97. Look up and live.

We do not want to hear about judgment. We know about Jesus don’t we? He came to bear our sin, demonstrate the love of God and take the punishment and judgment of our sin upon Him on the cross and now all is good. Yet, we see so much sin, hell and disaster around us every day. What is going on?

Sin has consequences. We all know the story of the Garden of Eden. How the serpent, which we all know is the satan, God’s adversary, reasoned with Eve and convinced her to eat of the fruit she was not supposed to and on top of it all, gave Adam to eat as well, so that both of them hid from the face of God. Sin exposed them as naked, where they felt so safe in the sinless presence of God, they were not even aware of their nakedness. Very famously satan came as a serpent, a cunning snake. The use of the word serpent indicates a snake in mythological or religious context. We would write serpent and talk about snake – it is the same creature.

Here in John 3:14-15 he mentions a strange story in the Old Testament recorded in Numbers 21:4-9.

The chapter in Numbers begins with a great victory over the Canaanites, when Israel vowed to God to fully destroy all their cities if God will give the Canaanite army into their hands. The battle was won and the captured Israelites saved. Just into the next verses the complaining begins:

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

God sent venomous snakes among them and many died. They came running to Moses to pray to God to deliver them in their fight against the snakes. So Moses prayed and God said:

“Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

We think it is terrible that so many people died. Our knowledge of God has grown in Jesus. We know God is good and intend good for us. What about sending snakes? The interpretation of life coming from the old prophets was that everything came from God – good and bad. Today we know, that the bad is the consequences of sin that keeps this world in brokenness and hostility to God. Today still people die because of sin. In all their brokenness they still reject God, while He is waiting for their cry for help to bring deliverance.

The serpents were the symbol of the killing power of rebellion against God.

The story illustrates the destructive power of complaining in your personal wilderness way. If you say your soul loathes this “worthless bread”, it is a complaint against the provision of the Lord in your life.

John Bevere shocked me into right thinking when he made the statement: Complaining is like saying to God: I don’t like what You are doing in my life and if I were You I would have done it differently.

There is so much gospel in this. Jesus declared in these verses, that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so the Son of man must be lifted up, that those who believe in him, should not perish. We could compare our modern diseases with the sting of our broken world. Sin bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Then compare the application of their remedy to ours. They looked up and lived, and if we believe, we shall not perish. It is by faith that we look unto Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).

 The snakes are called fiery because of their effects. Their poison caused an intolerable heat and burning and thirst in the bodies of the Israelites, which was aggravated with the circumstances of the place: that here was no water. The method of cure was prescribed, so that it would be clear to be God’s own work, and not the effect of nature. The serpent signified Christ, who on the cross, looked like sinful man, but was not, just like the bronze snake looked like a snake but was not poisonous.

 Do we trust God fully with our lives? Are we willing to submit to His healing and cleansing power when things get rough? What is your reaction to adverse circumstances? So many of us would slam the door and shout our frustration onto the bewildered loved ones around us, in stead of fleeing into our prayer-closet and submit our thinking and insight to see in the Spirit the cross as the symbol of our healing.

The story of the serpent in the desert is continued:

The verb to lift up is hupsoun. It is the same word that is used to describe Jesus being lifted up upon the Cross (John 8:28,12:32) and it is used to tell of Jesus being lifted up into glory at the time of His ascension into heaven (Acts 2:33, 5:31 and Philippians 2:9).

Jesus was lifted on the Cross, and then into glory. The one could not happen without the other.

A life unaltered is a glory-less life. First we accept the cross, then the crown. How would we as arrogant and selfish sinful man even think of the cross if we do not have to battle the snakes in our desert? Our circumstances draw us to the miracle-working God for outcome and relief. If our circumstances distance us away from God, it is the most profound tragedy of life there could be. Our circumstances are prompting us to cry out to our loving Father that will change us into His glory.

This changed life is the life of excellence we seek. A life well lived is for sure not the wealthy, super glamorous party life of excess and indulgence that the world promises.

To believe that God is what Jesus declared Him to be was difficult for the Jews, just as it is difficult today for the unbeliever to believe that God is good and wants the best for every person. For the Jews, God was a law-giver and punisher, demanding sacrifices and a price paid for sin. A loving God was almost impossible to grasp.

To believe that Jesus would know God because He is the Son of God, was even more incomprehensible. To accept Jesus, was to accept His message, to acknowledge that He knew the Father and brought absolute truth. Their rigid thinking and preconceived ideas about God made this recognition of Jesus almost impossible. Only allowing the Holy Spirit to convict of the Truth, as Jesus said He would, could bring us new insight and fuller understanding of God.

To believe is to risk everything on this truth. To cast our life and all we hold dear onto God and throw ourselves at His mercy in unquestioning obedience.

Eternal life promises we are at peace with God, at home with our Father and at peace with men to live as forgiven and forgiving those around us. We are at peace with life, believing all things would work together for good, not so much to understand everything better, but to feel safe in our evil and destructive world. Eternal life gives us peace with ourselves when we depend on Jesus for everything and are not terrified of our own weaknesses. Eternal life gives us a glimpse of the greater peace to come, a life where the best is yet to be, higher and better than we could ever imagine.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. (John 3:16-17, The Message)

This verse is everybody’s favourite. It is the essence of the Gospel.

The initiative of all salvation is in God. God sent His son. He loved us to send the sinless One to reconcile us to God. It gets rid of all the misconceptions of an angry, punishing God.

Why? Because of love. Mankind is drawn and disciplined by love. God is acting for our sake, not His own to satisfy love, not to bring things to order. He is a father and he cannot rest before his wandering children are home.

The full extent of His love is the world – not a nation or a person. He loves the whole, wide, unlovable, unlovely and lonely world. Those who reject His love and never thinks of God are ALL included.

As Augustine said it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”

Here it is again. The full definition of the word lying dormant in the Greek language until one man gave content to a love so great that the full extent had to be expressed in the cruel death on a cross, yet so powerful and unconquerable that it saves, redeems and renew into eternity.

Love = Agapao (verb)

Unconditional love, love by choice and by an act of the will. The word denotes unconquerable benevolence and undefeatable goodwill. Agapao will never seek anything but the highest good for fellow mankind. Agape (noun) is the word for God’s unconditional love. It does not need an affinity, chemistry or feeling. It is a word that exclusively belongs to the Christian community. It is virtually unknown to writers outside the New Testament.

 

 

 

96. No guessing – we know.

People talk about hell. Christians talk about hell. How easily we say, oh they went through hell. The church talks about hell, especially the older, legalistic, hit you with a Bible over the head – churches. I realize there might be some of them still around – how horrible. I truly wish we could stop calling organized religion church. It is not the church at all. The church is such a special, beautiful concept. We should actually be talking about the church of Christ – a fellowship, not organization of children, not people whose beings are being transformed by the working of the Holy Spirit and not people with enough willpower trying to live legal lives in their futile effort to please God and some denomination.

We are in the lovely chapter that talks about the rebirth of a being. Being born a child of God after making a simple decision to surrender your life to Jesus, accept His work on the Cross is a whole new beginning; immigration into the invisible Kingdom of God on earth. There is no hell, only heaven. What is hell and heaven then? Well, I can say: easy.

