137. The cross and the grave.

[John 19:17-42]

THE CROSS

There was no death more terrible than by way of crucifixion.  Even the Romans trembled by the thought and found it despicable.  No Roman citizen could be crucified.  For a Roman, execution was mostly beheading or forced suicide by drinking poison.  Crucifixion was for slaves and criminals.  The cross was originally a Persian method of execution.  They argued that a criminal could not defile the earth while dying and should be lifted up.  The Carthaginians in North Africa took it over from the Persians.  Through them it came to Rome.

Jesus died the death most dreaded in the ancient world.

Execution took place immediately after a verdict was pronounced. The convicted had to carry his own cross.  After scourging it was a bloody procession of lashing and mocking to get the staggering prisoner to the place of execution.  In front of him was a soldier with a placard stating his crime.  He was led through as many streets as possible to serve as a warning to all watching, but also possible leniency.  If there were any person who could bear witness in the prisoner’s favour, he was allowed to come forward. If so, the procession stopped and the trial was repeated.  Nobody came when Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa.

In Jerusalem the place of execution was called the Place of the Skull (Hebrew = Golgotha). Calvary is Latin.  A criminal could not die in the city so it was outside the city walls.

The name could have come from the shape of the hill as a skull, but others suggest that the Romans never buried the body of the criminal.  They simply let it lie on a “rubbish” heap of bodies until it rotted away.  Death by crucifixion could last for days.  The Jews, however, buried a body by nightfall.  They would never have a place for dead bodies just outside the city walls.

Bleeding, in shock of the cruel beating, Jesus carried His cross to Calvary.

The placard for the cross was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. They were the three great nations of the ancient world at the time. The culmination of their talents could have been great.  The Romans taught law and good government, the Greeks taught philosophy and art and the Hebrews had access to the one true God.

Jesus was the supreme beauty and highest thought of God.  In him was the law of God and the kingdom of God. In him was the very image of God.  All the world’s seekings and strivings found their consummation in him.  It was symbolic that the three great languages of the world should call him king. [William Barclay]

The inscription on the cross was to irritate the Jews.  Pilate did it on purpose. The Jewish leaders asked him to remove it and he refused saying: What I have written, I have written.  Stubborn about his words, he yielded to them condemning an innocent man to death.

The soldiers received the clothes of the victim.  Crucifixion needed four soldiers. There were probably five items – shoes, turban, belt, tunic and outer robe.  They threw a dice to divide the items and the outer tunic was left.  It was seamless, woven in one piece and they could not cut it in a way that each one would have something of value.  They probably carried dice with them to while away the hours below a cross waiting for death.  They had to guard the body lest any of the friends would cut Him down.  The soldiers could have been intoxicated. Usually they had alcohol with them to dull their senses in carrying out such cruelty.

Their indifference to the agony of the dying man is shocking.

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Behold and see
If there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
Which has been brought on me,
Which the Lord has inflicted
In the day of His fierce anger.(Lamentations 1:12)

The tunic woven in one piece was described exactly as the one the High Priest wore. The function of the High Priest was to be the connection of the people to God.  The Latin for priest is Pontifex, which means bridge-builder.  This is exactly what the cross did.  Jesus was the perfect High Priest, the bridge-builder to the presence of God.

The dividing of His clothes is foretold in Psalms 22:18.

There were four women at the cross.  Jesus’ mother Mary, her sister, Salome, Mary, the wife of Clopas and Mary of Magdala.  It was always dangerous to be associated to anybody on the wrong side of Roman authority.  Their love overcame their fear.  They had to be with Him, in His presence until He died.

His mother’s presence was natural and expected, although risky.  There was Mary’s sister, Salome, the mother of James and John (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56).  She is the one who asked about her son’s positions in the Kingdom and received a correction from Jesus.   Even after being reprimanded by Jesus, she is here at the cross, which demonstrates His perfect love in correction.

Mary of Magdala is the woman mentioned in Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2. Jesus cast out seven devils from her.  He rescued her life.  The third Mary, wife of Clopas, is unknown and only mentioned in John.

In a beautiful concern for the immediate future Jesus committed the care of His mother to John, his cousin and trusted disciple.  As her eldest son He cared for her and He never failed in His duty as a son.

John’s presence also speaks of love that overcomes fear.  He took a great risk to join the woman and be present at a time when most other criminals would be completely alone.  Jesus was no ordinary criminal.

Jesus expressed His thirst.  It emphasizes the agony of the cross. Many people believed Jesus to be a phantom-like godly figure.  Here John underlines His humanness.  He felt the pain of the cross.  Jesus became fully man to redeem man.

In Psalms 69:21 the thirst of Jesus and the vinegar drink were foretold: They also gave me gall for my food,and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

The other Gospels tell of Jesus dying with a great shout on His lips. They do not say the words (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46).  John tells us what He said.  He said these words not in weary defeat, but in a voice one does not expect from a dying man.

The words: it is finished is one word in Greek = tetelestai. It also means great shout.  He died when the price was paid and God said enough.  He leaned back His head and gave up His spirit as if He rested after the work is done.

THE GRAVE

The Romans left a body on a cross for days.  After they have taken the body down, it would be left to the crows and dogs get rid of it.  The Jews buried by nightfall (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

In this case the next day was the Sabbath.  The burial had to take place before sunset.  Every so often the Roman soldiers finished a criminal off by smashing their limbs.  It was done to the two criminals crucified with Jesus, but Jesus was already dead.  In Numbers 9:12 it is said that not one bone of body of the Passover lamb shall be broken.

To make sure that Jesus was dead, a soldier drove a spear into His side and out flowed water and blood.  It was a sure sign of death but also the sign of a very sick man.  He literally took our sickness on Him.  Another prophecy was fulfilled: They look on him whom they have pierced. (Zechariah 12:10)

It is said by some commentators that Jesus died of a broken heart.  When the heart ruptures the blood mingles with the fluid of the membrane around the heart.  The spear was thrusted towards the heart.   Blood and water flowed.

John was the eyewitness to all this. It is a symbol of water-baptism and the blood that saves.

The disciples were poor and a proper burial was expensive.  Two men came forward.

Joseph of Arimathaea was a member of the Sanhedrin and a disciple of Jesus.   He kept his discipleship secret but now came forward.  Nicodemus was the nightly visitor of Jesus (John 3), a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin.

It is said that both of them were left out of the meeting with the High Priest when the nightly trial was conducted.    The Sanhedrin never met at night.  The High Priest could therefore say it was out of the ordinary and for some members only.  He probably realized he would face opposition from Nicodemus and Joseph.  The dark workings of the Jewish council had to take place under the cover of darkness.

Joseph and Nicodemus stepped out boldly.  Joseph fearlessly approached the Romans for the body of Jesus.  In His death he drew men unto Him just as He prophesied (John 12:32).

Two prominent leaders cast their hesitation and reputation aside and honoured Jesus with their leadership and wealth.

How often does death confront with the deep issues of life?  People get caught up in everyday life with little regard to the profound questions of truth, humanity and life after death.  Death itself compels the mind to focus on more than the superficial.

Death is an intimate experience into the unseen.  Jesus stepped into the unseen from where He came.  Three days…

 

136. The trial of Jesus – Pilate and Herod

[John 18:28-40 and 19:1-16 – Part 2]

Pilate has always been a tragic figure in the events around the death of Jesus. I should probably not feel sorry for him, as he was cruel and hardened, with little regard for life. Even so, he was a product of the powerful, arrogant pagan empire he was born into and chose to serve. His questions to Jesus suggested a whispered longing for something more and an impatient realization that this man Jesus was more than the Jews and the mob made Him out to be.

