106. Little is much…abundance.

We so love the success stories of this world – the rags to riches type of thing. Ordinary people becoming rich and famous, commoners marrying royalty to live the fairytale life so many yearn for. Dreams of big money, luxury lives and desirable possessions drive the mad rush towards achievement, life at the top and maybe some rest and peace after all.

Very soon in the ministry of Jesus He was famous and known throughout the land. People talked about Him. He was controversial and He fully recognized His divisive message. In His own words:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

People flocked around Him to admire and to judge. Is it not the same with earthly fame? I sometimes think people yearn for fame, as it is a sure sign of success when their name is on the lips of the masses, without having any idea of the sacrifice to their personal life. Famous people’s lives are in the public domain, unfortunately not just the good, also the mistakes, bad judgment and failures. It is outright cruel.

When life hits hard, it is no fun to read media interpretations of vicious envy and a good measure of “schadenfreude” (joy in the misfortune of others). The man in the street judges and throws the stones, all from the safety of anonymity. Media attention has challenged many people, their strength of person and above all their core values. Living a life of fame should be carefully approached with God’s wisdom for guidance through the volatile and brutal desert of public opinion.

And what about us? We are the man in the street with the stone in our hand. We feel free to gossip and dissect the scandals with no fear of personal sacrifice. If we want to live a life of excellence, gossip on all levels must be confessed and banned from our discussions. The very important principle of Luke 6:31 applies here.

And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

When we gossip, we will be the subjects of gossip. I believe there is a spirit of lying and deceit in every piece of tittle-tattle. My attitude and tone of voice in retelling a story can make it a lie. If we are not careful and fearful before God, we can wound and hurt with the violence of a swinging knife. (James 3). I picture some words in the image of a dagger to the heart, turning it now and then to inflict more pain.

Let us then step up and leave the judgment of famous people to God, lest we are judged by our own harsh words.

In the first verses of John 6 Jesus is found at the Sea of Galilee with a multitude following Him. He retreats to the mountain with His disciples. Jesus getting away from the people implied that He made time for His disciples for in-depth discussions. He made time for prayer. He deliberately avoided arguments with the authorities. Alone time is not defeatist. It is a vital part of living a public life, crucial for straight and God-centered thinking.

From Capernaum to other side of Galilee was about six kilometers. People followed Him. They were astonished about His teaching and yearned for more. They followed on land. The village Bethsaida was near the fords of the river on a plain where the grass was smooth. It became the setting for a miracle.

People made haste to find a good spot. There were bigger crowds as the feast of the Passover was near and everybody was travelling. Pilgrims on their ways to Jerusalem were also among the crowds, choosing a route to avoid Samaria.

The sight of the crowd stirred sympathy in Jesus’ heart. They were hungry and tired. Philip was the man to ask as he came from Bethsaida (John 1:44). Where could they get food? It would cost more than 200 denarii to feed the vast crowd. About four pence made one denarius and that was a day wage for a labourer. It would cost more than six month’s wages to feed the crowd.

Andrew came with the boy carrying five barley loaves and two little fishes. Andrew was always bringing people to Jesus. Barley was the cheapest of all bread and was held in contempt, regarded as the bread of the poor and animals.

The fishes were probably the size of sardines. Pickled fish was staple in Galilee. Fresh fish was a luxury unheard of. Fish could not last without preservation and therefore it was dried and salted.

The people had to sit down, Jesus blessed the food. He was acting as the father of the family and prayed a prayer of thanks for the food. He acknowledged God as the Source of food for the family.

Take a minute to think about your table prayers. When Jesus took the bread and the wine at the Last Supper with His disciples before the crucifixion, He said: remember Me. I believe we pray at the table to remember Jesus and what He has done for us. We should build a unique prayer of gratitude and remembrance for blessing at every meal and not mechanically repeat a senseless rhyme to get it over and done with.

The people received from the disciples. The disciples were an interesting bunch, from a variety of backgrounds. I am sure they distributed the bread in very individual ways, each one with a different approach. They represent the variety in the church of Jesus today. We minister culturally and individually as the situation demands.

The foremost consideration is that we minister the bread from Jesus’ hand.

 The people ate enough. They were filled. The word used for filled means to be filled to repletion, to be completely full after a meal.

 The fragments were gathered. At Jewish feasts it was regular practice to leave something for the servants. The people would have known. Twelve baskets, bottle-shaped baskets without which no Jew left his house were filled with leftovers. The food was more than enough.

There are interesting ways to look at the miracle:

Of course Jesus is the maker of the miracle and multiplied the loaves and fishes. It reminds us of the widow and the oil in 2 Kings 4 where she was set financially free by miraculous multiplication.

Pilgrims and labourers usually carried food with them for kosher requirements. It is very possible that every person had some food with him or her that day. The people were selfish and human. While travelling the food would have been carefully planned for a few days for personal use only. It would have been reckless to share and much safer to keep it for own use. Sharing of food would have been miracle in itself, with no regard to provision for the days to come. To share the food could have been a fearless abandon of the worry and planning where tomorrow’s provision is going to come from. A crowd of selfishness became a sharing feast. The change of heart and freedom from anxiety about provision made the miracle so much more intense.

The meal with divine provision became a sacramental meal with the words of Jesus. Later in the same chapter He speaks of drinking His blood and eating His body. The wonder of His presence made the food different. Ordinary food became spiritual food.

Let us consider the people instrumental in the miracle:

The contrast between Philip and Andrew is distinct. Philip spells out the impossibility of the situation. Andrew brings what he has.

This is SUPER important. What happens if we bring what we have to Jesus with our heart’s cry? Jesus would do what is necessary to provide what is lacking. We provide the material for a miracle.

The boy brought his ridiculously small contribution. Anybody looking at the crowds and his lunch would have laughed at the silly, absurd thought of feeding a multitude with a boy’s lunch.

Jesus only needs what we can give. Are you denying yourself a miracle because you think what you have is not worthy?

 Little is always much in the hands of Christ.

Are you problem orientated? Do you see the complete desperateness of the situation under the banner of realism? People, who do not like miracles, compliment themselves with realism.

Have you thought of the people you brought to Jesus? Do you think of your children and what they might become in the Kingdom?

 

[There is a tale of an old German schoolmaster who, when he entered his class of boys in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. One asked him why he did this. His answer was: “You never know what one of these boys may some day become.” He was right – because one of them was Martin Luther.]

 

 

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105. The One and Only, the One in All.

The package deal, is what we want. We have so many things pre-packaged. Somebody else thought long and hard and put things together to serve a combination of needs. Some may call it a hamper, some may call it the full meal deal, some may call it a wrap up – whatever the goodies inside may be, it is an effort to meet more than one need in one container tied together.

