141. Hear…the sound of abundance

[Christmas 2018]

I wonder whether we hear anything these days.  When I was growing up my father taught me that ignoring people is bad manners.  I had to look someone in the eye while that person was talking to me.  It was almost like rejection or at least grave insult when you did not greet properly on arrival and departure.   When we give our attention we give value and acceptance to the people around us.   Today people might easily continue on their phone or tablet without looking up, or concentrate on the TV while their kids and family are around. Where is our attention? What do we hear?

Jesus often talked about ears and hearing. His regular warning statement: let him who have ears, hear, is repeated in every message to the churches in Revelation, in other words the church today.  Jesus also quoted the prophet Isaiah (6:9,10) in Matthew (13:14,15).

‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’

These words of Jesus bug me.  He links healing to hearing.  Is this not a very good time to fine-tune our hearing?  In the humming and drumming, the clamour and confusion of Christmas shopping and songs, the true message – the healing of your life by the baby in the crib – gets lost.

Christmas is important.  It is “our” feast, we Christians, even within the secular hijacking of the elements of this birthday of all times. We are never victims of this world.  We give Christmas content and we are in control.  We celebrate with the voice of the Holy Spirit in our ears.

My excitement every Christmas and Easter is compounded by my decision some years ago to trust God to learn something brand new about Him and the Feast I am busy with.  I wait for a “new” word from His mouth.  We cannot be satisfied with what we know.  We press on for new things.

God is faithful.   He never disappoints!  I am writing the word that burns in my heart.

A few weeks ago I switched on the television on Daystar Canada, a spiritual channel.  Coincidentally I hit the beginning of a programme of somebody I knew from long ago.  He is not one of my favourites, but before I flipped the channel, I thought it would be interesting to see where his ministry is now.  It is always very encouraging for me to see ministries develop and grow over many years.  One day I will stand before the Throne with all of them and say the precious words of Paul:

 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

So many of my friends have rejected the faith of their upbringing.  They have fallen into the trap of post-modernism and rejected the truth of the Gospel and everything of value.  It is such a privilege to say: I have kept the faith.

Back to my television programme.  The preacher opens his Bible and reads from one of my very favourite chapters about Elijah and the slaying of the Baal priests.  I often think on my unbelieving friends and the false gods they worship.  Priests of false gods spread the lies that keep people in bondage even today.

As he reads the chapter in 1 Kings, the words of the Word wash over me and I truly “hear” the Lord speak to me. It is indeed a spiritual tingling of the ears!  God’s word is mighty to penetrate between body and soul and joint and marrow. (Hebrews 4:12)

The story needs background to know the impact of the miraculous words of Elijah.  In a nutshell it goes like this:

Ahab is king in Israel, one of the two kingdoms, which is formed after the death of Solomon.  Judah in the south with the two tribes, Judah and Benjamin had twenty kings; only eight of them did good in the eyes of the Lord before they were taken in exile by the Babylonians in 598 BC.  Israel in the north had nineteen kings – all bad before they were taken in exile by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

Throughout the years of decline and backsliding, there were prophets active in both kingdoms.  God always made sure that the remnant of people who stayed true to Him and His precepts was cared for. The call of the prophets went out to the backslidden and sinful people to repent and turn back to God. (2 Kings 19:30,31)

Ahab is described as:  Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him. (1 Kings 16:30)

Ahab’s wife was Jezebel, a Phoenician princess from the splendour of the palace built on the peninsula in Tyre, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  She was a Baal worshipper and to satisfy her needs, Ahab built a Baal temple in Samaria, much to the dismay of his people and the utter vexation of the prophet Elijah who was called to bring God’s word to the regressive religion of Israel.  Elijah was not quiet and therefore a most hated man in the palace.

As a result of the sinfulness of the people and their king, Elijah announced a drought over the land.  God provided for Elijah…

So he went and did according to the word of the Lord, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. And it happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. (1 Kings 17)

After the brook dried up, Elijah resided with a widow in Sidon in ancient Phoenicia, modern day Lebanon.   Her son died and Elijah prayed him back to life, blessing the whole household with enough through the dry years.

After three years, Elijah announced himself at Ahab’s palace, since God said that He would break the drought and send rain to the land.  Elijah invites the king and all the Baal priests to Mount Carmel for a showdown.   God’s power had to be demonstrated to the people in such a way that there would be no doubt about the superiority of God above all other gods.

