121. King of peace.

[John 12]

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem.

To come to Jerusalem during the time of the Passover took great courage. Jesus knew He was already in big “trouble” with the authorities. Lodgings must have been a problem inside Jerusalem. Bethany was one of the places outside the city to stay when the visiting pilgrims flooded Jerusalem. Lazarus’ story spread fast.

The Romans loved a census. As we all know, Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for a census when Mary’s time came and Jesus was born in Bethlehem just as the prophecies foretold. The Romans were particularly good at administration and a census made sure that every citizen and resident of the Empire paid the taxes due. In a Roman census taken shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, of the lambs slain at the Passover Feast, the number came to 256,000. There was usually a minimum of ten people sharing a lamb as sacrificial animal; and if that estimate is correct it means that there must have been as many as 2,700,000 people at that Passover Feast.

The characters in the story of Jesus are always notable. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave us so much colourful character shading of the people so that we could, even after so many centuries, identify with the people around our Lord.

Martha served a meal in their home.Maryanointed Him with a very expensive perfumed ointment. She poured out her best for Him.

In serving Martha also expressed her love. She was good at what she did and also gave her best. I can so identify with Martha since I also feel I should serve something for the conversation to flow. I know one of my Holy Spirit gifts is hospitality. I would have jumped at the opportunity to serve Jesus. Still I feel there is a silent criticism on Martha. As Barclay says her best took her out of earshot for His voice. Maybe there were no modern open plan kitchens! I love to cook, but I love to be part of the discussion.

As long as our gifting and even our ministry to Him do not take us out of the range of His voice, we are on the right track. I have often submitted my love of fabrics, decorating, art and fashion to be used in Kingdom service. In short I love beautiful things and I do not want that to keep me occupied. The most important thing in all my life always is to hear the voice of God. I want to hear when I read, hear when I work, hear when I write and hear when I have others around me. I want to hear Him in the ordinary things of my days.

What do you do to express your love for Jesus?

Remember it can be the most run of the mill thing, like caring lovingly for your family. That is our first calling always – to love – and to start with the closest. Jesus said to be His witnesses in Jerusalem(close family),Judaea(extended family and friends), Samaria(the people you do not like) and then the rest of the world (Acts 1:8).

Mary showed extravagance. It was a sign of honour to anoint a person’s head. (Psalm 23) Mary anointed His feet. Her humility shone through. In her own eyes, she was not good enough to honour Him.

Love made her bold. No respectable woman would let down her hair in public. When a girl married her hair was covered. Only prostitutes lured with their hair. May did not even think of that. She was not concerned about what others would think.

Her love filled the house with fragrance. In so many ways the church of Jesus followed her example. Her simple act of worship is recorded and still fills our minds with the lovely fragrance of love.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledgein every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Judas spoke very nobly of the poor and said the expensive perfume should have been sold. Jesus knew he was going to betray him. Jesus probably made him the treasurer to trust him and win him over. He expected the best from him. It was tempting to get more for the moneybox, which he was already misusing. His gift became his downfall because of conceited selfish goals.

The word used here is bastazein, which means to carry or to steal.

Judas missed Mary’s intention. His eye was on his own interests. He could not see beyond his obsession. He missed the timing, the action, and the revelation of love. He also missed Jesus’ words that He is going to leave them.

Judas uses the money and ultimately thinks he can “use” Jesus for his won political ambition. He wanted to get rid of the Romans and thought he could force the hand of Jesus in a confrontation with the authorities.

Timing is so important.

of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, (1 Chronicles 12:32)

What Mary did that day could never be repeated. She took the opportunity to express her love. I don’t think any of the people there realized how imminent the cross was.

Express love to God and to those around you. Grab the opportunity and serve with the best.

To mention the poor was Judas “noble” comment. Jesus quotes Scripture:

“The poor will never cease out of the land;therefore I command thee saying, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land. (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Opportunities to serve the poor never cease.

In the next verses (12:9-11) we meet the chief priests and Jewish authorities. The priests belonged to the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were the wealthy aristocratic class and they worked in close collaboration with the Roman government. Any outbreak of civil disorder brought down Rome’s hand heavily and cruelly with complete disregard for life and property. Those responsible for good government were dismissed without debate. The Sadducees saw Jesus as the possible leader of a rebellion.

 Politically they needed to get rid of Him.

 Theologically He was a big problem. They did not believe in life after death and the resurrection of the dead. Lazarus presented a big threat to them. There are theories that they could even have planned to kill Lazarus.

Truth was of no concern especially in conflict with their own interests.

In the meantime Jesus enters Jerusalem (12:12-19) like a king – just what they feared.

The crowds accompanying Him from Bethany and the others from Jerusalem, who heard He was coming, were rejoicing and singing.

The people received Him like a king and the authorities were in panic.

The crowds were made up of a variety of attitudes. Some were spectators only for curiosity; some have heard the rumours and would like to see. Others saw Him as a conqueror and brave enough to confront the church leaders.

Hosanna means save now in Hebrew.

They sang the words of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), which is sung at thanksgiving in the Temple and part of the Passover. The children memorized it as part of religious training. They also sang it at the Feast of the Tabernacles. They sang the verses triumphantly. They sang it when Nehemiah restored the wall (Nehemiah 8:14-18).

The crowds sang in anticipation for a victory over the Romans, in expectation of the trumpet call to conquer and be restored. They were crowning Him for everything He resisted and refused to be. He had to serve their purposes.

Jesus could not speak.  He would not have been heard.

What He does speak loud and clear. He was riding on a donkey. It was a deliberate claim to be the Messiah.

 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

 He claimed to be a particular kind of Messiah. The donkey was a noble animal and not at all despised (2 Samuel 17:23; 19:26). Mephiboset, the royal prince and son of Saul, rode on a donkey when he came to David. It was a sign to come in peace.

Riding a horse would signal war; riding on a donkey signaled peace. He was truly the Prince of Peace. The crowd missed the sign and symbolism of the donkey. They wanted war. They wanted their own goals.

Jewish leaders in frustration called out prophetically:

See! The whole world has gone after Him.

Jesus showed magnificent courage. He knew they were after Him and still He enters very publicly in defiance of what they could do to Him.

 

120. God in action!

[John 11]

What is a miracle? It is an event in the lives of men that can only be explained in supernatural terms. The official definition underlines the mystery aspect of a highly improbable or extraordinary event.

As the dictionary puts it: It is a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

 A miracle is described as surprising and welcome, a positive outcome. It is the opposite of the crisis or circumstances that gave rise to the need for divine intervention. In other words, it is the inexplicable rectification of a catastrophic or heartbreaking situation.

A miracle is God in action. It is our loving Father, almighty creator-God, who intervenes and does the impossible for our benefit. A miracle is welcomed as a relief where relief was not humanly possible.

Miracles are answered prayers.

God is a mystery, operating in the unseen. Where shall we find Him and how will we “see” His action. God is the God of His people. We “see” Him active His community.

William Barclay explained how a certain Rabbi expounded the text in Deuteronomy 13:4:”You shall walk after the Lord your God.” He said that text commands us to imitate the things, which God is depicted as doing in scripture. God clothed the naked (Genesis 3:21); God visited the sick (Genesis 18:1). God comforted the mourners (Genesis 25:11); God buried the dead (Deuteronomy 34:6). In all these things we must imitate the actions of God.

In this section of John 11:17-27 we meet the household of Jesus’ friends in Bethany. Martha is true to character (Luke 10:38-42).  Martha loved action, and Mary sat still. Martha was up to meet Jesus.

When Martha met Jesus her heart spoke through her lips. Martha’s words were half reproach that came out in desperation and half with faith that is now so disappointed:

If you had been here,”she said, “my brother would not have died.”