Here in John 5 we start with one of the first longer discourses of the Fourth Gospel. John writes his interpretation of what Jesus meant in all the words spoken to His disciples over the many months of His three-year ministry. John wrote to establish Jesus as the true Messiah, the Promised One, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World and every other title that could have been expected by Jews as well as Gentiles. His writing comes with a half a century of Holy Spirit insight in the life of Jesus, which he witnessed in person.

The passage (5:19-47) is packed with good things, explaining the superior and excellent good news, which is the answer to every query about life all contained in one man, Jesus. He is the only ONE you will ever need.

SON OF MAN

To the Jews who heard this passage it meant that Jesus is the Messiah.

  • Son of Man is a title we hear in Daniel (7:1-14). THE Son of Man – not a son of man.

The visions of Daniel were all about the cruel and ruling empires:

the lion with eagle’s wings was Babylon, the bear with ribs, devouring the nations was the Medes, the leopard with four wings and four heads was the Persians, and the fiercest of beasts with the ten horns and iron teeth was the Macedonian Greeks under Alexander the Great. They will all will pass away. All this cruel and savage reign, that could only be described in terms of beasts, will be replaced with a gentle and peaceful human.

In the coming of Jesus humanity was brought back to its original created purpose.

Between the Testaments there arose a whole literature, which promised the golden age to come in which the Jews called the Messiah the son of man. Jesus called himself the Son of Man. It is a clear claim to be the Messiah.

  • Miracles of healing are associated with the Messiah. (Isaiah 35:6 and Jeremiah 31:8-9).
  • Raising the dead is something that God alone could do . Only God could kill and make alive. Death is in God’s hands. (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1:17, 1 Samuel 2:6, 2 Kings 5:6)
  • Final judgment was also ascribed to the Messiah.

For Jesus to speak like this was an act of the most extraordinary and unique courage. He must have known well that to make claims like this would sound like blasphemy to the orthodox Jewish leaders and the consequence was death. Any man who listened to words like this had only two alternatives – he must either accept Jesus as the Son of God or hate him as a blasphemer.

Jesus’ obedience to the Father is not based on equality or submission of power; it is based on love, as ours should be.

Jesus was confident in his identity – against all the forces of Jewish orthodoxy. He was completely fearless. He could be misunderstood; His words could inflame and endanger His life. He knew full well.

It is more important to fear God than men.

God through Jesus is the giver of life. Not possible to live fully without God. Jesus changes our lives on the deepest level possible, both in this world and the world to come. He is the ALL in one for ALL times.

JUDGMENT

He judges. Jesus’ life and words are judgment in itself. Through Him, judgment of personal sin is solved. To accept Him is life, the ultimate way to peace and happiness. True judgment, how Jesus judges, only happens in full harmony to the will of God. (5:30)

I used to fear judgment. I often wondered how I can relax in the Gospel message if it speaks of judgment. My own sinfulness, especially the realisation of my own unworthiness, made me worry about a judging God.

God comforted me in my fears and revealed to me how this world needs judgment. We cannot confront sin and evil without the clear direction of what is good and right. That is judgment. God’s judgment is the solution to our broken world. It makes it better, not worse.

For us it is difficult to judge fairly. We suffer pride, prejudice, jealousy, intolerance, contempt, ignorance and self-importance. Have you ever seen court procedures and the paperwork involved? It takes thousands upon thousands of pages to come to a conclusion.

God alone is perfect. He knows everything. He judges from perfect love, sitting on the mercy seat.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

Unsupported evidence by only one person is unacceptable (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1). A man cannot state his own case. It is his word against another. We are so privileged to have our case stated by Jesus. He is the Son of Man and have received the authority to judge from the Father (5:26)

SPIRITUAL DEATH

When Jesus was persecuted, He received honour in His suffering and opened up the path of honour through suffering to all of us. It does not matter what life throws at us – Jesus was there and promises hope and salvation from the worst. It is an unquenchable hope and an unconquerable certainty. Amid all the persecution of the early church they never doubted Christ’s ultimate victory.

Jesus is life and He is life now. Without Him death has already in this life, become a reality. We can live with dead works and dead thoughts. This is the core of the Gospel – spiritual death.

Life is promised by a new relationship with

  • God: fear becomes love, distance becomes intimacy;
  • fellow man: hatred becomes love, selfishness becomes service, and bitterness becomes forgiveness;
  • self: weakness becomes strength, frustration becomes achievement and stress becomes peace.

To be spiritually dead means to stop trying to be good. This life is a constant forward push. We can either slip back or move on. To have no courage means slipping back. Spiritual death is to stop feeling, become insensitive, comfortable with evil, with no compassion and a mind shut to truth. Nothing new can change the thinking or learning of such a man and that leads to a blunt conscience. (The best description of the spiritually dead while in this life is found in Ephesians 4:17-19)

This life determines eternity. The hour is now. Our new life in Jesus is for NOW. (5:24,25)

Jesus talks about another witness – meaning God. (5:31-40)

He cites John the Baptist who bore witness to Him.

He talks about a lamp that burns and shines. A lamp is lit, it does not light itself. It is “borrowed” light. The light comes from another source – fire or electricity. The message of John is warm; it was a guide to repentance. A light is temporary; it burns out. John decreased while pointing the way. A true witness burns itself out for God.

Another witness besides John is the witness of Jesus’ works. When John enquired from prison if He is truly the Messiah, Jesus answered that His works will testify as to His authenticity. His works also points to God. God is the supreme witness.

Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. (1 John 5:10)

The Jews were adamant that God is invisible and that no man has seen God, not even Moses (Deuteronomy 4:12). They believed God was only in the conviction of the mind and Jesus expresses that in this passage. It is God’s witness in our hearts regarding Jesus.

SCRIPTURE

To the Jews the Scriptures were everything. Jesus was evident in the Old Testament. They were the best Bible students in the world and they rejected Him – how come?

Here the word for Scriptures is graphe which means autobiography. The Bible is a document written by a divine author by the hands of humans. It is regarded as the eternal voice of God to communicate His character.

How do we read the Bible? With a closed mind, not to find God, but to support an argument? God is revealed throughout history as speaking through the Scripture, but also acting! The Bible is a record of God in action. It is not the words that are holy, it is the story it tells which is holy.

There is only one way to read the Bible and that is with Christ revealed in every chapter. He is the supreme revelation. The Jews were worshipping God’s words alone and not His actions. The words cannot give life; it is the One who speaks them that gives life.

The purpose of the words of Jesus is so that you might be saved. It is all for us, not His own glory that He speaks. He says: I love you and I want to save you.

Before and after Jesus there was a stream of impostors claiming to be the Messiah. Why did they even consider these impostors? Usually a false prophet speaks according to man’s desires. They promise empires, government and material prosperity. Jesus came with a Cross. Jesus died and lives on. The impostors all died and disappeared.

