Inaugurating The Era of the Servant

Scripture Focus: Matthew 1.20-21
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

John 13.34
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

From John: The “Maundy” of Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, reflecting Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment.” May we walk in this commandment, in this new era of love and service.

Reflection: Inaugurating The Era of the Servant
By John Tillman

The three sections of Matthew 1’s genealogy mark important eras in the history of God’s presence with and relationship to his people.

Beginning with Abraham’s era, God was a promise-maker and promise-keeper. He promised children, kings, nations, and a blessing that would be for all people. God brought Abraham’s family closer and closer to himself, revealing more and more of his nature. He became their God, and they became his people. He made with them a covenant, a promise of promises, to be their faithful God.

Beginning with David’s era, God was the mighty king, dispensing justice and wisdom. In this era, he defeated monstrous animals, enemies, and empires. Even when human kings were flawed, unfaithful, and wicked, God was the faithful, righteous ruler.

Through the exilic era, God judged and punished his people’s wickedness but also protected and preserved the righteous remnant and was the redeemer who brought his people home. Exiled for their sins, this remnant took God’s presence and blessing with them, even into the bellies of the beastly empires that swallowed them. God brought judgment on those beasts in due time and brought his people out from captivity again.

A new era is announced to Mary and Joseph. Jesus is proclaimed as one who will save his people from their sins. Sin wrecked every era of existence. Sin broke the promises of the covenant. Sin turned the wisdom and power of kings to wickedness. Sin still haunted the hints of former glory in the restored Temple and the wicked rule of the string of Herods who called themselves kings of the Jews.

In this time, in this place, among these people, God revealed himself in Jesus as the savior, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.

Jesus inaugurated the next era on the night of the Passover meal. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and declared afterward ​​“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13.34)

What era speaks to you? The promise-keeper? The King of Kings? The Redeemer? The Savior? The Servant? Jesus is the fulfillment of every era and every need. Today, his body, the church, is called to live out the era of love and service. Let us love one another so that the world can recognize who we are.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me. — John 14.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings

Song of Songs 4 (Listen 2:46)
Matthew 1 (Listen 3:29)

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Read more about Dirty Feet
If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do?…Jesus washed each of the disciples’ feet…even Judas’s.

The King We Want

Scripture Focus: John 19.15
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.

Zechariah 9.9
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! 
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! 
See, your king comes to you, 
righteous and victorious, 
lowly and riding on a donkey, 
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 

1 Samuel 8.6-7
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.

Reflection: The King We Want
By John Tillman

All the gospel writers include the detail from Zechariah’s vision of a coming king riding on a donkey. John and Matthew quote Zechariah 9.9 to point out Jesus’ fulfillment of this prophecy. However, this humble king wasn’t what many wanted. Many rejected Jesus then. And many still reject him now.

The King We Want
We want a king, we say
A king like other nations
With Solomon’s glitz and glamor
With Goliath’s sword and armor

I’ve sent a king, God says
Unlike any you’ve seen
Son of the Giant Killer
Yet, rejected as your ruler

We want a king, we say
Exalted and victorious
We’ll hear his saber rattle
We’ll follow him to battle

I’ve sent a king, God says
A king not of this realm
Your lust for worldly power
Shows you mistake the hour

We want a king, we say
To make our city great
To make for ourselves a name
To not be scattered from this plain

I’ve sent a king, God says
You had no eyes to see him
He wept over your city
That the outcasts gained no pity

We want a king, we say
We’ll even take a bad one
Let him speak like a serpent coiled
Long as we can share the spoils

I’ve sent a king, God says
You had no ears to hear him
Of sin’s sting you must repent
Then my King will crush the serpent

We want a king, we say
A conqueror, triumphant
Crush our enemies who slight us
Crush the governments above us

I’ve sent a king, God says
He rode in on a donkey
My servants prophesied him
You rebels crucified him

We want a king, we say
To cast out the unworthy
Keep away those we despise and fear
Isolate us with those we hold dear

I’ve sent a king, God says.
Accepting any and all subjects
No repentant sinner he’ll exclude
And that, my child, includes you

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

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 20 (Listen 2:52
John 19 (Listen 6:23)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 21 (Listen 3:05), John 20 (Listen 4:17)
Job 22 (Listen 2:54), John 21 (Listen 3:58)

Read more about Ecce Homo
Pilate presents Jesus as king and he is rejected. Not just by the Jews. By the world. This moment is the essence of all sin.

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Not Getting It

Scripture Focus: John 12.16
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him. 

Reflection: Not Getting It
By John Tillman

John tells us that nearly everything Jesus said and did, and what was done to him was written about in the scriptures. Yet, it still surprised everyone. They did not get it.

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know,” and in some ways that is true of all generations before Jesus.

In the stories of every patriarch, prophet, priest, or king, we see moments God surprised them. There were twists and turns in the biblical narrative when God’s unsuspected, and sometimes counterintuitive, plans and purposes were revealed.

Jesus’ enemies, disciples, and followers had been waiting for the Messiah to come. The religious leaders studied the scriptures diligently, searching for him. (John 5.39-40) The Samaritans, hated by the Jews, still believed in the Messiah and waited for him. (John 4.19-26) The Magi traveled from distant lands looking for him. (Matthew 2.1-2) They all had expectations that came from scripture and prophecy.

