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.

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116. Getting healed – the package deal.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Blindness was widespread in the ancient Near East.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We love Jesus, not theories around Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was healed from spiritual blindness.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

(Matthew 16:15-17)

115. Born blind – yes, me too!

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

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

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

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

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

To truly see you have to see the invisible.

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

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

look full in His wonderful face

and the things of the earth will go strangely dim

in the light of His glory and grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The future of affliction is being dealt with decisively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His obedience defeated doubt.

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

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

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

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

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

To listen and respond – action for your miracle.

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

Phew! Tall order indeed.

 

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

(Psalms 143:7,8)

 

 

 

114. True and free – only under God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

113. Woman, you are worthy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only God can enable men to see Jesus.

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

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

 God gives each man enough opportunity to meet Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus speaks the heart of the Father to the world.

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

 

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

 

 

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

https://youtu.be/Sy9Y8ScrWDM

 

112. Free to face the world.

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

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

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

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

The dilemma for Jesus was this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is a nothing without a name.

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

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

When people are things – Christianity is dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

111. Come on – throw a party!

It is significant how the concept of a joyous get-together is part of ancient Jewish history and religious worship. In general, ancient societies were much more socially supportive, than the modern focus on privacy, personal preference and individual superiority afford a member of the social order today. Survival demanded group cooperation. Feasting found a firm place into national celebrations of momentous events on public holidays commemorating important occasions of a specific nation or cultural group.

We are used to celebrating birthdays and achievements like graduation and retirement, even welcoming and farewell parties. Christians have Christmas and Easter and celebrate Thanksgiving in unity with the continent of North America. I would like to make a case for the celebration of Pentecost, which we should celebrate with the same expectation of Acts 2 although it is a Christian feast that is very neglected these days. Other religions have their days of fasting and feasting.

Going through many trials in a demanding corporate job, my husband routinely fasted throughout a season of his life. Sunday was the only day that he was able to take his time and slow down to spend time in the Word and listen for Holy Spirit guidance. Many Sundays I made special plans for the children so that a Sunday will remain a family day and a day to look forward to, even though their dad disappeared for a few hours into his study.

One day he came out of his quiet time with amazement and joy written all over him. He told me that God talked to him about feasting and said that his time of fasting is over. We should feast more and adopt a life style of celebration. He decided to take us out for dinner there and then late afternoon on that Sunday and declared our meal a celebration of the goodness of God. Slowly this concept of feasting while we eat out and more and more around meals in our own home, became part of our vocabulary. It changed our table prayers. He guided us into conscious praying at every meal. No more little prayer rhymes to ramble through at the table. We had to look each other in the eye and declare God’s provision and our thanks. I rejoiced in my heart and thanked God for a father in the house who routinely celebrates God’s goodness and our testimony of outcome in faith. He also declared two private feasts on specific days that we as a family had to remember and party about; one in the first half and one in the second half of the year, to testify and joyfully remember answer to prayer.

In the last part of John 7 (7:37-53) the Feast of the Tabernacles is mentioned again. This Feast took place in October. It had important historical significance: they left their houses and lived in little booths made of branches to remind them of the time in the wilderness. It was not permanent structures. The booths had thatched roofs. They were able to see the stars. The instruction and material for the booths are found in Leviticus 23:40. According to Leviticus the length of the Feast is seven days. In the time of Jesus an eighth day was added.

The Feast had an agricultural significance also. It was a thanksgiving for the harvest (Exodus 23:16; 34:22). The Feast became very popular (1 Kings 8:2). It was celebrated with the bounty of nature, which made life possible and happy. The dream was that this feast should be celebrated everywhere by everybody – rich and poor, servant, slave and master.

There was a daily ceremony during the time of the Feast. People would take their palm and willow branches to the altar; the priest would draw water from the pool of Siloam while the people recited Scripture: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)

Water was poured out as an offering to God while the people were singing. They sang the Hallel – Psalms 113 -118 with flutes and a choir. On the last day they marched seven times around the altar in memory of Jericho.

The Feast served as a reminder to miracles.

What do we do to celebrate miracles in our lives? Could we throw a God-party to celebrate His goodness? Remember and remember well. Do not let the enemy rob you of your own testimony. Lest we forget, is the cry of Remembrance Day that celebrates the end of World War 1. Let us not forget God’s miraculous intervention in our lives.

then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Deuteronomy 6:12)

The water that gushed out over the branches, reminded the people of the life-giving water that Jesus mentioned in His encounter with the woman at the well (John 4).