The scribes and the Pharisees desired the praise of men. Everyone recognized them by the way they dressed and behaved; they prayed a certain way; they loved the respectful greetings on the street. They were fully devout, but did not hear the voice of God and did not recognize Jesus. Why?

If a person measures himself by his fellow men, he will not hear God speak.

Jesus points out that Moses writes about Him (5:46). If you read the Scriptures you will find Jesus revealed. Moses himself would have condemned them all. They attached all this value to Moses and did not recognize the One of whom he spoke.

The greatest privilege of the Jews became their greatest condemnation. They had knowledge to no avail. When we have the knowledge, we have the responsibility of acting on it.

 

Dear Pebble pals,

I am travelling for the next month and will be back just after the middle of February. I know that a break brings new inspiration and perspective.

May God bless you richly for seeking Him in His Word. Remember He is always active where we read with a heart focused on Him.

Malachi 3:16-18.

104. An old, old story for the new year.

Let us go back. To our birth? No further back. To the time of our forefathers? Even further back. Well okay, to the time of Jesus on the earth because we are studying the book of John. No, wrong again. Let us go back to the beginning. The beginning of what? The beginning of everything. Let us take our lesson today from the story of Genesis that gives us the believer’s account of Creation, the creation of everything in the mighty Hand and by the majestic Word of our Father.

Why would we go so far back? Is there anything there to learn that could be applicable to modern living? Let me quote our ancient friend and poet David.

Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law. (Psalms 119:18)

Let us look with enlightened eyes to one of the most liberating principles of ancient times with a prayer to apply it to our life this year in order to experience new things from God.

We have discussed the principles of a miracle in our previous piece. Jesus heals the man at the Bath of Bethesda in spite of his 38 years of illness and his focus on a useless superstition. This amazing miracle takes place on the Jewish Sabbath, which is meticulously observed by the church leadership.

We have talked about it in Pebbles before and I quote from: A royal encounter [95]:

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

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

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

With that background let us look at the reaction on the miracle in John 5. The healing of an incurable disease should have been an occasion for joy and gratitude. The news was met with bleak judgment because it took place on the Sabbath. Apart from Jesus “working” in the healing process, the man carried his bed. The law said the Sabbath should be different from other days. The Jews set out thirty-nine different classifications of work, one of which was that it consisted in carrying a burden.

Jeremiah talked about the Sabbath (17:19-27) and so did Nehemiah (13:15-19). In Nehemiah it is clear that he wanted to prohibit trading on the Sabbath. The Rabbi’s (around the time Jesus came) argued that carrying a needle in your robe or walking with false teeth, or your wooden leg is not permitted. Every petty detail was escalated to a matter of life and death.

The healed man under cross-examination said the man who healed him told him to do it and he did not know his identity. Later he met Jesus in the Temple and told the authorities it was He. The poor man’s miracle joy was robbed in an instant as he was trying to save his life from stoning – the punishment for breaking the law. He wanted to say it is not his fault that he broke the law.

The accusations came to Jesus – the verb is in the imperfect tense (5:18), which shows repeated action in the past. John used this story as a sample of what Jesus habitually did.

His defense: God did not stop working on the Sabbath and neither does He.

Another writer said: “The sun shines; the rivers flow; the processes of birth and death go on the Sabbath as on any other day; and that is the work of God.”

 True, according to the creation story, God rested on the seventh day; but he rested from creation. His higher works of judgment and mercy and compassion and love still went on.

Even on the Sabbath God’s love and mercy and compassion act. Jesus is God – it was the most natural thing for Him to reach out and heal in the time of need. How can we live if our compassion and acts of love are suddenly suspended on the day of the Lord? Can it ever make any sense at all?

The Jews reeled in horror – Jesus was putting Himself equal to God. Jesus was teaching that a human must always be helped. There is no greater task than relieving pain and distress. Our compassion is God-like and 24/7. Other work is to be laid aside on the Sabbath – never compassionate work and relieving suffering.

What do you think about the Sabbath here in our 21st Century? Is it applicable to modern living? Are you willing to incline your ear and hear the voice of God speak afresh on this matter? What do you hear?

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13,14)

Just HEAR how The Message makes the case:

“If you watch your step on the Sabbath
    and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
    God’s holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,
    making money, running here and there—
Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!
    Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”
    Yes! God says so!

Remember, we live in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Your Sabbath does not need to be on a Saturday or Sunday specifically. It can even change often as it is practical to observe this joyful weekly feast about the goodness of God.

The underlying principle is that God wants to bless you with rest and for that you need to set apart your time. If you do not enjoy a day where you can “pull yourself together”, sit back and reflect on life and God, do yourself a favour this year and build it into your week.

This might be one of the greater challenges for “something new”.

Jesus told the man to sin no more in case something worse happens to him. For the Jews sin and suffering were connected. They always sought first forgiveness then healing.

To be healed by God in a miraculous way of illness or any other affliction, brings great responsibility to live the life of one who has been richly forgiven. It is not “business as usual” after such a magnificent divine intervention. We do not deserve anything and is given everything in the grace in mercy of our loving Father.

Our life is forever changed to live the grace that has been extended to us miraculously.

Very important: we should never connect sin and suffering in the way the ancient Jews did. We live in a broken world and much suffering comes from the sin and brokenness around us. We are not carrying the burden of the sin of this world; Jesus did that on the cross. We are merely affected by our living space and do not “earn” sickness through our personal sin.

We never “explain” suffering and illness. We ask God to reveal Himself in every situation.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3)

There were those in the church who used their liberty as an excuse for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). There were those who sinned in the confidence that grace would abound (Romans 6:1-18).

There have always been those who have used the love and the forgiveness and the grace of God as an excuse to sin. But we have only to think what God’s forgiveness cost; we have only to look at the Cross of Calvary, to know that we must ever hate sin because every sin breaks again the heart of God. [William Barclay]

Healing comes in the humble prayer of the one who bends his knee before God and Christ. Divine healing is not cheap – Jesus warns the man to live responsibly in his healing and not regard it as a ticket to sinful living.

After the miracle Jesus withdrew; quite literally it meant to turn aside, to bend the head aside, to shun, to avoid. He was slipping away to avoid applause and argument. Sometimes it is good to just walk away. Take your Sabbath.

We are not the “fixers” of wrong living and wrong thinking.

 

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

 

103. Time for a party – of course!

 

The whole world throws a party! It is New Year. If one would like to sit glued to the television you can observe the celebration by fireworks in the various time zones, countdown upon countdown. Lots of bottle popping, elegant parties, drunken parties, dance parties, dress up parties and a public holiday to pick up the pieces and start the year which was so welcomed a few hours previously. Many a heavy sigh is heard in the unseen as the burden of life descends and weighs on the minds and hearts of people.

