125. Legacy of love.

[John 14]

It is almost impossible to express the beauty, power and love of the words of Jesus in Chapters 14-17 of John. There is not enough time in the life of any man to fully grasp and live the legacy Jesus left us in these passages.

We know that this Gospel was not written as a report of the life of Jesus, but as an interpretation of His life, many years after His ministry on earth. John wrote these chapters as a summary of the teaching over a three year period, quickened by the Holy Spirit on the most pressing subjects for profound change and victory over any matter whatsoever that life could throw at you.

Reading it is like visiting the Master over and over again – sitting at the table enjoying a meal together; sitting at His feet, listening to His voice; eating freshly caught fish on the beach at an impromptu BBQ; lying beside the still waters on the green pastures; feasting at the table He laid out; relaxing in the grip of His goodness and mercy chasing our lives.

This is the first of the longer discourses between Jesus and His disciples recorded by John. It is the core principles of His relationship with His Father and with them. It is the amazing and gracious farewell words of a Man about to die. He knew their world was about to collapse.

There is only one thing to do when life happens: trust God above all else. There comes a time when we have to believe what we cannot prove and to accept what we cannot understand.

If, in the darkest hour, we believe that somehow there is a purpose in life and that that purpose is love, even the unbearable becomes bearable and even in the darkness there is a glimmer of light.

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
    in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
    Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
    Stay with God. (Psalms 27:13,14, The Message)

Close your eyes. Your prophetic word for now is:

 Let not your heart be troubled.

Jesus says: Believe in God, believe in Me. Jesus is the proof that God will give us everything.

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

Mansions are dwelling places, monai  in Greek.

Simply and beautifully it means there is room for all. It doesn’t matter how over-crowded earth may be, heaven is vast and will never be exhausted. You will never be shut out.

Jesus is honest – “if not, I would have told you so“. These are reliable words for all circumstances at all times.There are no false pretences. Jesus would say so and all the answers we ever need are in the words He said. He told them to be uncomfortable, when He discusses the cost of discipleship (Luke 9:57-62). He told them of persecution, hatred and punishment (Matthew 10:16-22). He told them about their cross to carry (Matthew 16:24).

He told them to expect glory and pain and challenged them into greatness.

Jesus is going to prepare a place. He opens up the way. He is the forerunner (Hebrews 6:20).

He speaks of His ultimate triumph – He is coming again. History is going somewhere. It has a climax.

Heaven is where Jesus is. It is a mystery but He is there and would welcome us – no fear, no troubled hearts.

Thomas questions. He does not understand the prediction of Jesus going away. The questions of man provoke deep and wonderful answers. Never be afraid to ask God. He is the great teacher. He will open His heart to you. Ask and it shall be given– He promised.

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” CS LEWIS

No one who seeks will not find more than he ever expected.

As the answer to Thomas’ question, Jesus makes another (one of seven in John)  I AM – declaration. He is all we need. He explains it in the three claims He makes here:

He is the WAY. He is the fulfillment of all the precepts of old. He walks in the ways of God (Deuteronomy 5:32,33). He does not turn aside from the way of God (Deuteronomy 31:29). God promises His voice to guide and direct: This is the way, walk in it (Isaiah 30:21). There is a Highway of Holiness (Isaiah 35:8).

Our prayer is with the Psalmist: Teach me your way O Lord. (Psalm 27:11)

He is the TRUTH as is echoed in the Psalms:

Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.(86:11)

For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes,
And I have walked in Your truth.(26:3)

I have chosen the way of truth;
Your judgments I have laid before me.(119:30)

A man’s character speaks more importantly than anything else. Moral truth cannot be conveyed in words only. Jesus is the perfect one. He is the embodiment of truth.

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. [Pebbles 114]

He is the LIFE.Love brought real life. Over centuries they were searching for the real thing. Now they have found it. He is the way to God therefore He brings true life.