The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your soul in drought,
and strengthen your bones;
you shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail
. (Isaiah 58:11)

Let us rejoice and feast since we have Jesus who came and fulfill all the feasts of Israel. In Him we find the ultimate reason for every feast.

 This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 John 5:6)

And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. (1 John 5:8)

Jesus was promising a cleansing – pure and revitalizing. With His purity comes peace and satisfaction.

The symbolism of water is found throughout the Old Testament. Psalms 105:41, Ezekiel 47:1; 47:12. Also Joel 3:18: A fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord.

Jesus is the rock in the desert from which the waters flowed (Exodus 17:6). That is why it was so important for Moses to be obedient to the voice of God and not strike the rock a second time. Jesus has been struck once – on the Cross. From that moment the water of salvation flows freely. Moses should have spoken to the rock the second time and not assume that water will flow exactly the way it happened the first time. Paul confirms this.

For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

There is no Spirit, no Pentecost without Calvary. Before the Cross, the Holy Spirit was a mystery. After the resurrection He was a person who lets the risen Christ live in us. Pentecost opened the floodgates of heaven.

Great miracles can end in religious aridity. Only by the pentecostal experience the miracle is alive. God’s action does not stop.

Does He do it again? NO, He does it all the time. My prayer is always and will always be: Lord open my eyes to see Your wonder.

Do not confine God to our calendar time. He works all the time.

The crowd was talking about Jesus. (7:40-44) Many believed He was the Promised One. They talked about His place of birth. Most people knew He was from Nazareth. Only a bit deeper investigation would have proved that He was indeed born in Bethlehem. They knew that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem according to the prophecy.

Never shy away from investigation. Jesus invited Thomas to put his hand in His wounds. (John 20:27) Jesus will never rebuke you for asking questions. He promised that you shall receive, when you ask. (Matthew 7:7)

The officers were amazed by the teachings of Jesus. They could not bring themselves so far to arrest Him. To hear Jesus speak will change your life.

The leaders reacted with contempt and insults towards the officers and towards Nicodemus. Their aristocratic attitude, intellectual snobbery and spiritual pride caused the Pharisees to look down on the ordinary man and on the region of Galilee. They did not even mix with them to bring them the Law that they held in such high esteem.

What they are saying: If you count for anything intellectually or academically, you would not be swayed by Jesus. Isn’t it exactly the argument today?

Is number any indication of truth or worth? The mob turned away, then welcomed Him into Jerusalem and then shouted for crucifixion.

We can never follow the mob. Not even in church. Do we follow the people or the Man, Jesus? Will you find Him in our churches?

Even Nicodemus defended Jesus timidly. He defended the right for the officers to listen and decide, but the fury of insult and snobbery against Galilee, shut him up.

How will we confess loyalty to Christ in the face of opposition? Only by the power of the Holy Spirit will we resist the drawing power of popular opinion and the foolish superficial conclusions of the mob. He will convict us of righteousness, sin and judgment. Scripture and our testimony are witnesses to the goodness of God.

Jesus went on teaching. Early in the morning he was back at the Temple teaching. The people came…

 

 

 

 

110. Know that you know – no doubt.

Many times when I read about Jesus’ walk on earth, I try to imagine how it might have been for the ordinary folk. Caught in the political strife of the day, they struggled to make sense of the Roman government and taxes, being hassled and mistreated as an outpost of a vast empire very impatient with the insubordinate nature of the one thing that distinguishes them from all other nations – their faith. Jesus challenges their faith in a big way, arguing with the church leaders, doing spectacular miracles and preaching a whole new approach.

Maybe some of them found in Him the answer to the deep longing in their hearts for something more, something real in contrast to the rituals and angry laws of the church leaders. They longed for the relationship of Moses, talking to God as a friend and gave up on the possibility that God would intervene again as in the days of Elijah or Nehemiah.

Do you long for something more? Have you been deeply disappointed by the church, church leaders, other Christians, people who pretend to serve God, maybe some who genuinely do and not even realize how hurt and frustrated you feel?