Has anything changed? Is anything new?

New could mean two things. It could mean: neos – more of the same depicting quantity as in a new pencil but many others already exist or: –

kainos – unique, has never been, depicting quality as in one of a kind.

Is this year going to be the same as always? Are you looking forward to something that has never been; never seen in this world before?

John 5 states that Jesus attended the feast.

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem…

There were three Jewish feasts that were an obligation to Jews living within a fifteen mile radius of Jerusalem: Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of the Tabernacles – two in Spring and one in the Fall. Passover was mid-April and Pentecost seven weeks later. Jesus delighted in the Feasts. Every feast is fulfilled in Him.

The Hebrew word for “feasts” (moadim) literally means “appointed times.” God has carefully planned and orchestrated the timing and sequence of each of these seven feasts to reveal to us a special story. “God’s parties” remind us of His lovingkindness, His provision, His unmerited grace throughout the calendar year. God’s year is marked by seven parties.

The seven feasts of the Jewish calendar all found fulfillment in Jesus. The Feast of the Unleavened bread depicts Jesus’ sinless life, the Passover depicts the Lamb that was slain and the Firstfruits depict the resurrection. Just as the first sheaf of the harvest is waved before the High Priest so Jesus was glorified in heaven after the resurrection as the first fruit of the Church. Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.

The Feast of the Trumpets depicts the announcement through the prophets and the Church of His atonement and second coming), the Atonement (Yom Kippur) depicts the character of the Church as a repenting and forgiven people and the Feast of the Tabernacles depicts the reign of joy and peace through the Church and the wedding feast of the Second Coming).

Feasts are anointed parties, consciously celebrating blessing. We should build them into our year and if we have children or family with us, we should include them when we dish up something special. Just a meal together is marked by the testimony of God’s grace. Blessed is he, who distinguishes between the holy and the ordinary. Make the ordinary holy. Holy means to set it apart for a specific purpose. It is not something falsely elevated to be boring or unreachable. Just go ahead and declare an ordinary meal a celebration of blessing. Say it with joy and praise God in the process.

Psalm 90:12:

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Jesus enters Jerusalem through the sheep gate. It is the gate through which the lambs entered, destined to be slaughtered at the Temple at Passover. He fulfills the symbol of the slain Lamb.

Bethesda could mean House of Mercy or Bethzatha, which means House of the Olive. The pool was deep enough to swim in. Beneath the pool was a sub stream that bubbled now and then. According to the superstition it was believed that an angel stirs the water and the first person to jump in would be healed.

Sound like superstition, but such beliefs were rife in those days. Ancient people were impressed with holy waters. Water was precious and the people held a certain reverence for water.

Jesus was the friend of the friendless. The man had nobody to help. He did not lecture him on his belief in the useless superstition. Jesus just went ahead and healed him.

Events unfolded and words were spoken:

  • Jesus asked if he wanted to be cured. 38 years – maybe his hope died and left him passive and despairing. When healed he had to take up living. Some people are so comfortable in their affliction that they do not want to live normally with all the responsibility of caring for oneself. He responds with a big YES.

 

  • Jesus told him to get up. The power of God never overrules the power of men. Miracles happen when we cooperate with God.

 

  • He had to attempt the impossible. Getting up was probably not the words he was waiting to hear. He lived in defeat for 38 years – for some people a lifetime. What would you like to hear?

 

  • On the word of Christ our own effort becomes the miracle.

 

  • Superstitions are agreements with evil. It is words of defeat spoken over yourself by yourself in words or thoughts.

Let us note very carefully what takes place. This man of defeat and disease agrees with the words Jesus speaks to him and walks away in victory. A moment before he was still in the grip of wrong thinking and negative dependence on evil agreements in false promises of outcome. His meeting with Jesus changes everything. He agrees in thought and responds to the question of Jesus as an expression of his desire for a miracle. In raw faith he attempts the impossible.

Do you believe Jesus when He says He will do something new this year?

Will you attempt the impossible?

 

 “Do not remember the former things,

Nor consider the things of old.

Behold, I will do a new thing,

Now it shall spring forth;

Shall you not know it?

I will even make a road in the wilderness

And rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:18-19)

 

[This story could also be interpreted as an allegory:

The man = people of Israel, the five porches = the law. People are sick under the law. They find shelter but no healing. For 38 years they were wandering in the desert, waiting for the promised land, waiting for the Messiah. The stirring of waters = baptism – rising up healed and redeemed.]

 

John writes it as the truth of actual events. Every story has so much more…

 

 

102. Have yourself a miracle – it is time.

Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work
Among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder. (Isaiah 29:14)

The festive days are now much closer. We need to do some things – pack to travel, prepare for guests, shop the fridge full, pick up the turkey or whatever your fare may comprise.

Christmas is special, that’s for sure. Christian or secular, these are days that interrupt the normal schedule. Days of relaxation, days of family, days of joyous reunions and also days of old wounds, buried anger and deep disappointment.

Where are you this week before Christmas? Are you in a frenzy of activity with a load of things to do and quietly panicky? Are you alone with nothing to look forward to? Is Christmas a mountain of pent up bitterness that has not moved for you? Is this the first Christmas after heartbreaking tragedy? Is it the first Christmas with a new baby in the family?

Wherever and in whatever circumstances you may find yourself in, take time to reflect and experience a miracle. Some or other time a tray full of niceties may be offered to you this Christmas. Even if you cannot look forward to something wonderful in the physical world, God has the miracle tray all ready. We may be very sure of it based on that baby’s birth so long ago in the calculation of earthly time. He is waiting for your call.

Will you be quiet with me for just a little while? Please join the true Feast to hold on to as an anchor for the days to come. The majesty of the miracle in a simple cave or barn in Bethlehem so long ago, echoes to this day.

In this moment of prayer, there is one aspect of the greater message that God calls attention to in my heart to write. Above all else, Christmas is the earthly telescope to see the Father’s heart. His heart is set on this broken world and His eyes are looking for a heart to respond to. His response is a miracle in your life.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

His eye is on you this Christmas. He is actively involved in your private feasting in His presence. He wants to be. Hear how the Psalmist expresses this desire of God (32:8):

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you. (NLT)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye. (NKJV)

We have talked about the rainbow in previous Pebble-pieces. Do you remember we said the rainbow is always there; it depends on how we look? We need a prism, some Godly eyeglasses, to see. Christmas is a miracle prism. If we look through the Christmas prism, we see the rainbow – the full content of the Covenant promise that was made to Noah. The Covenant is the heart of our great God promising to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts choose Him.

