During the dark of the moon, looking to the sky on a cloudless night, the stars do more than shine, they illuminate faith’s imagination. Only a fool would say, “There is no light.”
Though it was as it should have been—first, early dark of the second morning—then, the blazing light fire of God kindled and the universe realigned. For, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance” (John 20:1).
Today, soul’s pulse with power, hope and love. We affirm, “Yes, there is light. He is risen as He said.” For us as for all disciples of Jesus, we have seen only the first hints of the new day Light, believing He is risen as he said.
Scripture and heaven’s host proclaim the love ballad of God. Our brother John comes near the end of his telling Jesus-stories (the Gospel) adding this note, “…these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
Life’s Dreariness Threatens
The nights of Friday and Saturday reveled within a bleak spiritual zone. No blaze of His holy presence. No radiant glow of even a bush to burn lest it be consumed. There was only faith’s desperate light.
Even today each disciple moves through times and days when light seems to flee. Life itself seems determined to ruin us. Sometimes such are caused by my own foolishness, at other moments the pretenses of others—who can say?
Occasionally I sight a star reflecting the Lord’s glory. I find hope. Jim Elliot comes along and like our brother John pens a startling phrase encouraging faith: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” On April 1, 2021 let the household of faith say, “He is risen as he said.”
John liked irony. One kind of irony John especially like is when people spoke better than they knew.
For example, in chapter 11 Caiaphas says this about Jesus: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” He was right, of course, but not in the way he thought he was. That’s ironic.
There is more than a tinge of irony on display in today’s dramatic text. This time it is Pilate speaking better than he knew. “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews.” Pilate was no believer in Jesus. With this statement, Pilate was probably just trying to stick it to the Jewish leaders, who had awakened him early on a Friday only to manipulate him into sentencing to death a person whom he knew was innocent. It was his little payback to the Jews for outmaneuvering him politically.
Pilate made sure everyone could read the sign by having it written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. The Jews demanded a disclaimer: “He claimed to be...” Pilate refused. He would get the last word, he thought, and the last laugh.
The crucifixion of Jesus is no laughing matter. Nonetheless, this scene is filled with irony. For Pilate spoke much better than he knew. Jesus was, indeed, the King of the Jews. In fact, Jesus is the King of all people. And as we learned on Sunday, the cross was a place of exaltation, glorification, and coronation.
In derisively proclaiming Jesus the King of the Jews, the skeptic Pilate was declaring truth from God. At the cross Jesus won back what Adam had lost, namely, the right to rule this world. He did this by submitting and obeying the Father to the very end—to the point of giving his life as a ransom for many. In doing that, Jesus triumphed where the first Adam had failed. The usurper Satan was dethroned. The man Jesus is now the legitimate authority over mankind. The resurrection just confirmed it.
Jesus of Nazareth is the promised King who will rule forever from David’s throne over an eternal kingdom of peace, righteousness, and justice.
I hope he’s your king.
May he return soon.
Understanding Pilate and his interactions with Jesus directs us to be introspective about our “then…” Pilate was a people pleaser, a gifted delegator and a person of action (especially if it involved his own self-preservation). Pilate’s ambition and his desire for peace at all costs drove his decision making. What drives the decision making of those around you? We will be looking at Pilate’s “then” moments as well as contemplating our own “then” moments.
I catch myself often making decisions based on what will please others. I choose to eat at my friend’s choice of restaurant because I know they like the food there. I choose to go hiking because I know that my son enjoys hunting illusive waterfalls. “Then Pilate…” Pilate took one look at the agitated Jewish leaders and knew that keeping them happy was paramount to maintaining his position. The Jewish leaders painted Jesus as a threat to Rome, an insurrectionist. (Luke 23:5) Yet Jesus’s answer to Pilate indicates his true identity. “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36) When have you been faced with a difficult choice between people pleasing and God pleasing? Pilate did not understand why Jesus had come, he only considered life based on his own ambitions and desires. Jesus had come to liberate people; He came to set all of us free from spiritual tyranny.
Read John 18:28-19:16a. Note the times that Pilate delegated his actions in this situation with Jesus. Pilate, again motivated by position preservation, tried to delegate actions and decisions. “Then Pilate…” Despite Pilate’s verbalized questions about the validity of the charges, he valued his position over his internal peace. He valued detached questions over authentic engagement. Pilate chose to send Jesus to Herod and pass this volatile situation to someone else. “Then Herod ridiculed and mocked him (Jesus). (Luke 23:1) Pilate delegated his duties and in turn received a notable return on his investment. “That day Herod and Pilate became friends-before this they had been enemies.” (Luke 23:12) Have you ever had to navigate a difficult situation and had to choose whether to unravel the problem or delegate it to someone else? What did you do? Pilate delegated the treatment of Jesus to the gathered Jews and asked the question: Jesus or Barabbas? (John 18:39) Pilate visually delegated his personal responsibility for his decision; “Then Pilate…” abdicated his responsibility and washed his hands of his culpability. (Matthew 27:24)
Pilate recognized that preserving his kingdom peace would require action, so he used his authority to send Jesus to the cross. He believed that he had power over all that Rome had given him authority to control. “Then Jesus…” “Jesus answered, ‘you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…” (John 19:11) What actions have you had to take because your position or relationships were threatened? A young woman came to faith in Jesus. Her father told her to forget her faith or leave her home. She chose her faith. “Then Trudy…” Trudy had 10 minutes to gather a few things before she was out on the street. Trudy’s choice was just the beginning of radical Christ following. Her life has impacted many including her father who eventually came to know her Jesus.