Elijah conducts the events like a maestro. Two altars are built with the sacrificial animals upon each, but no fire is made.  Fire had to come from God and Baal.  The Baal priests go along with this whole show, which is amazing in itself, as they were not used to miracles.  Maybe they also wanted to find out about the supernatural power of their god.  They pray and beg and cut themselves as was the customs of worship.  They crawl in the dust and do everything that they ever practised in the worship of their god for most of the day. Elijah stands by and mocks them in the process.  Read it – it is an amazing account of that day in Israel.

When his turn comes he commands the altar to be soaked with water so that even the trough around it is drenched.  There could be no doubt as to a spark of fire somewhere.  Elijah kneels and asks God to light the altar.  Let us pray with him:

And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said,

Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this daythat You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.”

 Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 

Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”  (1 Kings 18:36-39)

Elijah and the people killed 450 Baal priests that day to rid the land of the lie they represented.

After the slaying of the priests, Elijah says to Ahab:

“Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain.”

The words cut into my heart.

It is Christmas.  There are all sorts of sounds: the bells, the tills, the carols, the excitement of children, the shuffle and shoving in shops, the voices around us asking about plans and menus and gifts.

What do you hear?

In the aftermath of the miraculous events of that day, Elijah hears something nobody else hears.  He hears the unfolding of the Word of God, which he received in a prophetic word, of which there is NO proof or sign.

The king goes to eat and drink, but Elijah and his servant climb the mountain to pray.  There is NO sign of rain.  He prays seven times and sends his servant seven times up the mountain to see if there is anything remotely indicating the coming of rain.  Only the seventh time his servant reports a cloud as big as a man’s hand.  That is enough for Elijah.  He starts running. He acts because his faith senses are sharp and he knows rain is coming to Israel – big time!

Let us pray for God to anoint our ears. I want to hear what God is doing and I do not want to miss His word in this very special time of the year.

Then the Lord said to Samuel: “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.(1 Samuel 3:11)

Are your ears tingling with the sound of abundance?  Abundance is immeasurable and uncountable.  Can you count the raindrops?  Can you count and measure the abundance of God’s creation?  That is exactly what our scientists are doing over centuries and centuries!

Think on God’s abundance.  Believe His abundance is for you.  Give away the abundance that He has already blessed you with.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.  (2 Corinthians 9:8)

 

 

God’s abundance does not sound like anything you have heard before.

When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, [Uncle Andrew] had realized that the noise was a song. And he had disliked the song very much. It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel. Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (“only a lion,” as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make believe that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing—only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world. “Of course it can’t really have been singing,” he thought, “I must have imagined it. I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order. Who ever heard of a lion singing?” And the longer and more beautifully the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said, “Narnia, awake,” he didn’t hear any words: he heard only a snarl. And when the Beasts spoke in answer, he heard only barkings, growlings, baying, and howlings.

 

FromThe Magician’s Nephew

Compiled in A Year with Aslan

 

The Magician’s Nephew. Copyright © 1955 by C. S. Lewis Pte., Ltd. Copyright renewed © 1983 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. A Year With Aslan: Daily Reflections from The Chronicles of Narnia. Copyright © 2010 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Extracts taken from The Chronicles of Narnia. Copyright © C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. 1950-1956. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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140. Deeply and fully covered in love.

[John 21]

You had to know the fishermen of Galilee to write this account.  Nighttime was the best for fishing.  The catch described here is something that often happened on the lake.  The man with the net relied on the call or bell of someone who sat at a higher place to see where the shoals of fish were moving.  Jesus was acting as guide to the fishermen that day.

Jesus is only recognized when He reveals Himself to people.  Maybe the grey of dawn was still too dark for them to see Him clearly.  Again, love brought sight.  John saw and when Peter saw, he ran.  Peter was only in a loincloth like all fishermen when they worked.  He put on his tunic.  To greet somebody was holy (a religious act) and he clothed himself for it.

The chapter was obviously added to emphasize the reality of the resurrection.  Many would say that some of Jesus’ appearances were visions of the disciples, even hallucinations.  The Gospels all insisted that the risen Christ was a real person.  The tomb was empty and Christ had the wounds in His hands and side to prove it.