Pilate wanted to defer responsibility. No one can do that with Jesus. You have to deal with Jesus by yourself. Every person makes a decision about Jesus. It is not possible to ignore Him. His very existence demands a choice to accept or reject.

Pilate tried to escape the situation and release a prisoner to defer a verdict on Jesus. He could not do that. He was not successful.

Pilate tried compromise. He ordered the scourging to avoid the verdict. No one can ever compromise the unavoidable.

Pilate tried an appeal to the mercy of the people. No one can serve Jesus and do the right thing and please the people at the same time.

He capitulated and abandoned Jesus to the mob. He had no courage to deliver a just verdict.

Pilate looked down on the Jews. It is difficult to govern with so much arrogance and pride. He did not want to get involved. He asked Jesus about His claim to be king. Jesus asked his source for this rumour. He wanted to engage Pilate and get to his heart. Pilate did not allow that.

Pilate was curious in a superstitious way. He was afraid to come to a decision. He suspected that God may be involved and his ignorance brought fear. Which god? Where did this man fit into the supernatural world, which he probably reluctantly believed in?

There was one thing though. He desired truth. He recognized the absence of significance in his life. He was aware of his own limitations in knowing what to do. He was probably very conscious of his own lack of wisdom and searched for truth. Pilate felt he was a successful Roman soldier. He was at the top of his ranks and he knew there was something missing. Just for a moment he might have thought that this tortured Galilean was his answer to the longing in his soul.What a pity he did not wait for the answer.

The role of  JESUS in this drama is calm and in full control in spite of immense physical pain and a body in shock.

He is the majestic conductor of His own trial. Pilate recognized that Jesus is actually in control. He is not a pathetic victim of cruelty. Pilate treated Him with respect. He knew Jesus was different and special.

Jesus speaks directly about His kingdom. He does not try to explain. He states the truth. He knows He is about to die and gets the message out straight and undiluted. At Passover the atmosphere tended to get explosive. There was always extra Roman troops in Jerusalem over Passover. Pilate had about 3 000 men under his command. If Jesus wanted to fight, it would have been a bloodbath.

He makes it clear that His kingdom is in the hearts of men, not of this earth and that the conquest would be love.

He came to earth as a witness to the truth – about God, himself and man. Christ is the truth. All else is half measure and groping for parts of it.

Jesus was physically strong. Scourging was horrific  – details are too sickening to account. One commentary explains it this way:

When a man was scourged he was tied to a whipping-post in such a way that his back was fully exposed. The lash was a long leather thong, studded at intervals with pellets of lead and sharpened pieces of bone. It literally tore a man’s back into strips. Few remained conscious throughout the ordeal; some died and many went raving mad. Jesus endured.

Pilate wanted to appeal to the humane and sympathetic side of the people and showed them Jesus in a state of shock, bleeding and exhausted. He still wanted to get out of the decision to execute.

Pilate says: See the man. The word Pilate uses is ho, the normal Greek word for human being, but the Greek thinkers often used it for the ideal man, the heavenly man. Pilate is surprised that the torture has not finished Jesus off.

Pilate says he has the power to release Him or execute Him. Jesus is clear that Pilate has no power at all except what is given to execute God’s plan. Jesus is triumphant all the way to the cross.

Jesus is silent before the High Priest (Matthew 26:63; Mark 14:61). He is silent before Herod (Luke 23:9). He is silent when the Jews laid the charges (Matthew 27:14; Mark 15:5). He speaks to Pilate, however, and answers all his questions. It seems that all the arrogance and authority that the power of Rome gave Pilate, disappeared in the presence of Jesus. Pilate verbalizes the cry of his heart for truth. His uncertainty is eating away his soul and career.

There was no common ground for the argument to go forward. It is truly a dark day when the Prince of Heaven falls silent. He is known for the God who speaks (Isaiah 52:6)

When a man’s mind is so locked up in his own goals, pride and blindness of understanding – God is silent.

Pilate brought Jesus out onto of the Pavement of Lithostrotos(Gabbatha in Aramaic) – a marbled mosaic where the judgment seat stood, in front the governor’s praetorium and sat upon the bemaon which the magistrate sat to make his decisions.

Some commentators says that the use of the word for sit might suggest that Pilate in mockery made Jesus sit upon the judgment seat and ask the people: Should I crucify you king? He mocked Jesus to judge the people. What dramatic irony in this scene!

THE SOLDIERS

The soldiers were carrying out orders, probably with some speculation and mockery amongst themselves. In most cases the soldiers in command of a crucifixion was half drunk, just to stomach the cruelty of what they needed to do.

They played a game of treating a helpless prisoner like a king with a robe and a crown that causes pain.

How could they know that they crowned and mocked a true king – the king of their lives?

BARABBAS

John talks briefly about him. It is only the Gospels who tell of the custom to free a prisoner at Passover. It could have been a custom to free one of the many political prisoners accused of insurrection. Barabbas was infamous, a well-known murderer and insurrectionist – truly somebody to fear. (Matthew 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:17-25; Acts 3:14)

His name means: Bar Abba – son of the father or Bar Rabban – son of the rabbi. He could have been the black sheep of a religious family. He was more than a common criminal. He made murder, robbery and other crimes his lifestyle. He was a man of violence.

The choice of the people stayed with them forever. They chose the man of bloody force and violence and rejected the man of love and gentleness.

 Throughout the centuries this choice was made again and again.

No one knows what happened to Barabbas. Certainly he was one of the sinners for whom Jesus died. I have no doubt that the love of God who chose him to go free would pursue him until he investigated the surprising turn of events so that he could testify of the Man who so dramatically took his place on that cruel cross which afforded him freedom, salvation and a second chance in life.

In the Gospel of Luke (23.2), after the trial of Jesus by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish elders ask Pontius Pilate to judge and condemn Jesus accusing Jesus of making false claims of being a king. While questioning Jesus about the claim of being the King of the Jews Pilate realizes that Jesus is a Galilean and therefore under Herod’s jurisdiction.

The Herod that tried Jesus happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. He ruled over Galilee. Pilate decides to send Jesus to Herod to be tried. Herod Antipas, the same man who had previously ordered the death of John the Baptist, had wanted to see Jesus for a long time, hoping to observe one of the miracles of Jesus.

Antipas divorced his first wife Phasaelis, in favour of Hernias, who had formerly been married to his half-brother Herod 2.  According to the New Testament Gospels, it was John the Baptist’s condemnation of this arrangement that led Antipas to have him arrested. John was subsequently put to death. Besides provoking his conflict with the Baptiser, the tetrarch’s (ruler over a quarter) divorce added a personal grievance to previous disputes with Aretas (father of the daughter Antipas divorced) over territory on the border of Perea and Nabatea. The result was a war that proved disastrous for Antipas. A Roman counter-offensive was ordered by Tiberius, but abandoned upon that emperor’s death in 37 AD. In 39 AD Antipas was accused by his nephew Agrippa 1 of conspiracy against the new Roman emperor Caligula, who sent him into exile in Gaul. Accompanied there by Herodias, he died at an unknown date.

Jesus is quiet in the presence of Herod, recognizing his shallow arrogance and many hidden weaknesses. He is a character of compromise and will do anything to ensure his comfort and wealth.

Herod does not relieve Pilate of any decision on Jesus. He sends him back to Pilate. Pilate has the power to execute and Herod probably came to the conclusion that Jesus’ death would make no difference to him and his precious lifestyle under Roman rule.