How could they know that this travelling preacher is sent from God? Was there anything then that could convince them and show them the truth? He did not tick the traditional boxes of training in the church, adhering to the strict stipulations of the extensive law-living of the Pharisees, walking importantly in the halls of church politics like the Sanhedrin and chief priests. In fact, He shunned all this and reached out to the very people who longed for change.

How did they know the truth? How could they respond properly to His teaching or to the gossip flying around about Him? They knew any response to Him would bring a clash with the establishment.

We are not very different today. Some churches, as power grabbing organizations, have in so many instances become restrictive and prescriptive. Cults and laws make people slaves of other people while liberty and love are cast aside, by church leaders with controlling and religious spirits tormenting congregations and followers. Those wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15) cruelly use unsuspecting souls for their own sexual and prideful sins to a sickening degree.

How did they know the truth? How do we know the truth? There is only one way, then and now.

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)

God gave us a fail-safe way to know the truth. When He walked the earth, the Holy Spirit was active to draw people with a hungry heart to Him, just the same way the Holy Spirit guide us to the truth.

Here in John 7:15-36 they accuse Him for His lack of education. How could He dare quote Moses to them? What did He know about Moses in any case? They thought they could test Him with their academic requirements.

Jesus told them His authority is God. God is the source of all wisdom. (12:49; 14:10)

All great productions of the human mind and spirit are given by God. If we glory in being self-taught, if we claim that any discovery we have made is our own unaided work, we are, in the last analysis, glorifying only our own reputation and our own selves. The greatest of men think not of the power of their own mind or hand; they think always of the God who told them what they know and taught them what they can do.  [William Barclay – Daily Study Bible]

Only the man who does the will of God can understand His teachings. It is not a theological truth. It is a universal truth. We learn by choosing and doing. If we want to understand everything before we start, we would never start.

In the debate between the leaders of the Jews and Jesus, He does not answer the accusations of the crowd. He recognizes their madness and persecution mania. He also does not answer the bystander interjections.

The Law says circumcision should take place on the eighth day – what if that is the Sabbath? If the leaders can “break” the law with circumcision, then why can’t He “break” the law with healing?

Jesus uses argument. He wants them to see deeper and not judge superficially with all their old “weapons” of the law. (Matthew 21:23-27)

The crowd is surprised to see Jesus go on preaching. They knew that the hostility of the church was not something to play around with. They realized His courage and therefore thought He might be the Messiah.

Where does He come from? Everybody knew He came from Nazareth. It was a popular belief that the Messiah would burst upon the scene and no one would know from where. They accepted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but otherwise His growing up should be a mystery. Jesus did not fit in with their mysterious teachings and superstitions.

They sought God in the abnormal. They could not see Him in the ordinary. Christianity teaches God in the everyday. If He were only in the abnormal and mysterious we would miss Him in most of our day. He is in the detail of the day, the ordinary day – He is never absent.

 Jesus answered by saying two things: They know where He comes from, but He also comes from God. They do not know God, but He did. It was a terrible insult to tell God’s people that they didn’t know God. Jesus made the claim to stand in a very unique relationship with God.

Now Jesus’ “transgression” was even greater. He was not just a human lawbreaker; He was a blasphemer. He was talking like no human had the right to speak.

Some of the crowd believed. They believed the wonders they saw and recognized His authority. That made the leaders mad. They sent soldiers to arrest Him. He said they would not find Him. Jesus was fully in control over the timing of His ministry and death. His death was marked on the calendar of heaven and would not take place a moment before the appointed time.

They looked with earthly eyes, when He talked about higher things like the resurrection and the ascension. They thought He might go to the Greeks and be part of the Diaspora. There were dispersed Jews all over the world.

Could there be a day when you would seek and NOT find? He promised to be found. He promised it to everyone who seeks with the deep desire of the heart. (Isaiah 55:6, Matthew 7:7)

At the grave the words: He is not here, was uttered by the angel. It was the only time in the entire history that those words could make sense. It was good news, for the human God has conquered death once and for all. God is everywhere and He is waiting for the call of your heart. Never believe the doubting thought that He is ignoring you or your prayer.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, they had to wait on the Holy Spirit for the power to take the mission forward. (Acts 1) The Holy Spirit divided to fill each of them, just like today.

By His Spirit, His very breath, He is in us and around us. He will lead us to the truth. That is how we know that we know.

 

 

 

 

By the way…words of life.