Some things nearly everyone got right, starting with the place of his birth, Bethlehem. Herod’s scholars knew exactly where to send the searching Magi. (Matthew 2.4-8) When Phillip told Nathanael that he thought Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, Nathanael scoffed that nothing good could come from Nazareth. (John 1.45-46) Later, opponents of Jesus also considered Nazareth, in Galilee, a location that disqualified Jesus from being taken seriously. (John 7.52)

Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20.29) The disciples saw and touched Jesus, but in some ways, we see more of Jesus through the written gospels and the rest of the New Testament than they did at that time. There was more to be revealed.

“We did not get it,” John says. (John 12.16)  “We did not understand what Jesus was doing or saying. We did not understand what was happening because we did not understand what had been written.”

If the learned religious leaders who opposed Jesus and the earnest disciples who were so close to him could make errors, we can too. To take God seriously is to follow him humbly. To be surprised by God is to know him better than we did before.

If God surprised men and women all through the scriptures, he will surprise us. God has surprises in store for you this year. Humbly examine your assumptions and look for the unexpected.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 12 (Listen 2:21
John 12 (Listen 6:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 13 (Listen 2:27John 13 (Listen 5:06)
Job 14 (Listen 2:23John 14 (Listen 4:13)

Monday’s Readings
Job 15 (Listen 3:23John 15 (Listen 3:20)

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Read more about Mary and Judas
Mary did the theological math. She gave her offering knowing Jesus was about to give his life. Judas did some math as well. He realized that he didn’t want to follow

The Waiting Man

Scripture Focus: John 5.2-11 (HCSB)
2 By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. 3 Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed [—waiting for the moving of the water, 4 because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had].

5 One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”

7 “Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”

8 “Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” 9 Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk.

Now that day was the Sabbath, 10 so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “This is the Sabbath! It’s illegal for you to pick up your mat.”

11 He replied, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”

From John on textual additions: The earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel do not have verse four and the last part of verse three. Those like me, who grew up with the KJV or NKJV, might wonder what happened to it. Using passages like this as “evidence,” some spread panic, claiming that mysterious forces are cutting verses from the Bible, but there’s no mystery about it, and nothing is cut or missing.

You’ll find verse four in the NIV, NASB, and ESV footnotes. The Holman Christian Standard Version puts it in brackets […]. (See the NIV and HCSV side-by-side here: John 5.3-6) The footnotes clarify that the oldest manuscripts don’t have these words. Modern scholars haven’t deleted words from scripture—ancient scholars added them. Modern scholars have only noted the changes.

The scribes who made this addition must have realized that John’s original audience already knew about the purported healing properties of the pool, but others would not. Neither the inserted background info nor modern scholars’ decision to note the change is nefarious. The Bible is proven more reliable and trustworthy when scholarship advances in this way, especially in the New Testament documents. Instead of being panicked, we can be more secure in the translations we have today than ever.

Reflection: The Waiting Man
By John Tillman

The scribes’ textual addition in verses three and four tells us that an angel stirred the waters, imbuing them with temporary and limited healing power. Only one person quick enough to react in a competitive race for healing could access this power. For 38 years, over and over, the waiting man lost this race.

Some, including myself, have questioned or doubted the man’s commitment or faith. When he said no one helped him and others beat him into the pool, was he making excuses or just facing facts? Was he lazy? Was he complacent? Even Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?”

This man saw others healed. He saw them walk away on strengthened legs, seeing with formerly blind eyes, and praising God with formerly mute mouths. Of course, he believed. Of course he had faith. Imagine the faith a person with paralyzed legs needed to throw one’s body into a pool. If healing did not instantly occur, one risked drowning. Perhaps the man experienced a scare like this during his 38-year wait. Perhaps he was tired of trying, but he kept showing up—waiting and watching for 38 years.

What have you waited for and watched for? What blessings have you prayed for that landed in others’ laps? Can’t we relate to how bitterness and doubt would creep into this man’s heart? Jesus is patient with the man, healing him even though he doesn’t seem to know how to ask and barely seemed grateful.

What pools have you been waiting around that never seem to be stirred? Are you growing complacent or bitter? Are you ready to give up? Is your heart paralyzed instead of your legs?

Instead of throwing ourselves into pitiless pools that may or may not heal us, we can throw ourselves into the willing and waiting arms of Jesus. Jesus is also a man who waits and he is ready and waiting for us to turn to him.

Instead of stirring the water, Jesus stirred up the man himself and the ripples and waves spread through the city. I pray that Jesus will stir up your heart and mine, un-paralyze us and send us into our cities.

This year, I pray that Jesus would come to you and me and whisper, “Do you want to get well?” 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 5 (Listen 2:29
John 5 (Listen 5:42)

This Weekend’s Readings
Job 6 (Listen 2:56)  John 6 (Listen 8:27)
Job 7 (Listen 2:23)  John 7 (Listen 5:53)

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Ecce Homo — Readers’ Choice

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. 

From John: As we have in prior years, we’ll continue to share a few “bonus” Readers’ Choice posts from time to time this fall. We thank all of you for your responses, your reading, and your support.

Originally published on January 19, 2023, based on readings from John 19.

Readers’ Choice posts are selected by our readers:
Jon, Hong Kong/TX — This is brilliant. That Ecce Homo debacle makes for a great illustration.

Reflection: Ecce Homo — Readers’ Choice
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
You are the Lord, “You are my God; listen, O Lord, to my supplication.” — Psalm 140.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 2 (Listen 5:07)
Revelation 12 (Listen 2:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 3 (Listen 6:35Revelation 13 (Listen 3:20)
2 Samuel 4-5 (Listen 6:10Revelation 14 (Listen 3:51)

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

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