Choose Him in this quiet moment we have together and have yourself a miracle. How does it happen?

Let us go to our Bible study in the Gospel of John – not to the nativity story, but to the story of an active Jesus amongst the needs of the people. John 4:46 and further:

And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum…

The man who came is a courtier (basilikos), the word used for a royal official and somebody of high standing at the court of Herod. Jesus was the village carpenter. Jesus was in Cana and this man lived in Capernaum, some twenty miles away. It took him some time to get home.

The scene is odd to say the least. An important man coming over to see a village carpenter was not very likely. Lots of pride is swallowed. It is obvious his need was deep. He gave no thought of what the people would say.

He refused to be discouraged. Jesus’ statement is not very encouraging:

“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”

Jesus was probably talking to the crowd that inevitably collected. He was making sure the man was serious just like He did with the Syro-Phoenician woman in Matthew 15:21-28. If the man turned away in anger it would have been his loss. His faith proved to be real.

His faith transcended his feelings – it is super-important.

This is a nobleman, a high official displaying surprising faith. Was it easy to turn back and just believe the word of this simple carpenter? I think not. He was like a drowning man clutching to hope given to him.

This encounter illustrates the powerful impartation of peace in the words of Jesus. His hope fuelled his faith. Jesus’ promise of healing just had to be true.

He surrendered. He and his whole household believed. He didn’t receive healing and just forgot. It was a complete “revolution” in his house. It could not have been easy around Herod. The news of the healing was bound to get out. He would have had to withstand mockery and accusations of madness.

He faced and accepted the facts. He surrendered to the miracle. His need was met and he honoured the man through whom it came. This is the true Christian life.

We live in the days after the resurrection. We know the power of God. Will you trust Him and surrender to your miracle?

Go ahead and ask Him. 

His eye is already on you. Receive the peace in these words:

 For there is born to you this day in the city of David

a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

 

 

 

 

101. Are you ready for December?

I am writing this piece in the first days of December and somehow it is like it always is. The month is well on its way before I could realize and relish this month of festivities.

I have written on the traditions of Christmas in previous Pebbles pieces. Here is a quote from number 31; something I would like to repeat.

The unspoken, universal announcement has been made. The lights are up, the decoration-plans executed. Retail and wholesale are ready for the harvest and their advertising campaigns spell out the demands of the season. Headaches over gifts and travel plans are painful and real and emphasize the heavy, hurting burden of the so-called time of joy and celebration. Tills and credit card machines deafen the very familiar music in the shopping centres all over the world.

 I don’t have a plan or advice for the secular, empty and sometimes ridiculous celebration of Christmas. As a family we have distanced ourselves from Santa Claus and in stead placed the emphasis on God the Father and the great gift of His son. We do have a tree and other decorations to mark the celebrations, making sure that Jesus is central to everything we do. Gift giving was always limited and balanced – it took great effort to keep it creative and joyful. [Pebbles number 11]

This year, like so many in the past, the tree is up. To me it is the symbol of the stump of Jesse that blossomed and produced the Saviour of the world (Isaiah 11:1).

The Christmas cards will once again go out, proclaiming the events of so long ago. Many, many pageants worldwide will find their Joseph and Mary, baby Jesus, shepherds and angels among the ordinary and everyday to display the simple events of Bethlehem that forever changed the world, whether one believes or not. Within so many pagan societies the spirit of the season, even if it is for gain and greed, displayed in sparkling balls, lights and the giving of gifts, cannot be resisted. Somewhere there in spiritual darkness, a child will again ask… why? Our God reigns, says the prophet Isaiah. God will answer in His particular and spectacular way, in ways we cannot see.

But… we are not ignorant of the truth. We know why and we rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas. We are the church of Jesus. Let us tune in to radio Christmas and hear the bells ringing over the kingdom harvest in the world where we celebrate.

What is on the menu this Christmas? I am sure we are thinking of something good to eat. Traditional fare or something simple – Christmas has developed an entire industry around the food and drink for this one day of the year.

While Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman, the disciples were going to find food. It was clear that all of them were hungry. When they came back they were worried about Jesus not eating. But He is not hungry anymore. He says: My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work

Then He talks about the harvest. Let us eat His words. (John 4:35-38)

The harvest is one of the core themes of the words of Jesus on earth. Here He sees the work of His father in Samaria. He sees the fruit and anointing on His words. He introduces the harvest as symbolic of God’s field, God as a sower was already a theme in the Old Testament. As an example is Hosea’s son’s name – Jizreel, which means: God scatters and sows. The harvest is symbolic of blessing on your labour.

The Jews divided the agricultural year in six parts of two months each for seedtime, winter, spring, harvest, summer and the season of extreme heat. Jesus knew that Sychar was in the midst of a region famous for its corn. Arable land is scarce in Palestine. It takes o only four months from sowing to reaping. He looked over Samaria and talked about the harvest that is ready. Again he contrasts the spiritual to the physical. The harvest in Samaria was ready on all levels.

In the ordinary way of things, men waited for the harvest. In the divine nature of things, the spiritual harvest of Samaria was sudden. The people were hungry for the Word, the Promise and the spiritual food.

Harvest is a time of joy. The sower and the harvester rejoice together. How beautiful the Psalmist declares the promise:

Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.    

He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing,
shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
bringing his sheaves with him.
(Psalms 126:5-6)

Beneath the surface was the dream of a golden age for the Jews. The promised land was not a desert. It was a land “flowing with milk and honey”. The vineyards were to yield the harvest promised so long ago when the spies carried the bunch of grapes to big for one man to carry. The spies and their grapes are the icon of God’s overflowing abundance. The promised land became a desert because of sin and idol worship.

Jesus expanded His vision of the harvest.

The disciples would reap where they have not sown. Jesus’ word and work on the Cross would be the seed and the disciples would go and reap. We are still busy reaping the harvest.

The day will come when the disciples sow and others will reap. Christianity will be “scattered” and “sowed” and others would reap. Never be discouraged if you do not see the harvest. There will always be a harvest. Nothing is ever in vain, even when you do not see results.

Here we are in the month of December. We are reminded of opportunity. The harvest waits. We can never fail to reap the attraction of people to the Word of God.

We are reminded of the challenge for ministry over years with perseverance and commitment. We plant trees and watch them grow, but we cannot imagine how they will be when they are big, hundreds of years old.

John 4:39-42 are verses that express a core value of our ministry in the kingdom. It is one of the outstanding passages to illustrate that hearsay becomes revelation knowledge.

The Samaritans were introduced to the Truth by words that came to them from an unexpected source. Would they have chosen to hear of the Messiah through this woman? Probably not.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent?

As it is written:

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14,15)

Closer intimacy comes with growing knowledge. Once they were introduced they sought His company. They asked Him to stay. To experience Christ does not happen through somebody else. You have to invite Him in.