135. The trial of Jesus.

[John 18:28-40 and 19:1-16]  Part 1.

In the literature of the world many books have been written on the trail of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and sources outside the Bible. There is no doubt about the historical Jesus and the impact of His life and death on the history of Palestine in the first century. The trial was such a flagrant and brazen distortion of justice that many Jewish scholars are mystified as to how such a hasty, nightly trial by an old and respected institution like the Sanhedrin and its executives, could blot the Jewish judicial procedure in such a lasting way.

In the course of the night Jesus was tried six times: three times by the Jewish religious authority, mainly the high priest and three times by Roman civil authority, Pilate and Herod. Pilate sent Jesus to Herod because of He was known as a Galilean. Herod asked many questions none of which Jesus answered and after Herod mocked and humiliated Jesus, he sent Him back to Pilate who found Him innocent in a dramatic public display with a symbolic washing of hands to proclaim his final verdict over Jesus.

The Jews had no authority to execute a person. They had to convince the Romans to apply the death penalty. In the case of Stephen the first martyr (Acts 7) they took matters into their own hands and stoned him outside the city. Jewish execution was always stoning. (Leviticus 24:16; Deuteronomy 17:7)

In John 12:32 Jesus predicted his death by being lifted up. Crucifixion was a Roman execution, not Jewish. The Jews used Pilate for their own purposes.

They gave in to their own hatred that turned into insane and senseless mob hysteria with no place for mercy or fair judgment.

They lost their sense of respect for their own rituals. To eat the Passover, the participants had to be ceremonially clean. To enter into Pilate’s headquarters they were defiled (the dwelling of a Gentile). The house of a Gentile probably had leaven in a time where they were upholding the ban on the leaven during the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. While they were in the middle of the most important feasting of the year, they were seeking to crucify the Son of God.

What is our religious thinking? Could we be busy with trivial church administration while forgetting love, kindness and forgiveness? What aspects of church demonstrate love and forgiveness as an attractive haven for sinners?

The Jewish leaders twisted their charge against Jesus. To them He was blasphemous (Matthew 26:65). Pilate would not act on a charge like that and would dismiss it as a religious quarrel. They made it political with a hint of rebellion in. They accused Jesus of claiming to be a king.

They denied every principle they had in order to get the death penalty. They suddenly confessed they have no king but the Caesar.  Samuel said to the people God is their king (Samuel 12:12).  At the time when the people nagged him to crown an earthly king for them, Samuel warned them that they would suffer bitterly under earthly kings. History has proved his prophecy true – again and again.

When the Romans first instituted taxes in Palestine, there was almost a bloody revolt. The declared God to be their king and only to Him they would pay tribute. Now they claimed Caesar as king – a shameful about-face. Pilate must have gasped in astonishment.

Pilate: His behaviour is very strange to say the least. He most certainly realized that the trump up charges of the Jews were a series of lies. He was deeply impressed with Jesus. He did not want to condemn Him to death – yet he did.

He tried every possible compromise. He flatly refused to deal with it, he wanted to release a prisoner for them over the Passover, and he scourged Jesus. Still he did not put his foot down to tell the Jews he wants nothing to do with their internal theological struggles.

We know he was ordained by God to follow through with God’s plan, although he was so sadly unaware of his role in history. From a historical point of view let us note a few facts.

In 4BC king Herod the Great died. He was a Jewish king, ruling with Roman consent over all Palestine. He had many faults, but was considered a good king, reigning in relative peace while he completed very ambitious architectural projects. He divided his empire between his three sons also with Roman approval. Two ruled quietly and well – Antipas and Philip. Archelaus, who was only 18 when he became king over Idumaea, Judaea and Samaria, ruled with such extortion and tyranny that the Jews requested the Romans to remove him and appoint a governor.

In the Roman Empire there were territories that required stationed troops and others, when peaceful and untroubled, that were ruled by the senate with a great deal of independence.

Palestine needed troops under the direct control of the Emperor. Bigger provinces like Syria, were ruled by a proconsul, but smaller ones were ruled by a procurator or governor in charge of judicial administration and the military. This leader supervised the taxes but had no authority to increase them. He heard cases and complaints and visited the outposts of the territory once a year. He was paid a salary and was strictly forbidden to accept bribes of gifts. The people could report him to the Emperor.

Pilate took over this role in 26 AD and ruled till 35AD. He was expected to rule with a strong hand to keep the trade routes between Egypt and Syria going.

Pilate did not like the Jews. All Roman soldiers carried a standard with a metal bust of the Caesar who was regarded as a god. Previous governors removed the bust when they entered Jerusalem, but Pilate refused. He was adamant not to give in to the “superstitions” of the Jews.

A group of Jews followed him back to Caesarea to beg him to comply. He refused but agreed to meet them in the amphitheatre. He surrounded them with soldiers and threatened death if they did not stop nagging. The Jews knelt down and bared their necks. Even Pilate could not follow through with his threat against these defenseless men. He conceded. It was a bad start in Palestine.

Jerusalem had water problems. Pilate wanted to build a new aqueduct. He had no money for it, so he raided the Temple treasury, which contained millions. He did not take the money for sacrifices and Temple service. There was a treasury with “unsuitable” money coming from sources, which the priests deemed unholy. It was called Korban. The people rioted and took to the streets. Pilate put his soldiers in plain clothes to mingle with the crowd and at a given signal they attacked. Many Jews were clubbed to death. The incident could put Pilate in a position that he could be reported to the Emperor.

When Pilate visited Jerusalem he stayed at Herod’s palace. He made shields for the palace with the name of Tiberius the Emperor. They were devoted to the honour and memory of the Emperor, but because the Emperor was regarded as a god, the Jews insisted that Pilate takes them down. He refused. They reported him to the Emperor and Tiberius himself ordered him to take the shields down.

All this serve to illustrate that Pilate was concerned about his reputation and knew that the Jews would report him. The Jews blackmailed him with his own reputation in Rome. He was weak and did not have the courage to defy the Jews. He was used for their purposes.

He executed Jesus to save his job.

Do we realize that the events of a normal day will echo in eternity?

May God institute His eternal purposes in our hearts so that we always make decisions, in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that would reflect the heart of our Lord Jesus.

 

 

134. A lonely man, a dark night.

[John 18]

Everything that takes place in the dark is different from anything in daylight. People getting together during the day are working or visiting for a quick word or two. Lunch parties are so essentially unlike dinner parties. The evening brings a certain relaxation, a time frame that could be stretched. These days dressing for occasions like lunch and dinner parties might not be so contrasting, but true evening wear is never right for middle of the day events. Activities of the light, taking place in the dark, like feasts for the celebration of love and life are full of joy and merriment with a delightful spread of good food and drink to indulge the participants.

Then there is another kind of activity reserved for darkness; more for the cover and camouflage that darkness gives. Robberies, housebreaking and other criminal activities generally take place in the night. Nighttime can be used in positive and negative ways. Darkness is often a metaphor for dark deeds and dark thoughts. God is usually not associated with darkness, although we have to know that God is everywhere, even in the thickest darkness where one would expect only the most evil presence.

 And the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.(Exodus 20:21)

Praise God that He is everywhere. He will never leave us, even if our night is darker and more evil than ever. Jesus also had a very dark night when the authorities arrested Him and took Him to face the leaders of His beloved people for whom He came to earth. Most of the disciples fled when the soldiers recovered from their powerful meeting with Jesus and grabbed Him to deliver Him to Annas and Caiaphas as they were ordered to do.

