Ep.094: Who is Jesus Anyway?

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”. 

John chapter 8 opens with the Pharisees’ suggestion to stone the woman caught in adultery. The chapter closes when the Pharisees decide to stone Jesus. 

Between that unhappy opening and the murderous closing, Jesus made three big claims for himself. Let’s look at them. 

Jesus’ first claim was, “I am the light of the world” (v. 12). The people responded, “What? It’s not credible for you to make big claims like that! That’s what liars and insane people do. You need a reliable, external witness as proof.” “Well,” said Jesus, “that external witness would be God. And since I come from him, I can be my own witness.” That didn’t convince anyone. 

Then Jesus said, “I am going away, and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. You can’t come where I am going.” “Really?” they said. “Where are you going? Are you going kill yourself? Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied with his second big claim: “I am the son of God my Father.” Some people believed him, but many felt he was delusional.

Then Jesus said, “If you accept my teaching, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  The people responded, “We are Abraham’s descendents, we’ve never been slaves to anyone. We don’t need you to set us free.”  Jesus replied, “On the contrary, you’re all slaves to sin. You’re not in Abraham’s family. Your father is the devil!”  The people replied, “Who us? No way! You are demon-possessed. How can you know Abraham? You’re not even 50!” Jesus responded with his third big claim, “Before Abraham was, I am.”  

Did you hear that? Listen again to Jesus’ words: “I AM.”  

“I AM” is an important Old Testament name for God. The people listened when Jesus claimed to be the light of the world. They listened when he said God was his father. But when he appropriated for himself the holiest name of God, the Pharisees had enough. To protect God’s honor, they picked up rocks to stone Jesus, but he walked away and hid himself.

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, we believe your claims about yourself.

We receive you as the light of the world. Often, we walk in darkness and confusion, not not sure how to love you and others, not sure how to grow spiritually, not sure of our way through this valley of shadows. Do we need more Bible study? More faith? More service to you and others? Jesus, light our way, show us the way to God. 

Jesus, we receive you as the Son of God. Your relationship to God is different than the rest of us humans. As John said of you, “God loved the world so much he sent his only son” (John 3:16). You were God’s son when Abraham was a wandering pioneer; you will be God’s son long after the world spins into its unknown future. 

Jesus, we receive you as the only human who could ever say, “I AM” about yourself. You lived as a son of Mary, you worked as a carpenter; but you spoke and taught and died and lived again as one who came from God.

Amen. 

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Ep.093: Psalm 38: Sickness and Sin.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

Psalm 38 is a psalm of lament for sin. The poet is incurably sick and says,
     My back is filled with searing pain; 
          there is no health in my body (v. 7). 
     My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds (v. 11). 

The poet points to two causes for his pain and sickness.
First, he says to God, 
     Because of your wrath 
          there is no health in my body” (v. 3).
He thinks an angry God sent sickness to teach him a lesson. He asks God to relent:
    Do not rebuke me in your anger 
        or discipline me in your wrath (v. 1). 

The poet says another cause of sickness is his own sin.  He says:
      There is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. 
    My wounds fester and are loathsome
        because of my sinful folly (vv. 3b, 4b). 

So what did cause his pain and sickness?  Was God punishing him? Was it a natural consequence of his sin? Maybe the problem was not spiritual at all. Perhaps it was an infection that needed antibiotics instead of a psalm. Perhaps it was a mental health issue that needed cognitive therapy and rest.

David Levy, a neurosurgeon for 20 years, prayed with patients before operating on their brains. When an ex-marine was preparing for complicated surgery, Dr. Levy said, “If you want every chance of healing, you also need good emotional health. Stress, anger, and resentment can have powerful negative effects on you. Bitterness is like an acid that eats its container” (Levy, David. Gray Matter. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2011. pp 134). Levy asked the man if there was anyone he had not forgiven. This lead to the man forgiving an abusive parent, and asking God’s forgiveness for bitterness and resentment. Levy says, “His countenance went from stone to sunlight. There was a bounce in his step as he left” (Levy, p. 183). A week later, the six-hour operation went well. 

