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]

 

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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.

 

 

 

96. No guessing – we know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The prayer is written in the Hebrew style of parallelism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[John 3:7-13]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

95. A royal encounter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicodemus is very impressed by the signs and wonders.

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

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

Jesus uses the word:

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

again, the second time,

from above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Become like children. Become a citizen.

 

And the conversation continues…

94. Tabernacles, Temples, Cathedrals and Churches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John calls miracles signs and uses three words:

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

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

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

Jesus performed signs of the love of God.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

John did not write chronologically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His drastic step had deep reasons.

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

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

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

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

The Temple should have been a house of prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

92. Wine, wedding and song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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