Through her words she is asking: “Jesus, why are you late. If you had come when we sent the message, Lazarus would live.” Still there is faith in her words: I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Martha mentioned the general resurrection on the last day. It is very important words from Martha:

One of the strangest things in scripture is the fact that the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days, the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good and bad alike, went to Sheol or Hades. Sheol is wrongly translated Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of the shades. All alike went there and they lived a vague, shadowy, strengthless, joyless ghostly kind of life. (Psalms 6:5;30:9and many others). It is Hezekiah’s pessimistic belief that:

“For Sheol cannot thank You,

Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.(Isaiah 38:18).

In Psalms 16:9-11and 73:23-24 the Psalmist wants to believe that not even death can separate him from God. This immortal hope we find in Job. While facing all his disasters, Job cried out:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;

And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,   (Job 19:25-26)

In the time of Jesus the Sadducees did not believe in life after death, but the Pharisees and the great majority of the Jews did. Those who died saw God, and they refused to call them the dead but called them the living. Martha reached out in faith to this belief.

Jesus answered:

I am the Resurrection and the Life,” We have faith in Him for life. His life in us makes NO provision for death of any kind.

Not even a lifetime’s thinking will reveal the full meaning of this; but we must try to grasp as much of it as we can.[William Barclay]

Life is so much more than physical. Even if life is so hard, it makes it almost not worth living, Jesus can make him alive again.”

There is life to come. Death is not the end. Death is just a door into the invisible.

Physical death is the sunrise, the dawn of eternity.

It was the custom, especially for the women, to go to the tomb to weep on every possible occasion, for a week after the burial. Mary’s greeting was exactly the same as that of Martha.

We must remember that this would be no gentle shedding of tears. It would be almost hysterical wailing and shrieking, for it was the Jewish point of view that the more unrestrained the weeping, the more honour it paid to the dead.

Jesus was deeply moved in spirit. The word comes from the verbembrimasthai. It is used three other times in the New Testament. It means rather to rebuke, to give a stern order to.

Why the anger? It is suggested that the display of tears by the Jewish visitors to Bethany was sheer hypocrisy – artificial grief raised Jesus’ wrath. In ordinary classical Greek the usual usage of embrimasthaiis a horse snorting. Such deep emotion seized Jesus that an involuntary groan was wrung from his heart.

Here is one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into men’s sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish.

John had written his whole gospel on the theme that in Jesus we see the mind of God. To the Greek the primary characteristic of God was what he called which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever. 

If we can feel sorrow or joy, gladness or grief, it means that someone can have an effect upon us. Now, if a person has an effect upon us, it means that for the moment that person has power over us. No one can have any power over God; and this must mean that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever.

The Greeks believed in an isolated, passionless and compassionless God. 

What a different picture Jesus gave! God’s heart is wrung with compassion for the anguish of his people. God cares.

The usual Palestinian tomb was a natural cave or a space hewn out of the rock. The bodies were wrapped in linen but the hands and feet were enfolded in bandage-like wrappings and the head was wrapped separately. In front of the opening ran a groove in which a great stone like a cartwheel was rolled across the entrance to seal the grave.

Jesus asked the stone to be moved. Martha thought that Jesus wished to look on the face of his dead friend for the last time. She did not think this a good idea and pointed out that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. It was Jewish belief that the spirit of the departed hovered around his tomb for three days, seeking re-entrance. But after three days the spirit finally left. A decayed face was not easily recognizable.

Then Jesus spoke his word of command which even death was powerless to oppose. 

Lazarus came forth.It is weird to think of the bandaged figure staggering out from the tomb. Jesus told them to loosen the grave-clothes and wrappings and let him go. Most probably everybody around the grave stood stunned and just stared, not believing their eyes and not moving.

When Jesus spoke the power of God flowed through him.

Jesus spoke this miracle into being to honour God, just like Elijah when he prayed: “Answer me, O Lord, that this people may know that you are God”(1 Kings 18:37).

In the other three gospels there are accounts of people being raised from the dead: Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56) and the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-16). In both cases the raising followed immediately after death. It might be possible to believe that in both these miracles the person raised was in a coma.

Burial had to take place quickly in the hot climate of Palestine. Evidence in graves pointed to the fact that people were sometimes buried alive. It could well be that these were miracles of diagnosis in which Jesus saved two young people from a dreadful death.

But there is no parallel for the raising of a man who had been dead for four days and whose body had begun to putrefy.

The Sanhedrin was called to deal with the situation. The miracle of Lazarus forced their hand.

In the Sanhedrin there were bothPharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were not a political party. They lived the law. The Sadducees were political. They were wealthy and aristocratic. To retain their wealth, comfort and position of authority, they collaborated with Rome. All the priests were Sadducees. They did all the talking.

They were notoriously discourteous. Their contemptuous arrogance is a stark contrast to the accents of love of Jesus. 

They were set on the retention of their political and social power and prestige. Jesus might gain a following and raise a rebellion against the government. Rome could never afford civil disorder and always quelled it with a firm and merciless hand. The Sadducees would be dismissed. It never even occurred to them to ask whether Jesus was right or wrong.

A man can set his own career before the will of God. 

History shows an example of dramatic irony. The Sadducees insisted that Jesus must be eliminated to prevent the Romans to take their authority away. In 70AD that is exactly what happened. The Romans besieged Jerusalem and left it a heap of ruins. How different things might have been if the Jews had accepted Jesus!

Caiaphas, the High Priest, made his very ironic, very true statement: Better that one man should perish than that the whole nation should perish.

The High Priest’s role was to ask God’s counsel for the nation. Moses told Joshua when he wished for God’s counsel he was to go to Eleazar the High Priest. (Numbers 27:18-21)

God can speak through the most unlikely people.Sometimes He sends his message through a man without the man being aware. He can use even the words of bad men.

Jesus was to die for the Jewish nation and the world.

By this time Jerusalem was beginning to fill up with people for the Passover. The Jews had to be ceremonially clean for the Feast. Any person would become unclean by touching a corpse. Purifications were carried out in the Temple.

One can just imagine the talk. The people knew what was going on. People are always interested in the man who bravely and stubbornly faces fearful odds. This was Jesus against the authorities.

The conclusion of the gossip was that Jesus could not possibly come to Jerusalem. He could not take on the whole might of Jewish leaders and political authorities.

But they had underrated Jesus. Nothing on earth would stop Him coming. Jesus came to Jerusalem openly. He drew attention upon himself with death-defying courage.

 

119. Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

[John 11]

It is the one certainty of life. Death follows every life on earth. For as long as man draws breath, death is the existential fact of life, mystified into fearful speculation and hesitant philosophical debate.

Death and the realm of death is a mystery that belongs to God. All that we have is the one-sided accounts of near-death experiences that provide a glimpse into something outside our realm of reality.

As we are so aptly instructed in Deuteronomy 29:29 (The Message):

God, our God, will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business. It’s up to us and our children to attend to all the terms in this Revelation.

There is no doubt that life provides us with enough to take care of. Making a living, raising children with the values and courage to secure the next generation, caring for our earth and extend the hand of God in love to the immeasurable suffering and destruction around us, are more than enough for one lifetime of responsible living. How can we still worry about death?

But death comes, or rather strikes, daily. Sometimes it is anticipated in the elderly and enters slowly into the suffering of disease and weakness, with expectation and even relief. Accidents and crime shock and traumatize the loved ones when death is a painful punch out of nowhere, bruising our inner being with merciless irreversibility.

Death is part of life. Let us then listen attentively to the details of the encounters of Jesus with death, which was such an expected and terrifying cruelty of the young and old in Palestine of the first century.

Just the words He chose to describe the situation are indicative of the victory He brought. He always called death, sleep…

Lazarus and his sisters provided Jesus with a place to feel at home. Jesus said He had no home (Luke 9:58), but in Bethany He had a place of rest. These three people truly loved Him. There He found a place of relaxation and escape from the demands of the crowds.

The name Lazarus means God is my help. It is the same name as Eleazar (Aaron’s son), which is the Hebrew version. Lazarus fell ill, and the sisters sent Jesus a message to say that he is sick. The sisters’ message included no request for Jesus to come to Bethany. They knew that it was unnecessary; they knew that the simple statement that they were in need would bring Him to them.