Dear Pebble pals,

I would like to share something very personal with you.

I would like you to think about the following. We will continue our study of the Gospel of John next week.

We are in the midst of the most important weekend of the Christian calendar. For years I have asked the Lord to teach me something new about the Cross every Easter. This year and the end of last year has not been smooth sailing and many things happened that I could never have foreseen.

For many reasons I have been more away than home since we celebrated the start of 2018.

I would like to share one event with you and the circumstances around it, as a testimony of the work of God in our lives and especially His perfect timing. I am deeply convinced that next to the Word of Scripture itself, the most powerful words in this world are those of a testimony of grace and outcome.

On February 11 this year my sister died. She is much older than I am, but we were very close. I am the youngest of four siblings. We had two brothers. My one brother died years ago in a freak accident at the age of 31. My eldest brother is closer to my sister in age and I know he misses her very much. We all serve God with conviction and commitment. Sometimes when we got together it was like a blessed church service as we shared the wonder of God’s work and grace in our lives.

My sister had several health challenges in her life, amongst others breast cancer at the age of 35 when her two boys were just seven and five years old. She fought bravely and with radical surgery that left her quite scarred, she has lived cancer free to the age of 75.

Throughout last year we noticed that she walks slower and becomes more and more inactive. It was worrying and I know she tried to walk more and move more to fight the tiredness and sluggishness that she was experiencing. She lost her husband in 2011 and was living alone in a cottage in a beautiful retirement village where she could take walks, close to shops where she could shop for herself.

One day towards the end of September last year she went to the Mall nearby to do grocery shopping. She said she decided to walk through the whole Mall for exercise and then do the shopping and drive home. She did it all and was approaching her car with a supermarket cart in the undercover parking garage when everything went black.

The next part of the story has to be told by the two testimonies that I am going to include for you. It is written by people who are called angels in our family, sent by God to be at the right time at the right place to do what it took to save my sister’s life for an extension of only four months, during which she could enjoy all her children and the rest of her family over Christmas and New Year.

The first account is the husband and the next one is that of the wife of the same event. He is writing the letter to my sister’s sons.

I am writing this letter to record something that can be passed on to your children and your children’s children.

 This is not a mystical story of fantasy but an account of how God works in our lives, and if you doubt there is a God then try and analyze the possibility of this account being coincidence. Your mother and my wife were players in God’s plan that you all would have the time over Xmas to get together as a family almost like there was unfinished things God wanted answered.

 I am a Scot and was brought up leaning slightly to the right as a “Presbyterian” with both my feet planted firmly on the ground and definitely not belonging to the group who analyze our daily living looking for miracles, and God’s signs, so it is only fitting that I should write this account.

 Starting at the beginning, and looking at the events leading up to my wife and your mother getting together, has to be looked at in detail to begin to understand the exquisite timing and finite detail that was in place.

I am not a lover of modern technology and my fancy I-phone was giving trouble. I had to revert to shouting as no one could hear me. My wife insisted I get it seen to, and as there was a I-phone shop in the Mall, off I went. The Mall is a real mess and the underground parking is badly lit and very, very confusing and I ended up parking miles away from the shops which did nothing to alleviate my already short fuse. I patiently stood in a queue like a lost sheep. When I eventually got to the front of the queue, I was told that I needed to make an appointment.

 Needless to say this did not end well and I stomped out telling everyone who was prepared to listen that I was moving my loyalty to Samsung.

 It took me over an hour to find my car and by that time I was a wreck.

Where are we going with this screed well have patience and all will be revealed.

 The next afternoon my wife insisted that I go back and get my phone repaired. I was not prepared to admit that to go back to that hell hole was bordering on me going insane and I asked her to please come with me. We have a mature relationship and I was told in no uncertain manner that she had better things to do than hold my hand in the underground car park.

 In the next few moments the power drops out at the house. My wife is interrupted in her work and I haven’t left. We stay in a fancy estate and seldom have power problems but on this occasion we had two in quick succession and after the second one it didn’t come back on.

 Once again I ask in a pleading voice for her to consider my plight and come with me to which she concedes providing I behave myself.

 Normally a trip to the Mall is solid traffic and takes up to 50 minutes, but on this day and at this time there was no traffic and we flew there. We had stuff to deliver to our daughter, which I wanted to deliver first but my wife insisted we go the Mall. To try and make her understand why I was gone the whole afternoon the day before I wanted to show her exactly where I went in to the underground car park and just how confusing it is.