A vision was unlikely to point out the shoal of fish to the fishermen.  A vision was not likely to make a fire and fry fish on it for a meal to share.  John tells us in the previous chapter how Jesus showed His hands and side.  Jesus insisted that they touch Him to make His resurrection real and undisputed.

Jesus conquered death.  He made sure they had no doubt.

John names the number of fish for a reason.  A catch of 153 fishes had to be divided between the partners on the boat.  It was an exceptionally large catch but there is more.

According to the numbers and words of the ancient world hundred represented the fullness of the flock (Matthew 18:12).  The good seed in fertile ground was hundred-fold.  The number fifty represented the remnant of the Jews and the three is for the Trinity that does it all.

The net is the church, no exclusiveness or selectiveness.  It is big enough for all.  The church should embrace like Jesus did.

For the three times Peter denied the Lord, Jesus gave him three times to confirm his love for the Lord.  He most certainly knew Peter was full of guilt and shame about the denial, and He made sure to bring Peter to a place where love is the topic and not shameful failure.

With each declaration of love Peter received a task.  His declaration was to equip him for the task ahead.  Love is privilege but also responsibility.  In the end his love for Jesus had him die on a cross as well.  He was crucified upside down, because he did not feel worthy to die the same way Jesus did.  Incredibly the Romans obliged.  What courage Peter displayed that day, after the equipping of love on this day and the touch of fire to empower on the day of Pentecost.

Peter’s role in the early church was forever established.  He was a shepherd and he cared deeply for the flock of Jesus.

Jesus asked: Peter do you agapé Me?  Peter answered: Lord I phileo you.

Agapé is the amazing love of God for humankind.
It is defined like this: Unconditional love, love by choice and not by chance. Love by an act of the will. The word denotes unconquerable benevolence and undefeatable goodwill.  Agape will never seek anything but the highest good for fellow mankind.  Agapé (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.  It is as if the word existed in Greek and waited for Jesus to give content to its full meaning.

God loves unconditionally.  Jesus on the cross was proving God’s love in the deepest and most glorious way possible.

Peter knew he was not capable to love that way.  His uncertainty is reflected in the word he uses for love – phileo, which means brotherly love.

The second time Jesus asks: Peter, do you agapé Me? Peter answers: Lord I phileo you.

The third time Jesus asks: Peter, do you phileo Me? Peter answers: Lord, You know all things. You know that I phileo You.

Peter acknowledges his deficient love, very real and very truthful.  He acknowledges that Jesus knows this and there is no point in pretending.

One can almost feel the raw heart to heart communication that cuts to the bone of the matter.  Peter is restored and forgiven.  His relationship with Jesus is cemented in the love he experiences in the words of Jesus.  Jesus puts the whole burden of love for the church that will be birthed on the day of Pentecost on Peter.  He knows Peter is forever changed.  He knows just how deeply this man loves Him.

In the next passage (20:20-24) John says something of words spoken about himself.  Peter was already concerned for his fellow disciples and John was young.  Some say John was only 15 or 16 when he met Jesus.  Jesus tells Peter not to worry about his brethren.  Jesus will look after His own.

And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.(John 10:28)

John, while writing this Gospel, bears witness to all this.  He was the one to write in his old age in Ephesus.  He was also the one looking after Mary.

Christianity is sealed in experience.  Meeting Jesus is the foundation of the Christian life.

Jesus says here: Do not worry about the task given to someone else. Your job is to follow me and do what I have given you to do.  Jesus is the perfect shepherd over His church and us.  He will manage our ministry.  If we venture out to minister like others or try to be something else than he ordained us to be, we are set up for failure and disappointment.  We cannot manage the whole church, big trends or doctrine.  We must do what the Holy Spirit gives us to do.

Christ is limitless.   His resurrection is real.  His church is universal.  No one competes in the Kingdom.  Peter is the shepherd and John is the witness.

John thinks upon the splendour of Jesus and knows that he could write to us so that we could only grasp a fragment of who Jesus really is.  He will reveal Himself.  The world can never fully comprehend.

When you think you know, then know that He is much, much more.

Our mind and our books fail miserably when we have to describe the indescribable.