It is sufficient that Jesus should know. Jesus would not ignore His sick friend. Jesus, on the other hand, was not alarmed. He knew He had the power to deal with anything. God’s glory had to be served.

The power of prayer is that you know He knows. The Bible says He knows everything – He knows before we pray. I can testify that over the years God knew better than me what I needed. Even my request is imperfect.

When we pray we expect the glory of God in action.

Upon hearing the news Jesus makes a statement. What a magnificent answer to the prayer of supplication this is!

This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

Jesus talks of his glory in connection with the Cross. (John 7:39) When the Greeks came to Him, Jesus said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23).

He talks about the kernel of wheat, which must fall into the ground and die. (John 12:16) John says that the disciples remembered what Jesus said about dying.

It is our dying to self that magnifies the glory of God’s redemption in our life.

The Cross was His supreme glory and the way to glory. To cure Lazarus was to take a step, which would end in the Cross. It did and He knew it.

Jesus accepted the Cross to help his friend. He knew the cost of helping. He was prepared to pay it. There was no other way to glory than through the Cross.

When He received the news about Lazarus, He stayed for two more days.

There are various reasons mentioned by some commentators:

Jesus waited so that when He arrived Lazarus would be indisputably dead. It would make the miracle all the more impressive. There was a superstition that the soul of the dead still hovered around the body for three days, seeking re-entry. Thereafter it left and death is fully acknowledged.

Jesus takes action entirely on His own initiative and not on the persuasion of anyone else. When He turned water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11) Jesus’ first answer to Mary is: “Don’t bother about this. Let me handle it in my own way.” In John 7:1-10 it recounts Jesus at first refusing to go to Jerusalem and then going in his own good time.

Our prayer should be that we leave it up to Him to do things His way.

To go to Judaea at that time seemed to them, the surest way to commit suicide by church leaders. The disciples were shocked.

“Are there not,” he asked, “twelve hours in the day?” We live within the confines of time here on earth. It will be worth our while to note the great truths in this statement of Jesus.

A day cannot finish before it ends. The period is fixed; nothing will shorten or lengthen it.

There are twelve hours in the day. There is time for everything a man should do. There is no need to rush.

There are twelve hours but only twelve hours. A day cannot be extended. Time cannot be wasted.

There is time enough, but not too much. The time we have, must be used to the utmost. [See Pebbles 109: And you? What do you have to say?]

If a man walks in the light, he will not stumble; but if he tries to walk in the night, he will stumble. These words might have two meanings: on the surface and is true, and on another level which lies below the surface it is even more profound.

The Jewish day, like the Roman day was divided into twelve equal hours, from sunrise to sunset. The length of an hour varied according to the length of the day and the season of the year.

On the surface: a man will not stumble when the sun is shining, but when the dark comes, he cannot see the way. There were of course, no streetlights in country places. Travelling stopped at nighttime.

A man must finish the day’s work within the day, for the night comes when work is ended.

In a deeper meaning, John uses the words the dark and the night to describe life without Christ; a life dominated by evil as in the case of Judas: “So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night” (John 13:30). Night is when a man goes away from Christ and when evil reigns.

The threat of time is at the heart of the Gospel. A man has only so much time to make his peace with God through Christ. We have the limited time of this life to do God’s work.

Time has in it two tones of truth: the glory of being in time and the tragedy of being too late.

In the section of John 11:11-16 we see that Jesus’ conversations always follow the same pattern. Jesus says something, which sounds quite simple. His saying is misunderstood, and he goes on to explain more fully and unmistakably what he meant.

Jesus says: Lazarus is sleeping. To the disciples that sounded like good news. Sleep is good medicine. The word sleep has always had a deeper and a more serious meaning. Jesus said of Jairus’ daughter that she was asleep (Matthew 9:24); at the end of Stephen’s martyrdom we are told that he fell asleep (Acts 7:60). Paul speaks about those who sleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13) and of those witnesses of the Resurrection who are now fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:6).

So Jesus had to tell them plainly that Lazarus was dead. It was a good thing, because it would produce an event, which would serve their faith.

The final proof of Christianity is the sight of what Jesus Christ can do. Words may fail to convince, but there is no argument against God in action. The power of Jesus Christ has made the coward a hero, the skeptic a man of faith, the selfish a servant. The plain fact of history is that the power of Christ has made the bad good. The redemptive power of the Gospel cannot be denied.

We should be a living proof of his power. Our task is to demonstrate in our lives what Christ has done for us.

As a great scholar once said: “I do not like crises; but I like the opportunities which they supply.”

At that moment the disciples might well have refused to follow Jesus. They realized that going even close to Jerusalem would mean certain death. It is the lone voice of Thomas that says: “Let us, too, go that we may die with him.” 

All Jews had two names – a Hebrew name by which a man was known in his own circle and a Greek name by which he was known in a wider circle. Thomas is the Hebrew and Didymus the Greek for a twin. So Peter is the Greek and Cephas is the Hebrew for a rock; Tabitha is the Hebrew, and Dorcas the Greek for a gazelle.

Thomas displayed courage. In his heart it might not even have been courage, but loyal despair. However, Thomas was determined – he would not quit.

Real courage means being perfectly aware of the worst that can happen, even being sickeningly afraid of it, and yet doing the right thing.

 

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

(1 Corinthians 15:55, The Message)

118. I am a sheep.

[John 10]

Do you know about sheep? They are peculiar animals; very different from cattle. Since the earliest times the Hebrews were sheep farmers. When Jacob and his family moved to Egypt in the famine and Joseph was second in command of all the land of Egypt, they received land away from the Egyptians and their cattle.

And the men are shepherds, for their occupation has been to feed livestock; and they have brought their flocks, their herds, and all that they have…. that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”(Genesis 46:32-34)

Jacob’s family lived in the land of Goshen, a very fertile land in the eastern part of the Nile delta.

The Egyptians were mostly cattle farmers. They looked down on sheep farmers. Sheep feed on the whole grass plant and pull it out root and all. The shepherds often moved their sheep to a variety of pastures. Agricultural researchers recommend grazing the picky grazers like horses and cattle first and following with the less picky grazers sheep orgoats. Cattle typically tear off large mouthfulsof forage.

Sheep usually follow the rest of the flock. They are notorious to follow each other into danger. The shepherd sometimes trains one of them to follow him and knows the rest will follow.

Here in John 10 Jesus talks about the lost sheep of Israel for whom He came. Thereafter His ministry was opened up to include everybody.

The disciples had to go out to Israel first (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:24).

Jesus was known to reach out to the Gentiles:

  • He healed the servant of the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10)
  • He spoke to the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:40)
  • He said that the descent from Abraham was no guarantee into the Kingdom (John 8:39)
  • He healed a Samaritan leper who turned around to say thank you (Luke 17:18-19)
  • He told the story of the Samaritan traveler who showed mercy (Luke 10:37)
  • He welcomed many people from all directions (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29)
  • He commanded his disciples to go out to all nations (Matthew 28:19)
  • He is the light of the world (John 8:12)
  • He loved the world (John 3:16)

In Jesus the world can be one and all nations like brothers.

Unity is only possible when we know His voice and follow His voice.

We go out to teach others to know His voice so that they can follow Him. We do not teach church doctrine. We teach people to listen for His voice.

The church of Jesus is the flock. It is that invisible body of people in this world whose hearts are set on Him and His teachings. It has nothing to do with organized religion. We are the Kingdom of God on earth. We are united by choice not by chance.

The passage in John 10:17-18 tells us so much about Jesus.

He lives in full obedience, even unto death. Sonship to Him was nothing but obedience in the highest sense possible.

Jesus views the Cross as the path to glory. He never doubted His death, but also never doubted His resurrection. He had full confidence in God. He has not missed His destiny, as He was willing to pay the price. There is no easy way to greatness.

His death was not a condemnation by the people. He could have called heavens hosts as His defense. He was accepting death fully  (John 19:10-11). He was never a victim to His circumstances. He chose the Cross. He did not lose His life, He gave it.

