127. Sing to the vineyard.

[John 15]

Jesus is using the images and ideas, which were part of the religious heritage of the Jewish nation. Many of His stories find their symbolism in agriculture or the timing of the agricultural year. The seasons of sowing and harvesting are often the foundation of Kingdom principles, those wonderful gears of life that rotate in our favour. Over and over again in the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God.

The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel(Isaiah 5:1-7).

Yet I planted you a choice vine (Jeremiah 2:21). Ezekiel (15:18and 19:10) also likens Israel to the vine.

Israel empties his vine; He brings forth fruit for himself(Hosea 10:1).

You have brought a vine out of Egypt (Psalms 80:8).

My favourite vine-verse is Isaiah 27:2,3:

In that day sing to her,
“A vineyard of red wine!
 I, the Lord, keep it,
I water it every moment;
Lest any hurt it,
I keep it night and day.

The vine had become the symbol of the nation of Israel. It was the emblem on the coins of the Maccabees. One of the glories of the Temple was the great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. Many a great man had counted it an honour to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a new grape on to that vine.

Vines grew all over Palestine and still do. It needs attention to yield the best. They grow in terraces to provide clean soil. Sometimes they grow over the doors of the cottages. They need pruning to flourish. Young vines are not allowed to produce fruit for three years. They are cut back to develop strength and roots. After three years it is pruned in December and bears fruit in the summer. Branches that do not bear fruit are cut back as to not sap the strength of the plant. Jesus knew that the vine could not bear fruit if it were not pruned.

The wood of the vine was good for nothing. It was too soft to use in anything other than maybe a decorative basket. No vine wood was ever used for the Temple altars. The vine wood would be burnt to ashes.

Jesus declares Himself as the source of true life. Only by abiding in Him, fruit will be produced. The Jews were vines, but fruitless. They refused to listen, and became withered and useless. Christians are also fruitless when they practice religion in name only, without the power. They are traitors to the faith.

Paul said it straight out to Timothy:

…having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!(2 Timothy 3:5)

If Christianity is not a full commitment, there is no power. Rather be nothing than a double-minded, faithless, powerless Christian. [Church of Laodicea – Revelation 3:15,16]

When you hear the word pruning, what is your reaction? Is it negative or positive?

Pruning a vine to perfection for maximum yield is a finely tuned job for an expert and experienced vine grower. Just to get an idea of complexity Pliny the Elder, the Roman friend of Emperor Vespasian who wrote an encyclopedia on which many later encyclopedias were based, on Natural History explains:

Thus there are two kinds of main branches; the shoot which comes out of the hard timber and promises wood for the next year is called a leafy shoot or else when it is above the scar [caused by tying the branch to the trellis] a fruit- bearing shoot, whereas the other kind of shoot that springs from a year-old branch is always a fruit-bearer. There is also left underneath the cross-bar a shoot called the keeper—this is a young branch, not longer than three buds, which will provide wood next year if the vine’s luxurious growth has used itself up—and another shoot next to it, the size of a wart, called the pilferer is also left, in case the keeper-shoot should fail.

In the Greek text the words used for “prune” in verse 2 and “clean” in verse 3 are from a related root.  In verse 2 this root is kathairei (the verb) and in verse 3 katharoi (the adjective).

According to the dictionary kathaireimeans to cleanse from which our word catharsis is taken implying relief and release.

It carries the meaning, amongst others, of the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

Sometimes it might be used in a medical sense as a process of purging for the sake of being made whole, clean, or pure.

Eugene Peterson’s The Message captures the idea and feel of the passage much more effectively.

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of methat doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken . . . “ (John 15:1-3 (The Message))

Correction and cleansing by the Father is always done in perfect love. It is impossible to be otherwise, even when it does not feel like it. Our Father is love and everything He does, comes from the source of love. Therefore it is for our relief that He cleans us. It is to release us from the filth and waste of a sinful life that He prunes the branches. It is the only way we can live a life of excellence.

 We are already clean by the message…

 …that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,(Ephesians 5:26)

We are being cleansed for our release of our obsession with riches, status and attitude. We are constantly molded by a godless society into a life of care and worry. The cutting away of earthly obsession and sin, is to release us into a life of liberty and freedom in Christ.