Hell is where God is not; heaven is where God is.

Generally, hell would be defined as a subterranean place of punishment, as described by the Greek word Tartarus in 2 Peter 2:4. Hades and Sheol are the Greek and Hebrew words for the underworld or the temporary abode of the dead. Gehenna in the New Testament (Mark 9:43, Matthew 10:28) is a place where the soul and the body could be destroyed. It might refer to the second death, which Jesus warned against.

Whatever hell really is, where it is and how one gets there are the things each man must decide for himself. To me, the hell on earth I see around me, is enough to make me flee into the arms of God. I choose heaven. I want to live in the “Shadow of the Almighty” and in the “Secret Place of the Most High”. (Psalms 91:1)

What do we then pray in the Lord’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. It is for now, God’s presence, invited and enjoyed is heaven on earth. Where His will is done, is heaven.

The prayer is written in the Hebrew style of parallelism.

The definition of the kingdom of heaven is where God’s will is done. Life in the kingdom is a life submitted to the will of God; fully dependent on His provision, relying on His protection, living out of His resources and direction with His statutes and promises as the imperative of your life.

Full submission to the Word of God is our number one priority. God’s will is clear. There is no darkness only light. He made it accessible to all. No guessing, no confusion. Read His word – that is His will. His specific will for your life will leap from the pages in his Presence.

He has given us the power to become children of God – John 1:12

Eternal life is God life and it starts when we make the decision to become a child of God. The emphasis is not only everlasting life. It is so much more than time. It has all to do with the quality of the life we live here on earth. Earth can never give us what we need to live life abundantly and excellently.

Rebirth is a decision with supernatural consequences. Grace prompts us to surrender and believe and the result is a new life, a spirit reborn. It is an irrevocable surrender to God and life in his Spirit.

It is requalifying experience opening up the possibilities of our whole being to the supernatural dimension of life and fitting us for a beginning in God’s kingdom order.

As Jesus said we are born of water and spirit. Water is cleansing, our past is drowned. The Spirit is power, enabling us for the future.

What is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the spirit is spirit. Enablement is determined. Flesh is limited. The Spirit is unlimited.

[John 3:7-13]

There are two kinds of misunderstanding: a person misunderstands because he has not reached the knowledge or experience to understand or because he is unwilling to understand and fails to see because of the refusal to see. A man can deliberately shut his mind from the truth.

Nicodemus should have known about the doctrine of a new life.

 Cast away from you all the transgressions, which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. (Ezekiel 18:31)

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezekiel 36:26)

The prophets spoke about a new man, the need to be changed fundamentally from the inside out.

Nicodemus threw out another objection how does it work? It is physically impossible, ridiculous to think it.

The Greek word for spirit pheuma also means wind. In Hebrew ruach means breath or wind. We do not understand the wind or know how it blows, but experience the effect. Before we can determine the direction of a wind we see the leaves move and the air moving our clothes and hair. Many things of the Spirit we do not understand, but the effect is clear to see and experience, therefore we cannot deny it.

The power of a testimony is the work of the Spirit and the power thereof is undeniable!

One man testifying about a new life in Christ was made out to be a fool to believe that Jesus turned water into wine, but testified that in his house Jesus turned “beer into furniture”.We do not know how things work. Some things we believe in we cannot see. Mostly we do not see a teacher’s brain but we hear what he teaches and see the result of his thinking.

Jesus says to Nicodemus: I talk about everyday stuff and you do not understand, how will you understand the deep things of heaven. The intellectual truth of Christianity is one thing. How does it change you in your inner man? How do you experience the power?

Most of the time we accept a prescription from a doctor without knowing exactly how the medication will impact every aspect of our anatomy. We do not know the intricacies of redemption. It remains a mystery but we need to appreciate it intellectually.

In the last phrase the authority of Jesus over the truth of the discourse is confirmed again. Jesus is telling us about God, because He came down from heaven and is the only truthful source. His authority and truthfulness is confirmed by His death. He is the only One who knows the heart of His father personally, because He is the embodied mind of God.

At this stage of the discourse it is uncertain where the discussion with Nicodemus ends and John’s words start again.

In the last two verses he touches on a strange story in the Old Testament. We will connect these two to the next chapter for coherence.

95. A royal encounter.

Our world is so aware of status, titles and ranks. We have our rules and regulations how to deal with royalty, celebrities and fame. Mostly we feel we should be well prepared, on our best behavior and in our carefully considered outfit in the presence of celebrated members of society. In many countries where royals still matter, people are honored to meet the revered inhabitants of the palaces, often just once in a lifetime. The ordinary citizens might camp out on the street amongst thousands of others, just for a glimpse of the familiar faces paraded on the litter of modern media.

How then, did one honorary leader of Jewish Jerusalem, meet the Prince of Heaven? It was a royal encounter, no doubt, like so many others in the dust and heat of old Judea. This one was different though. It took place under cover of darkness and in secret, most probably informal around a few eats on the floor of a room somewhere in old Jerusalem.

The retelling of the nightly visit we find in John 3.

Nicodemus must have been a wealthy man. When Jesus died, Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes – a hundred pounds of it. It must have been very expensive (John 19:39). He was a Pharisee. There were never more than 6000, known as the brotherhood. They took a pledge in front of witnesses to spend their life in studying every detail of the Law.

The Law was the most sacred thing in all the world. It was to be found in the first five books of the Old Testament. The Law of God contained everything for good living, and it had to be studied and explained continuously. The Law ruled every possible moment of life. It was developed into many by-laws and regulations for every conceivable situation.

An example of this, was the rules on the Sabbath, when no work was to be done by man or servants or animals. The definition of work was developed over generations. The Mishnah is the codified scribal law and it contained 24 chapters on the Sabbath alone. The Talmud is the explanation (commentary) of the Mishnah. On the subject of the Sabbath the Talmud runs 64 columns of fine print. In the Babylonian Talmud it runs 156 double pages. One rabbi spent more than two years to study one chapter of the 24 of the Mishnah on the Sabbath.

Just a quick example: To tie a rope knot was sin, to tie a woman’s petticoat was legal. If you needed to let the bucket down in the well for water on the Sabbath, you couldn’t tie a rope, but you could tie it to a woman’s underwear – fully legal and pleasing to God in their opinion!!

The Scribes worked out the details; the Pharisees dedicated their lives to live by it. Even in the deception of following the law so strictly, it must have been a special kind of man to dedicate his life to pleasing God. The word Pharisee meant: the separated one and so they lived: separated and away from ordinary life to keep every detail of the Law.

They were usually very certain and very convinced of their chosen life and still Nicodemus wanted to talk to Jesus.

Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews and a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was a council of seventy leaders (Moses appointed 70 judges to help him rule on the advice of his father in law – Exodus 18) that formed the supreme court of the Jews.

Nicodemus was from a distinguished family; probably part of the family who represented the Jews diplomatically in Rome and from whom came the ambassador to Pompeii.

It is amazing that he would want to talk to Jesus.