In the next passage we see that the dilemma of the people is as real today as it was at that time. Is Jesus a madman or the Son of God? There is no escape from the choice. Jesus spoke about God in a way that could not be ignored.

He is not a madman.  His teaching is the only hope for this world.

His deeds are to bring comfort and restore brokennessfor others – a madman would not open the eyes of the blind.

The effect He had on people saved millions upon millions of lives. He makes the bad good. He makes the foolish wise and the destitute hopeful.

The Festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem is sometimes called the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) celebrated for eight days in December.

The origin of the Festival of the Dedication lies in one of the greatest times of ordeal and heroism in Jewish history. There was a king of Syria called Antiochus Epiphanes who reigned from 175 to 164 BC. He was a lover of all things Greek. He decided that he would eliminate the Jewish religion once and for all, and introduce Greek ways and thoughts, Greek religion and gods into Palestine. At first he tried to do so by the peaceful penetration of ideas. Some of the Jews welcomed the new ways, but most were stubbornly loyal to their ancestral faith.

In 170 BC Antiochus attacked Jerusalem. It was said that 80,000 Jews perished and thousands sold into slavery. A small fortune was stolen from the Temple treasury. It became a capital offence to possess a copy of the law, or to circumcise a child. Mothers who did circumcise their children were crucified with their children hanging round their necks. Temple chambers were turned into brothels.  Finally Antiochus took the dreadful step of turning the great altar of the burnt-offering into an altar to Olympian Zeus, and on it sacrificed a pig to the pagan gods.

It was then that Judas Maccabaeus and his brother arose to fight their epic fight for freedom. In 164 BC the struggle was finally won; and in that year the Temple was cleansed and purified. The altar was rebuilt and the robes and the utensils were replaced. It was to commemorate the purification of the Temple that the Feast of the Dedication was instituted.

It was told that when the great seven-branched candlestick was relit, only one container of unpolluted oil could be found. The vase was sealed with the ring of the High Priest. There was only oil enough in that vase to light the lamps for one single day. Miraculously it lasted for eight days, until new oil had been prepared according to the correct formula and consecrated.

In this atmosphere Jesus utters one of the seven I AM sayings: I am the Light of the world.There is no one else ever to say these words. He is the light in the darkness of political strife, emotional upheaval and the maze of uncertainty that mark life on earth.

There on the porch of the Temple of Solomon where the rabbi’s often met their students the question was put to Jesus.

Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

It was the genuine heart’s cry of longing or a trap for Jesus to utter heresy and blasphemy. Jesus answers what He so often told them.

“I who speak to you am He.”(John 4:26)

 “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”(John 9:37)

He says clearly that His sheep will know His voice. (John 10:26,27)

Jesus promised eternal life. The physical death is just an entrance to more of the new dimension with Him. Nothing would snatch them from His hand (John 10:29-30).

Jesus trusted His father above all. He knew it didn’t matter how scattered the flock was, His Father had control and would not let anyone slip.

 …for He God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] (Hebrews 13:5-7, Amplified)

We have God-confidence. Jesus is faithful.

Jesus is God – here He says it. He also prays it in John 17:1 and 20-22.

Through love we are one with God in Jesus. Love implies obedience. Oneness is not philosophical or metaphysical. It is relationship.

[John 13:34; 15:10; 14:21, 23-24.]

This statement of Jesus that He is one with God, made the Jews very angry. They picked up stones to stone Him (10:31). Blasphemy was punished by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Jesus argued amid the hostility. He is not afraid of the arguments in a heated atmosphere.

He does wonderful things. His deeds could only come from God.

Jesus said that He was consecrated by God for a special task. He is holy – set apart for a specific purpose. God sent Him as messenger from heaven. (Psalms 82:6, Exodus 21:1-6. Also Exodus 22:9; 22:28)

He tests the people to judge His deeds not His words. The fruit of His life speaks louder than words about Him. Deeds are beyond arguments.

Jesus was not stoned that day. His execution was planned and marked on the calendar of heaven. He needed quietness before the struggle. He had to meet with God before meeting men.

He went to the place where John baptized, where He was baptized. There He heard the voice of God strengthening Him and confirming Him. His baptism was one of the supreme experiences of His life.

Jacob went back to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-6).

The people remembered John and what He said about Jesus. Many believed when they remembered the words of John.

Jesus was even greater than John said He would be. He never disappoints. The Jews saw in Jesus the man John predicted He would be and many believed.

Many great men with great futures messed it up somehow and were a disappointment to many. Jesus is God. He comes with the full guarantee of heaven.

He can never and will never disappoint. In Him the dream comes true.

 I am a sheep – I will follow Him.

 

 

 

117. Compassionate custody.

[John 10]

The responsibilities of life can wear you down. That could be a reason why people become homeless. They get so overwhelmed with the basic demands of having a place to stay and food to eat, that they choose to get off the treadmill of life for a daily scavenge to take care of just one day at a time. Many charities provide for them.

Here in North America the cities are well organized and every homeless person could have a place in a shelter with food and a bed. On very cold nights, the police drive around and pick up people in the street to forcibly take them to shelters, as the risk of hypothermia is too big. If they want, they could be rehabilitated and helped back on their feet. In a few cases where bad choices got a person into drugs or debt, the authorities are eager to assist in turning a life around.

However, many are not interested in an alternative lifestyle at all. Speaking to the CEO of one of the biggest homeless care centres in our city, he said that only around 40% of the people in their care are permanently rehabilitated to pursue their life normally.

The world can be a heartless, cruel place requiring a steady income for money to pay the bills that provide services and food. Living is a constant struggle; a great effort to supply our most basic needs of food and shelter.

In John 10 Jesus steps into the precious and well-known image of a shepherd in the near Middle East. He presents Himself as the most compassionate caregiver the community at that time could imagine.

The main part of Judea was a plateau stretching from Bethel to Hebron for a distance of 55 kilometers. The ground was rough and stony, more for pastoral than agricultural application. The most familiar figure in all of the land was the shepherd. It was a hard life. He was never off duty and could never leave the flock alone. With little grazing, the sheep were bound to wander. With no protective walls they could get lost. They had to be watched constantly. On either side of the plateau, the land dipped sharply down to deserts full of wild animals and robbers. If a sheep got lost, it would loose its life.

The symbolic life of the shepherd, never resting, always ready to intervene on behalf of the sheep, was at the forefront of every mind and easily understood. They gave David the honourary title – the shepherd king.

The shepherd is a very well known picture throughout the Old Testament. (Psalms 23; 77:20; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Isaiah 40:11) The leaders of the people were described as shepherds of God’s people (Jeremiah 23:1-4).

In the New Testament Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Matthew 18:12; Luke 15:4). He has pity on His people – they are as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34). His disciples are his little flock (Luke 12:32). When He, the shepherd, is taken away to be crucified, the sheep are scattered (Mark 14:27; Matthew 26:31). He is the shepherd of the souls of men (1 Peter 2:25), and the great shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20). The leaders of the church are often depicted as the shepherds of the flock. They must feed and be responsible (1 Peter 5:2-3; Acts 20:28) Jesus commands Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:15-19).

Pastor is the Latin word for shepherd (Ephesians 4:11).

The full meaning of the concept of a shepherd, should paint a picture of God’s constant vigilance and patience towards us. It reminds us of our duty towards our fellow men, especially if we pursue ministry in the church of Jesus.

The shepherd of Palestine was a simple man with simple tools. He had a bag made of animal skin in which he carried food – bread, olives and cheese. He had a sling as a weapon against wild animals. He would also shoot in front of the nose of a straying sheep as a warning to turn back. He carried a staff – a short rod of wood with nails to defend himself and his sheep against wolves and robbers. His also carried a shepherd’s crook. He could catch a sheep by the hind leg and bring it back to the flock. At the end of the day every sheep had to pass under the shepherd’s rod to be examined for injury or illness. (Ezekiel 20:37; Leviticus 27:32).