Discovery and surrender – what a wonderful Christmas combination.

John calls Jesus the Saviour of the world. He is the only one to do so. He is thinking about the Samaritans many years after this incident and is still in awe of the barriers broken down in such a short time.

The title comes from the Old Testament. He is the God of salvation. At the time John was writing, the Roman Emperor took this title for himself.

Jesus was not only a great example. If we have to live up to His example it could be frustrating and discouraging. He was an enabler. He was saviour. He rescued from evil and hopelessness. The Samaritan woman was the example of His saving power. She was labeled and despised. She probably agreed that a good life was beyond her hopes and dreams. Jesus broke the chains of her past and gave her a future. That is some saving power for you!

 

Pebble pals, do not shy away from the celebrations. It does not matter that the date is wrong and the onslaught of godlessness nauseates you. We are never victims. Use the opportunity. The feast is coming – whether you like the way it is done or not. Step into it, mindful and aware, and equip yourself with a word in season [Isaiah 50:4]. Bless everybody whose life you touch.

The harvest is ready. Let us feast with our feet shod in the loveliness of the Gospel of peace so that it is us who brings the good news. It is our party shoes for Christmas (Ephesians 6:15).

Put on your party shoes. Wear your white clothes, your garment of praise embroidered with your testimony of salvation. These are the decorations of our lives – truth and life, kindness and grace, insight and understanding, help in need and so much more of the fullness of the riches in Christ.

Bring them in. Just like the old hymn says:

Sowing in the morning,  sowing seeds of kindness,

Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;

Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,

We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

 

Please listen with me to this old favourite Christmas song so brilliantly performed. Just think how many times this has been sung all over the world.

[Youtube=https://youtu.be/v5mdybeyLVc]

 

100. Free to pray.

Do you zone out as soon as somebody talks about worship? It is just too much. Does God really need hero worship, to hear everyday of my life how great He is? If He is God, why do I have to tell Him and please Him by saying certain words?

Let us consider this woman and her spontaneous mention of worship in the presence of Jesus. Her life is laid bare in the presence of a stranger, a Jew, somebody to be afraid of and yet she recognizes the divine presence of God and she talks about worship.

The Samaritans were so far removed from true worship. They were desperate to be part of something authentic. They knew deep down they weren’t doing well and they did not know how to feed the longing for the real.

Let us look at verses 22-42 of John chapter 4.

The Samaritans rejected the Psalms and the prophets. They accepted only the first five books, which Moses has written. They were accused of superstition, and it was probably true. Over centuries they were so influenced by pagan gods that they added Jehovah to the list of other gods for fear of leaving Him out.

Fear and ignorance is the opposite of love and knowledge.

False worship is to selectively choose what to believe and to omit the rest. A one-sided religion justifies anything from scripture.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. (1 Peter 3:15)

True worship is hope with reason behind it.

They were so superstitious that they worshipped out of fear. Their religion was not based on the desire to serve or to love. For them it was better to play it safe. Worship was based on fear not love.

Jesus says: True worship is spiritual because God is spirit. Things are not important, the heart is.

One of the commentaries says it this way: (my emphasis)

It is the spirit of a man, which is the source of his highest dreams and thoughts and ideals and desires. The true worship is when man, through his spirit, attains to friendship and intimacy with God. Genuine worship does not consist in coming to a certain place nor in going through a certain ritual or liturgy nor even in bringing certain gifts. True worship is when the spirit, the immortal and invisible part of man, speaks to and meets with God, himself immortal and invisible.

The woman becomes aware of the wonder of the words spoken to her. She recognizes that it could only come from someone as special as the Messiah, a deep longing and expectation also among the Samaritans. This opens the way for Jesus to reveal Himself to her. Jesus is her dream coming true.

The disciples were probably in state of bewilderment seeing Jesus talking to a woman. The Rabbis despised women and held them incapable of real teaching, saying: Better that the words of the law should be burned than deliver to women. By Rabbinic standards Jesus could hardly have done a more shatteringly unconventional thing than to talk to this woman.

The disciples did not talk to the woman. They did not ask what she wanted or asked Jesus why He was talking to her. They were perhaps getting used to His surprising ways. This is a wonderful step towards true discipleship – not to question why and to bury old prejudices and conventions.

The woman hastened back to the village. She was changed. She left her water jar. It means she planned on coming back.

She faced her own sinful nature (Luke 5:8). In the presence of Jesus we are at once confronted and liberated. She was overawed by Jesus’ ability to see inside her life and liberated by getting rid of her secrets. Bondage is often secret.

Jesus reveals not only sin, but also potential. When bondage flees, our real life can start. He chooses a woman to reveal himself as the Messiah to Samaria.

She wanted to share her discovery. Her shame was dealt with in the presence of Jesus. She could face the world again.

With His disciples he again follows the pattern of conversation, contrasting the physical and spiritual. Jesus’ tiredness disappeared when He sensed the need in the woman.

Real food is to do the will of God. Jesus did it perfectly. He liked what God liked.

He was sent by God. He was under orders. That was His food and it fully satisfied Him. John 5:38 He talks about the works of His father; John 17:4 He says He has finished the work of His father; John 6:38 He states that He was doing the will of Him who sent me; John 10:18 He says He lives the commandment He received from His Father; John 14:23 He finds satisfaction only in doing the commandments of the One he loves.

For us doing the will of God is the only way to peace, happiness and powerful, victorious lives.

True worship is to hear the Word in the presence of our Lord and pray into His words.

 Holy Spirit prayer is to listen and then pray.

  Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

Worship in Spirit and Truth comes by true revelation – up close and personal. We need to chat to Jesus by the well of living water. It is individual, unique and specific. Just like the Samaritans, we need to get personal and “see” Him in our prayer.

There was no doubt when they saw Him. All ritual and uncertainty were dealt with in His presence.

Everything is hearsay until:

I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
(Job 42:5)

 

Sit where you are, close your eyes and use your Spirit-controlled imagination to see Jesus sitting with you. Take His hand, rest you head on His lap. Hold on to your picture, while taking your thoughts captive and bring your life to Him. Tell Him you surrender again.

Sitting quietly in His presence, take note of the thoughts presenting themselves in your mind. Bring them all to Him. Pray about it. If it is something disturbing or sinful, pray into that and confess.

Ask Him to take the burden of sin and “see” in the Spirit how your sin and worries disappear into His body on the cross. Seal your prayer with His blood. Our trademark is the empty cross, but in this prayer you “see” Jesus on the cross bearing your fears and sin. Do not let Him die in vain. Do not take it back on you.

Write your prayer and the things you prayed about. Worship and thank Him for release and liberty. Your worship will come out of your deep sense of His presence.