Abiding in Christ is the secret and the mystery. The words of Christ are our cleansing.

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life, which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.(Galatians 2:20)

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.(Galatians 3:27)

Our identity is in Christ:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Every blessing is ours in Christ so that we are full to bear fruit.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,(Ephesians 1:3)

A child needs constant support and communication, to live home and be guided and nurtured. Children will wither on their own.

Life in Christ needs the same things. There is nothing if there is not contact, experience and commitment. We cannot grow up in two houses. It only brings confusion and rejection. Only when we choose the house of God and be an obedient child submitted to the direction and correction of our loving Father, we shall be whole and able to face the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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126. Oh the wonder of the breath of God.

[John 14]

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.  (Genesis 1:1,2, The Message)

He always was and always will be – this third person in the Trinity. I have to admit that the doctrine of the Trinity always was a tricky one for me to understand fully. I think to this day I feel there is something I do not really grasp. My dear Sunday school teacher explained it one way. He said it is like an apple – peel, pulp and core. Together they are an apple and one calls it an apple but separately they are called apple peel, apple pulp and apple pips. So it is with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Together they are God.

In my mind they were still three separate entities. Slowly I learnt more. I realized that the Holy Spirit is the breath of God, especially in the teaching on Ezekiel 37. Just read the lovely words with me from The Message:

God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of lifeto you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you.You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”

More pronounced in the next verses the breath of the bones came from God.

“Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’ So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive!They stood up on their feet, a huge army.

 It is clear – just like Genesis 2:7 says:

God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!

Then I read the beautiful Christmas story of Max Lucado: An Angel’s Story, which I could recommend as a reading for Christmas gatherings. It was only then that I realized the full impact of Jesus being born as God’s seed and is therefore God Himself on earth. We need the Hoy Spirit to teach us the meaning of Immanuel – God with us.

At this stage of my life, I believe God Himself showed us His heart and nature in the man Jesus. Jesus lived and breathed the words of God’s heart to bring life and be God amongst the people. God did not let His child die, He Himself died for us as Jesus was the manifestation, the incarnation of God Himself.  The meaning of the relationship of parent to child was an illustration of the unbreakable and irreversible relationship of a father to his son. You can never undo a child.

The Holy Spirit is God’s breath, the universal source of all life.

Here in John 14 Jesus revives a lost consciousness of the Spirit of God. He explains the role of the Holy Spirit in us. He promises a Helper.

We do not live our lives alone.  The Holy Spirit is in us. The Greek word is parakletos.  It is a word full of meaning nuances and almost impossible to describe accurately. It includes comforter, helper, favourable witness, expert advisor, encourager, always a help in time of need.

Comforter comes from the Latin fortis, which means to be brave. The Holy Spirit helps us to be brave. He enables us to cope with life and to emerge as a conqueror. In our difficult life and the very hard tasks before us, we have supernatural help.

Jesus will never leave us forlorn – without a parent for which the Greek word is the easily recognizableorphanos. One hears teaching on Christians suffering an orphan spirit and who do not know the full inheritance in Christ as privileged children of God.

When Jesus talks about His coming back, He means after His resurrection and their experience of His risen presence. Jesus makes us spiritually alive when His spirit lives in us. We have resurrection power in us.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

In the next passage Jesus touches on important principles. (14:18-24)

Love is the basis of everything.

Obedience is the proof of love.

Love and obedience keep us safe in the full revelation of who Jesus is. Jesus as the resurrected Christ was the ultimate revelation of the power of God.

Keep the commandments. No evil can ever be a recipient of Christ.

In the next passage He talks again about the Holy Spirit. (14:25-31)

The Holy Spirit teaches us all things. To the end of our days we should be learners to be taught deeper and deeper truths of God. We can never ever sit back and be complacent about our knowledge. The adventure continues…

The Holy Spirit will remind us of Jesus’ words. Jesus is truth and we need His words. His words are the Bread of Life. We need the Holy Spirit to remind and interpret towards our life’s practicalities.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.(John 6:63)

Truth applied is wisdom.

The Holy Spirit helps us to live the truth. Our conduct is in submission to His power and direction.