When Proverbs 13:24 talks about disciplining children, the rod that is mentioned is the shepherd’s rod of care and love. It is the constant care for a child to set the boundaries to guide them in making the right choices and knowing right from wrong. It is the rod that brings comfort in Psalm 23:4.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

In Palestine the shepherd walked in front of the flock. Sometimes the sheep needed to be encouraged to follow. Sheep was with the shepherd for years, kept mainly for wool and not for meat. The sheep knew the shepherd’s voice and will never answer to another.

The words in John 10:7-10 are pure gold.

It is the promise of the true Shepherd. In the villages there was a sheepfold with a strong door of which the shepherd had the key. Out in the pastures there were open folds with walls to gather the sheep at night. The shepherd himself slept in the opening and the sheep could not get out except literally over his body. The shepherd himself was the door. Through Jesus we have access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). He is the new and living way (Hebrews 10:20). God is to be known by men through Jesus. Always remember – Jesus is God in human form.

Jesus uses a Hebrew phrase to describe safety and security – to go in and out. A true leader will lead a nation in and out (Numbers 27:17). A child of God is blessed when he goes in and out (Deuteronomy 28:6) The Psalmist says God blesses his coming in and his going out (Psalm 121:8).

Those that went before are all the false Messiahs, claiming the golden age. They fought and promised. Nothing came of it. Many of these insurrectionists thought nothing of human life and would murder and steal to reach their political goals. Jesus led them to God.

Only in God can there ever be a golden age. The golden age on earth is the invisible kingdom of love in which we live as born-again believers. Jesus brings life more abundantly. The Greek phrase means to have a superabundance of something. Only life with Jesus is really life, worth the living. The shepherd is absolutely responsible for life and death, even by rescuing parts of a dead animal from the jaws of the wild beasts to prove that the sheep died this way. (Amos 3:12; Exodus 22:13)

David had to battle the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34-36). A shepherd risked his life to look after his flock. Nothing was too much. There was also the image of the unfaithful shepherd. A real shepherd was born to the task. To the false shepherd it was a job, not a calling.

Wolves were a threat to the flock. Jesus warns his disciples (Matthew 10:16). Paul warns (Acts 20:29) Zechariah (10:7-10) marks a false shepherd when he shows no desire to gather the scattered sheep.

How do the church and the modern pastor fit into this picture of the shepherd? It is a matter of working for love rather than working for reward. A good shepherd was described by two words in Greek:

  • agathos – describes the moral quality of something
  • kalos – in the goodness there is a quality of lovely.

Jesus uses kalos. The good is the fullness of God’s goodness that can be found in the character of the good shepherd; all the love, sympathy and kindness mixed in with power and miracles.

The church is open to attack from the outside as well as the inside. The church is threatened from outside by wolves of temptation and robbers of peace, joy and love and inside from false shepherds, false doctrine and false comfort. The danger from inside is worse.

When the shepherd is strong there is effective defense but when the shepherd is false the outside enemy can destroy the flock. Jesus states here the ultimate unity of the church. Unity is only possible by hearing His voice. This is the superior principle for unity guiding every individual:

And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16)

When people are privileged, they become exclusive. They want to protect their “right” to certain things, which they deem of value – lifestyle, religion or education. This was the sorry state of the church in the time of Jesus. They become gatekeepers as opposed to the true Jesus-followers who should be door-openers.

Imagine yourself in the care of the good shepherd. He will look after you. He will provide and shelter you. That is the promise.

The cross is the guarantee.

Read Psalm 121 as a prayer-statement to boost your trust-level.

116. Getting healed – the package deal.

 

The human body is a wonderful thing. We are aware of our own bodies since the day we are born. Providing for the body is the main concern of parents of a new born. Getting a baby clothed and fed, changed and bathed are the most important care activities of the day. Slowly it shifts to communication, interaction in play and the discovery of the world introduced initially only through the parents. The baby grows into an adult for whom looking after the physical body takes second place over the development of the mind.

Most of the hours of our adult life are spent on applying our mind to work, entertainment and caring for our physical activities. It is our mind first and foremost that determines the care for our bodies.  When we are healthy and physically active, we seldom consider every unseen part of our body. When sickness focuses our mind on a malfunctioning part, we are suddenly aware of an organ or vein or other previously unrecognized part whose purpose is obstructed by disease.

Disease occupies our thinking and activities especially shortly after diagnosis. When we have to live with a handicap in our bodies when most other people take the functioning of that body part for granted, we compensate in so many ways for our less-than-perfect body. Just imagine being born blind. Not having been able to see a tree or water or any other human, impacts life in a profound way. The healing of sight changes everything. Our thinking, perceiving of and responding to the world changes into a different approach altogether.

One cannot be born blind, receive sight in a moment and stay the same person. A touch from God will change your whole being. The healing of the body changes the mind and the spirit.

Healing from blindness in the time of Jesus was mostly an impossibility. The medical science was not developed to even begin to find a cause for blindness.

Blindness was widespread in the ancient Near East.

Theologically speaking, all cases of blindness are attributed to God (Exodus 4:11), just as the restoration of sight is credited to Him (Psalms 146:8). However, outside of the specific cases mentioned, blindness in general is nowhere stated to be a punishment for sin, although it was a widespread superstition.

Blindness is used with several metaphoric meanings in the Bible. Frequently it refers to the lack of intellectual or moral understanding (Isaiah 29:9–10,18). Judges are warned that bribes, or gifts, blind the eyes of the discerning (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19). Isaiah is told that his mission is to besmear the eyes of Israel so that it will not “see” and repent and be healed (6:10). In Isaiah 56:10 blindness refers to negligence, while in Numbers 16:14 putting out the eyes is usually taken to mean deceiving.

Blind persons are naturally helpless in many ways. Blindness in the ancient world was assumed to be a ticket to misery, a curse, or a sentence to second-class status. The blind enjoyed few opportunities and lived out their days in poverty as beggars or as wards of their families.

The healing of the blind man was a reason to rejoice and celebrate. The whole community would have been aware that there is one less beggar on the street. He would have been able to look after himself and start a whole new life.

But…the healing took place on the Sabbath. Jesus had broken the Sabbath law. By making clay he had been guilty of working on the Sabbath when even the simplest acts constituted work.

We have already mentioned how many instructions surrounded the work ban of the law on the Sabbath. For example a man may not go out on the Sabbath with sandals shod with nails. The weight of the nails would have constituted a burden, and to carry a burden was to break the Sabbath. A man may not cut his fingernails or pull out a hair of his head or his beard. A man may not light or extinguish a lamp on the Sabbath.

It was forbidden to heal on the Sabbath. Medical attention could be given only if life was in actual danger. Even then it must be only such as to keep the patient from getting worse, not to make him any better.

Don’t laugh – do you have any little laws, little superstitions that keep you captive? Do you touch wood when something good happens? Are you fearful that something bad will happen when everything is going smoothly?

The Pharisees thought that their way was the only way of serving God.

This blind man is quite a character. The Pharisees irritate him. Just read the dialogue between him and the church leaders. He was not able to fit Jesus into their theologically correctness and he didn’t care. His miracle forever set him apart. Jesus was in his heart and nobody could get Him out even if he could not explain his healing with his mind.

We love Jesus, not theories around Him.

The blind man was brave. He confronted the church leaders. Maybe he was not so aware of their stranglehold on society being a blind beggar and an object of pity.

The man’s parents were scared. The leaders were powerful. They could shut them off and out of the community. Property could be forfeited and socializing banned. Jesus warned his disciples against them (Luke 6:22, John 16:2, 12:42).

Excommunication was serious. A person was cut off from God and the people and publicly cursed. For a Jew it was terrible, even when it was only temporary. The Pharisees would use the “church” for their own goal – hatred of Jesus.

The Pharisees suspected some fraud.They did not believe the man to be born blind. They suspected the miracle was bogus.False prophetsmade up fake miracles to their own advantage (Deuteronomy 13:1).