 

You will show me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:1)

 

 

 

 

99. A woman for all time.

I am often so in awe of the Bible. It is an ancient document, astonishingly well-preserved, spanning several centuries and then zooming in to a story of an hour one day to bring the God of heaven and earth to an ordinary routine of survival.

Let us look closely at a cameo encounter in John 4: 1-21. [Please read the story first, to know what it is all about before we discuss the details. Jesus departs Jerusalem to avoid a controversy about baptism.]

From north to south Palestine is not even 200 kilometers long. Within those 200 kilometers there were in the time of Jesus three definite divisions of territory. In the extreme north lay Galilee; in the extreme south lay Judaea; and in between lay Samaria.

There was a centuries-old feud between the Jews and the Samaritans, the cause of which we will shortly see. The quickest way from Judaea to Galilee lay through Samaria. Using that route, the journey could be done in three days. The alternative route was to cross the Jordan, go up the eastern side of the river to avoid Samaria, re-cross the Jordan north of Samaria and then enter Galilee. This route took twice as long. Jesus had to pass through Samaria if he wished to take the shortest route to Galilee.

It is obvious that Jesus makes the point of travelling through Samaria. His disciples must have been very trusting to follow Him on this short cut. On the way they came to the town of Sychar. At a fork in the road there was the well known as Jacob’s well.

This was an area which had many Jewish memories attached to it. There was a piece of land, which had been bought by Jacob (Genesis 33:18-19). Jacob, on his deathbed, had bequeathed that land to Joseph (Genesis 48:22). On Joseph’s death in Egypt, his body had been taken back to Palestine and buried there (Joshua 24:32).

There was absolutely no contact between the Jews and Samaritans.

The background to this feud can be found in Nehemiah while he was conducting the project of building the wall. Assyrians captured the northern kingdom (2 Kings 17:6) of Israel with their capital in Samaria. They never returned to their native land. Usually the weaker ones stay behind in such a sweep of taking people captive by a hostile nation. After many years some of the captives trickled back, but the majority disappeared into captivity and the history of other nations.

The people living in the territory of the northern kingdom brought other nations into Israel (2 Kings 17:24). They began to inter-marry and did not stay pure as the Law of Moses prescribed. Orthodox Judaism condemns marriage with a Gentile. The child is dead for the family. Doing this they lost their right to be called Jews. Judah was in exile in Babylon. They did not inter-marry. Under Ezra and Nehemiah the exiles returned to build the wall. Samaritans (scattered Jews from the northern kingdom) wanted to help with the rebuilding process. Nehemiah refused their help because of their impurity. In Nehemiah 13:28 is the example of the Jew who married the daughter of Sanballat (a Horonite). In 129 BC a Jewish general destroyed the Temple at Samaria. They became very bitter and held on to hatred for the next 450 years. The Rabbis fed the embitterment, keeping the stories of transgressing the Law alive.

Let us get back to the story in John 4.

Midday in the Jewish day of 6am to 6pm was 12pm. The disciples went tot buy food. This is in itself a miracle. It was highly unlikely for a Jew to buy food in Samaria. The barriers were going down.

The well itself was more than 30 meters deep. It was not a springing well of water, rather into which the water percolates and gathers. But clearly it was a well so deep that no one could gain water from it unless he had something with which to draw the water.

The well was about a kilometer outside the town. It was not the water source of the town. The woman came alone, which is significant. She was an outcast. Usually the women of the community visited the water source together for a chat. It was the only time for socializing in a long day of many duties. The very fact that she was drawing water from this distant well shows how she avoided her neighbours and how they avoided her.

Jesus asked her for water. He should not even have talked to her. Jewish men did not talk to women in public, not even their own family and certainly not to a Samaritan woman. There was a group that was called the “Bruised Pharisees”. They used to shut their eyes on seeing a woman and walked into walls and street obstacles.

The story in John is a brief report of the conversation. Maybe there was much more to it. Why did this woman trust this man? It could have been the consequence of more words He spoke to her or the kindness in His eyes that she was so unfamiliar with.

Jesus was ministering in the reality of His humanity. He was tired. John stresses His deity, but here also His humanity. For Him life is an effort, as for us.

The warmth of His sympathy was in stark contrast to the ordinary religious leaders. The woman would have fled at the sight of one of them. Jesus did not condemn, although He exposed her life. She trusted Him and found a friend.

Jesus breaks down barriers. She was Samaritan and a woman. On top of everything she was a woman of notorious character. No decent man would even come close.

It is an amazing story of the Son of God who is weary and thirsty. The holiest of men is listening to her sorry story, breaking through the barriers of nationality and custom. The gospel goes global.

God loves in practice, not only in theory.

The conversation is conducted in the same pattern as with Nicodemus. A statement of Jesus is misunderstood. It is repeated somewhat differently to be more vivid. It is misunderstood again. Then He compels the person to come to his own conclusion and face the truth. It is effective Jesus-style teaching, coming to the right conclusion yourself.

He contrasts the literal meaning to spiritual meaning. Water was mostly running water. A living stream was better. The well was far from it. She asked where on earth Jesus was going to get running water to give her. People carried a skin bucket or something to draw water with. Jesus had none. The woman knew He could not draw water and still He talked of giving her water.

Water had a symbolic meaning throughout Scripture. The thirsting of the soul for God and quenching the thirst with living water is a theme in the Old and New Testaments. (Revelation 21:6 and 7:17) The wells of salvation are mentioned in Isaiah 12:3. Psalm 42:1 talks about thirsting for the living God. Isaiah 44:3 promises water on the thirsty land. To drink freely from the water of life is an invitation in Isaiah 55:1. Jeremiah complains about the broken cistern (2:13) because it cannot hold the living waters. Ezekiel had the vision of the river of life (47:1-12). A cleansing fountain is mentioned in Zechariah 13:1 and the waters through Jerusalem in 14:8. Water in all its forms are promised to give life and sustain the spiritual quenching of the soul. It is spiritual essence and the source is God.

Wisdom was seen as the living waters of the law. The Rabbis saw living waters as the Holy Spirit. The soul-thirst could only be quenched with water from God. The woman clung to crude literalism because she did not want to see.

Quenching thirst forever was a Messianic claim according to Isaiah 49:10: They shall not hunger or thirst was prophetic words of Jesus Himself over Himself.

The woman is jesting about eternal things in their physical sense. She knew of her spiritual thirst and could not believe that she found the answer. Every person has that longing and wants to fill it with many things. Only God will satisfy that longing.

My heart breaks for the way in which our enemy can use this longing to terrify people into so many counterfeit solutions.

Suddenly the small talk is over. Jesus takes the sword of His word and pierces her soul. The talk about the husband opens up her wounds. She is shocked that He gets personal. She is seeing herself in the light of His gaze.