 As I went down the ramp your mother was pushing her shopping trolley along in front of me and as I looked she fell. Of all the people in the Mall to be in the right place at the right time my wife is by far the person you want as she takes over and has a God given talent for knowing what to do in a stressful situation.

 Both of us were concerned about security as these circumstances lend themselves to unscrupulous criminals taking advantage. My wife had started CPR, which she is very proficient at, and I was trying to get help from the centre. After 10 minutes plus and no life signs I told my wife that I thought it was over and nothing could be done. Still she persevered and one of the highlights of my life was to see your mother come back to life, flicker her eyes and the colour come back into her cheeks.

 No words can express when you are in the presence of God and the crowd gasps at the miracle we were witnessing. Time stood still for me as I looked in wonder as my wife and your mum started to talk. When you read of the miracles that Jesus performed it doesn’t quite sink in but on this day it really sunk in and all of us felt the presence of God.

 To finish this account of one of the most beautiful things that I have been privy to see, I feel it was a privilege and honour. I know that whatever the reason for the extension of her life for a few months, it was God’s desire that she spend the time with you.

 She now is by God’s side.

 Finally try and work out the odds leading up to our meeting your mum at that exact time with all the background. You cannot rationalize it and let the doubting Thomas’s try and fathom it out.

 We thank you for inviting us to the funeral and I could not but help thinking that this was a joyous occasion and that she would have agreed whole heartedly with the gathering of the family with fond memories.

 What a pleasure it was to be a small part in God’s plan.

 

The following is his wife’s account of the same event.

God has a PLAN!

Sometimes God uses us in really amazing ways.  I was used by God just recently.  And trust me, I was worse than Jonah.  I ran and ran.  God won the battle with me and this is the story.

It was a Monday last year in late September.  My husband has an I-phone and every day I marvel that a person more unsuitable to this type of technology was persuaded to think he could master this device.  Shows how branding and advertising really pay off!

To get to the story.  His phone was giving him a really hard time.  I suspected a software upgrade was required.  Anyway the whole of the Monday he yelled into his phone.  I suffered this throughout the day.  Eventually, I said ” Sweetie, please go into town and get it fixed.” If you know anything about our nearest Mall, it is a nightmare. The road from our house to the mall is around 24 kilometers of which six kilometers were under construction for the past two years.

So off he went.  After about two hours I got a frantic phone call.  (He had used my car).  “What is your car registration number?”  I gave it to him.  “I have lost the car” he said.  “The parking is chaos and under construction and I have been walking around for the last hour and I can’t find it”

Now there are six brand new parking levels, none of which are marked or signposted and no entrances are yet marked.  It is still under construction.

“Call the security guards and they can help you,” I suggested.  Around 7 pm that night he arrived home. He was in a truly foul mood.  And, you guessed it, the phone was still not working.  That is a story for another day.

Tuesday he yelled into the phone.  Actually he couldn’t hear anyone and they could not hear him.  Wednesday was unbearable.  He yelled and yelled.

On Thursday morning I woke up to no electricity.  This is a very rare occurrence where we live.  I was not in the best of moods as I had listened to yelling for three days solidly and now I could not do my work.  This was really the last straw.  I did all the tasks that did not require any electricity.  (Walk the dogs, make breakfast on a gas stove, make beds, dust, mop etc.).

By 9am the electricity was back on and I could get onto my computer and work. I also had curtains to finish for my daughter who was expecting her first child.   So I worked solidly with my husband yelling around the house.

We have lived here for five years and we have never had two power failures in one day.   It just does not happen.  I had finished my work on my computer and I was just settling down to do my work on my sewing machine.  My husband appeared behind me.  “Please come with me to town”, he said.

“I need to sew and finish these curtains,” I said.  Just as I said it the power went out again.

“Well,” said my darling husband.  “Now, will you please go with me”.  “All right,” I reluctantly agreed.

We loaded washing into the car that I had done during the week for my other daughter whose husband had an accident and broke his neck a few years ago.  She and her husband are always so cheery that I love to help them in these small ways.