For the commandment is a lamp,
And the law a light;
Reproofs of instruction are the way of life,(Proverbs 6:23)

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.(Psalms 16:11)

John 14:7-11: We see God in Jesus

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”

Truly amazing words to say. God is invisible. No man has seen God. The difference and the distance between man and God are just too vast. Here Jesus says simply that in Him they can see the Father. He is God on earth, God amongst the people, God in our homes, God amongst the sick and hurting; God in our feasts and successes.

God came down to be a man to fully identify with every possible struggle we might have. He knows the everyday.

IMAGINE: Jesus as a man in your everyday.

He knows our strife and fight with evil. God knows our pain. Love brings pain and He bears the scars of His love.

God on the Cross. There is nothing like it in all the world. No other religion has a god of love and sacrifice. It is easy to imagine a God of judgment and punishment. No one could ever dream of a God upon a cross to give His own life for love.

Jesus is tested by His words and His deeds.He said to John’s disciples to tell of His deeds (Matthew 11:1-6) He makes bad men good. Redemption is still the greatest miracle.

 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than thesehe will do, because I go to My Father. 

Greater works are almost unthinkable. Jesus was a miracle worker. He performed miracles in everyday life. Today we know God is the source of all healing – even that of medical science. Everything becomes better and better with the calling of science and technology to make life better. Every discovery and every building block in the improvement of life are under His control for our benefit.In all that we find the devil in everything trying to spoil and manipulate and we resist on every front.

We are part of the “making better” army of everybody who strives to enhance life and improve earth.

We are to win the world for Christ by our everyday lives, through the miracles we live, expect and testify to. The Christians went out into the Roman Empire and beyond, not Jesus Himself.

Prayer in His name

And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

Every prayer will be answered. The qualification is to pray in His name. We should pray in full accordance with the Name of Jesus – that is in agreement with all that He is. His name is His life and character.

In Jesus name is not a magic wand.

It is the life source of greater works.

 

124. Bewitched to betray.

[John 13]

We have talked about Judas before. I have thought about him many times, maybe even more than about any of the other disciples. I have often wondered how it must have felt to know Jesus and experience His defiance of church and community. There is no doubt that Judas was very impressed with his friend Jesus and visualized the realization of Israel’s dream – restored rule and greatness amongst the nations.

Judas was fixated with this vision. Jesus gave him responsibility for the management of the money and there are indications that he was not a transparent modern financial administrator. He lived and walked with Jesus over a period of three years and saw many miracles. He chose his time to act, without listening to the words and discerning the times. He proceeded to set his plan in action without understanding the singularly unique point in time in the history of all mankind, the Jews included.

To understand the actions of Judas it is enlightening to go back to one of the conversations of Jesus with His disciples.

(Matthew 16:13-20)

Jesus asks an easy question: Who do the people say I am?The disciples answer: Elijah, Moses, a prophet, John the Baptist etc. That was the easy answer.

Suddenly Jesus turns around and makes it personal.

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

Trust the ever audacious Peter to blurt it out.

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

This inspirational, Holy Spirit-infused answer prompts Jesus to speak an everlasting blessing upon Peter, that echoes throughout the church today.

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. 

 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

This is the revelation-knowledge that we desire from God. Not the things that flesh and blood reveals. We want to speak what the Father in heaven reveals to us.

He pronounces the words of Peter as the rock on which the church will be built. Note, it is not the man Peter, but his revelation that is the rock on which the church is built. The church of Jesus is not built upon a man; it is built on the revelation of who Jesus is.

 The revelation of Jesus as the son of the living God is the rock on which the church is built.

Remember this rhema-word (the spoken word of God into a man’s heart) of Peter when we discuss Judas at the meal where Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.

Judas acts normal (John 13:21-30). If the other disciples might have grasped the full implication of the situation, they would have prevented him to go ahead.

John was closer to Jesus to ask Him who it was that Jesus indicated would betray Him. John calls himself the beloved disciple. He knew how much Jesus loved him. It was spiritual revelation knowledge of the love of God. Jesus did not love him more than the others. John was just very aware of the love of Jesus.

On the host’s left was the place for the guest of honour and that place was reserved for Judas. It was yet another appeal from Jesus to Judas to reconsider.