John ends with the innumerable triumphs, the inexhaustible power, and the limitless grace of Jesus Christ. [William Barclay]

 

This brings us to the end of the study of John.  I hope that the many months we studied Revelation and the Gospel of John will serve as an inspiration for more deep diving into  the powerful Word of God.

 

 

 

 

 

139. Go ahead…doubt and ask.

[John 20]

The disciples were together in fear (20:19-23).

They listened to the sounds of the street, also at night. When would the soldiers come?

It was in this state of fearful waiting that they heard Mary knock.  Her familiar female voice prompted them to open for her, hear her incredible news and race to the tomb to confirm what she said.  They went back to the house where they stayed behind locked doors to hang around for events to unfold.  What else could they do?

Suddenly Jesus in their midst without knocking with a normal greeting: Peace be with you. (Hebrew: Shalom).  This greeting meant so much more than the absence of trouble.  It meant that God would give you every good thing. It is the pronouncement of a blessing in every greeting.  As casual as if He said: Hi guys!

John tells of their joy to see Him and then on to serious future planning.  I can easily imagine that the moments of wonder and awe lasted a while. Every one of His disciples most probably looked Him in the eye with an uncontrolled mix of emotions experiencing heaven and earth in the same moment. In am convinced that all fear and uncertainty evaporated in the powerful presence of Jesus.

The sending forth meant that the church is the body of Christ.  Jesus showed us the Father, now He was going back and the body must do His work. (Ephesians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 12:12).  The church is sent with the message, the mouth of God, the foot soldier and His hands. Jesus works in and through His church.

The church needs Jesus. It is where we live in the power, authority and miraculous outcome of God himself.  As Jesus came from God, so the church comes from Jesus.  The church can only exist in perfect love and obedience.  It is the message of Jesus, nothing else. Nothing man-made is sustainable. It must be God-ordained to be eternal and powerful.

He breathed on them.  The Holy Spirit is the breath of God for life. God breathed into Adam (Genesis 2:7).  He breathed on the dead bones by the wind (Ezekiel 37:9).  In John 3 Jesus compared the work of the Holy Spirit with the wind – mostly unexplainable and invisible.  The Holy Spirit is His breath – Hebrew = ruach.  The Holy Spirit is the very life of God in us to fully equip the church for the task.  Jesus himself said we shall receive power (Acts 1:8).  Our testimony is worthless without the breath of God.

The Church must convey the message of forgiveness.  We interpret the message of God.  It will be true and powerful only in as much as we dwell in the presence of God.  When the church proclaims forgiveness when a person is penitent, it is the message of forgiveness, not the act of forgiving. Preaching is grace and mercy, but also warning and exhortation.

THOMAS

Thomas knew death was coming.  He said so in Bethany (John 11:16).  He has been labeled the doubting Thomasby men, NOT Jesus.  Thomas loved Jesus.  There is no doubt about that.  He knew what was coming in Jerusalem and when it played out, he was devastated like the others.  He might have wanted some time alone, and therefore withdrew from fellowship. He missed the first appearance.  We need to be in fellowship with our sorrow and disappointment.  There they will carry us to the face of God Himself.

He hears the news from the others.  It sounded too good to be true.  He speaks his doubt: he will believe when he sees.  He wants to touch the wounds and make sure it is not an impostor.  (There is no mention of nails in Jesus’ feet.  The feet were usually not nailed, only bound.)

Thomas is very anxious to establish the truth. He cannot base his whole life and the profound impact of Jesus on his life on a lie.  He has to make a hundred percent sure that the resurrection is the truth.  He is not different from all the millions that came after him in the history of Christianity.

Another week passes and this time Thomas is present.  There in community with his brothers, he experiences his deepest desire.  Jesus knows his heart and treats him special.  He appears exactly as previously.

Jesus invites him to investigate.  He will always invite to investigate. He is the answer to every possible question and He is not stingy with answers.  Don’t be afraid.

Think and imagine the detail of this meeting.  Thomas falls down and says:  My Lord and my God. Do you think he touched the wounds?  I think the answer was in Jesus’ voice and face.

It is the same today.  All our answers are in His presence, His voice and His eye on us. (Psalms 32:8)

Thomas refuses to be dragged into something he does not understand.  He is strong and wants to come to his own conclusion.  Jesus respects this and invites him to investigate.  Thomas is honest to the bone.  He had to be sure.  His faith is based on truth, not on stories of others and things that doesn’t make sense.