The ride to the Mall would always be around 50 minutes to one hour because of the road works.  We flew to the Mall in under 20 minutes.  As we turned into the road for the Mall, my husband asked;  “Shall we drop off the washing first”.  “No,” I said.  “Go straight to the Mall and we can drop off the washing afterwards”.

We turned into the Mall and he went to the same entrance where he had parked on the Monday. In the far distance, I saw a lady pushing a trolley.  She was walking extremely slowly.  I admired the beautiful way she held herself and she was beautifully dressed.  Then my attention was drawn back to assist in looking for a parking bay.

“The lady has fallen,”  yelled my husband.  I looked forward and she had indeed fallen straight backwards and was lying immobile on the road.  Two security guards rushed up, grabbed her by her arms and started dragging her along the road.  I jumped out of the car and raced up to them.  “Leave her,”  I yelled.  They put her back down on the road.  When I reached her, she was clearly dead.  Her eyes and mouth were open. Her pallor was dreadful.  She was a deathly grey colour.

My husband, who had pulled the car alongside got out and looked down as she lay there. “She is gone,” he said.

I knelt down and felt for a pulse. Nothing.  I put my ear on her face to feel for breath. Nothing.  I don’t know what made me do it.  I pulled her head back gently, pinched her nose and gave her a deep breath.  I then started pressing down on her chest doing compressions.  I was counting.  At about 20 compressions, I breathed again.  Still nothing.  I carried on. By this time a crowd had gathered around.  They were all watching.

I saw one man in the crowd filming me as I came up to give her another breath.  “Stop him,”  I asked my husband.  He walked over and spoke to the man.

Another man sidled in on his haunches.  “Give me her jewelry and I will look after it,”  he said.  “Sir,” I said.  “If you can’t help me, go away”.

I gave her CPR for about 15 minutes.  She was completely unresponsive.  My husband kept telling me that she had gone.  Suddenly a light came on in her eyes and she gave a very gentle little sigh.  “I have her back,”  I said.  I carried on the compressions as her heart was still very fluttery.  I was then asking about the paramedics.  Nothing.  I could hear sirens but they were a long way away.

A little lady came along to me and said: ” I am the hairdresser from the shop above, can I help.” I asked her to look for the lady’s cell phone in her handbag which was next to me.  “Take it up outside” as there was no signal in the parkade.  “Look for any number that she dials a lot and call it.”  Ask for her details.  My husband was nowhere to be seen and I presumed that he had gone out to get a signal to call the paramedics.

I continued with the compressions.  When I felt her heartbeat settle down, I turned her into the recovery position.  I had been talking to her all the time.  I continued talking to her but she was unresponsive for about another 10 minutes.  I remember saying things like “don’t worry sweetheart, you are going to be all right”.   I had kept talking.  Now with her eyes closed I saw the tears on her cheeks.  She whispered:

“Where am I, am I at the airport?”

” No” I replied,  “you are in a parking lot.”

“In Canada” she asked.

“No” I replied ” In the Mall.  What is your name?”  I asked her.

She gave me her name.  She opened her eyes and stared into mine.  I continued talking to her softly telling her the ambulance was on its way.  I could hear sirens blaring.

By this time my husband was back and I asked him to get me something out of the car to put under her head, which was at a very strange angle to the ground.  He got me some of my daughter’s washing.

Then finally the paramedics and ambulance arrived.  I immediately got up and told them that she had had no vital signs for approximately 15 minutes and that I had continued CPR for the entire time.  I told them that she had collapsed about 45 minutes before. They nodded and took over.  They put her on a defibrillator and oxygen.  My husband and I moved off and went to our car.  We waited and watched from a distance.

A young woman who had been watching the whole thing came over and grabbed me and gave me a huge hug. “I have never seen anything like that.  Are you professionally trained?” she asked.  “No,” I said and did not elaborate.  “You saved her life.  It is a miracle.” She stood there with her arms around me crying.  I really felt small.

God was the only way that she survived this.  Yes I knew what to do, but if God did not have a plan for her life, I could not have saved her.

The paramedics were busy with her for a long time.  In the meantime her cousin who had been called by the hairdresser arrived.  Such a really lovely person.  I asked her where they were going to take her.

My husband and I left and went upstairs and got a cup of coffee.  I was emotional, filthy from the parkade and I was doubtful that she would make it.  So very sad.  I phoned the hospital the next day and asked if she had survived.  Yes, was the answer.  I asked if I could visit her and they told me she was in ICU but that I was welcome.