To offer the guest something from the meal was a special invitation to conversation. The host was saying, this is especially for you  – let’s talk. Jesus offered it to Judas. (Compare Ruth 2:14 – Boaz invites Ruth to dip her morsel into the wine)

Again and again the appeal came. The darkness and own agenda in Judas’ heart won him over.

Then Jesus admitted to the process of how things will play out and said to him – go and do what you need to do. Still the disciples did not catch on. They thought Jesus might send him out to prepare for the Passover and give to the poor, as was the custom at the time.

When Judas received the morsel from Jesus (an invitation to communicate) the devil entered him. He was so set on his own plan that he could not respond to Jesus’ many appeals.

John mentions that when Judas went out it was night. It is a very symbolic indication of his dark deed.Deeds of darkness take place in the dark. Leaving the presence of Jesus is darkness. Leaving Christ to follow your own plans is your soul’s night.

This is the deep disparity between Peter and Judas. Consider their roles in the dark hours of the trial of Jesus.

Judas was a zealot. He was part of a political party that aimed to overthrow the Romans by force. He walked with Jesus for three years and many times witnessed the anger of the Jewish leaders flare up against Him to the point of stoning and violence. Many times the Gospels state that Jesus just walked away. To Judas this was a miracle. Maybe if he forced the hand of the authorities against Jesus, Jesus might overthrow the Romans in a miracle-like way. Without even giving a second thought to the warnings of Jesus that He was on a collision course with the rulers and will be put to death and rise again (Matthew 16:21; Mark 9:31; 10:33), Judas set his own plan in motion, “using” Jesus for his own goals.

He received the 30 shekels of silver (the price of a slave on the market at the time) from the High Priest and led the soldiers to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Very soon he saw that things were not going according to plan. He witnessed Jesus’ peaceful surrender to the soldiers to be led away to the house of the High Priest. Later that night Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, then to Herod and back to Pilate. Judas panicked. He saw that the whole thing was going wrong. He stumbled back to the leaders and uttered the words:

I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. (Matthew 27:4)

To the very end Judas did not realize that he was a player in the life of the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One, the one man the whole world was waiting for. He died a self-inflicted death alone in utter darkness.

As soon as Judas leaves the table, Jesus speaks from His heart to His loyal friends. He pours out His mission to them. He wills them to look out for His glorification to strengthen them through the dark days of the crucifixion.

The glory of the Cross is a certainty. Obedience to God is foremost. Glory comes through obedience. Trust is the foundation of obedience.

God is present in the utmost tragedy and “wrong” turn of events. God is being humiliated to be triumphant and take all those who are obedient with Him. Still, Jesus went to the cross alone.

His farewell command is to love one another.

 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In the light of the events at the supper – the prideful position arguments and Judas’ refusal to yield to Jesus, it is over all important that the farewell command is LOVE.

Jesus loved his disciples selflessly, sacrificially, understandingly (they were human) and forgivingly. There is no doubt that also Judas’ would have been forgiven had he asked.

Enduring love can only survive in an atmosphere of selflessness, sacrifice, understanding and forgiveness.

The last words of the chapter are all about Peter.

Judas betrayed, Peter denied – what is the difference?

Judas acted in cold blood, planned and deliberate. Peter was impulsive and weak on the spot and afterwards in a terrible state self-reproach and humiliation.

There is a difference between planned sin and a moment of weakness.

Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses. He was impulsive, speaking his heart before thinking. Jesus also knew the strength of his loyalty.

Jesus loved Peter and knew Peter loved Him. He knew He would fail, but his failure was not the defining feature in Peter’s future, just as our failures do not determine our future. His love for Jesus defined him and his denial was a moment of weakness.

In the hour of Peter’s deepest humiliation and failure, his revelation knowledge of who Jesus truly is, saved him. He found his way back to his brothers and was present behind the closed doors, sharing their fear, when the shockingly wonderful news of the resurrection came. Jesus specially mentioned Peter to Mary, to make sure he gets the news.

Jesus knew what Peter would become. He knew that one day he would be brave enough to follow Him even unto death.

