No Sign Big Enough

Scripture Focus: John 5.28
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.

John 4.48
48 “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” 

Reflection: No Sign Big Enough
By John Tillman

John’s gospel makes some of the most extraordinary and direct claims about the divinity of Jesus. However, in addition to the resurrection, John chose only seven miraculous signs to support these claims:
     Changing Water Into Wine (John 2.1-11)
     Healing the Royal Official’s Son (John 4.46-54)
     Healing the paralytic at the pool (John 5.1-18)
     Feeding over 5,000 with fish and loaves (John 6.1-14)
     Walking on the water (John 6.15-25)
     Healing a man born blind (John 9.1-41)
     Raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11.1-46)

Jesus performed most of these signs in ways that limited rather than maximized the number of direct witnesses. Jesus seemed aware that “signs” don’t make for great faith.

If you read the Old Testament closely, this is obvious. In one of the more egregious examples, Israel miraculously escapes Egypt, including walking through the sea on dry ground, then a few pages later they make a calf idol and bow down to it saying, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32.4)

Signs don’t mean someone will commit to Jesus. Judas witnessed all seven signs in John’s gospel and still betrayed Christ. The man healed at the pool doesn’t seem to quite believe in Jesus and quickly turns over information about him to Jesus’ enemies.

One rebel on the cross next to Jesus asked him to prove he was the Messiah by saving them both. The other rebel trusted that Jesus was the Messiah and would honor a humble request.

Faith may lead to signs but signs rarely lead to anything that can be called faith. Perhaps this is why Jesus often may not give us “signs” we might expect. There’s no sign big enough to ensure faith.

Are we demanding God prove himself to us or are we trusting in who he is? The Resurrection is our guarantee that God’s promises to us are eternally secure.

John later tells us that there were many other signs he witnessed. He even says that if all that Jesus did were written down the world could not contain the books. Out of all Jesus did, why choose these seven? 

John answers, “that you may believe.” (John 20.30-31; 21.25) These and resurrection are enough. What more do we need?

Do we believe who God reveals himself to be in Jesus? Or do we demand what we want?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O God, be not far from me; come quickly to help me, O my God. — Psalm 71.12

Today’s Readings
Amos 3 (Listen – 2:11)
John 5 (Listen – 5:42)

Read more about He Is Faithful When We Are Not
It is not only true that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5.8) It is also true that before we had even sinned, God determined he would provide salvation for us.

Read more about The Miracle of Faith
I long to be filled with faith, but I’m often filled with other things… doubt…fear…shame…pride…inadequacy…

New Creation, Exodus, and Kingdom

Scripture Focus: John 1.4, 29
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Joel 2.12, 30-32a
12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, 
“return to me with all your heart, 
with fasting and weeping and mourning.” 

30 I will show wonders in the heavens 
and on the earth, 
blood and fire and billows of smoke. 
31 The sun will be turned to darkness 
and the moon to blood 
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 
32 And everyone who calls 
on the name of the Lord will be saved; 
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem 
there will be deliverance

Reflection: New Creation, Exodus, and Kingdom
By John Tillman

The gospels are uniquely marked by the character and style of their authors. 

Mark is like an on-the-scene reporter, chasing down the action and describing what just happened. Matthew is like a measured legal commentator, stating Jesus’ legal case as the Messiah in the Sunday New York Times. Luke, together with Acts, is like a Ken Burns documentary with investigative rigor and long, revealing conversations with experts. John is like an art-house film with heavy symbolism, strange camera angles, and asynchronous storytelling.

John carefully connects the beginning of his gospel with the beginning of Genesis and the story of the Exodus. He poetically quotes or imitates words, thoughts, and ideas from these texts. If these texts were songs, John would be singing his lyrics to the same melody. 

John’s gospel tells us that a new creation is beginning with light being spoken into the darkness. He tells us that a new exodus is beginning with a crushing defeat for the empire of death and a stunning escape through the depths of the sea—a common symbol of the grave.

The New Testament, and particularly the gospels, do not erase the Old Testament. If anything they turn up the volume and remix the message in a new way. Jesus said he came to “complete” not abolish the scriptures.

Today, called Good Friday in the church calendar, is a day when Jesus partly completed many Old Testament prophecies, including portions of Joel’s account of the Day of the Lord. 

Darkness, blood, earthquakes, resurrections, and the tearing of the curtain of the Temple all occurred during the crucifixion. These wonders upon the earth caught the attention of even the jaded executioners of Jesus. One centurion stood in front of Jesus when he died and seeing all that happened, proclaimed Jesus the righteous Son of God. (Matthew 27.54; Mark 15.39; Luke 23.47)

The darkness of Good Friday catches our attention, pulling our eyes off of anything that might distract us from the coming explosion of light that the resurrection will be. Joel says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved…on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance…”

Let us stand, awestruck, before the cross today and say, “This is the righteous Son of God.” This is the beginning of the new creation, the new exodus, and the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? — Psalm 22.1

Today’s Readings
Joel 2 (Listen – 1:39)
John 1 (Listen -6:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
Joel 3 (Listen – 3:20)John 2 (Listen -3:02)
Amos 1 (Listen – 2:38)John 3 (Listen -4:41)

Read more about Unprecedented Spirit
The very Spirit promised in Joel and poured out in Acts is a deposit, a guarantee, of the inheritance God has for each of us in Christ.