I went to visit her in the hospital that day.  When I walked in she said to the doctors and nurses.  “This is my angel I was telling you about.  She saved my life.”

Now I really felt small.  ” No, I said, I am flesh and blood and worse than Jonah and the whale. I did not want to go to town, but God even put the lights out to make me go and be at your side.”

We both smiled.  “You are my angel” she insisted.

Tragically she passed away four months after the incident.  However, she did spend wonderful quality time with her family who all flew in and spent Christmas with her.

I visited her a number of times in hospital where she underwent major heart surgery.  She was a truly beautiful soul and I will always think of her with love in my heart.

 

 

My dearest readers,

Isn’t this story something wonderful and beautiful? From my side, God gave me the privilege to be with my sister often during this time of illness, even though I live overseas. We always buy our tickets on sale and plan far ahead. I was with her through her surgery and again in January this year for three weeks before she died. I was less than 12 hours home, when I received the news of her passing.

Through all the tears, I felt the grace and the peace that surpasses all understanding. Our God reigns.

 

In that day sing to her,

A vineyard of red wine!

I, the Lord, keep it,
I water it every moment;
Lest any hurt it,
I keep it night and day.             (Isaiah 27:2,3)

 

 

 

 

 

109. And you? What do you have to say?

Talk is cheap, says the old saying. I know it refers to promises made in words and not kept in deeds. For me, it also implies the gossipy chatter about something or someone in the public domain; the safe talk of anonymity that could never commit any person to an opinion that might be quoted or published. Simply put, gossiping about someone famous.

Shakespeare was first to call a person a gossip, describing a person who delights in idle talk; also called a newsmonger or tattler. Very soon the word came to mean the talk about others as news in a small community almost always involved other people. Going so much further back than the times of Shakespeare, one can just imagine the talk in Judea. Maybe news travelled along the tell-a-woman-network, before the telegram or telephone and long before our cable news networks and smart phones with information overload today. The tell-a-woman-network was one of my dad’s favourite jokes.

Whatever we call the chatter, the babble, the prattle of people – it was alive and well in the first century and one of the most important news sources. No wonder Jesus was literally the “talk of the town”. There was just no escaping the lengthy conversations as well as the shorter “have you heard”-versions of any move He made.

People and their opinions were even more so during the times of Festivals. The Festival of the Tabernacles, mentioned here in John 7 took place at the end of September, beginning October, one of the three Fall festivals. Every adult male within a radius of 15 miles of Jerusalem was under obligation to go and all devout Jews from all over. The festival lasted eight days. Jesus’ brothers wanted to convince Him to go, but He was not doing anything He did not see fit for the moment.

He talks about “My time”. There are other places in John where he talks about time and uses the word ōra, which means God’s designated time. (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:27). Such a time was not moveable or avoidable. Here He uses kairos, which means the opportune time, the best time, the fullness of time. He is saying this is not the time, which will give Him the best opportunity for what needs to be done.

So much of life is measured in time. It is luxury to have time off – literally. It gives us a few hours or days for relaxation. Our lives are truly “wound up” in time like old-fashioned clocks and “winding down” is what relax really means. We decide about time. Days are marked on the calendar for holiday, for birthdays, for weddings and other special occasions. That is our chronos time, countable time.

Jesus decides about His time on a much deeper level. His calling and ministry determines when He does something. He does not mark it on an earthly calendar. He lives according to God’s calendar – the best time (ōra). When God’s timing determines the outcome, it is in the fullness of time – kairos time.

Jesus goes to Jerusalem in His own time. He diligently attended the Festivals. He knew that everyone of them would be fulfilled in His life, death, resurrection and second coming. He went privately, avoiding public scrutiny by arriving late. By choosing His time and He will not be pressurized into anything He does not feel works the best for His mission.

This is important for our dedicated and full trusting relationship with our loving Father.

  • It is impossible to force the hand of Jesus. His disciples wanted Him to show what He can do in the greater Jerusalem. Jesus does not win people’s approval, but the people themselves. Jesus works God’s way.

 

  • It is impossible to treat Jesus with indifference. His brothers were in tune with the world and did not find it uncomfortable. Jesus’ life was a condemnation of the world and His presence would make a big difference in the ordinary ways of things.