The gift of Jesus is peace. Shalom is not just the absence of trouble. It means so much more. It means everything for the highest good of the person you are addressing with this fullest of good words. Jesus’ peace is peace of conquest, the victor’s peace not the victim’s unwilling submission to stay out of trouble. It is a peace that rules in our hearts independent of outward circumstances.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:6.7)

Our destination is to be released from worldly limitations and being restored to His glory. After death we have the hope of something better. We enter into the fullest blessing possible, through the power of the Holy Spirit. He breathes God’s breath in us to give us the life of truth.

Jesus knew the cross was the final battle. His death was conquest, not despair.

The cross was His vindication. Yes, it was humiliation and shame, but it would become the most powerful symbol of obedience and love in all of history. Jesus’ whole life climaxed in the cross. Everything He stood for was illustrated in His death and resurrection.

 

“Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most ‘natural’ men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints. . . . Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

CS LEWIS

 

125. Legacy of love.

[John 14]

It is almost impossible to express the beauty, power and love of the words of Jesus in Chapters 14-17 of John. There is not enough time in the life of any man to fully grasp and live the legacy Jesus left us in these passages.

We know that this Gospel was not written as a report of the life of Jesus, but as an interpretation of His life, many years after His ministry on earth. John wrote these chapters as a summary of the teaching over a three year period, quickened by the Holy Spirit on the most pressing subjects for profound change and victory over any matter whatsoever that life could throw at you.

Reading it is like visiting the Master over and over again – sitting at the table enjoying a meal together; sitting at His feet, listening to His voice; eating freshly caught fish on the beach at an impromptu BBQ; lying beside the still waters on the green pastures; feasting at the table He laid out; relaxing in the grip of His goodness and mercy chasing our lives.

This is the first of the longer discourses between Jesus and His disciples recorded by John. It is the core principles of His relationship with His Father and with them. It is the amazing and gracious farewell words of a Man about to die. He knew their world was about to collapse.

There is only one thing to do when life happens: trust God above all else. There comes a time when we have to believe what we cannot prove and to accept what we cannot understand.

If, in the darkest hour, we believe that somehow there is a purpose in life and that that purpose is love, even the unbearable becomes bearable and even in the darkness there is a glimmer of light.

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
    in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
    Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
    Stay with God. (Psalms 27:13,14, The Message)

Close your eyes. Your prophetic word for now is:

 Let not your heart be troubled.

Jesus says: Believe in God, believe in Me. Jesus is the proof that God will give us everything.

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

Mansions are dwelling places, monai  in Greek.

Simply and beautifully it means there is room for all. It doesn’t matter how over-crowded earth may be, heaven is vast and will never be exhausted. You will never be shut out.

Jesus is honest – “if not, I would have told you so“. These are reliable words for all circumstances at all times.There are no false pretences. Jesus would say so and all the answers we ever need are in the words He said. He told them to be uncomfortable, when He discusses the cost of discipleship (Luke 9:57-62). He told them of persecution, hatred and punishment (Matthew 10:16-22). He told them about their cross to carry (Matthew 16:24).

He told them to expect glory and pain and challenged them into greatness.

Jesus is going to prepare a place. He opens up the way. He is the forerunner (Hebrews 6:20).

He speaks of His ultimate triumph – He is coming again. History is going somewhere. It has a climax.

Heaven is where Jesus is. It is a mystery but He is there and would welcome us – no fear, no troubled hearts.

Thomas questions. He does not understand the prediction of Jesus going away. The questions of man provoke deep and wonderful answers. Never be afraid to ask God. He is the great teacher. He will open His heart to you. Ask and it shall be given– He promised.

When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace, child; you don’t understand.” CS LEWIS

No one who seeks will not find more than he ever expected.

As the answer to Thomas’ question, Jesus makes another (one of seven in John)  I AM – declaration. He is all we need. He explains it in the three claims He makes here:

He is the WAY. He is the fulfillment of all the precepts of old. He walks in the ways of God (Deuteronomy 5:32,33). He does not turn aside from the way of God (Deuteronomy 31:29). God promises His voice to guide and direct: This is the way, walk in it (Isaiah 30:21). There is a Highway of Holiness (Isaiah 35:8).