“Give the glory to God,” was a phrase used in cross-examination, which really meant: “Speak the truth in the presence and the name of God.”

They were annoyed because they could not meet the man’s argument, which was based on scripture.  The miracle meant that Jesus has done a very wonderful thing. The fact that he has done it means that God hears him. God never hears the prayers of a bad man; therefore Jesus cannot be a bad man.

The fact that God did not hear the prayer of a bad man, is a basic assumption in the Old Testament.(Job 27:9, Psalms 66:18, Isaiah 1:15, Ezekiel 8:18, Psalms 145:19, Proverb 15:29)

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry.  (Psalm 34:15)

Their argument was weak so they resorted to abuse; then insult with the statement that he was born in sin. Then they threatened force and ordered him out of their presence. Their argument becomes a contest of bitterness full of wild words and hot threats. It proves their case to be disturbingly weak.

Jesus found the man being put out of the Temple. Separated from fellow men, God will find you.Great revelation followedhis faith and stance. The Son of God was revealed to him – greater is not possible. He knelt and received Jesus; the wonder that was in his heart was now in his mind as well.

He was healed from spiritual blindness.

The man who is conscious of his own blindness is the man who will see. The man, who thinks he can see, is truly blind and beyond help. To admit weakness is to be strong. To realize sin is to be forgiven.

Knowledge can condemn, if the truth cannot be recognized.The Pharisees had all the knowledge and failed to recognize their Messiah.

The blind man met Jesus. He grew in his knowledgeand revelation. He called Jesus a man (9:11). He began by thinking He is supreme among men.  Then he called Him a prophet (9:17). A prophet is somebody who brings God to men. (Amos 3:7).

Then he confessed that He is the Son of God– the result of revelation knowledge.

This is true healing – the package deal. To be forever healed from the blindness of our hearts, is to know who Jesus really is and to receive the revelation of Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, in the true conviction of the Holy Spirit.

 

 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

(Matthew 16:15-17)

115. Born blind – yes, me too!

It’s true. Really. If you cannot see, you are blind. So what can you see? Yes, I know the song.

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I also see those things, hearing the “instantly recognizable gravelly voice” of Louis Armstrong who wrote these words… but the words go on.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

Do you see that? Do you see the blessing and the sacred? That is the true test.

To truly see you have to see the invisible.

How is that possible? There is only one way. Another song points it out.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

look full in His wonderful face

and the things of the earth will go strangely dim

in the light of His glory and grace

That is perspective; the right perspective for this life – dim earthly things and shining glory and grace.

In John 9 it is stated that this man was afflicted with blindness since birth. Affliction since birth is mentioned twice in Acts: the lame man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:2) and the cripple in Lystra (Acts14:8). The blind man here in John was well known. The disciples knew him.

Not everybody with illness could sit in prominent places to beg. The city authorities issued a special garment to “official” beggars only after the validity and true nature of their affliction have been established.

The Jews connected suffering and sin. His blindness could be due to parents’ sin or his own. Many reformed doctrines today still teach that a baby is born into sin. It is cited as one of the reasons for infant baptism. I could never understand how involuntary sin could bring sickness over some and not others. If this is true, all babies should be sick with something or another, otherwise – how is it explained?

The Jews had a strange concept of prenatal sin. They interpreted the words of Genesis 4:7 that talk about “sin crouching at the door” as the door of the womb. They also believed in the pre-existence of the soul. It was a Greek philosophical superstition that all souls were in existence at creation and waited in a heavenly chamber to be born, therefore contaminated by sin as soon as they entered the womb and come into a sinful universe.

Alternatively, his parents’ sin could bring affliction about. God Himself said He would visit the iniquity of the fathers onto their children (Exodus 20:5,34:7, Numbers 14:18). The Psalmist curses with that notion (109:14). It is also mentioned in Isaiah 65:6-7. In Isaiah 65:23 the generational blessing of the Lord is emphasized.

What about today? What do you think? There is DNA testing that presents you with the details of hereditary illness at the core of your physical compilation.

Jesus does not explain the correctness or not of the argument. The illness, whatever the source, is an opportunity for God’s glory. The history of affliction is not important.

The future of affliction is being dealt with decisively.

Miracles are always the sign of God’s glory and power. Other Gospel writers showed Jesus’ compassion in His healing ministry. In all the Gospels combined, Jesus’ power is illustrated by His pity on mankind.

Afflictions, sorrow, pain, disappointment and loss are always opportunities for displaying God’s grace. It shows God in action.

When trouble and disaster fall upon a man who does not know God, that man may well collapse, but when they fall on a man who walks with God, they bring out the strength and the beauty, the endurance and the nobility, which are within a man’s heart when God is there.

By helping those who are in trouble or in pain, we demonstrate to others the glory of God.

 God’s highway runs straight through us. Frank Laubach.

This is one of two miracles in which Jesus uses spittle to cure. [Also the deaf stammerer in Mark 7:33] Spittle as an ointment was quite common in the ancient world. The spittle of some distinguished person was believed to have curative qualities.

Jesus was wise and gained the confidence of his “patient”. To this day there is so much confidence in drugs to heal. Prescribed medication is one of the most important methods of healing.

The Pool of Siloam was a landmark in ancient Jerusalem and an engineering feat of the time. The water supply in Jerusalem was always a problem. The water came from the Spring of Gihon in the Kidron Valley. A staircase of 33 steps led down to it for people to draw water. The spring was completely exposed. In the event of a siege it was easy to cut off the water supply for the entire city.

When Hezekiah realized that Sennacherib was about to invade Palestine he determined to cut a tunnel or conduit through the solid rock from the spring into the city (2 Chronicles 32:2-8; 2 Chronicles 32:30; Isaiah 22:9-11; 2 Kings 20:20). If the engineers had cut straight it would have been a distance of 366 yards; but because they cut in a zigzag, either because they were following a fissure in the rock, or to avoid sacred sites, the conduit is actually 583 yards. The tunnel is at places only about two feet wide, but its average height is about six feet. The engineers began their cutting from both ends and met in the middle – a truly amazing feat for the equipment of the time.

The Pool of Siloam was the place where the conduit from the Virgin’s Fountain issued into the city. It was an open-air basin called Siloam, which, meant sent, because the water in it had been sent through the conduit into the city.

Jesus sent this man to wash in this pool. The man washed and was healed. He obeyed the command of Jesus. His healing could have taken place right there and then in front of Jesus and all the onlookers. He was sent away from his familiar places where he was able to cope with his blindness. He had to step out of his comfort zone and find his way – still blind – to the pool in order to obey the command of Jesus.

In this act, he was given privacy to experience sight all by himself and face the world on his own terms and in the time of his choosing. He accepted Jesus’ way of doing things. He did not question the method.

Jesus’ words must have carried heavenly authority. He did not promise healing. He commanded the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Why would the blind man obey this man? He could have looked like a fool if he went to the Pool and nothing happened.

His obedience defeated doubt.

 The words of Jesus; the voice of God commanding action was enough to change his whole life!

Jesus gave instructions for the next step without informing the blind man of the consequence of the washing.

What do you do when your miracle does not come the way you expect or desire? Do you still blindly obey? Are you willing to take the next step in full obedience without knowing the outcome?

We often hear the term – blind obedience. We do not often talk about obedience. Obedience has lost its power when evil-inspired institutions and persons of authority abused their subjects to obey. Church leaders and parents who overstep and hurt in their respective roles of authority over people and children have drained the life-changing muscle of obedience.

The Greek word for obedience is hupakouo, which means to listen attentively, to obey as a subject, to listen and respond and submit without reservation.

To listen and respond – action for your miracle.

Are you willing to take the long route? Can you acknowledge and submit to Jesus’ word whatever it takes WITHOUT knowing the outcome?

Phew! Tall order indeed.

 

Answer me speedily, O Lord;
My spirit fails!
Do not hide Your face from me,
Lest I be like those who go down into the pit.
Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.