He came by night, which could mean that he was cautious to see for himself who Jesus is by talking face to face. It was also customary for the Rabbi’s to study in the night, not to be disturbed. Jesus was surrounded by people during the day. Nicodemus wanted quiet time with him, in private.

He overcame his whole way of living, his prejudices, his upbringing to talk with a man that his circle would see as un upstart trouble-maker. His encounter with Jesus is a miracle of grace.

He was obviously puzzled by Jesus and the hearsay of His preaching. Investigation is good. Do not believe the lies about Jesus and the church without investigating and finding the truth. Jesus will never condemn good research and a questioning mind. Ask the questions in the night and the Holy Spirit will teach you and remind you of Jesus’ words. (John 14:26) His own answer, an encounter in the night, is the one we are still looking for today.

Jesus follows a structure of conversation. He says something to be misunderstood. By this He evokes puzzling questions. Anyone could turn away and say it is nonsense. It is when you stay for the deeper meaning, the explanation, when the light breaks through.

Nicodemus is very impressed by the signs and wonders.

Jesus states that it is not signs and wonders that are important but the changing of a man’s life: rebirth.

Nicodemus cannot imagine a spiritual birth and says it is not possible to be born again physically.

Jesus uses the word:

anothen, which means from the beginning, totally, radically,

again, the second time,

from above.

It is difficult to explain all three these meanings in one English word except born anew. It is such a radical change – a whole new start. It is not a human achievement; it is possible only through the grace and power of God.

Nicodemus understood it literally. He decides this is impossible. Will I ever get an answer to my longing?

Does the word that comes to you in discussion with Jesus make sense? If it doesn’t, there is hindrance. We have need of sitting down and continuing the discussion. Nicodemus wanted change and he knew it is impossible all by himself.

The concept of new birth was embraced by the writers of the New Testament: 1 Peter 1:3,22-23. James 1:18, Titus 3:5, Romans 6:1-11,1 Corinthians 3:1-2, 5:17, Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 4:22-24, Hebrews 5:12-14.

The idea of rebirth was not foreign to the Jews. Becoming a proselyte (a non-Jew converting to the Jewish faith) was something like a new birth. All connections with the past were destroyed.

The mystery religion of the Greeks was based on the suffering, dying and rising of a god. This was played out in a passion play with music and drama in an emotional ritual with incense. It was meant that the worshipper in the drama would become one with his god and suffer with him to be rising with him. To be truly united was to be twice-born, implying complete regeneration. This came through voluntary death, which took place at midnight, when the day dies and is reborn. The first food after the ritual was milk to symbolize a new-born.

The ancient world longed for rebirth and searched for it. Some bathed in ox-blood (taurobolium), to come out of it as reborn. The message of rebirth was exactly what the world was looking for.

Rebirth involves four things: being made new, the kingdom of heaven, to become a child of God and eternal life.

The Kingdom of heaven is the invisible kingdom of God on earth. It is a decision that brings the process about. (Matthew 3:2; 4:17;18:3)

Become like children. Become a citizen.

 

And the conversation continues…

94. Tabernacles, Temples, Cathedrals and Churches.

A trademark of life on earth is worship. Just think for a moment. All through history and all over the globe, places of worship are central to the culture and history of every nation on the face of the earth. Since ancient times, elaborate buildings and even natural wonders have been dedicated to gods and higher beings as appeasement and admiration.

The desert people with their fold-up version of a place of worship, was no different. Freed from the sun-worshipping Egyptians, who built magnificent architectural wonders in awe of their gods, they ventured into the desert with nothing to anchor their renewed faith in the miracle-working YHWH (Yaveh), the God of their faith-ancestry, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Not too far into their desert wanderings, we find the meticulous and awe-inspiring prescription of the Tabernacle, based on the detailed instructions of Moses whose ear was inclined to hear God’s voice. Under Holy Spirit-inspired craftsmen, the Ark of the Covenant is built, to symbolize the Presence of the Most High God, with thick embroidered woven linen to separate it from the section where the Table of Showbreads, the Lampstand and the golden bowl with incense symbolize the Word of God, illuminated by the Light of the World, Jesus, and the worship that prepares for His presence, are located. In the forecourt was the altar of burnt offering where innocent blood cleansed from sin and the bronze laver with water symbolized baptism. This ancient pattern of worship is the foundation of our regular religious reunion with God.

I am always encouraged by the scripture, describing the gifting of art and crafts for men and women that came from God.

…and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, 32 to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship.

34 “And He has put in his heart the ability to teach, in him and Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all manner of work of the engraver and the designer and the tapestry maker, in blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen, and of the weaver—those who do every work and those who design artistic works. (Exodus 35: 31- 35)

Settled in the Promised Land, a few centuries later, it is David’s desire to build a Temple for the God He loves and pours out his worship to. His son Solomon, builds a magnificent Temple to mark the high point of Hebrew culture in the ancient world and earn the respect of neighbouring nations for almost four centuries. After Solomon’s death the kingdom divides and slowly falls away from true worship until the hostility of other ancient Empires (Assyria and Babylon) brings destruction and exile.

After the exile, the reconstruction of the Temple dominates the lives of Ezrah and Nehemiah who re-establish worship in the physically restored Temple, carefully recorded with the many miracles accompanying their daunting task.

Under Roman rule, the Jewish king Herod the Great, works for decades to restore the Temple to its former glory. He is well known for his grand architectural projects throughout the Judea of that time. It is the centre and pride of the city of Jerusalem, built to the pattern of the original desert Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon, with a few modern additions like the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women that were never included in the original plan.

The Temple was the pride and joy of the Pharisees, priests and people at the time of Jesus. It was the centre of Jewish culture and everyday life. Jews lived and worked in their culture of worship. There was just no alternative. If you were born a Jew daily prayer, sacrifices, the Sabbath and celebrating the feasts, marked your life, diary and pleasure. Nothing else was important. Worship of YWHW was above all else in life and the world.

Acts like Jesus cleansing the Court of the Gentiles where the money was collected, would produce immediate reaction from the leadership. Their reaction is discussed in John 2:17-25.

Jesus’ disciples remembered the words of Psalms 69:9. The Psalm is talking of the Messiah. He would be consumed with zeal for the House of God. Zeal means passion or even jealousy. In the minds of the disciples Jesus was being established. His actions befitted the Messiah.

The reaction of the Jews is understandable. They needed to establish Jesus’ credentials through some sign. They knew the Messiah would be established by wonders and signs. Jesus needed to prove His claim. He had to do something supernatural.

Jesus’ reply presented them with a problem. This is John’s interpretation written long after all the events. He is writing seventy years of perspective into the narrative.

The words of Jesus were later used against him as accusation in His trial (Matthew 26:61). The accusers said they heard him say:

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)

Jesus never said He would destroy the Temple building and rebuild it. Jesus knew the end of the Temple was near. He said to the Samaritan woman that people would worship in spirit and truth without a specific place.

Temple worship did not lead men to God. It should have. It became obsolete. He would never have suggested rebuilding the old ways.