Jesus sees what nobody can see, what He is doing in our lives to make us what no one could ever imagine.

 

 

 

 

123. Washing the world off.

[John 13]

 “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” 

(Andrew Murray)

 

So often Christian principles and teaching contrast sharply with secular standards for advancement in life. Self-promotion, self-confidence and self-articulation applied with skillful boldness, are crucial for the fight to press forward. Goal setting is all-important, they say.

The idea of servant leadership has been analyzed extensively, to be used cunningly and overtly for the same advancement of self, as any arrogant, defiant and big mouth attitude of so called “strong” leadership could ever be. Servanthood can be faked. The attitude can be learnt without the heart of humility and love.

On the other hand, servant leadership with the love and servant-heart humility, the real thing, the original concept we learn in John 13, is a powerful life-changing act of greatness. It is refreshingly void of an earthly sense of achievement. It is a pouring out of self into a conscious response to provide comfort and show humble, authentic focus on another person.

It is an ancient exercise in the very modern buzzword:  mindfulness.

 To kneel down and wash somebody’s feet is the indisputable act of being in the moment.

Jesus knew the cross was near, but He also knew His glorification and victory were near. He acted in supreme humility with no pride.

To wash the feet of people attending a meal was a menial task for a slave. Feet were usually very dirty. They walked the dusty roads with sandals. At the door of most buildings were big pots for washing and a servant, mostly a slave with a towel, ready to wash the feet of anybody entering.

Jesus was near to God. That brought Him even closer to men. He performed a task that His disciples would not dream of doing. They were caught up in culture. Society dictated what is to be done, by whom and how.

Jesus was close to suffering and poverty throughout His ministry on earth. Proximity to the suffering and poverty of others brings us closer to humanity where we reflect His life, light and love (the theme of this Gospel).

He also washed the feet of Judas. It showed His love and forgiveness even while knowing he planned the betrayal.

The scene at this occasion, which might or might not be the Last Supper, was filled with competitive pride.  Maybe no one would have accepted the duty of feet washing. Jesus did that which none were prepared to do as an example of how we ought to behave towards one another.

So often in churches trouble arises over positions or the honour that goes with the office. This is a lesson in the greatness of service without any vision of position.

[In the British Army the ordinary troops eat before the officers when they are out on the battlefield]

The scene set by Jesus in this room with His closest friends is a dramatic and unforgettable lesson in humility.

Humility is counter-intuitive living. I can really recommend the book by John Dickson called Humilitas as well as Andrew Murray’s book on Humility – the Beauty of Holiness.  It is powerful and to the point analyses of the principle and the misconceptions of weakness associated with a worldly view.

Humility is the road to greatness and fulfilled content living. Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction. Here is how Andrew Murray says it:

“Here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down! Just as water always seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds men abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless.” 

It was not customary for the host to wash the feet of guests. You either did it yourself or a slave did it. Jesus is comfortable in ‘breaking the laws of custom’. He did it without flinching on quite a few occasions. (Jewish Sabbath (Mark 2:23-26); the Jewish fasts (Mark 2:18-22); the Jewish cleansings (Mark 7:1-20)).

Humility is a virtue in the Christian life (Luke 22:27; compare Matthew 5:523:11,12). The Greek philosophers mostly shunned humility and meekness as weak traits for good living.

Peter’s remark to be part of Jesus as a whole comes in the shock of what Jesus is doing. He wants this scene to be different from the well-known picture of a slave washing the feet, which they saw daily.

He wants to change the menial to something more. Jesus does not allow it. Peter wants a special touch from the Master.

Jesus’ remark on those who have been bathed refers to baptism. Baptism as the seal on a new life after rebirth brings us into the Kingdom. It is not repeated. It does not happen every time we approach God. We just need a washing of our feet, cleaning off the dust and grime of the paths we have to walk in the brokenness of this world each day.

Before the feast the people bathed as they obeyed the cleansing instructions of the law of Moses. When they arrived only the feet washing was necessary. Feet washing were part of the entrance to the house. If Peter were too proud to accept the washing, he would miss out on the touch of the Master.