(Psalms 143:7,8)

 

 

 

114. True and free – only under God.

How many wars have been fought for freedom? History is full of causes and crazes. People died and people gave up normal living all for the truth they perceived to bring them their desired outcome. Many times a whole new era was introduced as we see in the French, American and Russian revolutions (there are many others) and other times the world reacted and defeated what was threatening to their own freedom (Nazi Germany in the twentieth century).

Freedom and truth are both widely debated philosophical prickly pears as both demand extended definition. They are very old concepts that have to be discussed in relation to each other. This has been happening over many centuries. Freedom can only be lived in relationship with the degree of freedom amongst the fellow free. Truth has to be measured and is therefore always relative to a standard.

Freedom is defined as: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. It includes improper familiarity and boldness of conception or execution. The state of true freedom can impact the people around the free negatively; therefore freedom is always limited by the freedom of the next person.

Truth is defined as: fidelity to an original or to a standard, sincerity in action, character, and utterance, the body of real things, events, and facts.

There is after all only one who ever, in the history of mankind said: I am the truth. (John 14:6)

Here in the well-known words of Jesus about truth and freedom, the Jews take exception with His implication of bondage. (John 8:31 and onwards)

He says they in slavery to sin. For the Jews, freedom was most important. Now they were oppressed by the Romans exactly like they were oppressed by Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. They knew God’s promise that they would not be slaves (Leviticus 25:39-42). Their efforts to be free resulted in many and bloody revolts.

Jesus was talking about slavery to sin. The Greeks said only the wise man is free, the foolish man is a slave.

Socrates said: How can you call a man free when his pleasures rule over him? Paul thanked God for freedom from the slavery of sin (Romans 6:17-20)

When sin rules, sin decides. We have heard of people who said: I can decide what to do with my own life and then live the promiscuous life they think they want. They do not realize that in the end they do not decide, sin decides and deceives them into thinking it is their own decision. In sin you loose the power to decide. People go on with things they know are destroying their lives.

Every Jew believed he was safe because of direct decadency from Abraham. Obedience to God took second place. Jesus is blunt about this. In the modern life it is possible to live by descendants, name, reputation, wealth, history and tradition, but true life cannot come from the glory of the past.

A real descendent could only be one who acts like Abraham – not flesh and blood but spiritual fidelity. They want to kill Jesus, but when a messenger from God came to Abraham, he extended his best hospitality (Genesis 18:1-8).

He insults them by saying they are doing the works of the devil (8:44). Kinship with God must show in life and conduct.

God cannot be your Father if you do not recognize Jesus and His works. They claim pure birth, not born from adultery. The Old Testament is full of the symbolism of the unfaithful Israel in an adulterous union with pagan gods.

They cannot understand that they are spiritually deaf and blind and intellectually handicapped. They are so ruled by religion that they cannot see God.

The devil is a murderer. He murders truth, knowledge and understanding. This leads to death. The devil is a liar – every lie on earth is inspired by the devil. The maintaining of the false in religion is the work of the devil.

Jesus dares them to point at evil in His life (8:46,47). If they could find no charge, why don’t they believe?

The Spirit reveals truth and enables man to grasp it. When you shut the door to the Spirit, you will not recognize anything of value. One cannot be religious and have the Spirit. When you clung to religious beliefs, you are dead. You can serve God in a godless way and never know Him. If you shut your heart to the Spirit of God, you remain a stranger to God even though you are religious. Religion is human and human ideas about God. It is not true knowledge.

To be told they were strangers to God, was a deep insult.

The Hebrew word for Samaritan is Shomeroni (8:48). It could also mean the prince of the devils. They accused Jesus of being mad, and made mad by the devil. He answered by asking how could a devil honour God. His aim was to honour God. They had the devil not Him – and He said it in so many words.

He was not looking for worldly honour. He knew He would be insulted, rejected and crucified. His supreme faith was in God to lift Him up.

Here in the last verses of the chapter Jesus makes claim after claim, almost as if to annoy them. He appeals to Spirit-insight, which He knew they did not have. How could anyone not die? Abraham and all the prophets were dead. (Zechariah 1:5)

Jesus talks about spiritual things in a physical realm. To us He is saying: see everything spiritually. Every day of your life should be lived with an eye on eternity.

What is death? Physical death is just one more intimate experience with God.

We live in the invisible Kingdom of heaven. We talk the language of heaven where problems are possibilities and we walk in the footsteps of the Almighty God.

All true honour comes from God. Worldly honour means nothing. There is nothing like self-approval – it does not last into eternity.

Jesus claims unique knowledge of God, in contrast to what they claim to know and unique obedience to God, because He knows exactly what God wants Him to be.

Jesus makes another outrages claim (8:56). He said He was before Abraham – it is like a fire-statement.

The Jews believed Abraham was in paradise and could see earth. Jesus implied that because He was born of Abraham, Abraham would rejoice in this day. It was by the birth of the Messiah that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham was given a vision of the Messiah (Genesis 15:8-21). Abraham laughed the laugh of joy when he heard that he would have a son. The Rabbi’s believed that Abraham rejoiced in the promise of the Messiah and that is why he laughed.

To a Jew it was easy to see that Abraham saw the Messiah. But they could not understand that Jesus said He was before Abraham. Fifty was the age at which the Levites retired from service. Jesus was much too young for the wisdom of age. Jesus said that He is timeless.

By saying that, He claimed to be God. He truly knew the Fathers of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the faith heroes of old. He became a man to show us what God is like. This is the claim He makes and they want to kill Him for that. He simply walks away, since the time for killing Him was not yet.

 

 

 

 

113. Woman, you are worthy.

We have talked about this. Old Judea by the turn of the first century was almost as bad as in some countries we read of today. Women had no rights and were mostly ignored as second rate citizens and wives to be used and abused. We in the Western World read about it in horror and wonder how it can be changed. The rabbi’s did not think it was worth it to teach a woman the law. Still, during this time an extra space was added to the original plan of the Temple – a court for the women, as they were not deemed worthy to worship with the men.

It is very important to know exactly how God views women. He created mankind – man and woman he created them (Genesis 1:27). Many false teachings and distorted perspectives have developed over the years to reduce women to a second rate place in this world. Still the Bible tells of strong women throughout, playing pivotal roles in worship (Miriam), leadership (Deborah), as ruler amongst kings (Esther) as well as evil influence in the lives of kings (Jezebel and Athaliah).

As the people of Israel drifted away from God, so their views on women were influenced by the idolatry of paganism, degrading women. God created men and women equal and never intended that a woman should be submissive, except to her own husband who loved her as his body (Ephesians 5:28,29) and as Christ loves the church for whom He has laid down His life.

Our story of the informal hearing of the woman caught in adultery, takes place in the Court of the Women. Women could not pass the altar except for sacrifice. Around the Court of the Women there was a porch with thirteen chests for the offering shaped like trumpets – narrow at the top and swelling towards the bottom.

Every chest was allocated for a specific offering. The first two were for the half shekel for the upkeep of the Temple. The third and fourth were for the money to buy a dove for sacrifice after childbirth. The fifth was for the wood for the altar, the sixth for the incense, the seventh for the upkeep of the golden vessels and in the remaining six for everything else a person felt the need to contribute.

The Temple treasury was a busy part of the Temple with a constant flow of people – a good place for teaching.

Jesus makes the statement: I am the Light of the World. (John 8:12) The background made it doubly vivid and impressive. The Festival of the Tabernacles had a ceremony on the first night. In the Court of the Women, four gigantic candelabra were lit as soon as darkness came. The dark night made the light travel to every courtyard in Jerusalem and for the whole night the men danced before the Lord in joy and praise.

Jesus is saying that He will light up their lives for more than just a night. His Light will bring joy everlasting. [See the link to a sermon on the discipline of joy at the end of the piece.]

He is the Light of Life: – the light source or the light that gives life. Jesus is both. Jesus is to life what the sun is to plants. He is the source of light as well as the light itself to give life.

