Defining Moment

Scripture Focus: John 20.3-10; 28-29
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. 

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

Reflection: Defining Moment
By John Tillman

Bible scholars love a good joke or humorous moment in scripture. One that frequently provides levity is noticing that John seems keen to point out that he outran Peter to the tomb. Even though Peter entered first, John notes, twice, that he was the first to arrive. We imagine Peter reading it, saying, “Okay. We get it, John. You’re fast.”

But that’s not all John arrived at first. John was the first to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was alive without seeing Jesus in the flesh. After hearing the testimony of Mary Magdelene, racing Peter to the empty tomb, and going in to see the carefully arranged graveclothes, John believed. Others needed more convincing.

The most famous of these, of course, is Thomas. Thomas also beat Peter to something. Thomas was the first disciple to express that he was willing to die with Jesus. That’s exactly what Thomas expected when they returned to Bethany before Lazarus was raised. (John 11.16

Thomas had good moments but history remembers and has named him for his worst moment. Thomas’s doubt is part of his story, but it is not his whole story. His doubt teaches us the important lesson that the disciples investigated the evidence and were convinced utterly that Jesus was alive. Thomas’s doubt helps our certainty. But his doubt isn’t his identity. 

Jesus doesn’t want you, or Thomas, to be defined by your lowest moment. Jesus didn’t give Thomas the nickname “doubting” and Jesus doesn’t have a nickname for you based on your failures either. 

Coming to faith in Jesus isn’t a race to be won. You can be quick to believe, like John, confused, like Peter, or cynical, like Thomas. Keep searching among the community of faith. Jesus will show up searching for you, bringing new and better adjectives.

We can edit our identity because of Jesus. He takes our descriptors and gives us his. We were sinners. Now we are righteous. We were dead. Now we are alive.

Do you, like Thomas, have an adjective attached to your name? As a writer and editor, let me encourage you to delete it. What adjectives do you carry with you? Doubting? Wounded? Worthless? Unreliable? Delete them and accept the new descriptors that are given to us in Jesus: 

Your defining moment is no longer your lowest moment. It is Jesus’ victory through the cross and resurrection.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

Today’s Readings
Genesis 21 (Listen 3:59
John 20 (Listen 4:17)

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Another “first” to note in the resurrection appearances of Jesus, is the first person to believe that Jesus was resurrected without seeing him.

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Ecce Homo

Scripture Focus: John 19.5, 13-16
5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. 

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. 

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” 

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. 

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. 

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. 

Reflection: Ecce Homo
By John Tillman

Pilate presented Jesus as innocent, saying, “Here is the man.” Ecce homo is the Latin Vulgate translation of this statement. The moment is recorded in many works of art.

In 2012, the 19th-century fresco, Ecce Homo, was in poor shape. Much of the paint had flaked away over time. An aged parishioner, who had seen it slowly deteriorating, decided to attempt to restore her favorite depiction of Jesus. Unfortunately, she had no formal art training and the result was…not good. The Internet swarmed with scorn for her work and memes of other famous artwork ruined in the same style.

Despite affection for Jesus and good intentions, her depiction of Jesus was a blurry blob, with none of the details that gave the artwork meaning.

Many of us may have a blurry, blob of affection for Jesus. It is vital for us to return to the master artists of scripture regularly to see the details they skillfully composed for us.

The details John focuses on are legal, political, and damning. Until the ecce homo moment, Pilate had been speaking informally—like banter at a press conference. But when the politicking and bargaining were over Pilate sat in “the seat of judgment” called “the Stone Pavement.” 

The precise location is unknown but this was the official seat representing justice under the law. It would be like a U.S. president sitting down behind his desk in the Oval Office, or the justices of the Supreme Court taking their seats. It just got official. 

John has carefully presented Jesus’ signs and claims to be the one true king. Yet Pilate presented Jesus as king and he was rejected. Not just by the Jews. Not just by Pilate. By the world. This moment is the essence of all sin.

Sin is not merely behavior. It is rebellion. Every sin you’ve ever heard of or committed is a result of rebellion—a follow-on effect of our conspiratorial coup against God’s kingdom.

Therefore, when we repent, we must not merely change behavior. We must return to the truth. We must return to Pilate’s words, “Here is the man,” adding, “He is innocent. I am not.”

With the soldier at the foot of the cross, we say, “Surely this was the son of God.” With the rebel on the cross, we say, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
The Lord lives! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted is the God of my salvation! — Psalm 18.46

Today’s Readings
Genesis 20 (Listen 2:39
John 19 (Listen 6:23)

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“Were you there?” is a question that asks us to reconcile our present with the past.

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God’s Word and Christ’s Prayer

Scripture Focus: John 17.13-22
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Reflection: God’s Word and Christ’s Prayer
By John Tillman

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5.16) Jesus is the definition of righteousness. And, my dear brothers and sisters, Jesus, the righteous man, prayed for you. That prayer has power and is effective for everyone who believes.

If you are a believer, Jesus prayed for you. He prayed that you would have the full measure of his joy despite being hated by the world. He prayed that God’s word would be your lifeline while living in the world, to protect you from evil. He prayed that God’s word would sanctify you in the truth and that you would be sent into the world, as Jesus was, to testify to that truth.

If you are not a believer, Jesus prayed for you. He prayed that you would be able to see and hear the truth of God’s Word. He prayed that you would be able to overcome obstacles to belief.

God’s Word, the Bible, is the key to so much of Jesus’ prayer. It is a lifeline of breathable air to believers plunged in the depths of this world. We are in this world but not of it, like a diver walking the floor of the ocean. The Bible carries the testimony about Jesus that the world is to hear. 

If we want to live and walk in the power of Jesus’ prayer and see its effect in our lives, we need to devote ourselves to his Word. The Bible is our air supply in a world flooded by sin. Let us stay connected to it and breathe deeply and well.