Pride shuts you out, makes you to miss out, and makes you blind for provision and the small miracles in life.

We should accept the way Jesus chooses to make us part of Him and in so doing receive God.

Judas’ betrayal was foremost in Jesus’ mind. He suffered because He knew what was coming. (Psalm 41:9; 55:12-14)

Betrayal is an important theme here as it is the opposite of love and loyalty (2 Samuel 9:7,13).  By washing the feet of Judas, Jesus wanted to communicate that the occasion was more profound than Judas realized. Judas was so set on his own goals to use Jesus in a confrontation with the authorities and force His hand for his own goal of getting rid of Roman rule, that he completely missed the message in the action.

Betrayal is often committed by the one who eats bread at your table.

It is Jesus’ last appeal to Judas.

There is often tragedy in the purpose of God and here it is accepted by Jesus because of Scripture. Redeeming the world cost the broken heart of God. Jesus was not killed – He chose to die. So many times we have to look back for understanding. Things are not so clear in the moment.

At this juncture the bitterness of disloyalty played out in the same moment as the glory of unfailing allegiance. All the faithful disciples became witnesses to the greatest message and man of all time and history.

We also need a washing to enter the house. The house is symbolic of the presence of God. The house that night was where Jesus was and He welcomed them to a meal with Him at the table with this most extraordinary deed. Could we submit to His methods? We might be shocked like Peter and try to reason it into something else.

Let us come with a humble heart and pray: Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven and then enter into the heaven of His presence.

 

 

122. Seeking a saviour.

[John12]

Do we really know what darkness is? When there is no hope of intervention or outcome in any way. I wonder whether our modern western world, in which Christianity and the doctrine of an almighty God is such an integral part of our culture that it is “to be had” even if a person does not believe, begin to understand the confusion of many gods and the bewilderment of mythological beliefs. There is profound uncertainty when we think about the deeper things in life. What is life? What is love? What is morality? What is influence? The more perplex thoughts are into the mysticism. How is it supposed to be? Is there perfection out there where we don’t know? How can we attain it?

The Greeks were good at thinking. Their philosophers of centuries before Jesus’ life on earth are honoured to this day. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle are well known names in history. Plato in particular wrote about the unseen world as perfection to be attained through death.

It is in this atmosphere that John writes. As we have seen in the first chapter of the Gospel, John addresses the Plato question with his explanation of Jesus as logos. [Pebbles 83]

Here in John 12:20-26 the Greeks ask about Jesus. At this stage of his life, writing the Gospel, John lives in Ephesus and writes with the Greeks in mind. He records this incident in particular. The Greeks were ardent travelers of the time. They were all over the world. They traveled for trade and commerce, for philosophy, for new ideas – they were the ancient world’s most notable tourists.

The Greeks always sought truth. They checked out religions all over. Their seeking minds would enquire after Jesus.

Again Andrew brings them to Jesus. Maybe they spoke to Philip because he has Greek name, but Philip asks Andrew to bring them to Jesus. Andrew knew that Jesus is always open for enquiry. He led them to Him with great confidence knowing Jesus answered the enquiring mind.

Jesus says the crisis, the hour has come and speaks about death, which to the Greeks held particular significance. He calls Himself the

Son of man according to Daniel 7:13. In Daniel’s vision the world powers are described as wild animals because of their lust and cruelty. The new power was to be gentle and gracious – very unlike anything before or after. The symbol was a man not a wild beast.

The Jews expected the Son of man. So much literature were written during the 400 years of “prophetic silence” between the Old and New Testaments to keep the dream alive. He would be the undefeatable conqueror sent by God. Obviously the Greeks had no Messianic expectation.

Jesus talked to the Jews about His glorification on the Cross and they misunderstood. Jesus spoke of sacrifice and death and they were not willing to hear that. To them His words did not make sense.

He said to the Greeks: By death comes life just like the grain of wheat, buried in the ground, then follows life, growth and fruit.

By dying to self will come a life of understanding and insight.