The word follow was used for soldiers following the captain on long marches, a slave accompanying his master, in attendance, working. It was also used for accepting a wise counselor’s advice, the expert knowledge or obedience to the laws of the city or state. The same word indicated that one was following a teacher’s line of argument, taking the message into his heart and obeys.

To follow in all these ways is our safe passage through life into the glory of God.

Light was especially important in Jewish thought. To the Jews, the words of Jesus were a claim to be God Himself. (Psalms 27:1; Isaiah 60:19; Job 29:23; Micah 7:8)

The Jews argued that this statement of Jesus had insufficient witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15; 17:6)

Jesus makes a statement about His own authority. (John 8:13-20) He was sure where He came from. Jesus was certain of His closeness to God, the highest authority. Therefore He had the witness of God Himself. God was to be known in the words of Jesus, the deeds and wonders of Jesus, His effect upon men and their reaction on Him. The overwhelming response to Jesus could only have been from the Holy Spirit.

Only God can enable men to see Jesus.

Jesus emphasized His right to judge in love and lastly told the leaders they had no knowledge of God (8:15-18). Their whole history and knowledge of their scriptures should have prepared them for Him. No theology can ever prepare you for recognition of the Son of God, only a humble decision to invite Him into your life. (Luke 24)

Jesus is speaking prophetically (8:21-30). There are opportunities for all men to meet Jesus and an opportunity to miss the opportunity. Time is limited. Because of opportunities there is judgment.

 God gives each man enough opportunity to meet Jesus.

Going away meant His return to His Father into the unseen realm.

We can follow in obedience. Only the disobedient cannot go. Pentecost brought the birth of the church and the spiritual dispensation. For the Jew, the depths of hell awaited those who killed themselves – they could not, nor wanted to follow there. Today we can freely discard the shame that accompanies suicide. We know that God in His perfect love, receives those whose desperate moment leads to such a drastic step.

Die for their sin means missing the mark, target. Refusing Jesus would rob you of real life, not entering into the higher life of God here on earth, staying separated from God, hidden from God like Adam. To die in Christ is to be a friend of God and therefore not afraid of death. Without Jesus you will be paying for your own sin in this world. It is your choice.

The word for world is kosmos (8:23). Jesus uses it in His own way.

The kosmos is the changing, transient life that we live; it is all that is human as opposed to all that is divine. [Barclay]

The kosmos is God’s creation, so Jesus bridges the gap. The kosmos is the object of His love and the recipient of His greatest gift. The creator came to the world and the world rejected Him. This rejection shows that something is wrong and that the people suffer blindness with no knowledge of the truth. (John 1:10; 14:17; 17:25; 15:18-19; 16:33)

Christ rights all the wrongs. He can be the answer to everything, but men can refuse His cure.

Jesus speaks the heart of the Father to the world.

We will see the real meaning of Jesus in the Cross, the Resurrection and the will of God when the Holy Spirit teaches us and reminds us of words that didn’t make sense before the Cross. What Jesus said, was only the beginning of a whole new era. (8:28-30)

 

NEXT TIME: The last words of Chapter 8 (31-55).

 

 

A sermon by Bill Johnson of Bethel church: The discipline of JOY

https://youtu.be/Sy9Y8ScrWDM

 

112. Free to face the world.

But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. (Psalms 3:3)

The story of the woman caught in adultery is one of my favourite illustrations of grace, mercy and judgment and how it all works together in our favour when the world turns against us in all its cruelty and prejudice. It is a remarkable story of probably the most dramatic street encounter in the history of mankind. There near the steps of the Temple matters of life and death are determined in the dust of Old Jerusalem.

The issue described in the first twelve verses of John 8, is a dilemma either way. The leaders thought they could trip Jesus up on this one. There was no way out. Adultery was a serious crime, punishable by death. There were differences in the way the death penalty had to be carried out.

In Leviticus 20:10 both the man and the woman should be put to death. No method is specified. Deuteronomy 22:13-24 lays down the penalty for a girl who is already betrothed. She and the man, who seduced her, should be stoned outside the city gates. The Mishna (commentary on the Talmud) prescribed strangulation, something the Old Testament never ever even mentioned. From a legal point of view, the woman caught in the act, should be stoned. The absence of the man in this instance is glaring and a sign of the times – the woman took all the blame.

The dilemma for Jesus was this:

If He said she should be stoned and upholds the law of Moses, His message of love and mercy would suffer greatly and He could never again be called the friend of sinners. He would also be in collision with the Roman law that prohibited any execution by the Jews. If He said she should be pardoned, He would be breaking the law of Moses and therefore condoning people committing adultery. It was a theological, moral and political trap.

He stooped to write with His finger in the ground. The various commentaries name as many reasons as they can think up. Here are a few:

He may have given the people and the accusers the chance to repeat the charges and hear the cruelty of their words.

It could have been that the desperate fear of the woman, the cruel lust in the faces of the accusers, the unsympathetic stares of the crowd all combined, filled Jesus with shame for these people who      were supposed to be the children of God and He hid His eyes from them.

There is another interesting suggestion. One commentary writes that Jesus wrote the sins of the accusers with the finger from heaven on the stones they were holding or in the sand as each one peered over His shoulder. The Greek word for write that is used here is not graphein, that means write, rather katagraphein, which means record against someone.

Nevertheless, they insisted on an answer and He gave it: Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.

The words without sin, was so emphasized that it also meant without sinful desire.

Jesus was left alone with the woman and asked here where her accusers were. Remember men did not speak to women in public.

Her first and only words in the trial of her life, was her answer to this question.

Jesus sends here away with His words of a fresh start. He did not send her into the local church to brush up on the law of Moses, or into community. How could He just send her into the world of chaos and sin without the modern tools that we would like to set up around people to help them with their sinful nature and desires?

Jesus knew that He would be dying on the cross for her sin, very soon.

He also knew and fully trusted His father to keep her safe and teach her His ways by the Holy Spirit. We should also trust the Holy Spirit fully. As soon as the church wants to build walls around people to “help” them please God, corruption and legalism set in.

The Pharisees and scribes were convinced that they were in a position to judge as the legal experts at the time. Their authority brought them to the place of condemnation, criticism and censorship and they were quite comfortable in that role. Sympathy and love to reclaim the sinner were long lost. They did not feel any obligation to “cure” sin, only to descend in judgment and punish. They never thought that they too might be in a position to be judged.

Think of the difficulty the world has to redeem sinners. Rehabilitation of criminals in prisons is a burning issue, with little success. If anything, punishment brings bitterness and often descent into worse crimes.

The woman, as a human being and a child of God, had no place in the application and teaching of the Pharisees and scribes. They used her as an instrument to get to Jesus, their own purpose.

She is a nothing without a name.

People are never just a thing to be used. God uses our names. There are pages and pages of names in the Bible. The Bible has people first and foremost in focus.

God said to Moses: I know you by name (Exodus 33:17). He says to Cyrus: I the God of Israel, call you by name (Isaiah 45:3).

When people are things – Christianity is dead.

Do you think the Pharisees in this instance knew her name? How did this woman feel? One is told so little about her. Has she heard of Jesus? Did she see Him as part of church leadership and was dragged into His presence with fear and desperation?

Only the perfect man can pass judgment onto others. The Pharisees lived so meticulously that they considered themselves perfect to judge. Jesus warns that we should not judge (Matthew 7:1). When we judge we see the speck of dust in somebody else’s eye and not the plank in our own. (7:3-5). We might condemn somebody’s faults while missing the glaring faults in our own lives. No man can judge another.

Our first emotion towards a mistake should be pity. We bring relief, consolation and healing. Revulsion disappears in the desire to help.

Jesus did not condone her sin. He postponed judgment for after the opportunity of redemption. He gave her a second chance to give her hope of a new life. He wished to forgive and therefore felt pity towards her, born of love.

He gave her a challenge. He said that she should go out and do not wrong anymore. It was probably not easy, but her life was saved and given to her to make new decisions.

He believed she could do it, because He knew His father and how much His father loved her. The Father’s love will keep us from the snares of sin and the world.