PETER ‘s role in this night of darkness, which is metaphoric as it should have been a night with a full moon close to the Passover, is discussed in two passages. (18:15-18 and 18:25-27)

 Peter did not flee with the other disciples. He followed Jesus even after the arrest. He followed to the house of Caiaphas in the company of another disciple. It was an extremely brave thing to do.

Many speculations exist about the “other” disciple. The most likely possibility is that it is John himself. How could an ordinary fisherman be known to the High Priest?

It is possible that because John’s father had a flourishing fishing business, he could afford to employ hired servants (Mark 1:20). One of the great Galilean industries was salt fish. It was almost impossible to transport fresh fish in the heat. Salted fish was a staple article in the diet of the time. It has been suggested that John’s father was in the salted fish industry and that he was the supplier to the High Priest. John could have been well known to the household of the High Priest as he often carried the supplies. So it could have been through John that Peter got access into the courtyard where he could observe Jesus from a distance.

It is here in this courtyard that Peter is confronted and associated with Jesus. It was casual confrontations because of his accent, one from a slave girl, not even from anyone in authority. He denies that he even knows Jesus – three times. (Luke 22:55-60)

According to Jewish ritual law it was unlawful to keep cocks in Jerusalem, although it is not certain whether this law has been upheld at this stage. The Romans had a military practice. The night was divided into four watches of three hours each. After the third watch the guard was changed and to mark this, the trumpet was sound at 3am. The sounding of the trumpet was called the cockcrow. Everyone in Jerusalem heard that, and when Peter heard, he remembered the words of Jesus.

Peter’s denial has been the subject of many sermons and comments over the years. Peter’s desire to support Jesus is undeniable. He drew his sword in the garden and he was present in a situation where he could have been dragged off and imprisoned just for being where he was. Yes, he failed in courage, but only because he was in a situation which the others did not even face.

Peter loved Jesus – that is a fact. He was in that courtyard because of love and loyalty.

Peter was redeemed. One must realize that the story of his denial would get around and he would suffer great humiliation with a sense of profound failure. But Peter did not flee from his family in Jesus, the other disciples. He found refuge in their company and somehow found his way back behind the closed doors where the disciples waited in fear after the crucifixion.

Jesus saw his courage, his loyalty, his love. Jesus looked at him there across the courtyard, not in reproach, but in love. The eyes of Jesus that night preserved Peter’s soul. Jesus saw his dear friend buckle under the pressure of vicious judgment and the overwhelming odds of heartless and brutal authority. He communicated His love and redemption to Peter and that preserved Peter in a night of bitter regret and breakdown.

Jesus loves us in spite of what we do. Jesus keeps us safe even in our defeat. He restores our hearts. He forgives our sins – always.

In our darkest hour of defeat, we can look up and find the eyes of Jesus. It will preserve our souls. Peter turned to look at Jesus expecting to find the “I told you so”- stare of censure, but in stead he looked into the Source of love that saved him.

Here is one interesting lesson that stays with me as an encouragement in overwhelming situations. Jesus warned Peter that this is going to happen. Don’t we often feel that a situation in which we have reacted so shoddily would have been better if it were not so unexpected? We might think that a little warning could have alerted us to the circumstances and helped us to prepare and consequently respond more faithful and wise.

Peter had ample warning just shortly before the event. He brushed it off in his zeal and loyalty towards Jesus. All the warning that Jesus felt necessary did not enable Peter to avoid the situation. He stepped into the words in mindless alarm and answered in the fear and panic that engulfed the moment.

Sing the old song:

 Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace

Keep in mind that Peter had the revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-20). Revelation knowledge conserved him to overcome his lowest moment. His courage is amazing; his defeat diminishes in the light of his leadership in the church later on.

 

 

Here begins the trial of Jesus. Here in John is a most dramatic account of these events. It runs from John 18:28-40 through 19:1-16.

 

 

133. Men in the night.

[John 18]

We have come to the beginning of the end of a man’s life that changed the world forever.  It was to be the beginning of the unthinkable; impacting mankind into eternity. Events are set in motion by various groups of men in the night.

When the last meal was finished, Jesus and His disciples departed for the Garden of Gethsemane. They would have left by the gate of the city and go down the steep valley to cross the canal of the Kidron stream. It is into this stream that the blood of the Passover lambs would drain after their blood was sprinkled at the altar of the Temple.

On the slopes of the Mount of Olives lay a little garden. Gethsemane means oil-press. Oil was extracted from the olive trees there. Many wealthy people had private gardens there. Jerusalem was too crowded for gardens and the ceremonial rules forbade soil or manure in the sacred city.

Visitors to Jerusalem are shown a little garden of about eight olive trees; so old they look like rock. They can be traced back to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, not really to the time of Jesus, but the paths beneath them were surely trodden by the feet of Jesus.

Some wealthy friend of Jesus probably gave Him the key to this garden to use whenever He needed peace and quiet. Judas knew it and he planned the arrest there.

John states there was a company of soldiers plus the officers from the chief priests and Pharisees. The officers were the Temple police. The Temple had police to keep order and the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council of 70) had police to carry out their decrees. There was also a band of Roman soldiers.  The Greek word used is speira.  It had three meanings: a Roman cohort, which means 600 men or auxiliary soldiers of 1000 men (240 cavalry and 760 infantry). It is sometimes used for a detachment of 200 men.

Even the word in the last meaning indicated an overwhelming force to arrest a simple Galilean carpenter. The authorities were clearly very scared of Jesus and His influence and expected a small war. They sent an army to grab Him!! Just think how surprisingly simple the arrest took place – in surrender and peace – fully under the control of Jesus himself.

 

  • Jesus is courageous. They came with torches as if they had to search in dark places. Remember it was Passover and full moon. The night would have been very light. He was not hiding. He presented himself and declared himself to be the one they are looking for.

 

  • Jesus had the true authority. He stood while the army fell to the ground. His word bowled them over. It is always like that.

 

  • Jesus chose to die, He gave himself for the arrest. He helped them to put God’s plan in motion. This made Judas panic. He hoped for a miraculous confrontation with Roman authorities. [Pebbles 124]

 

  • His love protected his disciples. He presented himself to save His friends.

 

  • He was in full obedience – “drinking the cup of God”.

Peter drew his sword – he was willing to fight. He was willing to die right there and then.  He drew his sword against an overwhelming armed force. Peter’s was one of the lead characters of this night. We will discuss his role a bit later.

First, the authorities.

ANNAS (18:12-14 and 19-24)

In both these passages Jesus is before Annas. Only John mentions this. Annas was the power behind the throne of the high priest.  He was high priest from 6-15 AD. Four of his sons held the office and Caiaphas was his son-in-law.

There was a time when the office of the High Priest was held for life. It seems that at this time a system of rotation has been implemented. Caiaphas was the high priest that year. Because of all the intrigue, corruption and bribery, the priest had to be in line with the Romans. The high priest was a collaborator and lived in ease, comfort, prestige and power. The family of Annas was very rich and he was the power behind it all – knowing how to play the game.

The moneychangers and traders in the Court of the Gentiles were solely in the service of the high priest. One can just imagine the high profit margins of everything going on there. Do you remember Jesus’ anger when He cleaned them out? Can you imagine how Annas would have reacted to the reports of the cleansing-episodes? (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2: 14,15) The shops inside the Temple were called the Bazaars of Annas. He was notorious.

Jesus was brought to Annas. He touched Annas directly with the cleansing of the Temple. Annas wanted to be the first to confront Him.