When he received his confirmation, he surrendered in victorious worship.  His faith is based on full revelation and worship flows spontaneously.

The words of Jesus to Thomas have inspired generations of believerswho could not see Him in the flesh.

 Jesus said to him,  “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”(John 20:29)

We don’t know what happened to Thomas.  There are stories that the disciples divided to world to preach to all and India fell to Thomas.  There is a church in the south of India whose history traces back to him.

Faith came to him in a powerful and personal way.  Jesus revealed himself to him.  This is still true for today.  We can go to the ends of the earth in our spiritual journey when we have encountered Jesus face to face.

LAST WORDS (20:30-31)

It is clear that the Gospel concludes here.  John 21 was written as an appendix.

These words set out the aim of the Gospels as a whole.

It was never intended to be a full account of the life of Jesus.  It is not a day-by-day but a selective history to show what He was like and what He did.

The Gospels were not meant as biographies.  The aim of the words is not to give information, but to communicate life.  It is to give life to the image of Jesus so that the reader can meet Him personally to learn from Him directly and experience true life through Him.

We read to know God, not to learn history.

 

 

138. He does what He said He would do.

[John 20]

THE RESURRECTION

Christianity as a whole is based on the Resurrection.

It was customary to visit the tomb for three days after the burial.  They also believed that the spirit of the person hovered for three days and only then departed.  Thereafter the body would become unrecognizable through decay.

For Jesus they could not make the journey on the second day, the Sabbath.  It would mean they would break the law. On Sunday morning Mary came early. The Greek is proi, which means the last of the four watches between three and six am.  The sky was still dark grey but she couldn’t wait any longer.

Mary Magdalene loved Jesus.  She was liberated, healed, redeemed and whole and she will never forget the Man who made it all possible.

She was amazed and shocked.  Tombs in ancient times were hewn out of rock and closed by a huge circular rock running in a groove in the ground to close the opening.  The authorities sealed and guarded the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 27:66).

Mary might have thought the Jewish leaders took the body, but it is unlikely that they would touch a dead body or have anything to do with the dead over the Sabbath.

She had to share the fact that He is not there, so she ran to get Peter and the others.  In the other Gospels it tells of the man or men guarding the tomb who told the women (it was not only Mary) that Jesus is risen (Matthew 28, Mark 16 and Luke 24).  Mark tells of the young man by the grave specifically mentioning Peter’s name.

What follows is the description of a race – by John himself with, most probably, himself in the race.  It reads almost comical.  (John 20:3-8)

Peter was still acknowledged as the leader.   It was to him that Mary went.  Jesus mentioned Peter by name.  He was amongst his brothers.  Even in his failure, defeat and heartbroken state of bewilderment, he found his way back to them. Judas was alone in his suicide. Peter’s denial of Jesus probably spread like wildfire, but he could still, in his deepest brokenness, face his brothers and found solace in their company.  Even in his defeat he was still the leader.

John ran faster; he was younger.  John looked in but Peter ran right on and in, so typical of his nature.  Peter was amazed and still, but John’s mind started working.  If somebody stole the body why did they leave the grave clothes?

The clothes were not disarranged.  The clothes were where the body had been and exactly in the shape of the body – in their folds.  The grave clothes told a whole story of their own.  They looked as if the body has just evaporated from them.   The napkin for the head was folded neatly.  It was folded like the napkin of somebody with the intention to come back to the meal at the table.  The sight spoke to John and he believed.  He saw with his own eyes and believed.

Love is the foundation of faith.  Love brought Mary to the tomb, love made John believe.  Love opened his eyes and mind.

Love is the interpreter of life.  Love knows truth when the mind is still struggling and uncertain.

The scene in the garden where Mary recognizes Jesus is probably one of the most dramatic moments in literature.  Mary was the first to see the risen Christ.  Her love is the driving force of all her actions.

Mary brought the news to the disciples and was probably left behind in the race, but comes back to the garden.  They have already left again, running to the others with the news.  Mary stood weeping.  She didn’t know where to now or what to make of things.  She was confused and bewildered.  She could not recognize this man talking to her through her tears.  Her sorrow blinded her.

In loss we weep for ourselves.  The loved one is with God, no need for tears there.  But we feel the sharp pain of loss.  As long as our tears are lifted up to God so that we do not miss the glory.