She is facing the complete disaster of her own life. She experiences Christian revelation: revealing God and ourselves. All Christian life begins with a sense of sin so that we can awaken to our need for God. We cannot in any way deal with sin ourselves.

Jesus is prophet here. He brings her to God and God to her. He reveals her sin but also the solution to all the longing for true worship.

In Samaria, Mount Gerizim was glorified as the place of important historical events: Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Melchizedek appeared to Abraham, altar of Moses. They tampered with historical texts to swing this mountain in their favour. It is a desperate move to cling to worship. They wanted to share in the holiness of Jerusalem.

Realization of sin brings a deep need to reconcile with God. Where could this take place? She was confused. Her real question: where can I find God?

Jesus’ answer: God is everywhere. Man-made rivalry for the physical places of worship is about to disappear.

The Lord will be awesome to them,
For He will reduce to nothing all the gods of the earth;
People shall worship Him,
Each one from his place,
Indeed all the shores of the nations.
(Zephaniah 2:11)

In Malachi (1:11) it was like a dream to offer incense in every place in honour of God.

Next time we talk about the wondrous implications of this conversation to the act of worship.

 

98. Face to face with greatness.

Have you ever experienced the greatness of man’s creative forces? You might have sat nailed to the chair in a show or concert while the beauty and excellence of the performance permeates your soul. The brilliance of a concert pianist, a singer or another performing artist that touches you in music brings the same awe as staring at art, architecture and cinematography.

I am easily overwhelmed by beauty. I often long to see something magnificent. The past week the sunsets were spectacular. I feel I must watch them so intensely as not to miss a minute of the changing sky.

Earlier this year I was attending a women’s retreat north of where I live. We had a bonfire on the Friday night, something I love dearly. Late night around a fire has long been one of my favourite evenings. This particular night was cold, but very clear. Inside somebody talked to me and it was around 11pm that I had a chance to make my way out of the building to the fire. It was only the last few women sitting around and talking for a few minutes more. We stood up to leave and as I turned towards the building, the sky was dancing!

I could not believe my eyes. I cried spontaneously at the absolute magnificence and slendour of the green lights jumping and swirling around me. I honestly felt God put up a show for me. I don’t know how long I stood there until it stopped. My girlfriends, who are so used to it, enjoyed my reaction so much, they stayed with me. Some of them live up north and watch the aurora from their patio every winter.

I will never forget it. It is forever engraved in my mind.

How would somebody ever forget a meeting with the Light of the world? I can just imagine how it must have felt to come face to face with the man Jesus. Actually, it is guaranteed to stay with you, but you are still in control, still able to bring judgment as you reject Him.

Here in John 3:17-21 we see the paradox of love and judgment. The mere fact of His love has judgment built in. Any person rejecting love brings judgment on himself.

It is possible to offer an experience in love and it turns out to be a judgment. An experience of joy, could turn into a judgment. We might think an evening of beautiful music with an orchestra is a joyful experience, while the friend that we take with to share our joy with, starts fidgeting and yawning in extreme boredom.

When men are confronted with greatness the reaction is judgment. Art, music, preachers, books or nature all demand judgment. If somebody is not thrilled with what he sees, he is blind for that particular beauty in front of him. The beauty itself is not on trial – the one who look is. His indifference shows his own pitiable blindness.

Men are confronted with Jesus. He is salvation and redemption. When man sees nothing in Jesus, they are condemned by their own reaction. God loves while mankind condemns itself.

When men see Jesus, they are confronted with their own shortcomings and it is not pleasant. Love of darkness and secrets is to conceal and hide. Jesus is the light that reveals and liberate when truth is introduced.

In John 3:22-30 we read the words of John the Baptist and the eternal wisdom in it.

In John’s words the loveliness of humility shines brightly.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.”

Humility is defined as: Modesty, a sense of moral insignificance, an unselfish concern for the welfare of others. It is the total absence of arrogance, conceit and haughtiness.

 The word was unknown in classical non-Biblical Greek. The strength of a humble person was unrecognized by the ancient world. The Greeks were not schooled in the ancient Hebrew principles found in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)

To be humble is to willingly submit to the will of God. Humility clears the way for God’s work in your life.  Such a person will inherit the Kingdom, the miracle of the invisible Kingdom of God on earth to live under heaven’s authority while her on earth in the body. (Matthew 18:4)

There is no self-pity from John the Baptist. He never expected anything else. He was the herald, the forerunner.

It would ease life a great deal if more people were prepared to play the subordinate role. So many people look for great things to do. Any task done for God has greatness built into it.

No man can receive more than God gave him.

In the words of John the Baptist:

A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. (John 3:27)

He called Jesus the bridegroom and himself the friend of the bridegroom. 

One of the great pictures of the Old Testament is of Israel as the bride of God and God as the bridegroom of Israel. The union between God and Israel was so close that it could be likened only to a wedding. When Israel went after strange gods it was as if she were guilty of infidelity to the marriage bond (Exodus 34:15Deuteronomy 31:16Psalms 73:27Isaiah 54:5). The New Testament took this picture further and spoke of the church as the bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2Ephesians 5:22-32).

The friend of the bridegroom, the shoshben, had a unique place at a Jewish wedding. He acted as the liaison between the bride and the bridegroom; he arranged the wedding; he took out the invitations; he presided at the wedding feast (MC). He brought the bride and the bridegroom together. He had one special duty. It was his duty to guard the bridal chamber and to let no false lover in. He would open the door only when in the dark he heard the bridegroom’s voice and recognized it. When he heard the bridegroom’s voice he let him in and went away rejoicing, for his task was completed and the lovers were together.

In the last verses of the chapter (3:31-36) we do not know if it is the words of John the Baptist or comments from John.

The words declare the supremacy of Jesus. He has firsthand information on God. We live in the Spirit-dispensation. We have firsthand knowledge through the Holy Spirit.

All ancient documents were approved and confirmed by a seal at the bottom. Jesus is the seal on God’s message to us.

God did not hold anything back from Jesus. He poured out His spirit in full measure. The Spirit had two functions: To reveal God’s truth to men and to enable them to recognize and understand.

To listen to Jesus is to hear the voice of God. Therefore there is a choice between life and death. The choice is emphasized throughout the Bible. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Joshua 24:15)

At the crossroads of your life, there is always a choice. What will you do with Jesus? Every day, every hour brings a choice. The wrath of God is brought about by men on men, not by God. God loves. That is His core characteristic.

He said so Himself. (Exodus 34:6, The Message)

God passed in front of him and called out, “God, God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. 

 

97. Look up and live.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story of the serpent in the desert is continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love = Agapao (verb)

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