God makes things new, always better than before. It is the miraculous principle of restoration. He makes something you never envisaged. Look out for the new thing. (Isaiah 42:9, 43:19)

Jesus wanted to bring a Temple not made by hands. His coming would bring an end to man-made, man-arranged worship and bring Spirit-worship after the ultimate sacrifice had been made. (Mark 14:58)

He came to introduce a new way to worship God without elaborate buildings and animal sacrifice – a new way of coming into the presence of the living God.

In 19BC Herod started work on the Temple to appease the Jews within the Roman political system. In 64AD the building was finally finished. It took 46 years to build. Only six years after that in 70 AD, the Romans army under generalship of Vespasian destroys the Temple so that only the wailing wall stands.

With this background Jesus makes a shocking statement. Did He really mean all the lavish magnificence and splendour would be nothing and completely obsolete? All the money they spent would be irrelevant in God’s plan. Jesus calls men into discussion with his statement. He sets the literal against the figurative, the physical in contrast with the spiritual.

Further more, His statement was a prophecy of the Resurrection. All would then have access to the glorified Jesus. The ever-present God was to be reachable to the ends of the world. The true depth of the statement could only be known after the resurrection.

The scripture that they believed is that they will be saved from death. Death was an absolute mystery and very frightening. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol (Psalms 16:10). Peter quoted it at Pentecost (Acts 2:31) and Paul quoted it at Antioch (Acts 13:35). It expressed the confidence of the church in the power of God and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our approach to God is not dependent on anything man-made or man-built. We worship in our own inner-Temple in the presence of the risen Christ.

Jesus obviously did many miracles in Jerusalem. Many believed in Him, but He did not openly declare Himself.

Jesus knew human nature and how quickly a miracle becomes old news. In journalism they talk about the “one day wonder”. Sensation is only sensational for a very short time.

They would follow signs and wonders, but not many will follow the self-denial and service. Surrendering to the will of God, carrying a cross would separate the superficial from the real.

Jesus was not in it for the popular vote. The mob would have declared Him Messiah. He did not want acceptance until they all knew exactly what acceptance meant.

John calls miracles signs and uses three words:

Teras means a marvelous thing. It has no moral significance; simply an astonishing thing. The New Testament does not use this word alone to describe a miracle.

Dunamis means power. Our word dynamite comes from this word. It denotes extraordinary power, effective power to be recognized by all.

Semeion means sign. This is the word John uses. The deed told men about the man, revealed his character and it was done in order to understand the person doing it better. Miracles told men something of the nature of God. Jesus showed whom God is in healing the sick, comforting the poor, feeding the hungry.

Jesus performed signs of the love of God.

In any miracle there are all three meanings included, revealing the heart of God.

 

93. In the thick of things – a corrupted people.

In the second chapter of John, following the joyful miracle at the wedding in Cana, the scene is set for a dramatic confrontation at the core of Judaism (John 2:12 – 16).

It is the Passover feast in Jerusalem. In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes frequent visits to the Temple and to Jerusalem. Jesus loved Jerusalem. He speaks a lament over the city in Matthew 23:37:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Passover had to be attended by every male Jew living within 15 miles of Jerusalem. The Roman census of 4 AD noted that 250 000 lambs were slaughtered during Passover. A lamb as sacrifice was usually shared by at least ten people. A rough calculation puts the number of Jews in the city at 2,5 million. No wonder the Jewish leaders needed somebody to betray Jesus’ whereabouts to bring Him to trial at the time of the crucifixion.

The other Gospels put the cleansing of the Temple at the end of Jesus’ ministry. This incident made the leaders very angry and prompted them to set His arrest and death sentence in motion.

John did not write chronologically.

According to the prophecy of the Messiah, He would come to the Temple. (Malachi 3:1-4)

John knew the prophecy and was telling of the sudden coming of the Messiah in His temple. He wanted to establish Jesus as a door opener for everything anybody coming to the Temple has ever yearned for. John is not interested in the date, more in the action. John records Jesus’ action as that of the promised Messiah.

It was the aim and ambition of every Jew, scattered over the earth, to celebrate one Passover in Jerusalem. It was the most important feast by far. Everybody over 19 years old had to pay Temple tax, which was the equivalent of two days’ wages.

All kinds of currency were valid in Palestine; Roman and Greek silver coins, also coins from Persia, Tyre and Sidon (old Phoenicia, modern day Lebanon) and Egypt. Temple tax had to be paid in Galilean shekels or Temple shekels. All other currencies were declared foreign and unclean. The other currencies could be used to pay everyday debts, but to God “clean” money had to be used.

The pilgrims arrived with all sorts of coins. The moneychangers were necessary for the purpose of changing currency and would have been fine if the dealings were straightforward. However, the dealings were less than honourable. They asked commission for the exchange and the commission added up to at least one day’s wage.

The wealth accrued from Temple Tax was fantastic. The profits were flowing in. When Crassus (a Roman commander) captured Jerusalem in 54 BC he raided the Temple treasury and took the equivalent of 2,5 million British pounds without nearly exhausting the funds.

The exchange rate was laid down in the Talmud. It was not wrong to take money for themselves, but the rates went up and poor people were fleeced to the bone in the name of God.

Besides the money changers there were the vendors of oxen, sheep and doves. A visit to the Temple required sacrifice of gratitude, worship and also repentance. Of course it was more convenient that the sacrificial animals were on the doorstep. Law prescribed that the animal must be perfect and unblemished and for that purpose inspected by the priest. The Temple authorities appointed inspectors. For the inspection a fee had to be paid. If the sacrificial animal was bought outside, rejection was almost guaranteed. If bought inside, it could be as much as 15 times more expensive but guaranteed flawless. Again it was glaring social injustice in the name of God.

All this moved Jesus to flaming anger. It was not impulsive and hysterical. It was calculated and calm. He took cords and made a whip. Some historians described his face as quite a sight and that His eyes and the majesty of God shining in His face must have been terrifying. God was not idly standing by. The anger of the Godhead was unleashed.

Jesus’ anger was fully unselfish. This was not about Him at all. It was all about the lost and the seeking that He came for. He acted on behalf of a world yearning for God, and not finding the true character of His Father in the so-called religion supposed to bring people to Him. Jesus called Himself humble and meek, but He knew exactly when to unleash His anger against the corrupting of people’s souls.

His drastic step had deep reasons.

God’s house was desecrated. God wanted worship with reverence. Worship without reverence is a terrible thing. Worship that is formalized and unthinking, does not acknowledge the holiness of God. One can never forget God’s purpose in worship. Here in the forecourts were the arguments about worn coins, prices of animals and the ramble of the market place. Are you serious about your worship? It is better to stay away than to USE the house of God for your own gain.

 Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11 when he warns against the unworthy use of the Lord’s Table in the verses about communion echoes in this instance also. It is better to stay your participation, than eat the bread and drink the wine without reverence and true repentance in your heart.

Jesus showed that animal sacrifice is completely irrelevant. For centuries the prophets were saying: God does not delight in the blood of animals or in the grain offerings. He is not to be found in animal sacrifices. [Isaiah 1:11-17, Jeremiah 7:22, Hosea 5:6, 8:13, Psalms 51:16.]

