified. If this is the example the Savior of the world gives to use, what does that mean for us?
As Christians we are called to serve as Jesus served. This means we get our hands dirty. Serving as Christ served will take us to places where we are out of our comfort zone. We should not settle for talking about serving or simply applauding when others serve, we need to grab a rag and start washing feet. This may mean going to people overlooked by society and offering them the love of Christ through serving them. One thing is clear, when we serve as Jesus served our hands will get dirty.
Our first thought may be that we can never serve as Christ, but when we open our hearts to the amazing love Christ has shown us through his mighty acts of service we find ourselves compelled to respond. God’s gracious love motivates and strengthens us to live the life of a servant. Are you getting your hands dirty for God?