The questioning before Annas was a mockery of justice. A death sentence cannot be imposed on a person’s own testimony. One cannot ask questions by which a prisoner incriminates himself. Jesus says: Don’t ask Me, ask those who heard Me. He was saying: Handle the evidence in a proper and legal way. Ask the witnesses, you have no right to ask Me.

One of the officers slapped Him. He was in effect telling Jesus not to instruct the high priest how to conduct the trial. Jesus confronted the soldier and asked if he had said anything illegal. If this was going to be a credible trial, get the witnesses.

Jesus knew he had no hope of justice. He was condemned before he was tried. He had to be eliminated, so that their lifestyle was not to be threatened. Who cares whether the Galilean preacher receives justice?

A simple web search gives much information on the Sanhedrin. It was an established court based in Jerusalem with strict guidelines on how to function. Most probably a trial like this should not have been conducted in the night. The nightly trial, executed by Annas and Caiaphas was a strategy to exclude the members who sympathized with the teachings of Jesus, like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

Jesus was condemned and sent to Pilate on his own words. No witnesses could be found and the concocted witnesses could not agree – a flagrant injustice by the highest law of Judaism.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is asked to openly confess that He is the Son of God:

“If You are the Christ, tell us.”

But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. 

And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. 

 Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?”

So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”

And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”

In the court of Pilate, the Jewish elders ask Pontius Pilate to judge and condemn Jesus, accusing him of claiming to be the King of the Jews. Such a claim would be considered as subversive since it would challenge the authority of the Romans.

In all four Gospels the denial of Peter is described within the narrative of the nightly trial. We will leave that for next time.

 

132. Words of glory and truth.

[John17]

In the very beginning of the study of John we have marveled at the miracle of a word becoming flesh. If I may repeat myself: St Augustine said in everything he ever knew about the world, everything he read and regarded as worth studying, he had never heard of a word becoming a man. [Pebbles 84]

If a word can become flesh, we must think hard and deep about the power of a word. God spoke the world into being. Prophecy, Holy Spirit-inspired words, declares the works and mind of God, today as always in the past. Just think of the mighty words of the prophets and Psalms that stayed with us through so many centuries, still bringing peace and miraculous outcome to our lives.

Worship-words describe the character of God and call the presence of the almighty God into our atmosphere. When we speak God, we build up, encourage, calm down, heal and convey the power of the invisible to transform for good. When we speak the slander, jealousy, greed, guilt and pride of our flesh, we break down in our own lives as well as those of everybody around us.

Words spoken become agreements with the powers of the invisible world. Words of confession will heal our inner being. Words of forgiveness will free our thinking and those who have wronged us. Words of celebration will defeat our jealous hearts and become the prayers of gratitude for the great works of God in us and for us.

How we look determine our words. Our perspective can defeat us, before we even venture out for the day. Jesus talked about our eyes many, many times. Let me quote just one example to illustrate our perspective.

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22,23)

It calls for great reflection on what we speak. Jesus said:

But those things which proceed out of the mouthcome from the heart, and they defile a man.  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 15:18-20)

Our vile words become agreements in the invisible world with everything bad and invite the destruction of darkness into our lives. On the other hand, agreements with the Word of God is a force for good and invite the Holy Spirit to work powerfully on our behalf to build up and restore.

In the light of this enlightened understanding about the power of words, hear the words your Jesus prayed for you.

Hear, precious Pebblepal, and live!

These verses are awesome. (John 17:9-19)

If we could ever grasp the full meaning of these words we will have a heavenly life on earth.

We are given to Jesus by God. The Holy Spirit moves in our hearts to come to Jesus. (John 6:37,44)

Through the disciples (including us), glory comes to Jesus. Our redeemed lives give Him glory. We are given a task, a commission. We lead the world back to God.

We are the instruments of God in action.

Does this not put your whole life in another perspective? Place your circumstances into heavenly perspective and “see” how God deals with it according to His plan and for His glorification.

Jesus offers complete joy even while He is warning them about the stark contrast that their lives will be to the world around them. It does not matter how fierce our struggle is, it is full of His joy.

Jesus claims that all that He has is his Father’s and all that his Father has, is His. He declares His oneness with the Father. Jesus is the incarnation of God Himself.

Jesus prays further for His disciples:

There is no escape from the world, but there is victory in every struggle. We do not bury ourselves in monasteries. We live our Christian life in the rough and tumble of life in the storm waters of evil. We do shut the door for prayer and meditation, but just to be strong to face the world.  We are not to withdraw, but to be God in action in the world. We do not get release from problems but get to solve them through Christ.

We do not abandon the world; we win it for Christ.

He prays for unity.

Division implies exclusivity. Unity is a decision. We cannot “feel” one. We are to be made one. We change our hearts to love unconditionally, to forgive and to include. We follow the lead of the Holy Spirit to discern the spirits, which could be demonic deception or discord.

The unity for which Jesus prayed is not administrative or organizational. It is a unity of personal relationship, love and a heart to heart conversation with Him – ongoing and inexhaustible that would impact our relationship with our fellow humans.

Churches as organized religion may differ as much as the variety of the people that God created. People are different and the differences and variety always amaze me. God’s creation – mankind – is always expanding and always more than can be understood in a single take. So is the church. Only love for God and each other can tear down the barriers of hostility between the denominations.

It is after all more human to be divided; more natural to be hostile. Our unity will prove God’s work in our hearts. True unity can only be supernatural and be explained supernaturally.

He prays for protection from attacks of evil.The Word, the Bible as we have it, spells out all the strategies of the devil. Our enemy is not creative and he comes cunningly with the same things over and over. Learn and know how to resist. Rely on the protection of this prayer.

He prays for consecration by truth.

Consecration (Greek=hagiazein) means separate or different:  to be set apart for a specific purpose, an appointment by God.

 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.(Jeremiah 1:5)

(See also Exodus 28:41 where Aaron’s sons are anointed)

It also means: to be equipped with the necessary qualities for the task.

Jesus will not leave us. He gives us everything we need to come into victory.

In John 17:20 – 26 the prayer progresses. He prays for Himself and the cross.

He prays for His disciples and for the distant future, the ages to come and all those who enter the Christian faith. This is US!

Jesus has complete faith and radiant certainty in the future. He conveys His unshaken confidence in His mission and His men. He knew they did not fully understand the full implication of their chosen path, but He knew His father would empower them for the task – and also all who come after them.

Jesus gives us God’s glory. WOW!

The cross was Jesus’ glory. It was His honour to suffer.  It was not punishment for sin. It is a great effort to bring glory into evil. When a surgeon saves by difficult surgery, his glory is so much bigger than a prescription in a consulting room.

Perfect obedience was Jesus’ glory. To do the will of God is our glory. Our will leads to sorrow and disaster. His will leads to victory.

Jesus’ glory was grounded in His special relationship with God the Father. It was clear to all. So should our glory shine from our relationship with God. Glory is a word with a fullness of meaning, difficult to express. It is the substantial or “heavy” honour, splendour, power, wealth, authority, magnificence, dignity, riches and excellency of God – an effort with words to describe the indescribable.

Jesus said that the disciples (us included) shall see His glory in heavenly places.

 …and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6,7)

 We share the Cross of suffering, but also share the glory of victory.

This is a faithful saying:

For if we died with Him,    We shall also live with Him.
If we endure,    We shall also reign with Him.
If we deny Him,    He also will deny us.
If we are faithless,    He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.
(2 Timothy 2:11,12)

Our joy now is just a glimpse of heavenly joy when we see Him face to face.

 Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

This prayer was the words before the betrayal and crucifixion. Precious last words of the greatest of men.

Words of glory and truth – words to live by – words to change us forever.

 

131. The prayer of prayers.

[John 17]

We have come to the end of the long summaries of Jesus’ conversations with His disciples. In this chapter He prays for them. It is remarkable that John records this prayer in so much detail. It is clear that Jesus’ words made a huge impression on him and it was part of the cherished words of Jesus he so lovingly preserved.

We also know that the Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and He quickened things in John to write about this Man he so loved. We trust God wholly for the Word. Holy Scripture is a revelation of who Jesus is and by Him we know the heart of the Almighty God as well as everything we need to know how to live a life of victory in Jesus here on earth.

[I refer again to the miracle of Scripture so extensively researched in Josh McDowell’s book: Evidence that demands a verdict.]

Back to John 17.

It is the prayer of all times, a prayer reaching over centuries to touch our hearts, encourage us, and inspire us. It is the man Jesus praying for us.

Could you pause for a moment and use your imagination to make this a reality? Think of Jesus praying for you. It is difficult to “make” a picture, but I am a visual person and need a “faith” picture. I think of Jesus as the lovely man I learnt to know in my children’s Bible from long ago. I often imagine Him sitting somewhere in my house. Right now I “see” Him looking up and saying to His father: Dad, I lift Ansophie up before your throne.Just writing it, is overwhelming.

Always KNOW that Jesus wants all men to be saved. He is praying for you!

who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)

The climax of the life of Jesus was the cross.

History shows that many great men found glory in death. How and when they died showed the people their inner convictions.

There at the cross the centurion cried out in a dramatic moment of conviction. Jesus was a magnet to men in life but also in His very public death.

The Cross was the completion of His work on earth. He showed that there is NO LIMIT to the love of God.

He walked in full obedience and through the Cross obeyed His father.

The Cross was not the end. The resurrection was the full glorification of the Father. Man could do their worst and still Jesus triumphs.

The Cross was the way back into the glory of the Father.

Jesus talks about eternal life.

The Greek is aionios meaning not so much duration but quality. Only God has eternal life and therefore for us it can only mean that God gives us HIS life, God-life, to live like Him.

Knowing God is a goal right through the Old Testament.  Knowledge of God is the highest life possible.

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:6)

For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: “Seek Me and live; (Amos 5:4)

To know God through intellectual knowledge is to know what God is like. It will make all the difference to life. The most primitive people believe in a collection of gods in every tree, river, mountain and rock. All these gods are hostile and brings fear to the people. They must appease and live carefully not to offend. Missionaries tell of the immense relief when they surrender to One God. God is not stern and cruel, but loving and kind. Jesus is the ultimate example of this.

To know means intimate knowledge and is used in a sexual context (Genesis 4:1). Knowledge between the husband and wife is the most intimate. They become one flesh. One flesh implies an intimacy of heart, mind and soul in which true love reigns. To know God is to have an intimate relationship with Him, not mere intellectual knowledge. It is only possible in Jesus through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus has shown forth the Father’s name. (17: 6-8)

  1. A name is very important in the Old Testament and Jewish culture in the time of Jesus. The name contains the whole character of the person. Psalms 9:10 states that those who know God’s name will put their trust in Him. By His name they will know what God is like in His character and nature. (Psalms 20:7; 22:22)

My people shall know my Name. (Isaiah 52:6)

Jesus says that whoever saw Him, saw the Father (John 14:9).

  1. Another aspect of the name of God is that is was so sacred it was never used. Only the high priest going into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement, used the name of God – Yahweh. It was a name with no vowels in Hebrew and under it they wrote Adonai, so that the reader could talk about Adonai when he reads and not even say YHWH, which became Jehovah in English.

In the time of Jesus, God was so holy and so far away that ordinary people hardly talked about him. Jesus came and put the name of a sacred God on the lips of every person who could whisper a prayer to Him. He taught them to say our Father; actually it was even closer – calling God dad. It was unheard of. They never called God Father. To most people it was unthinkable, blasphemous and disrespectful.

But for those who accepted the teaching of Jesus, the unutterable became the beloved and powerful Father.

Jesus obeys God. Obedience is a natural consequence of following Jesus. Obedience is to be fully submitted to listening to His voice and following up in action.

The disciples were given to Jesus by God. He did not choose to call only those. He calls all, but only those who heed the call can enter into the special relationship.

Parents have dreams for their children and can do everything possible to enable them to have a wonderful life. In the end the child chooses. He can refuse and walk away. We can choose our destiny. We have free will. It is not forced upon us, but we all have the opportunity to choose God as a father for our lives.

In this prayer Jesus has confidence in the future. Nowhere is He gloomy or uncertain about the future. With the luxury of hindsight the church was off to a rocky start with severe persecution, and Jesus knew it.

Jesus had no doubt that the people He was praying for will carry His message no matter what.

He does not despise small beginnings. (Zechariah 4:10) He had eleven men around Him after three years of ministry. Jesus knew His father and the fullness of His glory. He had no doubt that His mission was successful.

He puts His trust in men – it is almost unthinkable that a mission as great as the Christian church on earth was put in the hands of these fishermen.

What an encouragement!

Jesus was never daunted by human weakness and the evil of the world.

 

[This is a discussion of verses 1-8.]

130. A discussion about the future.

[John 16]

Anybody who reads my little pieces would know that I am fascinated by time. Past, present and future – oh how I had to study to express myself in English (not my mother tongue) with the intricacies of the past and future perfect, continuous tense in the past, present and future and the endless verb conjugation to be studied and memorized. So many words to express time past, time present and time ahead that we need to convey our chronicle. Rightly so. Time governs our lives, relentlessly, constantly without a blink of a change of pace. It is the rhythm of our existence, the beat of our days. It may feel cruelly slow in pain and fleetingly swift in joy, but scientifically firm and fixed throughout every day for centuries and millennia.

Growing up a Christian I was taught that the future belongs to God and that I cannot make claims about it in any way – again rightly so. In this tradition I respect the future as God’s territory, a time span for Him to direct. I hear the Word that says:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little timeand then vanishes away.(James 4:13,14)

In Christian tradition there is a reverence for the future. We add the Latin DV (Deo Volenti), which means God willing, as a sign that we realize that the future is God’s territory and do not speak impertinently about it. It should, however, be added to our words about all time, as our past and present also belong to God! Serving a great God who stands outside time, we should recognize how brief our existence in this world is.

The future is uncertain. We control only our moment. It is only in this moment that we can make the wise decisions that will handle our past under the blood of Jesus and determine the future as a ” field of action for the promises of God” [Eugene Peterson]. What if our future outcome and victory can be guaranteed? This is the good news of the Gospel – it is!

Jesus tells of things beyond the present. He is already preparing the disciples for the time after the crucifixion. In Jewish thought there were two ages – the present age and the age to come.

The present was bad and under condemnation.

The age to come was the golden age of God.

In between the two ages was the Day of the Lord – a terrible day in which the world was shattered and destroyed to prepare for the coming of the Messiah and the dawn of the age to come.

Especially in the time between the Old and New Testament the prophecies of the Day of the Lord were rife and rough. They echoed the words of Isaiah 13:9:

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger,
To lay the land desolate;
And He will destroy its sinners from it.

and Joel 2:1-2:

Blow the trumpet in Zion,
And sound an alarm in My holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble;
For the day of the Lord is coming,for it is at hand:
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains.
A people come, great and strong,
The like of whom has never been;
Nor will there ever be any such after them,
Even for many successive generations.