Love of your own life will render you unfit for service. (Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:24;17:33)

Men who serve are great in the Kingdom of God. For Jesus – greatness was in the Cross.

He brings a dazzling new view on life.

John does not tell about Gethsemane. Here (12:27-36) he records the human Jesus’ agony to avoid the Cross. It is the real cost of courage. He is very afraid of the horror of death. For Jesus it is weighed against obedience.

His words become triumphant to break the power of evil.

 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour28 Father, glorify Your name.”

He brings heavenly perspective. He would be the ultimate conqueror of men. It would be a greater conquest than the crowds ever imagined.

Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.

Fear becomes triumph when hearing the voice of God. The Jews believed that God spoke directly just like to Samuel, Elijah and Moses. By the time of Jesus nobody believed that anymore. God’s voice came to Jesus on special occasions: at baptism (Mark 1:11), on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:7) and it now came to Him to strengthen Him for what was lying ahead.

God will speak to anyone who is willing to listen.

Daniel 7 talks about an everlasting kingdom. How could it end in a Cross? He was supposed to be the Prince forever (Ezekiel 37:25). His government will have no end (Isaiah 9:7). He will reign on thrones over all generations (Psalm 89:4).

Jesus’ death on the Cross would crown Him in the hearts of men forever. It was so different from anything they expected. The contrast of His life to the community, in which He lived, was burnt into history forever. He was not just another conqueror who fought a great war and won. He was the Conqueror of all time and all people ever.

He promises light in the darkness, relief from the shadows. The shadow of fear, doubt, confusion and sorrow does not reign supreme over life. Jesus promises light in all of this with joy that cannot be taken away.

John quotes from Isaiah 53:1-2 and 6:9-10 in the following passage (12:37-41). It is all about unbelief and intentional blindness.

[Jesus mentions it often in Matthew 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10 then Paul in Romans 11:8; 2 Corinthians 3:14.]

There are always people who will not believe.Isaiah was bewildered and heartbroken because of the unbelief of the people.

For the prophets God was the source of everything– even unbelief. They could not explain it otherwise. God is greater than any sin – so their unbelief must have come from God.

In 12:40 is a great truth stated:When you choose to see, you will see and experience the revelation. When you choose not to see, your eyes are blinded and your heart hardened. Life then does not make sense and nothing is significant, because understanding is already lost.

 No repentance – no revelation.

In actual fact our decisions and choices are God-given and does come from our Creator. That is why our refusal of His grace is so powerful. Our choices shape our lives. God has given us full power over our choices so that we are able to express love. Anything else would not be real passion. Choice enables love. He chose the Cross – He also had the alternative not to choose the Cross.

We choose Him and His expression of love on the Cross, because we have the choice to reject it. We consciously decide to love. Love changes us.

In the next passage (12:42- 50) the terrible cowardness and self-interest of men are described. They believed but could not go public. They feared the church.

 Secret discipleship is not possible. Someone said:  “either the secrecy kills the discipleship, or the discipleship kills the secrecy.”

For the people it is always the fear of losing what they gained in life.  They would lose profit and prestige. They chose men over God. God’s judgment matters for all eternity.  We have to look through heaven’s eyes.

If you choose people over God, then the people will judge you. It is always better to be judged by God. People are cruel and unjust.

What follow are Jesus’ last words of public teaching. He addresses the people and tells them about His father. He did not speak for Himself. In Him men are confronted with God. They listened to Him and at the same time knew what God was saying.

Jesus came to save – God wants to save. Love saves. Inevitably the same love judges the rejection of it.

The truth will judge. If you know the right thing and do not do it – you will be judged by the truth.

Our own knowledge will bear witness against us.

PRAYER: Lord speak into my heart. Show me Mary, Martha, Judas, the crowd, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the church leaders, the Greeks searching for truth and the impact their examples has on my life. Help me to learn from them.

Show me my armour against You my God, my lobster-shell, my hard heart, my obsession with prestige and honour and other stumbling blocks that deafen my hearing of the voice of God. Help me to express my love for You and to realize what the true significance of that expression is.

 

Jesus show me JESUS.

 

 

 

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)