Do you delight in your service to the church? Do you find your joy in lavishing on the building and equipment? Real sacrifice is the offerings of the loyal heart in true devotion. Any substitute for true worship is what made Jesus angry.

The Temple should have been a house of prayer.

Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11:17)

In the Temple of Solomon there was 24/7 worship.

The Temple in the time of Jesus consisted of various courts. First it was the Court of the Gentiles, then the Women, then the Israelites and then the Priests. All the buying and selling went on in the Court of the Gentiles. Beyond this Court, a Gentile could not go; the scene of the moneychangers was his impression of God. No man could pray there. It was no place of worship. These Temple activities barred men from real prayer and the presence of God.

The confusion of many gods to communities like the Romans and Greeks was a reason to convert to the Jewish religion with conveniently one God. These proselytes as they were called, were only allowed in the very first forecourt of the Temple.

What hinders worship today? Is a sinner welcome in our churches? Could our snobbishness, exclusiveness, coldness, lack of welcome, arrogance and indifference towards strangers mark the atmosphere our Court of the Gentiles? What do they see in the forecourts of our churches AND in the forecourts of Christianity? Only judgment? Or do they see the love and grace of God, when they come with their burden and approach with a true heart.

Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? (Jeremiah 7:11)

What then about the church today? All the words just as applicable today:

 Worship is like focusing a telescope. We can focus the vision by using the knobs on the side, to shorten or lengthen the distance between the eyepiece and lens of the telescope. Changing this distance allows you to focus on the object in question. Adjust the knobs until you see the image come into a sharp focus.

Where do we find our focus knobs in worship? Approaching God with a humble spirit, a broken heart and a true intention will “shorten the distance”. When we confess our sins we enter worthy into the presence of our Most High Father. We do not have to be perfect. We do not have to live right. We approach by the Blood of the Cross of Jesus to clothe us in righteousness to enter in.

Praise God for the Cross. Let us then welcome “our Gentiles” into a house of prayer and not a den of thieves.

 

92. Wine, wedding and song.

This title rings a bell, doesn’t it? Yes, you are right of course. It is not correct. The title of the beautiful waltz written by Johann Strauss junior in Vienna many years ago in 1869 is: Wine, women and song. Well, both titles are an accurate description of one of the oldest events we still celebrate today. Customs have changed over the course of history, but love is still and will ever be a reason for feasting.

A wedding is such a magnificent occasion. It is the official merriment of love discovered in private, going public. Weddings these days are so full of traditions and expectations that I always feel honoured to be invited. All the many requirements make it expensive and often stressful. Our global village brings guests from far away places to be accommodated and entertained, often in events over more than one day. Still, it is a life-event to be dreamed of, planned in detail and remembered forever. Be careful how you respond to that elaborate invitation privileged invitation; it will be in the memory of the main players for years to come.

One thing that thrills me about Jesus, is that He never shunned a party. Reading through the Gospels I could come to the conclusion that He was a popular and honoured guest to many occasions. Quite a few of the stories take place in a party or dinner party setting.

Here in the first eleven verses of the second chapter, John sets the scene for Jesus’ first miracle – the wedding in Cana.

Jesus and his disciples were invited and it looks as if Mary, his mother, was involved with the arrangements of what was most probably a family event. She was very worried that the wine ran out and she had authority to tell the servants what to do.

A village wedding was really important. A virgin wedding took place on a Wednesday and the feast lasted several days. After the ceremony the couple was escorted under a canopy to their home on the longest route possible, so that many people could wish them well. They had no honeymoon. They stayed home and kept open house for a week. For the whole week they wore crowns and were treated like a king and queen. They were addressed that way and could request anything. They were most likely awaiting a life of constant hard work; therefore the wedding week was a festival of joy and relaxation.

Jesus arrived with five disciples. Wine was essential for any Jewish feast, although drunkenness was considered a shameful disgrace. The wine was diluted with water – two parts wine and three parts water. Hospitality in the East is a sacred duty. For the provisions to fail at a wedding like this would be a terrible humiliation for the bride and the bridegroom.

The translation of Jesus’ words to his mother make his words seem disrespectful. Jesus opens with a common conversational phrase. It was spoken gently and meant:

“Don’t worry; you don’t quite understand what is going on; leave things to me, and I will settle them in my own way.” Jesus was simply telling Mary he would have his own way of dealing with the situation.

The word for woman is gunai. In our ear it might be misunderstood. It was used for a well-loved woman and well known in the Greek language.

The jars used were very large, probably 75 liters each. John had to explain it was the jars that were used for the purifying ceremonies of the Jews. Washing of feet and hands were very important in a dusty, dry climate and needed lots of water. Hands were washed several times throughout the meal.

The jars were filled under supervision to make sure they held clean water. Then the contents were taken to the head waiter (the maître d’). The bridegroom was responsible for the wine that it why the headwaiter addressed the bridegroom and joked about serving the best wine last. Usually inferior wine was served last, when the wine drinkers cared less about the taste and more about the feasting.

This was the first glimpse for Jesus’ disciples of who He is.

He participated in a joyous occasion of ordinary people, helping the feast along, spreading the joy.

This momentous miracle happened in the humble home of a villager. It was not presented to vast crowds. Jesus manifested His heavenly glory in a home with no pretence in the lives of a small circle of friends and family in the village of Cana.

Jesus stepped out to save the host embarrassment. He exercised His power and heavenly authority for the benefit of a lowly villager in sympathy and kindness to the simple folk. He did not save the big thing for a big occasion; rather, he did a big thing on a small occasion.

Mary had faith in Jesus. One might think that she had seen His power before. She instinctively turned to Him when things went wrong. Even when she did not understand what He was doing, her response was obedience. She had faith to trust without understanding.

Jesus says to her: My hour has not come. [John 7:6,8, 12:23, 17:1. See also Matthew 26:18,45 and Mark 14:41.]

Jesus knew the miracle would thrust Him into public life. Maybe He was aware that Mary did not fully comprehend the full consequence of His revelation through the miracle.

All his life Jesus knew of His specific reason for living. It was not a life in terms of His wishes; only for God’s purpose. His life was lived with an eye on eternity, not real time. He lived in the deep and permanent truth: every detail counts.

There were six water pots filled with water. Seven symbolizes completion and perfection. Six symbolizes imperfection and incompletion. Six shows the imperfection of the Jewish law. Within the imperfection, Jesus pours His new wine of the Gospel of grace. Old pots have good wine after He touched them.

He made a lot of wine. He filled all the pots. It was enough to last throughout the wedding and a lot to spare. Grace never runs out. This miracle speaks of glorious superabundance.

 John is telling us that in Jesus the imperfections have become perfection. Grace has become overflowing, sufficient and more than enough for every need.

The Greeks also had a story about three empty jars sealed in the presence of the priests, then miraculously filled with wine at the beginning of the festival. John is saying: Bring your stories about your gods; you know it isn’t true. I have the real thing. He is the dream come true. Everything you thought your gods would do, Jesus can and will do for you.

John is teaching that Jesus does not do a miracle as a once off. He is forever doing His miracles. He will always fill your jars with new wine and new life for feasting. A changed life is the miracle. The impossibility becomes possible. We are testimonies of the glorious impossible!