There are many metaphors like this for God’s word in the Bible. God’s word is our light in a dark place. It is manna in a land with no food. It is our stream in the waterless desert. It is our shelter in a world of hostility.

God’s Word and Christ’s prayer are powerful and effective. Let us continually recommit ourselves to Jesus and God’s Word. The Word he has given us comes from the Father and we live in it and act from it through the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.” (John 17.7-8)

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Whoever holds my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and reveal myself to him.” — John 14.21

Today’s Readings
Genesis 18 (Listen 4:59
John 17 (Listen 3:40)

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Inner and Outward Circumcision

Scripture Focus: Genesis 17.23-27
23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. 27 And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him. 

John 16.1-4
1 “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.

Acts 7.51
51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!

From John: Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The purpose of this day is to encourage service to one’s community. Along with that purpose, we also acknowledge that many have wrongly thought that they were doing “a service for God” (John 16.2) when they committed acts of violence. May our service bring about a loving community on Earth that mirrors that above and may we redouble our efforts to counter violence and the normalization of violent language and threats in our world.

Reflection: Inner and Outward Circumcision
By John Tillman

Every male in Abraham’s household was circumcised. Not just his offspring. Not just his blood relatives. Not just those of his race or country. Everyone. Abraham did not yet have the son God promised, but all those with him were marked as children of this promise.

Even though it set Abraham apart from the rest of the world, from the very beginning circumcision made one people from diverse peoples. It was intended as an external physical marker of an internal spiritual reality. 

Eventually, circumcision, and other distinguishing marks of faith, went from being about inclusion to being about exclusion. “Holiness” became just another kind of sinful show.

Jesus warned his disciples of what they would face in the immediate future from the religious elite. Paul and Stephen would soon live out Jesus’ words. (Acts 7.51-60) Stephen called out “uncircumcised” hearts and ears of those deaf and blind to God’s Word and his work. Their inner spirituality did not match their outward ritual purity.

With any religious practice, it is easy for the ritual to become a replacement for the spiritual. Our legalistic holiness can become a sinfully prideful show. If we are not careful, we can lose our love for the Lord, and other humans, amidst our liturgies. 

But without ritual or liturgy or law our “spirituality” is just a mush of feelings—ecstatic highs and depressive lows. Liturgy, law, and the rhythmic rituals of worship are tools to remind us that we are included. They are intended to set us apart from the world and, at the same time, hold out an invitation to the world. We, like the foreigners in Abraham’s household, can be marked as children of the promise alongside Christ, Abraham’s true son.

Faith can start outwardly. Nonbelievers may begin reading the Bible, coming to church, singing worship songs, or changing outward behaviors of their lives. This can be a path to inward faith.

Faith can start inwardly. People may have sudden or life-altering conversions of heart. These may lead to disciplines such as Bible reading, worship, and lifestyle changes.

Wherever faith starts, may every part, inward and outward, be changed. By God’s grace, may our ears, hearts, and every part of our lives bear the mark of a “circumcision” that is more than skin deep. May our inner spirituality and outward reality match.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Be exalted, O Lord, in your might; we will sing and praise your power. — Psalm 21.14

Today’s Readings
Genesis 17 (Listen 4:02
John 16 (Listen 4:14)

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Othniel and Stephen are two men touched and led by the Spirit of God to very different outcomes.

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Dirty Feet

Scripture Focus: John 13.12-17
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. 

From John: Today we look back at Jada’s post from 2018. I’m thankful that Jada reminds us that Jesus washed Judas’s feet. As we think of all the ways Jesus served his disciples and us (washing feet, self-sacrificing, loving enemies, etc.) may we remember his words, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Reflection: Dirty Feet
By Jada Swanson

If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do? What would you say?

Imagine walking into a tiny upper room, crowding around a table, passing plates of food to eat, but knowing tomorrow was the day. This is the situation Jesus faced on the Thursday before he was crucified.

On this day, Jesus celebrated his final Passover with His disciples. However, on this occasion, he did something quite different. At the very beginning of the traditional meal, Jesus washed each of the disciples’ feet. Something he had never done before.

In the Old Testament foot washing occurs frequently (Genesis 18.4; 19.2; 24.32; 43.24; Judges 19.21; 1 Samuel 25.41; 2 Samuel 11.8; Song of Solomon 5.3; Psalms 58.10). In ancient times, foot washing was considered a tremendous act of hospitality, and was done before entering someone’s home or tent. One’s status (rich or poor) determined whether the guest washed their own feet with water provided by the host, or if a slave performed this act, which was considered the lowliest of services.

However, as often is the case with Jesus, he turned everything upside down. Surely, shouldn’t the servants be washing their master’s feet? According to customs of this time, this should have been the case. But, instead, Jesus washed each of the disciples’ feet, even Judas’ (John 13.2).

Jesus gathered the disciples around him, took a towel, poured water into a basin, and washed their feet. He served them with love and humility. As his followers, we are called to do the same.

Although we do not know the hour or the day of our final moments on earth, we do have an example of how to live our life. Jesus is our example, and his life demonstrates love and service to others. On the final evening with his disciples, he included an act of service. As his modern-day disciples, may we all continue to carry on his example by serving others each and every day of our lives.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
O God, you know my foolishness, and my faults are not hidden from you. — Psalm 69.6

Today’s Readings
Genesis 14 (Listen 4:04)
John 13 (Listen 5:06)

Today’s Readings
Genesis 15 (Listen 2:53John 14 (Listen 4:13)
Genesis 16 (Listen 2:18John 15 (Listen 3:20)

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What he wanted to say couldn’t be said with pen and ink. He needed to…wash dirty feet. He needed to bleed.

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