Of course, the problem in applying this is knowing which of our problems need medical solutions, which need spiritual solutions, and which need new thought patterns. I suspect most of our problems need all three. But who can give us an accurate diagnosis? And who can prescribe the treatment that will heal us? For many of us, it’s a lifelong journey, researching different options and trying various solutions. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we pray with the poet, 
   All our longings lie open before you, Lord, 
      Our sighing is not hidden from you ( v. 9). 

You see our deepest needs.
  – We need a relationship with a god who is not angry at us.
  – We need to lose our conviction that we are mostly right.
  – We need to see and confess our sins.
  – We need deliverance from our enemies:
        from people who hate,
        from sickness that debilitates,
        from selfishness that obstructs our vision of you.
– We need to give up our despair, self-pity, and obsessions.
– We need freedom to love you and worship you with all your people on earth.

And our sickness is complicated by sin which harms our lives and frustrates our search for health. We pray with Rabdula of Edessa, who wrote this prayer 1600 years ago: 

My thoughts confuse and cloud my mind. I am in despair because my guilt is vaster than the ocean and my sins more numerous than the waves of the sea. When I remember how I have fallen, I tremble at the thought of your justice. I dare not look upwards, because my sins reach as high as the heavens. When I look down, earth is an accusation to me, for my offences exceed the number of its inhabitants. Have pity on me, Lord. 

Van de Weyer, Robert, ed. The HarperCollins Book of Prayers.  Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1993.  p. 298, prayer of Rabbula of Edessa, d. 435

With Psalm 38 we pray, 
     Lord, do not forsake me;
         do not be far from me, my God. 
     Come quickly to help me,
         my Lord and my Savior (vv. 21-22). 

Amen

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Ep.092: Woman in a Trap.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”. 

John chapter 8 opens with the story of the woman caught in adultery. It goes like this: The Pharisees and teachers of the law brought a woman to Jesus and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses commands us to stone such women. What’s your take on this?”  

Clearly, the Pharisees had invented the mother of all technical questions to stump Jesus. And in a stroke of genius, they had a guilty woman available for immediate stoning. “Since you teach Moses’ law,” they said to Jesus, “will you obey the law by endorsing capital punishment for this woman? Or are you just playing at teaching scripture, and you wimp out at tough judgments like this?”

When people like the Pharisees and Jesus set out to interpret scripture, I find it helpful to know what they are willing to sacrifice in support their position. The Pharisees, to prove that Jesus was not a credible teacher of the law, were prepared to sacrifice a woman, exposing her to shame and public humiliation and possibly even capital punishment. But their approach ignored relationship and compassion, which are also in the law. 

In contrast, Jesus wasn’t prepared to sacrifice the woman. We don’t find out until later in the Gospel of John what he was prepared to sacrifice. 

In the end, Pharisees weren’t prepared to sacrifice the woman’s life either. After demolishing her dignity and reputation, they walked away without throwing stones.

Because Jesus turned their argument on its head saying, “Let one who is without sin throw the first stone.” Jesus confronted them with the same problem they had put to him, namely, “Do you take Moses’ law literally enough to implement the death penalty right here?” One by one they drifted away. Perhaps because they understood their own failures . .. perhaps because they knew the law provided mercy as well as judgment . . . perhaps Jesus’ convinced them it was unwise to execute uncompromising judgment on the woman when they themselves needed all the mercy the law could give them.

When they were gone, Jesus said to the woman, “Does no one condemn you?” She answered, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin.”  

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, how often we sacrifice others on the altar of our own righteousness. How quick we are to argue our interpretation of scripture. How quick we are to judge the wrong we see in others and in their view of scripture. 

Jesus, help us to turn the technical questions on their head. Whether we are right or wrong, teach us not to use scripture as a tool to win arguments or throw stones at sinners. Teach us to use the scriptures as a tool to expose our own narrowness, to expose us as just another sinner in a world full of them, to expose us to God’s judgment and mercy. 

Jesus, when we act like Pharisees, help us see the weakness of our arguments, and to walk quietly away from the traps we set for ourselves and others. And when we are caught in sin like the woman, help us to receive your words, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin.”  

Amen. 

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.