I am always very aware and overjoyed at the sighting of a rainbow. To me the rainbow is the symbol of God’s faithful covenant love, supporting and confirming all the covenant promises. You know how often one sees a rainbow just in the reflection of a shiny object, or in the shower when the sun hits the right spot. It struck me one day – the rainbow is always there. We need to look at the right angle with sunlight and we will see it. It all depends on how we look.

God taught me that day. There are always miracles. It depends on how we look. Do we see His hand moving with Holy Spirit anointed eyes or do we look through the dark veil of politics, negative circumstances, broken relationships or wounded lives?

Oh pebble pals – let us call out the prayer of the blind man again and again. Lord, that I can see…

Fill up your jars. Jesus is here to make wine.

 

91. Mere men in the story of God – one day there by the lake…

Is there somebody in your life that you admire so much that you can remember the day the two of you met? People often asked that of married couples. The story is then related with lots of smiles and interjections in the detailed description of the circumstances that worked together for the meeting of two people that made a life long commitment to each other. The whole audience to this narrative listens attentively with smiling satisfaction.

Just think of the massive historical implications of the meeting described below.

One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone). (John 1:40-42)

Andrew is thrilled to have found the man he calls the Messiah and the first thing he does is share the news with his brother, Simon Peter. It is a momentous occasion – this meeting of Jesus and Peter. Just think on their relationship in the luxury of hindsight. It all started this day at the shores of a lake somewhere in the middle of the world.

These verses mention Messiah and Christ, which are the Hebrew and Greek words that mean God’s anointed King. All through the ancient world kings were anointed.

Andrew is identified as Simon Peter’s brother and plays an important role in bringing people together. He brought the boy with the fishes and loaves to Jesus in the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:8-9). He is prepared to take second place in the greater story. He also brings the inquiring Greeks into the presence of Jesus. He could not keep Jesus to himself. He has the heart of a missionary.

Andrew takes centre stage in the meeting of Peter with Jesus.

Jesus looked at Peter. The word used for look means intent gaze, seeing into the heart. He gives Peter a new name, there and then. You are going to be called Cephas, which means rock.

Two names were common in those days. People often had an Aramaic name and a Greek name, like Thomas and Didymus (Greek for twin). Tabitha was Aramaic and Dorcas was Greek for gazelle. Peter and Cephas was the same name in different languages.

In the Old Testament a changed name denoted a new relationship with God. Jacob became Israel in Genesis 32:28 and Abram becomes Abraham in Genesis 17:5. A new man needs a new name.

Jesus sees with purpose and potential. He sees what he is, but also what he can become. In that moment Jesus saw with Holy Spirit insight a Galilean fisherman. He see that in every person committing his life to God. He saw it in Gideon and David and so many other Old Testament faith heroes.

It should be our way to look at people. Just think of the powerful, visionary Jesus-words over our children’s lives when we look at them with the purpose and potential of the Holy Spirit.

In Matthew 16:13-20 another discussion between Jesus and His disciples is recorded. He starts with 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 it 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. 18 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. 19 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 revelational-speech 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.

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 He was taken to Pontius Pilate, and to Herod and back to Pilate. Judas panicked. He saw that the whole thing was going south. 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.

Peter and John very courageously followed Jesus to the courtyard of the house of the High Priest on the night of the arrest. It was not the time to be seen as one of the supporters of this man that the leaders put on trial. When he denied knowledge of Jesus three times and heard the cock crow, he wept bitterly and fled to his fellow disciples.

That is exactly where you should be in the midst of spiritual struggle.

There he waited with desperate hope and great remorse. Jesus knew his soul struggle and specially mentioned him to Mary to bring him the good news of the resurrection.

Peter’s life ended in great victory.

In John 1:43-51, other ordinary men meet God.

Jesus leaves the south and moves north to Galilee. He calls Philip. Philip finds his brother, Nathanael with the good news. Nathanael is skeptical. He was probably following a discussion on the details of this Jesus everybody was talking about. Rivalry between villages was common. Nothing good can come out of Nazareth, he reckoned. Even more, the prophets said nothing about Nazareth – they said the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. Only by deeper investigation, the true searcher would have known that Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem.

Nathanael is from Cana. He argues with Philip. Philip is wise. He says: Come and see. Arguments end well when the person is brought into the presence of Jesus. Arguments can only happen in love, never in hostility or arrogance. Jesus revealed is the goal. That often happens in testimony, rather than argument.

Jesus’ compliment would have been understood by any Jew. Psalm 32:2 and Isaiah 53:9 stated that no deceit will be in his mouth.

Sitting under the fig tree was any Jew’s idea of peace. Undisturbed under thick shade was a place to pray and meditate. Jesus was aware of the cry of his heart. He was clearly part of the remnant , who kept the vision of the expected Messiah alive. The promise still stands, even after so many years of waiting. Do not grow weary. Great is His faithfulness.

Jesus knew the cry of his heart; he knew his prayers. He can interpret the soul. He communicated with Nathanael on a deeper level, spoke prophetically into his life and stirred up his vision for greater things to come.

Nathanael does not appear in any of the other Gospels. John describes it as an encounter to illustrate Jesus’ nature in dealing with people.

It was in Jesus’ nature to satisfy expectations.

Nathanael stands symbolically for the person whose heart is cleansed of pride and prejudice and who sees in Jesus the one who satisfies the longing of his waiting, seeking heart.

 

 

90. How about you?

Have you ever wondered about yourself in history? Where would you have been in the village life of the Middle Ages, a noblewoman in a castle, a knight fighting for the duke, maybe the duke himself? It is difficult to think with too much ambition about women in history. I am no Joan of Arc. My ideal women in history go a bit further back to Deborah in the Book of Judges, or Huldah in 2 Kings 22. Go ahead and read about them.

Let us take an imaginary trip and place us around the shores of Galilee at the time when everybody talked about a man able to heal miraculously, arguing with the Pharisees and Scribes and reaching out to the poor. Can you imagine the talk around the squares and wells of the villages in rural Judea? Maybe you could have been a hard working businessman in the fish industry, preserving Galilee’s riches in salt; maybe an importer of delicacies from the rest of the vast Roman Empire supplying the Roman contingent in Caesarea or Herod’s palace in Jerusalem.

This past Easter I sat in church listening to a sermon on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. When I looked at the beautiful picture they had on the screen, I looked at the crowds around Jesus and suddenly wondered where I would have been. I have to admit I have a vivid imagination, but I have had many instances where the Holy Spirit showed me faith pictures in my mind, where I could not have come up with anything remotely so wonderful. One of my most powerful experiences of being healed of a nagging fear, was experiencing the Holy Spirit taking control of my imagination to show me how God is providing for me.

While staring at the picture on the screen in church, I was at once heartbroken. I did not see myself at the forefront, waiving the palm branches and shouting Hosanna. Succumbing to my naturally suspicious and cautious nature, I saw myself at the edges of the crowd, staying close, as I imagined myself very much fascinated by this man, but reserving judgment for later. In prayer I almost wanted to apologize to the Lord about this. I admired Mary Magdalene and John who followed the trial and so courageously found them at the foot of the cross in spite of extreme personal danger, being seen as a friend of the “criminal”.

