BACKSTAGE: Jesus: A Year of Obscurity
Mar 24–Believe In What I Say (John 4:46-54)—John’s second designated “sign” takes place here with the healing of a Galileean official’s son. Perhaps the rumor of Jesus’s miracle at the wedding in Cana had spread, and this official requested Jesus to come to his son and heal him. A key difference here is that Jesus did not travel to the family’s home, but simply declared the boy to be healed, not in the sight of the father. The Father believed simply because of the words of Jesus. This sets up a key contrast in John, and in our modern world. Some will only believe if they see signs and wonders. And others will believe Jesus’s word, and trust him there.
Mar 17–Sowing and Reaping (John 4:27-42)—Some of the work that Jesus and his disciples would attempt would be quite difficult. But other times, their work was very easy. This encounter with the Samaritan town of Sychar seems to be the latter. Jesus informs his disciples that they have the opportunity to harvest where others have done the hard work of planting. Sometimes in our Christian lives we are called to do harder work: planting, sowing, sharing, loving, enduring. And at the other times we get to enjoy the simple work of harvesting. But we never get to harvest if we’re never willing to share our faith with others.
Mar 10–A Change of Scenery (John 4:1-42)—Jesus HAD to go through Samaria? Geographically speaking, he really didn’t. So that must imply something pertaining to his ministry. The Jews didn’t view the Samaritans as kin at all. In fact, they largely despised them. But the roots of the Samaritans were Israel, and Jesus was called to preach to Israel. In our modern world full of prejudices, the account of Jesus not only going through Samaria, but engaging a woman who was on the fringe of even Samaritan society, should illumine every reader as to the nature of God’s love for all humanity, and our call to go and embrace all people and share God’s love and message with them.
Mar 3–He Must Become Greater (John 3:22-36)—John the Baptist returns to the stage in a case where he is questioned about losing followers to Jesus, who was steadily increasing in popularity. He simply reminds his audience that he has always pointed others to Jesus, and that the time has come where Jesus must increase and John must decrease. In this account we see a man who gladly obeyed the Lord, but did not do so from a position of self-promotion. We do all stand to benefit from faithfulness and service to the Lord, but the goal is for people to identify with and follow Jesus, not to identify with and follow us. The humility of John is a quality we can all admire and seek to emulate.
Feb 24–For God So Loved (John 3:16-21)—These verses constitute the conclusion of Jesus’s response to Nicodemus and, quite possibly, the heart of John’s understanding about the extent of Jesus’s work. We already know that John wishes to prove that Jesus was the Son of God, but prior to this explanation we haven’t been told why that is important. And in just a few short verses, he lays out the simple message of the Gospel that churches and Christians have heard, believed, and shared ever since.
Feb 17–An Ad Libbing Pharisee (John 3:1-15)—Jesus had negative run-ins with so many people who were counted among the religious establishment. They bristled at his challenges to their authority, as well as at his suggestions of change. But on this particular encounter, the religiously established saw something in Jesus that sparked a note of spiritual interest. Nicodemus took Jesus seriously, asked a thoughtful question, pushed back when he didn’t understand, and went away pondering the entire exchange. It’s the kind of encounter with Jesus that should give us all hope, for both the skeptics out there as well as those so insulated by their religious traditions that they might have missed the Savior.
Feb 10–T Shirts, Souvenir Programs, & 8x10 Glossies! (John 2:12-22)—It’s a funny thing how religion, which should be a benefit to humanity, so often becomes a point of contention. While the reasons are surely many, one in particular is that humanity often makes religion a tool to serve their own purposes, such as political power, financial gain, or popularity. Jesus observed how, within the Judaism of his day, the true and proper worship of God had been hijacked for personal purposes. This angered him then, and we should take care that we don’t venture into those same waters now. How do we strive to keep the worship of God and the work of his Kingdom safe from human and worldly pursuits?
Feb 3–A Sign of Things to Come (John 2:1-12)—John’s Gospel is primarily aimed at offering “signs” that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. Scattered throughout the book one finds a variety of examples that the apostle found to be convincing evidence to the truth of Jesus’s own claims. And the first of those signs transpired at a wedding feast. The nature of the event was incredible, to be sure, but its location and its rather covert nature both speak to the mysterious power that Jesus would display, visible to those with eyes to see, and pointing towards a day of great celebration.
Jan 27–Casting Call (John 1:35-51)—The earliest disciples of Jesus were not professional prophets or trained priests. They were simply men who were looking for God and searching for the truth. And when John the Baptist pointed them toward Jesus, they immediately followed him to see if John was right. And once they began to recognize that something was different about him, they told others who came and followed him too. The process is simple: we go and see for ourselves, and then we go and tell others to come and see also.
Jan 20–Writing the Script (Matt 4:1-11)—Jesus’s time in the wilderness seems to serve a couple of purposes. First, it parallels his ministry journey with that of the Israelite nation as a whole. Just as they spent 40 years wandering in the Sinai desert, Jesus would start his ministry with a time of testing in the desert. But perhaps the second reason is more important for Christians today. The temptations serve to illustrate the specific nature that Jesus’s ministry would carry. His power would be from God, it would be for the purpose of pointing people to the Father, and it would be according to the Father’s timeline. Jesus was completely trusting of his Father in all things, as should we all be.
Jan 13–Setting the Stage (Luke 3:1-23; John 1:19-28)—Most concerts these days have an “opening act,” a lesser known band that comes on and plays a small set to prep the crowd for the main headliner. John the Baptist served this role, in a certain sense, for Jesus. He came preaching a different kind of salvation message and baptizing people in a different way as a result. And the purpose of this was to prepare the Israelite people for the coming of the one whose ministry, life, and death would solidify that new Gospel as permanent. Jesus’ ministry would begin with John the Baptist, who pointed everybody he could to the Son of God and Son of Man.