Read more about Love in His Name
Jesus enters a world rightly his, a world he lovingly created, and a world he now prepares, lovingly, to save.

Angels We Have Heard on High — Carols of Advent Joy

Scripture Focus: John 4.28-30, 39
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”

Luke 2.15-18
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

From John: I personally have been very much looking forward to the next two weeks. Jon Polk has always been one of the key sources in my life to learn about unique music and artists worth discovering. He is a music connoisseur and collector with a massive collection of music, both on his shelves and in his heart. I know you will be blessed by his exploration of the carols of Advent.

Reflection: Angels We Have Heard on High — Carols of Advent Joy
By Jon Polk

Whenever I recall the familiar passage from Luke chapter two, I cannot help but hear it narrated from the classic words of the King James Version in the voice of philosopher and theologian, Linus Van Pelt.

“Lights, please. ‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…’” (Luke 2.8)

The grandiose birth announcement proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds is one of the iconic images of the Christmas story. What Christmas pageant doesn’t feature a couple of shepherds in bathrobes and an angel in a white baptismal robe with a glorious, gold glitter halo?

Of course, this portion of the nativity narrative also forms the basis of many of the carols of Christmas. You may recognize one of the favorites as the “Glo-o-o-o-o-o-ria” song.

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echo back their joyous strains.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” is an English paraphrase of a traditional French Christmas carol, “Les Anges dans Nos Compagnes” (literally, ‘the angels in our countryside’), by James Chadwick, Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, England. The flourishing chorus, “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” is Latin for “Glory to God in the highest,” the first line proclaimed by the gathered angelic host in Luke’s nativity account.

Picture the scene. Shepherds in the countryside somewhere out beyond the edge of the city. Tired, weary, and worn out from the day’s work, but they still must take shifts watching the sheep overnight. Their occupation places them on the lowest rung of the first century social and economic ladder.

Everything changed for them on that fateful night when they heard that first “Glory to God in the highest!”

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song.

Joy. Radically transforming, immense, unmistakable joy. These shepherds, normally social outcasts, are now the first ones to be privy to the good news of great joy. What do they do after they find the baby? They head into town to spread the joyous news! 

Look for those around you who need a little joy this year. Spend some time this Advent season spreading joy however you can. We can all provide an encouraging word, a helping hand, or a few extra moments of our time. Like those early shepherds in the countryside, we carry a joy that is designed to be given away.

After all, in the words of Linus Van Pelt, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Listen: Angels We Have Heard on High by Future of Forestry
Listen: Les Anges dans Nos Compagnes by Bruce Cockburn
Read: Lyrics from

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. — Psalm 118.24

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 1 (Listen – 3:37)
John 4 (Listen – 6:37)

Read more about End of Year Giving and Supporting our work
You can give year-round support for biblical literacy and spiritual rhythms in cities around the world for about the same amount as streaming internet services.

Read more about Do We Know Him? :: Love of Advent
Jesus went out of his way to reach out to those who were considered unreachable, and more than that, unworthy of being reached.

Fasting as Freedom

John 4.34
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

Reflection: Fasting as Freedom
By John Tillman

Jesus had food that the disciples knew nothing about. Do we know about it today? Do we know the sustaining power of doing the will of God?

In our fasting during Lent, may we be reminded that our sustenance does not come from this world. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster discusses how our fasting should remind us that we are sustained by our connection to Christ:

“Fasting reminds us that we are sustained “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt 4.4). Food does not sustain us; God sustains us. In Christ, ‘All things hold together” (Col 1.17) Therefore, in experiences of fasting we are not so much abstaining from food as we are feasting on the word of God. Fasting is feasting!

When the disciples brought lunch to Jesus, assuming that he would be starving, he declared, “I have food to eat of which you do not know…My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.’ (John 4.32-34) This was not a clever metaphor, but a genuine reality.

Jesus was, in fact being nourished and sustained by the power of God. That is the reason for his counsel on fasting in Matthew 6. We are told not to act miserable when fasting because, in point of fact, we are not miserable. We are feeding on God and, just like the Israelites who were sustained in the wilderness by the miraculous manna from Heaven, so we are sustained by the word of God.

Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to take precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them.”

Fasting is not a punishment, a penance, or a weight of duty to wear around our necks.
Fasting is cutting off the weights our broken world hangs on our balloon so that we remember to rise, filled with the Holy Spirit.
Fasting is washing off the caked-on sludge of the world’s oil spill, so that we can once again soar on wings as eagles.
Fasting is not entering a cave of somber darkness, but exiting a darkened cave into joy.

May our Lenten fasts, cut our weights, cleanse our wings, and acclimatize our eyes to the bright joy we anticipate in Christ’s resurrection.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
O God, when you went forth before your people, when you marched through the wilderness,

The earth shook, and the skies poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.  — Psalm 68.7-8

Today’s Readings
Exodus 25 (Listen – 4:20)
John 4 (Listen – 6:37)

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Read more about Fasting as a Feast
As we observe Lent by abstaining, may we maintain a more constant connection and relationship to God through Scripture, prayer and meditation. May more frequent times of worship be feasts for our mind, our heart, and our souls.

Read more about Do We Know Him?
The woman went into town and brought out to Jesus the food he wanted—a harvest of souls ready to receive the gospel.