Our prayer is with the Psalmist: Teach me your way O Lord. (Psalm 27:11)

He is the TRUTH as is echoed in the Psalms:

Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.(86:11)

For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes,
And I have walked in Your truth.(26:3)

I have chosen the way of truth;
Your judgments I have laid before me.(119:30)

A man’s character speaks more importantly than anything else. Moral truth cannot be conveyed in words only. Jesus is the perfect one. He is the embodiment of truth.

Truth is defined as: fidelity to an original or to a standard, sincerity in action, character, and utterance, the body of real things, events, and facts.There is after all only One who ever, in the history of mankind said: I am the truth. [Pebbles 114]

He is the LIFE.Love brought real life. Over centuries they were searching for the real thing. Now they have found it. He is the way to God therefore He brings true life.

For the commandment is a lamp,
And the law a light;
Reproofs of instruction are the way of life,(Proverbs 6:23)

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.(Psalms 16:11)

John 14:7-11: We see God in Jesus

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”

Truly amazing words to say. God is invisible. No man has seen God. The difference and the distance between man and God are just too vast. Here Jesus says simply that in Him they can see the Father. He is God on earth, God amongst the people, God in our homes, God amongst the sick and hurting; God in our feasts and successes.

God came down to be a man to fully identify with every possible struggle we might have. He knows the everyday.

IMAGINE: Jesus as a man in your everyday.

He knows our strife and fight with evil. God knows our pain. Love brings pain and He bears the scars of His love.

God on the Cross. There is nothing like it in all the world. No other religion has a god of love and sacrifice. It is easy to imagine a God of judgment and punishment. No one could ever dream of a God upon a cross to give His own life for love.

Jesus is tested by His words and His deeds.He said to John’s disciples to tell of His deeds (Matthew 11:1-6) He makes bad men good. Redemption is still the greatest miracle.

 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than thesehe will do, because I go to My Father. 

Greater works are almost unthinkable. Jesus was a miracle worker. He performed miracles in everyday life. Today we know God is the source of all healing – even that of medical science. Everything becomes better and better with the calling of science and technology to make life better. Every discovery and every building block in the improvement of life are under His control for our benefit.In all that we find the devil in everything trying to spoil and manipulate and we resist on every front.

We are part of the “making better” army of everybody who strives to enhance life and improve earth.

We are to win the world for Christ by our everyday lives, through the miracles we live, expect and testify to. The Christians went out into the Roman Empire and beyond, not Jesus Himself.

Prayer in His name

And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

Every prayer will be answered. The qualification is to pray in His name. We should pray in full accordance with the Name of Jesus – that is in agreement with all that He is. His name is His life and character.

In Jesus name is not a magic wand.

It is the life source of greater works.

 

124. Bewitched to betray.

[John 13]

We have talked about Judas before. I have thought about him many times, maybe even more than about any of the other disciples. I have often wondered how it must have felt to know Jesus and experience His defiance of church and community. There is no doubt that Judas was very impressed with his friend Jesus and visualized the realization of Israel’s dream – restored rule and greatness amongst the nations.

Judas was fixated with this vision. Jesus gave him responsibility for the management of the money and there are indications that he was not a transparent modern financial administrator. He lived and walked with Jesus over a period of three years and saw many miracles. He chose his time to act, without listening to the words and discerning the times. He proceeded to set his plan in action without understanding the singularly unique point in time in the history of all mankind, the Jews included.

To understand the actions of Judas it is enlightening to go back to one of the conversations of Jesus with His disciples.

(Matthew 16:13-20)

Jesus asks an easy question: Who do the people say I am?The disciples answer: Elijah, Moses, a prophet, John the Baptist etc. That was the easy answer.

Suddenly Jesus turns around and makes it personal.

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

Trust the ever audacious Peter to blurt it out.

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

This inspirational, Holy Spirit-infused answer prompts Jesus to speak an everlasting blessing upon Peter, that echoes throughout the church today.

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

 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

This is the revelation-knowledge that we desire from God. Not the things that flesh and blood reveals. We want to speak what the Father in heaven reveals to us.

He pronounces the words of Peter as the rock on which the church will be built. Note, it is not the man Peter, but his revelation that is the rock on which the church is built. The church of Jesus is not built upon a man; it is built on the revelation of who Jesus is.

 The revelation of Jesus as the son of the living God is the rock on which the church is built.