Jesus promises a blessing on the ones who can endure the terrible days.

With the coming of the Messiah the trumpet has blown. The people great and strong are the church of Jesus, the invisible Kingdom of God on earth, the like of whom has never been.

Sorrow will turn to joy in a life filled with the Holy Spirit.  Faith endures to turn the world around.

Christian joy is independent of circumstances and changes. Worldly joy is attached to worldly things. Christian joy comes from Christ. Nothing in the world can take it away.

Our joy will be complete – lacking nothing with no regrets. It is perfect and to be found in the presence of God.

Pain is forgotten just as the pain at childbirth (16:21,22)

Jesus promises the fullness of knowledge (16:23). On earth there will always be unanswered questions and unsolved problems, but we walk by faith and not by sight. Full knowledge will bring new dimensions to our relationship with Christ. The door of heaven is open; therefore we van live with insight and understanding.

This fullness in relationship is only possible through Jesus. It is in His name that we ask and receive.

Jesus speaks in paroimia (Greek), which means it is obscured to the casual listener. It is veiled until revealed. It means that a statement demands more thought to become clear. The word is used for the parables of Jesus.

He says He is going to speak the truth unveiled. He tells them He comes from God and is going back to God. This is a tremendous claim. The cross is not the criminal’s death, which the world sees, but His way back to God.

The revelation to us is that through Jesus men can approach God directly because God loves them. Jesus changes the attitude of mankind to God. He reveals God’s heart and presents Him as a loving Father and not the angry God that the Old Testament prophets have portrayed. For this revelation Jesus died – to illustrate God’s love.

His work is now done. He comes from the Father and by the Cross He is going back. They are now the beloved of God since they are lovers of Christ.

The disciples surrender to everything Jesus said (16:29-33). They leap into faith of all the hard-to-understand-things. In verses 17-18 they are puzzled. In verse 19 Jesus answers the questions of their hearts without them asking them. This brings them to belief. He shows them the glory of God as well as the questions and doubts in their own hearts. He has full knowledge of God and the human heart.

Jesus is realistic. He knows the dark time ahead around His Cross and death. He knew how they will react and still loved them, even in their failure and fear.He also still trusted them with His message and church to come – how amazing is that!!

Their desertion will not rob them of their victory in life.

In this unique historic moment – forgiveness and trust are integrated and combined. Trust in Jesus and from Jesus after the guilt of failure.

Jesus knew He would be alone on the Cross. He trusted God to take Him through – not man.

Jesus forgives – even ahead of time. He knew His best friends would abandon Him. He knew their weakness and still loved them.

He has sympathy for them and gives them peace. He told them that He knows about their coming failure and that it is fine. They did not fall into despair when they realized their own failure. Jesus displays the miracle of divine pity on mankind.

Jesus knows how your sin would hurt you. Your sin cannot hurt Him. He is above it and He knows His father. He wants us to conquer our sin and never let sin keep us away from Him. The devil will attack with guilt and shame, but His forgiveness is guaranteed.

The gift of Jesus in these last hours is courage and conquest.

The disciples will be witnesses of this fact: The world at its worst will not defeat Jesus.

Do you hear the word of the Lord over your future?

Your failures, life’s tragedies, the worst of the worst will not alter your ultimate outcome in victory. Life at its absolute worst will not defeat you.

You are a child of the most high God!

 

 

 

129. Revelation of truth.

[John 16]

It might have happened to you too. Somebody would say: don’t worry, this is the better way and you would gasp in exasperation and confusion as to how on earth this could be better. Maybe it happens to children more often, when they just cannot grasp the full extent of circumstances and adult decisions. We are God’s children and we often don’t understand. Sometimes we say things to superficially explain things with empty words. Success would come because of luck, good fortune, “things” working out, the stars lining up. Pain and failure would be ascribed to bad luck, misfortune or cruel judgments on a person’s own inability to handle life or cope with demands.

I have often made the case for revelation knowledge. It is one of the central themes of my life and the goal of all my study and writing.

My first experience of God’s word becoming the “spoken” word, “hearing” in my inner being and being aware that God is speaking into my specific moment and immediate situation, came when I was just 14 years old. For a few years of my elementary school we lived on a remote farm. I went to the local school, but when finances dwindled and my parents had to move back to the city, I was in Grade 7 back into the school I left four years previously, towards the end of the academic year. It was clear that I was academically far behind my peers. It took me all of Grade 8 to try and catch up and by the end of Grade 9 I felt a little more confident. Exams were formal and strict.

I was really stressed on the evening before I wrote Latin and Maths with just a short break in between the two papers. At the time my mother was studying the Bible with desperation to “hear” from God in our very severe financial crisis. That evening I took my Bible and thought I would open in the middle and read a Psalm, any Psalm to calm me down. I opened to the book of Isaiah, which I didn’t even know existed and read the first verse that my eye fell on. It was the following:

Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God,

I will strengthen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Slowly the deep realization established itself in my heart that this was God speaking to me. Today I know it is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that communicates the truth of the Word to the inner man. I was overjoyed. My stress and fear were answered and I was calm to study further and sleep well. I had great success in that exam, but I cannot even remember the details. What I do remember is my experience that God spoke into my situation. My situation was not important in the greater scheme of things, not even particularly in my life, but God answered the cry of a stressed schoolgirl. On this day, 44 years later, this incident is fresh in my mind, quickened by the Holy Spirit to write as a testimony to God’s love and His provision in our lives.

It is here in John 16 that I much later learned the teaching of Jesus on my experience. He discussed the role of the Holy Spirit when His physical presence leaves earth.

In their grief-stricken bewilderment after the crucifixion, the disciples remembered that Jesus said it is good that He goes away because the Holy Spirit would come. In the body He was confined to place and time. In the Spirit there is no limitation.He is with us always, just as He promised in Matthew 28:20.

We have the gift of uninterrupted fellowship.

Jesus gives a perfect summary of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit convicts. The word is elegchein in Greek and it was used in the cross-examination of a witness.

Questioning somebody until a person admits his errors or acknowledge the facts in such a way as to shed light on the case, often happens in court when human legal experts have to establish facts and truth. The testimony of a witness will convict of weakness or strength of argument.

We have the perfect litigator in the Holy Spirit who knows every detail of our hearts and lives better than we ever could. He convicts in love to show our weaknesses and failures to our own self in order to cleanse, redeem and restore.

1) The Holy Spirit will convict of sin [amartias = to miss the mark, failure in goal] in the most loving way so that our conviction will lead to restoration with God.

Sin is not always clear. The Jews were convinced they were doing the right thing to kill Jesus. Later, touched in their hearts (Acts 2:37) they confessed. Only the Holy Spirit can convince people they are sinners.

2) The Holy Spirit convinces of righteousness [dikaiosunēs = condition acceptable to God, a state approved of God, integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting].

 Just like the centurion at the Cross (Matthew 27:54) in that moment came to the supernatural conclusion that Jesus was the Son of God, the truth of who Jesus is, is ministered to our hearts. Isn’t it amazing that the trust of the church is in a Jewish criminal executed so long ago? Belief in the resurrection is a work of the Holy Spirit.

3) The Holy Spirit helps us to judge with insight and understanding [kriseos, krisis=selecting and distinguishing to make a decision].  Our circumstances and life situations are complicated and not always clear. We need true wisdom to make the right decisions.

By the Cross evil is condemned and defeated for all eternity. The discernment of evil is a work of the Holy Spirit.