Mary’s eyes were on the tomb.  She was looking in the wrong direction.  Our eye must be on heaven and God with us where we will know that our loved one is in His presence.  Tears are good, cry, grieve – but do not despair and keep your eyes on the tomb.

Her conversation reflects her love.  She asks to know where Jesus is.  She asks humbly and respectfully.  She does not mention His name.

She assumes that everyone will know of whom she is talking.  Her whole world begins and ends with the man she loves.

He calls her name.  She knew immediately.  The way He spoke her name was instant recognition.  Her answer was Rabboni (Aramaic for Rabbi or Master).

Jesus instructs Mary not to touch Him (20:11-18).  Just later on in the chapter he invites Thomas to touch Him (20:27).  He says He is flesh and bone (Luke 24:39).  Normally one would say: flesh and blood, but His blood was shed and He never took it back.

In Matthew (28:9) the disciples held His feet and worshipped Him.

The commentators give various reasons for this.  They suggest it might be a mistranslation and might have been intended to be: Do not fear, instead of do not touch.  They also think it might have been Jesus’ instruction to Mary not to hold on to Him too much, since He was on His way to heaven and will not be with her always.  She had to learn to communicate with Him without physical touch.

My own inclination is to accept the explanation that Jesus was on His way to enter heaven triumphantly as described in Revelation 5. He was the first fruit of the church (sheaf of wheat) to wave before the Father, just like at the Feast of the Firstfruits:

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when you come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest.

And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morning after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Leviticus 23:10-11)

The Feast of the Firstfruits is celebrated after the Sabbath in the week of the Passover and the first sheaf of wheat is waved before the priest. Jesus was the first fruit of the harvest of the church and was glorified before the Father.

 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:20)

We have to explain things in calculated time.  In a glorified state Jesus could enter time and leave it again as He wanted to.  He had full control over His glorification.  He was back in His heavenly realm and showed Himself on earth to whom He willed and when He wanted.  He entered the seen from the unseen as He conducted His appearances until the Ascension.

It could be that His words not to touch Him, reflects the heavenly Feast of the Firstfruits.   He entered heaven without human touch to be glorified before the Father in triumphant celebration of His victory.

 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain,having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (Revelation 5:6,7)

Our earthly spiritual rituals as explained in the Word of God have heavenly counterparts.  The New Jerusalem is the perfect cube just like the Ark of the Covenenant, signifying the presence of God.

It is what the church should be – the place where the world enters into the presence of the Most High.

Jesus’ resurrection had actually occurred near or at sunset the previous day as the weekly Sabbath day was ending.  The Sunday is actually not the day of the resurrection, but the celebration of the first fruits.

Jesus ascended to the Father to be accepted formally as the first to be raised from the dead in God’s spiritual harvest of humanity.

 

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[A short explanation of Easter and the origins of eggs and bunnies:

Easter is associated with the Babylonian feast of first fruits, a spring festival when the pagans asked their fertility god Ishtar, where the name Easter comes from for new babies.  The egg hunt is to celebrate the attempts to conceive new life.  Fertile things in nature are worshipped like rabbits.  The people wore new clothes to celebrate the buds on the trees.]

 

 

137. The cross and the grave.

[John 19:17-42]

THE CROSS

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

Jesus died the death most dreaded in the ancient world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE GRAVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

136. The trial of Jesus – Pilate and Herod

[John 18:28-40 and 19:1-16 – Part 2]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SOLDIERS

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

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

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

BARABBAS

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

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

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

 Throughout the centuries this choice was made again and again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

135. The trial of Jesus.

[John 18:28-40 and 19:1-16]  Part 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He executed Jesus to save his job.

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

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

 

 

134. A lonely man, a dark night.

[John 18]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sing the old song:

 Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace

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

 

 

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

 

 

133. Men in the night.

[John 18]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

First, the authorities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If You are the Christ, tell us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

132. Words of glory and truth.

[John17]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hear, precious Pebblepal, and live!

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

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

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

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

We are the instruments of God in action.

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

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

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

Jesus prays further for His disciples:

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

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

He prays for unity.

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

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

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

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

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

He prays for consecration by truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus gives us God’s glory. WOW!

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a faithful saying:

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

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

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

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

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