Remember this rhema-word (the spoken word of God into a man’s heart) of Peter when we discuss Judas at the meal where Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.

Judas acts normal (John 13:21-30). If the other disciples might have grasped the full implication of the situation, they would have prevented him to go ahead.

John was closer to Jesus to ask Him who it was that Jesus indicated would betray Him. John calls himself the beloved disciple. He knew how much Jesus loved him. It was spiritual revelation knowledge of the love of God. Jesus did not love him more than the others. John was just very aware of the love of Jesus.

On the host’s left was the place for the guest of honour and that place was reserved for Judas. It was yet another appeal from Jesus to Judas to reconsider.

To offer the guest something from the meal was a special invitation to conversation. The host was saying, this is especially for you  – let’s talk. Jesus offered it to Judas. (Compare Ruth 2:14 – Boaz invites Ruth to dip her morsel into the wine)

Again and again the appeal came. The darkness and own agenda in Judas’ heart won him over.

Then Jesus admitted to the process of how things will play out and said to him – go and do what you need to do. Still the disciples did not catch on. They thought Jesus might send him out to prepare for the Passover and give to the poor, as was the custom at the time.

When Judas received the morsel from Jesus (an invitation to communicate) the devil entered him. He was so set on his own plan that he could not respond to Jesus’ many appeals.

John mentions that when Judas went out it was night. It is a very symbolic indication of his dark deed.Deeds of darkness take place in the dark. Leaving the presence of Jesus is darkness. Leaving Christ to follow your own plans is your soul’s night.

This is the deep disparity between Peter and Judas. Consider their roles in the dark hours of the trial of Jesus.

Judas was a zealot. He was part of a political party that aimed to overthrow the Romans by force. He walked with Jesus for three years and many times witnessed the anger of the Jewish leaders flare up against Him to the point of stoning and violence. Many times the Gospels state that Jesus just walked away. To Judas this was a miracle. Maybe if he forced the hand of the authorities against Jesus, Jesus might overthrow the Romans in a miracle-like way. Without even giving a second thought to the warnings of Jesus that He was on a collision course with the rulers and will be put to death and rise again (Matthew 16:21; Mark 9:31; 10:33), Judas set his own plan in motion, “using” Jesus for his own goals.

He received the 30 shekels of silver (the price of a slave on the market at the time) from the High Priest and led the soldiers to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Very soon he saw that things were not going according to plan. He witnessed Jesus’ peaceful surrender to the soldiers to be led away to the house of the High Priest. Later that night Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate, then to Herod and back to Pilate. Judas panicked. He saw that the whole thing was going wrong. He stumbled back to the leaders and uttered the words:

I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. (Matthew 27:4)

To the very end Judas did not realize that he was a player in the life of the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One, the one man the whole world was waiting for. He died a self-inflicted death alone in utter darkness.

As soon as Judas leaves the table, Jesus speaks from His heart to His loyal friends. He pours out His mission to them. He wills them to look out for His glorification to strengthen them through the dark days of the crucifixion.

The glory of the Cross is a certainty. Obedience to God is foremost. Glory comes through obedience. Trust is the foundation of obedience.

God is present in the utmost tragedy and “wrong” turn of events. God is being humiliated to be triumphant and take all those who are obedient with Him. Still, Jesus went to the cross alone.

His farewell command is to love one another.

 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In the light of the events at the supper – the prideful position arguments and Judas’ refusal to yield to Jesus, it is over all important that the farewell command is LOVE.

Jesus loved his disciples selflessly, sacrificially, understandingly (they were human) and forgivingly. There is no doubt that also Judas’ would have been forgiven had he asked.

Enduring love can only survive in an atmosphere of selflessness, sacrifice, understanding and forgiveness.

The last words of the chapter are all about Peter.

Judas betrayed, Peter denied – what is the difference?

Judas acted in cold blood, planned and deliberate. Peter was impulsive and weak on the spot and afterwards in a terrible state self-reproach and humiliation.

There is a difference between planned sin and a moment of weakness.

Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses. He was impulsive, speaking his heart before thinking. Jesus also knew the strength of his loyalty.