In that moment the Holy Spirit convicted me to the complete opposite of what I was thinking. He said I would have been exactly where I was now. I was made aware of the miracle of faith, the miracle of salvation and the miracle of spiritual insight into the deep mysteries of God and His Word. Coming to Jesus is a cold rational decision, followed by a miraculous personal rebirth, experiencing the Holy Spirit taking up residence in the deepest inner being of a person. I was overjoyed by this realization that Jesus was revealed to every person who asked God for spiritual insight into His life on earth. It happened then as it happens now.

For me, it was a moment of great rejoicing. I felt my spirit leap up and shout Hosanna. I know deep in my heart just how much I love Jesus and how I treasure God’s word above everything in this world. Throughout the sermon I was enjoying my own triumphant entry into Jerusalem right there by Jesus’ side.

How then did the people know this is the Messiah? In the first chapter of John, exactly this matter is the theme. He states the case for Jesus like a heavenly advocate in a court of law, calling the witnesses to testify to the authenticity of Jesus’ Messianic title.

1:32-34

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

The baptism of Jesus removed all doubt in John the Baptist’s mind that Jesus was the Son of God. There by the waters of the Jordan God reveals himself as the Trinity, speaking from heaven and letting the Holy Spirit descend in the symbol of the dove. It was something, which only the eye of the mind and soul could see.

The baptism (Greek=baptizein – to dip or to submerge) of Jesus was a decisive event.

In Palestine the dove was a sacred bird. It was not hunted and it was not eaten. The picture of the dove was one, which the Jews knew and loved. The dove brought the olive branch, the symbol of provision to Noah in the Ark. (Matthew 3:16)

It was at his baptism that the Spirit came down upon Jesus with power in a way that was convincing to John the Baptist.

The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach and it means wind. The Spirit of God brings us three things:

  • Power: in Acts 2 it is described as a mighty rushing wind.
  • Life: the very existence of man is by the breath of God.
  • God: it is the way by which we live beyond mere human achievement.

The Spirit controlled the prophets. (Micah 3:8,Isaiah 59:21,Isaiah 61:1, Ezekiel 36:26-7)

The Spirit: brings the truth of God, gives men the power to recognize that truth when they saw it and gives them the ability and the courage to preach that truth to men. The Jews knew the Spirit and knew it was God coming into a man’s life.

John goes out of his way to point out that the Spirit remained on Jesus. It is not just a temporary inspiration; it is a permanent abiding. John states the descending of the dove as a Holy Spirit baptism, which implies that He was saturated and flooded with the Spirit of God.

In a Holy Spirit life we are illuminated to understand the Word, strengthened to do the Word and purified by the baptism of fire, burning away the worldly baggage. Spirit prayer is a cry of the heart with no thought of theology and liturgy.

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2)

That was the Messianic promise from the mouth of Isaiah. It stands as the promise to us who invites the Holy Spirit to saturate our inner beings.

1:35-39:

 Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. 36 And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”

They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”

39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).

John the Baptist points to Jesus as the greater teacher, full knowing that his own disciples will leave him and follow Jesus. He had no jealousy towards Jesus. He was looking for the vision to be fulfilled.

The character of the true disciple determines that his eye remains on the vision.

What is your God-inspired vision for your life?

Take a moment to write it down. Ask the Holy Spirit to quicken your mind to see God’s heart for you with no attachment to your fellow men or this world. (Habakkuk 2:15)

Jesus turned to speak to the disciples who followed Him. He is always willing to meet us halfway, making things easier for us to get to Him. He is a door opener. (Isaiah 45:1, Revelation 3:8)

Jesus turning to talk to the disciples is symbolic of the divine initiative. God always takes the first step. The human mind seeks and the heart longs. God meets you on the way just like the beautiful image of the father in the story of the prodigal son, waiting for the first signs of his son and running out to meet him. That is a good heart picture to treasure whenever we think of our heavenly father.

We seek God when He has already found us – Augustine.

The fundamental question is: What are you looking for? Your desire needs to be expressed. They could have been legalists looking for an argument. They could have followed Him to enlarge their influence with the leadership. They could have been nationalists looking for political shortcuts. Or were they humble men looking for their Messiah? They could have been puzzled, bewildered and sinful, looking for light and not even sure how deep the need in their inner being might be. This is the perfect approach – dark lives looking for the Light of the World to change them forever.

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

Are you looking for safety and security, wealth and superficial satisfaction for your needs? It is not wrong to look for these things; it is only a very low aim. There is no security in the changes and chances of life. Some people are searching for personal ambition, having their own goals already shaped, believing God is the instrument to get there. Beware of the detour called life!

Here in John 1 the disciples answered with a question: Where is Jesus staying?

They called Him rabbi, which literally means: my great One. It was a title of respect given by students of wise men. John writes to the Greeks and uses the word for teacher.

What does their question mean?

They didn’t want a short answer. They wanted to sit down, share a meal, talk much. They were not satisfying a curiosity or a superficial need. They wanted to truly know Him.

Jesus answers: Come and see. Those words were a well-known answer to any question of a student of a Jewish rabbi. Jesus’ words imply: we’ll think about this together. If you are in for the long haul, I am more than willing.

John was probably one of these disciples. He notes the time. Almost like in a diary. He is thinking back many years and experiencing that moment, more or less 4pm one afternoon in Galilee that his own life changed forever.

 

 

 

 

89. The scene is set, the call goes out.

It is only here in the later verses of the first chapter that the narrative begins. John makes sure that his readers have an understanding of the eternal value and timelessness of this story – the greatest story ever told. God who loves His created being so much that He became one of them to give His life as a sacrifice for salvation.

John is careful with details. He tells the story of the first week in the public life of Jesus step by step.

[Scripture for this is as follows: first day – John 1:19-28; second day – John 1:29-34; third day – John 1:35-39, fourth day – John 1:40-42, fifth day – John 1:43-51. The sixth day is left a blank and the seventh day – John 2:1-11.]

Throughout his Gospel John writes the testimony of Jesus with three witnesses to Jesus’ life: John the Baptist, the disciples and the miracles. John the Baptist states his own position in the greater scheme of things in John 1:19-28.

One of the important role players in this Gospel is the Jews. They are always in opposition, always cross-examining John. They are mentioned more than 70 times. He tells of their rejection of Jesus. God offers salvation and they refuse, Jesus invites and they reject. It is as if the Gospel tells of love, but warns against rejection of that love.

John the Baptist was the son of Zacharias, a priest (Luke 1:5). Priesthood was inherited by descent of the tribe of Levi, originally through Aaron. A Levi was born into the priesthood whether you like it or not.

The Pharisees, who were scholars of the Law in strict observance of it, also watched Jesus. Their name means separated. Apart from the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin also watched Jesus closely. They were functioning as a council of society leaders in every city in Judea, Their name means sitting together and part of their function was to judge doctrine and warn against false prophets. They were very suspicious of anything new. John the Baptist did not fit the picture of a priest.