In the next verses (7:10-13) various reactions and responses to Jesus are recorded.

  1. His brothers treat Him with tolerant contempt, almost mocking Him.

 

  1. The sheer hatred of the Pharisees and priests shows. Jesus eposes the rivalry between them. They are so desperate to unite against Jesus, they suddenly stand together. They loved their own systems and hated anything that could diminish their standing in society. The Sadducees were political. All the priests were Sadducees. They did not observe the Pharisaic rules. They collaborated with the Romans and lived very luxuriously. Their interests were much more important than God.

 

  1. The deep desire to eliminate Jesus (John 7:30,32) develops within the various groups. Every person can either submit or destroy. Christ is higher than anything else. Neutrality is not possible.

 

  1. An arrogant contempt for His teaching is expressed. Jesus had no right to lay down the law. He did not know the culture, no training in the rabbinic schools. They were academic snobs. We have to remember how many of the great poets, artists, writers and evangelists had no training at all. We never look down on training and studies, neither elevates it to superiority to save and redeem. It is not always the key.

 

  1. The reaction of the crowd is mixed. Some show interest (7:11) and some initiate discussion (7:12).

To argue the good and bad of a matter can shape your thoughts. Could a person progress from discussing to knowing? Religion can often be a matter of argument. There is an important difference between gossip and discussion.

What is gossip? Is it always negative? Maybe just that change of tone in the voice could make the tale your telling a lie. Do we always convey the words of others truthfully in the same spirit it was said? Difficult!

We should stay away from idle talk says Timothy (1:6) and Titus (1:10) and categorize the idle talkers with the deceivers.

Not everything we say about other people is necessarily bad. I have often complimented someone knowing that it will be repeated to that person. It was my way of showing appreciation for someone. Words could be so wonderful and encouraging, building up instead of breaking down. Please read James 3.

One of my favourite verses in the Bible is on talking about the Lord and the magnificent consequences of “good gossip”. A wonderful action by the Scribe of Heaven when the Lord listened in to a “good gossip” – for sure not idle talk, which is defined as foolish and irrelevant talk.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another,
And the Lord listened and heard them;
So a book of remembrance was written before Him
For those who fear the Lord
And who meditate on His name. (Malachi 3:16, also 17,18)

Let us go back to John 7 and look at the outcome of the discussion and the verdict. Some said:

  1. He is a good man (7:12). He was so much more than that.

 

  1. He is a prophet (7:40). A prophet says: God says. Jesus says: I say. Jesus was not acting in delegated authority. He was indeed God Himself.

 

  1. He is a deluded madman (7:20). He was either the only sane person or mad. He chose a cross over power. He was a suffering servant instead of a conquering king. He turned the world’s standards upside down. He brought supreme sanity into a mad world.

 

  1. He was a seducer. He was leading people away from true religion. He was accused of every crime against the religion of the day: Sabbath-breaker, glutton and drunkard, having disreputable friends and destroying orthodoxy.

 

  1. He was a man of courage (7:26). He defied convention and was different. He had the physical courage to bear pain. He had the courage to stay the course when people abandoned Him. When He entered Jerusalem triumphantly, He knew He was entering the lion’s den. He feared God so much; he never feared the face of any man.

 

  1. He had a most dynamic personality (7:46). He went into His arrest empty-handed. Power flowed from Him. His arresting contingent was more bewildered.

 

  1. He was Christ – the anointed One. It is a fact – plain and simple.

 

There were other reactions as well:

  1. The crowds reacted in fear (7:13). The word used for talking is literally “murmuring”. It was muttering, jumbled speech just like the grumbling of Israel in the desert. We should not be afraid to speak out.

 

  1. A certain number of the crowd believed (7:31). They could not deny the evidence. They overcame the prejudice and fear.

 

  1. Nicodemus defended Jesus (7:50). He was a lone voice. If we stand up for Jesus it is for our own strength, not for Him. God does not need us as His vindication. Our own testimonies as well as those of others strengthen us. When we talk about the Lord, our own spirit and soul benefit.

 

The words of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:

Listen, for I will speak of excellent things,
And from the opening of my lips will come right things;
For my mouth will speak truth;
Wickedness is an abomination to my lips.

All the words of my mouth are with righteousness;

Nothing crooked or perverse is in them.

 

Pray with me the words of the Psalmist (19:14):

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.