Jesus loved Peter and knew Peter loved Him. He knew He would fail, but his failure was not the defining feature in Peter’s future, just as our failures do not determine our future. His love for Jesus defined him and his denial was a moment of weakness.

In the hour of Peter’s deepest humiliation and failure, his revelation knowledge of who Jesus truly is, saved him. He found his way back to his brothers and was present behind the closed doors, sharing their fear, when the shockingly wonderful news of the resurrection came. Jesus specially mentioned Peter to Mary, to make sure he gets the news.

Jesus knew what Peter would become. He knew that one day he would be brave enough to follow Him even unto death.

Jesus sees what nobody can see, what He is doing in our lives to make us what no one could ever imagine.

 

 

 

 

123. Washing the world off.

[John 13]

 “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” 

(Andrew Murray)

 

So often Christian principles and teaching contrast sharply with secular standards for advancement in life. Self-promotion, self-confidence and self-articulation applied with skillful boldness, are crucial for the fight to press forward. Goal setting is all-important, they say.

The idea of servant leadership has been analyzed extensively, to be used cunningly and overtly for the same advancement of self, as any arrogant, defiant and big mouth attitude of so called “strong” leadership could ever be. Servanthood can be faked. The attitude can be learnt without the heart of humility and love.

On the other hand, servant leadership with the love and servant-heart humility, the real thing, the original concept we learn in John 13, is a powerful life-changing act of greatness. It is refreshingly void of an earthly sense of achievement. It is a pouring out of self into a conscious response to provide comfort and show humble, authentic focus on another person.

It is an ancient exercise in the very modern buzzword:  mindfulness.

 To kneel down and wash somebody’s feet is the indisputable act of being in the moment.

Jesus knew the cross was near, but He also knew His glorification and victory were near. He acted in supreme humility with no pride.

To wash the feet of people attending a meal was a menial task for a slave. Feet were usually very dirty. They walked the dusty roads with sandals. At the door of most buildings were big pots for washing and a servant, mostly a slave with a towel, ready to wash the feet of anybody entering.

Jesus was near to God. That brought Him even closer to men. He performed a task that His disciples would not dream of doing. They were caught up in culture. Society dictated what is to be done, by whom and how.

Jesus was close to suffering and poverty throughout His ministry on earth. Proximity to the suffering and poverty of others brings us closer to humanity where we reflect His life, light and love (the theme of this Gospel).

He also washed the feet of Judas. It showed His love and forgiveness even while knowing he planned the betrayal.

The scene at this occasion, which might or might not be the Last Supper, was filled with competitive pride.  Maybe no one would have accepted the duty of feet washing. Jesus did that which none were prepared to do as an example of how we ought to behave towards one another.

So often in churches trouble arises over positions or the honour that goes with the office. This is a lesson in the greatness of service without any vision of position.

[In the British Army the ordinary troops eat before the officers when they are out on the battlefield]

The scene set by Jesus in this room with His closest friends is a dramatic and unforgettable lesson in humility.

Humility is counter-intuitive living. I can really recommend the book by John Dickson called Humilitas as well as Andrew Murray’s book on Humility – the Beauty of Holiness.  It is powerful and to the point analyses of the principle and the misconceptions of weakness associated with a worldly view.

Humility is the road to greatness and fulfilled content living. Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction. Here is how Andrew Murray says it:

“Here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down! Just as water always seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds men abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless.” 

It was not customary for the host to wash the feet of guests. You either did it yourself or a slave did it. Jesus is comfortable in ‘breaking the laws of custom’. He did it without flinching on quite a few occasions. (Jewish Sabbath (Mark 2:23-26); the Jewish fasts (Mark 2:18-22); the Jewish cleansings (Mark 7:1-20)).

Humility is a virtue in the Christian life (Luke 22:27; compare Matthew 5:523:11,12). The Greek philosophers mostly shunned humility and meekness as weak traits for good living.

Peter’s remark to be part of Jesus as a whole comes in the shock of what Jesus is doing. He wants this scene to be different from the well-known picture of a slave washing the feet, which they saw daily.

He wants to change the menial to something more. Jesus does not allow it. Peter wants a special touch from the Master.