Pilate’s people pleasing behavior, delegation and action points were motivated by self-preservation- “Then Pilate…” What motivates your life? What might be some of the cost of following Christ? Then I…
How would you identify yourself? Complete this sentence? "I am _________________." Unfortunately, too many people would have trouble doing so. There's seems to be a great identity crisis in the "woke” world today.
One of the great themes of the Gospel of John is the phrase, "I am..." There are nearly 20 times when he records Jesus saying, "I am_________," either identifying himself, often with a familiar word picture, or telling those present what he was doing. Eight of them are very familiar to many Christians. Stop a minute and write down as many of them as you can think of. (Don't read ahead.)
He said, "I am the bread of Life:” “the light of the world”; “the good shepherd”; “the door (gate)”; “the resurrection and the life”;” “the way, the truth, and the life”; and “the true vine."* In chapter 18 (today's text), he simply says, "I AM," (English translations add “he”) identifying himself not only as the one they are looking for, but as Yahweh, the self-existing creator God, whose name Jews would not even say out loud. This powerful declaration caused those who had come to capture him to "fall backwards to the ground" (v. 6).
John also records Jesus saying, "I am from above”; “I am going to prepare a place for you”; I am God's Son”; “I am ascending to my Father”; “I am sending you." There are a few times when Jesus said, "I am NOT ... possessed by a demon”; “I am NOT seeking glory for myself”; “I am NOT of this world."**
Now, at this crucial moment in Jesus' life, he boldly says, "Since I am the one you want, let these others go” (v. 8 NLT). It's clear that Jesus knew exactly who he was and why he was in the world.
Have you acknowledged that Jesus is the one, eternal, creator God? How are you living out that truth?
"I AM NOT"
Peter, on the other hand, was struggling with his identity as a follower of Christ. First, he's the bold, sword-wielding disciple. Then he's "following behind," slipping into the courtyard, where he's immediately identified by the woman who let him in as one of Jesus' disciples. Now his bravado is gone, and he answers, "No, I AM NOT." He's forgotten his recent promise that he would never deny Christ, even if everyone else did. Two more times he's recognized as a follower of Christ and each time he becomes more agitated, denying—with an oath (Mt. 26:72)—that he even knew Jesus. And in his Gospel, John (who was there) tells us that twice Peter said, "No! I AM NOT!
The world is pressing in on Christ-followers today. In some parts of the world, disciples are imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for their faith. Recently, in America, a Kindergarten child was sent home from school for wearing a mask that said, "Jesus Loves Me."
What will our response be when you and I are identified as being Christians? Will I boldly declare, "I AM a follower of Christ”? God forbid I would ever say, "I am NOT!" And if it is "I am NOT"...it will be followed by "ashamed of the gospel."
*6:35; 8:12; 10:11, 10:9,11:25: 14:6; 15:5.
**8:23; 14:2; 10:36; 20:17; 20:21; 8:49; 8:50; 8:23
jbd & gmd
I have a set of babushka dolls that were given to me by a former student upon his return from a trip to Russia. Truth be told, I’m not a little girl in love with dolls. But I am fascinated with the craftsmanship that goes into carving and painting these beautiful figurines, each nesting perfectly inside another, each progressively and proportionately smaller, yet all of them spittin’ images of one another. You have to see it to believe it.
It all began 130 years ago. A Russian woodcarver, Vasily Zvyozdochkin (you can ask Pastor Kip to pronounce that for you!), was the first to make a set of matryoshka dolls (as they call them in Russia).
This devotional is about the craftsmanship of “dolls” that began, not hundreds but many thousands of years ago. It was God who carved out our amazing planet and set it spinning in the mind-boggling universe.
Significantly, God planned the quintessence of his creation to be—not the highest mountain nor the brightest star—but human beings, created “in his image,” dolls, if you will, as beautiful as they can possibly be, with all the potential to be like him.
What a concept! A potter cannot throw a lump of clay on his wheel and turn it into a living being like himself. But God did. Of course, he doesn’t intend for us to be as majestic as he is, but he does want each of us to be his spittin’ image (Gen 1:27).
The Genesis account—especially God creating us to be like him—set in motion the universe’s greatest storyline: humanity’s up-and-down, on-again-off-again struggle with conforming to God’s image. The saga of the Star Wars trilogies doesn’t come close.
Wanted: A flawless image-bearing-servant of God.
Voila! It's Jesus! Part of the reason Jesus came to earth was to be what every human has failed to be, perfectly “in God’s image.” He said about himself: “The one who looks at me is seeing the very one who sent me” (John 12:45). And, Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? (Jn 14:10).
So Jesus, the Son of God, is like God in every respect. And our primary goal, sons, and daughters of God, is to be like God too. As Jesus proclaimed, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Wow!
But this lineup of dolls is not done. Each of us dolls is designed to reproduce ourselves in more followers of Jesus, dolls, who are also in God’s image. So it’s doll after doll, nested one inside the other, all beginning with the big “doll,” God our Creator!
Life Application Questions