All these together are our salvation and liberty in Jesus. He is our Saviour and our punishment for sin was on Him.

What is truth? The Holy Spirit is the spirit of Truth,who reveals to us who Jesus is.

Revelation is a process – it is more and deeper for those who seek it out. We start out with the basics and then move on to more life-changing revelation.

All revelation has consequences.

Faith explores revelation.

In truth we will understand the full revelation of God also in the more complex passages of the Old Testament. The wiping out of heathens and idols is for the preservation of the faith, to be interpreted spiritually as the discernment of evil and the full liberation of our lives from any bondage.

God’s revelation is dynamic. God speaks, God works, God saves and blesses continually. Jesus is alive and is therefore the living truth.

Truth is a gift from God. It is not man’s discovery. We learn it slowly, but it is there and the source of it is God.

Revelation of truth is to reveal the significance of Jesus to us. Jesus is inexhaustible. We will never fully grasp it; we will never know Him in full. The more we become like Him the more we know Him.

He is the only person on the face of the earth that ever said I am truth. All the people who claim to be God or the Messiah have never made such a bold, all-inclusive statement, to be remembered and upheld by so many over such a great span of time.

Can we be still, open our hearts and receive from the Holy Spirit the deep conviction of who Jesus is?

 

 

128. Let go of the stuff!

[John 15]

Deeper into truth, closer to God, further into love, more of true life is the path of Kingdom kids. So much more of the unimaginable mystery in Christ to live and love His way, is heaven on earth. This is the joy unspeakable and a glorious, superior life of being grafted into the True Vine.

Within the struggle, stress, bother and buzz of making a living and getting ahead in life, we hear the wise words that rinse us like a gushing cool shower on a hot day.

Don’t lose your grip on Love and Loyalty.
    Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart.
Earn a reputation for living well
    in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.(Proverbs 3:3-6, The Message)

The older version is well known:

In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

The word for direct in Hebrew is: yeyasher (transliteration), which means to straighten, to smooth, to make right.

This is so contrary to what people around us say in conversations, formal seminars, and meeting agendas, absolutely everywhere. You have to be smart enough to figure things out. You have to make it on your own.

God will direct our paths. His hand will go before us. What a relief! He never asks us to switch of our minds, thinking or any operating or executing skills that we have, to do what we need to do. He will partner and guide in a surrendered life in love and grace. It is the guarantee for success. It is the assuranceof a reputation of living well in the eyes of the people as well as God.

God calls out to us:  for joy – independent of circumstances,                                                                     (Nehemiah 8:10)

                                    for love – laying down His life and our                                                            trademark of love to one another.

To be a slave to God was a title of honour. Moses, Joshua, David and Paul all described themselves by this title.

Jesus comes with a new concept – even greater: you are friends.

Abraham was called a friend of God (Isaiah 41:8). God talked to Moses like a friend. (Exodus 33:11)

In Roman times there was a select group of “friends of the Emperor” who had access to the ruler at all times. He talked to them before he talked to the generals and government. It was the closest and most intimate circle.

Friends are invited into the presence to enjoy conversation. It is very different from being a slave.

A slave could not speak his mind to his master. Jesus calls us to be His partners in His work. Jesus shares His heart, which is the heart of God, with us, to become full partakers in His missionof living the law His love-kingdom on earth. A slave was a living tool.

We are His ambassadors. Just think of the tremendous risk He took. We are His representatives. Our fruit bearing is His advertisement in this world.

We are members of the family of God. Whatever we ask in prayer He is ready to answer. Our prayers are to be rooted in the Word of God.

Prayers of faith (James 5:15) are not merely routine rhymes with empty words. Our words are the root of our belief in God. (Hebrews 11:6)

We pray in the name of Jesus.  We cannot pray against Him. It is not a magic phrase. The test of your prayer is to measure your words to His character.

Seek first the Kingdom of God…(Matthew 6:33) and the “other things” will be added unto you. How often our focus is on the “other things” when the character of Jesus taking shape in us through prayer, will give us all we ever needed and more than we ever imagined.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! (Ephesians 3:20, The Message)

God is good – always. Our prayer for provision is always in His will. He knows best. It is at times hard to see and explain, but to God belongs the mystery. We carry His mysterious ways in us. It will always remind us that we cannot explain God. He is God. He is a good parent and He will not, like some earthly parents give a sports car to an irresponsible 15-year old, trying to show off without a driving license, for whom it might be fatal.

We live in contrast to the world. We can never be in harmony with the world. Our values and principles for living are in stark contrast. In the first century Christianity was punishable by death. In the words of the English poet Sir William Watson: the panting huddled flock whose crime was Christ.

What about today?

We have been warned. Jesus said we would be beaten and hassled. Today it happens, not only physically in some parts of the world, but also in words and deeds, when society is organized directly against God’s principles.

The Romans hated the Christians because they thought them to be disloyal. The empire was vast. The Romans didn’t know God and the Jews were not sharing. It is very understandable that the emperor should think he himself is god. Caesar-worship was a unifying factor throughout a diverse empire. The spirit of Rome was the goddess Roma, symbolized in the emperor. Rome brought justice, kept the various national rulers intact, dealt with pirates and robbers. It was widespread peace, the Pax Romana, and it made a difference to ordinary men’s lives.

Caesar worship began in Asia Minor. Nobody could stop the movement. The advantages as a unifying principle were clear. Once a year all non-Romans had to burn incense to the Emperor and declare Caesar is god. They got a certificate from the local magistrate or legal officer and could then go and worship anything they choose. This annual ritual was the root of the persecution of the Christians.

The Jews spread slanderous things about the Christians. Nero’s favourite actor and his adulterous empress, Poppaea, were Jews. They whispered in his ear against the new movement around Jesus.

Christians were accused of being:

  • insurrectionaries because of their denial of Caesar-worship
  • cannibals because of the doctrine of communion
  • immorality because of the weekly meal called agape. The people greeted each other with a kiss of peace.
  • incendiaries because they were looking to the second coming of the Lord. They foretold destruction with the help of the elements. Nero blamed them for the destruction of Rome by fire.
  • divided families because Christianity sometimes brought division.

Today we experience a vicious attack against our values and way of life. It is a very different approach. Over many centuries society have felt judgment from organized religion. Now everybody wants to reject and trample the loveless religion that ruled. The secular world suspects the difference and non-conformity of true Christianity and hates the unavoidable judgment that true love has built in. The rejection of love is judgment. It is a natural consequence of the rejection and not intentional of the person that lives a godly life.

We have to live in the courage to be different. We know the truth. We have to live it in love and win the world with love.

Knowledge brings responsibility (John 15:22-25). Jesus brought us God’s heart.  We have no excuse. We know what God is like. Why would we reject Him? Jesus showed us unconditional, divine love and grace.

Jesus exposed sin and provided the remedy for sin. Do we go to the doctor, get the diagnosis and then ignore the prescription?

Again – we are not alone. We do not need to do it on our own. We have the promise of the Father, the HELPER – the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26-27).

What a comfort! It is not our own efforts – it is surrender. It is the Holy Spirit who moves us to respond to Jesus.

Being a witness can only happen when we practice the fellowship and intimacywith Jesus that the Holy Spirit enables us to have. Thus we can say: this is true – I know it.

Spirit words communicate truth subconsciously.

 Our inner conviction is true faith. It comes from the response to Christ so that the miracle in the inner man takes place.

 Our testimony is the words we are speaking in truth. It is a privilege to bring people the good news. The world is waiting…