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“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 34: AUGUST 25
JOHN 1 – ACTS 5:42
I always have to take breaks when I read John’s Gospel. Jesus lays so much on the line, I need time to digest and absorb it. You get the sense that Jesus told John a lot more behind the scenes than he told the other disciples, and that these private revelations were then interspersed in this Gospel with Jesus’ public teachings.
- There are many themes in today’s reading, but three emerge in particular. The first is the overwhelming tyranny of the religious powers-that-be in Roman-occupied Israel. People were terrified to cross the chief priests, temple elders, Sadducees, etc., because it would mean certain punishment, such as getting cast out of the synagogue or being stoned to death. These guys didn’t fool around. They were tyrants in the truest sense. Even some Pharisees who believed that Jesus was the Messiah didn’t want to openly admit it, because they knew they would face the wrath of the religious ptb if they did. If they weren’t outright killed, they would at the very least lose their position in society and be run out of town, as Jesus was run out of Nazareth. Today’s cancel culture and government-by-mandate are hauntingly similar to the tyranny of first-century Israel.
- This tyrannical approach to governing also affected where Jesus could preach and teach, as he had to avoid areas where he knew he’d be arrested. Rather than command respect or serve as voices of Truth, the religious ptb ruled by fear, much like the Roman Catholic Church did during their 1000-year reign of terror known as the Inquisition. There was no God in what any of these tyrants did, even though they were supposed to be God’s servants.
- A second major theme in this reading is the move from brick-and-mortar worship to spiritual worship. Jesus tells the Samarian woman at the well that people don’t have to worship in any particular place anymore (including the temple in Jerusalem), because they can worship wherever they are in Spirit and in Truth – that is, sincerely, and through the presence of God’s Spirit. Jesus also states that the flesh (that is, the works of the law) are not the way to God; the only way to God is by the Spirit, because God is Spirit.
- There was enormous push-back to this doctrine, and Jesus lost a lot of followers when he introduced it. That’s because most people think of religion as a set of duties that you have to perform “religiously” (such as attend church, give to charities, volunteer your time at a homeless shelter, etc.) and to be seen doing these duties. Religion, for most people even today, isn’t something you do in private; it’s a public show of belief. But Jesus turned that assumption on its head, saying that prayer and worship should be done in private, and that all acts of the law were dead gestures. Jesus, in John’s book, was all about relationship-building, not church buildings.
- Which leads us to the third principle theme of today’s reading, which is our ability to have a personal relationship with Jesus and God. This doctrine was revolutionary at the time when Jesus first taught it, and for many still is today. Jesus taught that worshipping God and having a relationship with him were the same thing. Further, God was not only our God, but our Father, too. The same relationship Jesus, as Messiah, had with God we could also have. Many minds were blown at these revelations, but Jesus’ teachings were not really understood until Pentecost, when the first of Jesus’ disciples were born-again. Then, by the power of God’s Spirit, they understood what Jesus meant and started to experience the relationship for themselves.
- Overall, then, John’s Gospel emphasizes the spiritual aspect of Jesus’ teachings more than the other three Gospels. The OT was pretty much about doing certain things according to laws and statutes, so that worship meant checking off a pre-set list of to-do’s. But Jesus ripped up that list and showed us instead how to have an intimate relationship with God. To worship God was no longer to go into a temple or synagogue, but simply to be with him and to do whatever he advised you. The Ten Commandments still stood, but the rest of the law no longer had any standing.
- Today’s reading also starts us on the book of Acts, beginning with Jesus’ ongoing appearances for 40 days and 40 nights (God loves that time span!). We also see the spiritual rebirth of the disciples at Pentecost. From that point onward, Jesus is no longer on Earth in physical form, but he’s with us through God’s Spirit, just as he promised.
- In the first chapters of Acts, Peter emerges as a clear leader. Jesus was obviously grooming him throughout his ministry years, and even though Peter failed a very important test by denying he knew Jesus the night he was arrested, he was given another chance after he sincerely repented. God doesn’t give up on us if we don’t give up on him.
- Love the description of how the disciples were beaten and then rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name”. Contrast that to how, today, Christians are outraged when they face perceived persecution and then demand restitution. Christianity today is pretty much where the children of Israel were just before Jesus’ first coming – very worldly, precious little understanding of Truth, and near zero desire to learn it.
From what we read today, what can we apply to the government-by-mandate situation that’s growing worse day by day? Well, if we’re on the run, we don’t have to worry about attending church, because we carry our church with us. We are the church; no matter where we are, God and Jesus are with us, through God’s Spirit.
We also don’t have to worry about tyrannical powers-that-be, because Jesus never worried about them. He avoided them, even skirting entire areas to keep out of their clutches, but when they got in his face, he spoke God’s words that were given to him at that moment. We don’t have to fear the ptb; we should just be aware of what they’re up to and do our best to avoid them. Don’t purposely antagonize them, but don’t cave to them, either. They are the world. As long as you remain loyal to God, they have no power over you until it’s your time.
Finally, make sure you maintain your relationship with God and Jesus through God’s Spirit and through God’s Word. Having a strong relationship with God and Jesus is the key to surviving what is coming.
The schedule for the BIBLE READ-THROUGH appears in fabulous PDF directly below.