The Jews as a nation and their leaders lived in expectation of the Messiah. They were awaiting a reign of peace; a great national champion from the tribe of Judah, who would lead the Jews as rulers of the whole earth; a prince from the line of David. Many people over the centuries claimed to be the Messiah and caused rebellions. They all believed Elijah would come and announce the Messiah. Elijah would establish the rights and wrongs so that the Messiah could reign (Malachi 4:5). Some thought John could be the return of a great prophet like Isaiah of Jeremiah. John denied it.

John was a true preacher and pastor. He was continually pointing the way to the true king. The preacher himself must be forgotten and the people should be directed to focus on Jesus.

Why did John baptize?

Baptism was not for Israelites, only for foreigners becoming Jews. Jews did not need baptism as they already belonged to God. John was leveling the field. He was treating Jews as Gentiles and the people of both these groups and all walks of life flocked to him to be baptized in the hope of a renewal of faith and in expectation of something more. When interrogated he answered indirectly by saying: “I am baptizing only with water; but there is One among you–you don’t recognize him–and I am not worthy to untie the straps of his shoes. (John 1:26,27)

The Baptist could not have mentioned a more menial task. It was the work of a slave. The Rabbis said a disciple could do anything for his teacher except tie his shoes. It was too menial. John said that he could not even be Jesus’ slave. By saying that he announced the King of Israel.

John was only preparing the way as we should and any preacher should. We have the same great calling as John the Baptist: pointing to Christ. People should forget us, as we should forget ourselves so that the image of Jesus be exalted and taught.

It is the test of true Word ministry. How clear are Jesus and His words in the teaching of the church of Jesus Christ today? The same John wrote the “test” for salvation and true loyalty in his Epistle.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

Where is the devil most active? Right here in our churches and amongst the children of God. He would like to spread doubt with false teaching. We know the Truth – Jesus. PRAY the gift of discernment over prejudice, preconceived ideas and secular culture. Not one of these vices can be present in our teaching of the Word. We need to rise up above ourselves, and preach the Gospel as it is presented by John the Baptist:

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

In this one statement we can see four pictures:

  • The Passover lamb, when they smeared the blood on the doorposts in Exodus 12:11-13. Paul confirms it in 1 Corinthians 5:7.
  • The sacrifice at the Temple when the lambs are slaughtered and the blood sprinkled on the foundations. It was to the shepherds who were watching over these lambs, that the angels brought the message of Jesus’ birth. The lambs were specially bred to sell to the tradesmen of the Temple who were part of the scene of moneychangers in the forecourt of the Temple in Jerusalem.
  • The Prophets called out the title of Jesus: But I was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter… (Jeremiah 11:19) and He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent… (Isaiah 53:7).
  • The Maccabees struggle of 163BC was fresh in the memory of the Jews at the time. The horned lamb was the symbol of the great conqueror as a champion of God. He mastered over sin in a single contest.

John used this title of Christ 29 times when he wrote the Revelation.

It becomes one of the most precious titles of Christ. In one word it sums up the love, the sacrifice, the suffering and the triumph of Christ.

Could anybody be afraid of a lamb? Could anybody reject a lamb?

Christ comes as a human baby, the most helpless newborn in all of creation. He does not come to condemn or condescend. He comes to save. It is a picture of profound contrast. How can a lamb be anything than a helpless creature to be cared for? Christ as the Lamb of God is the conquering Saviour of the World.

It is a picture that draws attention because of the stark contrast, the inherent discord. It calls for a second look.

It is the greatest confrontation of thought ever.

88. Always enough – never running out.

Walking through the last verses of the first chapter, more words in the tradition of grace and truth are used to describe the fullness of the character of Jesus. To know Him is to know what life should be all about.

Part of earthly living is to handle scarcity and provide for our own basic needs. Fear of deprivation is a basic struggle for life. To keep us from running out of supplies is what our job and providing for others are all about. Is that not often reason for deep-rooted fear and stress?

God is called El Shaddai, the God of enough. Those words have constantly been a strong source of encouragement to me. His name is His character. If He is the source that will never run out, He will make provision for us, His children. His provision is never sparse.

We sang an old song with exactly those words to drive out fear of the future:

He is more than enough, more than enough

He is El Shaddai, the God of plenty

The All-sufficient One, God Almighty

He is more than enough

The meaning of El Shaddai is closely related to the majestic Creator-God, who is Almighty and who knows how to provide enough. He can create from nothing. He can call the seas its boundaries and declare enough.

In His provision and in His creation His glory is displayed. Glory is defined as high renown or honour won by notable achievements, magnificence or great beauty. God’s glory is the full weight or substance of his splendour, His reputation and good standing.

He manifested his glory in miracles. (John 2:11) For Jesus His own glory was the glory of God, the glory of the One who sent Him. His Father glorified Him, which meant that He had the full weight of the Creator-God at His disposal. (John 5:41; 7:18; 8:50,54) Jesus states that the glory of His Father was his own before the world began (John 17:5). That same glory, His reputation, and His sufficiency he has given to his disciples (John 17:22). This mighty wonder includes us.

Jesus is God’s reputation, a manifestation of God’s love.

1:15-17:John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist gave Jesus first place. In every word the Baptist spoke he emphasized the superior calling of Jesus. This is very important to John the Apostle.

Jesus was actually six months younger in age than the Baptist. John is saying: “He who is my junior has been advanced beyond me. I prepared the way for Him”. Jesus is the one who existed before the world began.

The word that John uses for fullness is a great word. It is pleroma and it means the sum total of all that is in God. He meant that in Jesus there dwelt the totality of the wisdom, the power and the love of God.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…

For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.  (Colossians 1:19, 2:9,10).

The spring of divine life, becomes available to men.

1:18: No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

 When John said that no man has ever seen God, everyone in the ancient world would fully agree with him. Men were fascinated and depressed and frustrated by what they regarded as the infinite distance and the utter remoteness of God.

God is represented as saying to Moses: “You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20)

Plato said: “Never man and God can meet. “God is way beyond everything.”

It was unthinkable to call God father.

John makes the startling statement that Jesus has fully revealed to men what God is like.

Jesus is unique. He is described as monogenes which means only-begotten. He is one of a kind, specially beloved.

To be in the bosom of someone is the Hebrew phrase, which expresses the deepest intimacy possible in human life. Therefore Jesus can reveal the Father, as He comes from the bosom of the Father.

In Jesus Christ the distant, unknowable, invisible, unreachable God has come to men; and God can never be a stranger to us again.

This was not a new idea. It was often expressed in the Psalms and the longings of the prophets. To them the ultimate excellence of living was to be found in the presence of the Most High. Even from their perspective of God as distant and fierce, there was a deep longing for the intimate fellowship of a love-relationship.

Hosea writes of a heavenly engagement, expressing the love-relationship conveyed by God to His people.

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy. (Hosea 2:19)

God speaks to Jeremiah and says that He remembers the time of Israel’s first love, when following Him, even into the wilderness, was a sign of their love for Him. (Jeremiah 2:1)

It is all about love. Jesus is God’s love. The only life worth living is only possible in the fullness of love.