Jesus’ remark on those who have been bathed refers to baptism. Baptism as the seal on a new life after rebirth brings us into the Kingdom. It is not repeated. It does not happen every time we approach God. We just need a washing of our feet, cleaning off the dust and grime of the paths we have to walk in the brokenness of this world each day.

Before the feast the people bathed as they obeyed the cleansing instructions of the law of Moses. When they arrived only the feet washing was necessary. Feet washing were part of the entrance to the house. If Peter were too proud to accept the washing, he would miss out on the touch of the Master.

Pride shuts you out, makes you to miss out, and makes you blind for provision and the small miracles in life.

We should accept the way Jesus chooses to make us part of Him and in so doing receive God.

Judas’ betrayal was foremost in Jesus’ mind. He suffered because He knew what was coming. (Psalm 41:9; 55:12-14)

Betrayal is an important theme here as it is the opposite of love and loyalty (2 Samuel 9:7,13).  By washing the feet of Judas, Jesus wanted to communicate that the occasion was more profound than Judas realized. Judas was so set on his own goals to use Jesus in a confrontation with the authorities and force His hand for his own goal of getting rid of Roman rule, that he completely missed the message in the action.

Betrayal is often committed by the one who eats bread at your table.

It is Jesus’ last appeal to Judas.

There is often tragedy in the purpose of God and here it is accepted by Jesus because of Scripture. Redeeming the world cost the broken heart of God. Jesus was not killed – He chose to die. So many times we have to look back for understanding. Things are not so clear in the moment.

At this juncture the bitterness of disloyalty played out in the same moment as the glory of unfailing allegiance. All the faithful disciples became witnesses to the greatest message and man of all time and history.

We also need a washing to enter the house. The house is symbolic of the presence of God. The house that night was where Jesus was and He welcomed them to a meal with Him at the table with this most extraordinary deed. Could we submit to His methods? We might be shocked like Peter and try to reason it into something else.

Let us come with a humble heart and pray: Your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven and then enter into the heaven of His presence.

 

 

122. Seeking a saviour.

[John12]

Do we really know what darkness is? When there is no hope of intervention or outcome in any way. I wonder whether our modern western world, in which Christianity and the doctrine of an almighty God is such an integral part of our culture that it is “to be had” even if a person does not believe, begin to understand the confusion of many gods and the bewilderment of mythological beliefs. There is profound uncertainty when we think about the deeper things in life. What is life? What is love? What is morality? What is influence? The more perplex thoughts are into the mysticism. How is it supposed to be? Is there perfection out there where we don’t know? How can we attain it?

The Greeks were good at thinking. Their philosophers of centuries before Jesus’ life on earth are honoured to this day. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle are well known names in history. Plato in particular wrote about the unseen world as perfection to be attained through death.

It is in this atmosphere that John writes. As we have seen in the first chapter of the Gospel, John addresses the Plato question with his explanation of Jesus as logos. [Pebbles 83]

Here in John 12:20-26 the Greeks ask about Jesus. At this stage of his life, writing the Gospel, John lives in Ephesus and writes with the Greeks in mind. He records this incident in particular. The Greeks were ardent travelers of the time. They were all over the world. They traveled for trade and commerce, for philosophy, for new ideas – they were the ancient world’s most notable tourists.

The Greeks always sought truth. They checked out religions all over. Their seeking minds would enquire after Jesus.

Again Andrew brings them to Jesus. Maybe they spoke to Philip because he has Greek name, but Philip asks Andrew to bring them to Jesus. Andrew knew that Jesus is always open for enquiry. He led them to Him with great confidence knowing Jesus answered the enquiring mind.

Jesus says the crisis, the hour has come and speaks about death, which to the Greeks held particular significance. He calls Himself the

Son of man according to Daniel 7:13. In Daniel’s vision the world powers are described as wild animals because of their lust and cruelty. The new power was to be gentle and gracious – very unlike anything before or after. The symbol was a man not a wild beast.

The Jews expected the Son of man. So much literature were written during the 400 years of “prophetic silence” between the Old and New Testaments to keep the dream alive. He would be the undefeatable conqueror sent by God. Obviously the Greeks had no Messianic expectation.

Jesus talked to the Jews about His glorification on the Cross and they misunderstood. Jesus spoke of sacrifice and death and they were not willing to hear that. To them His words did not make sense.

He said to the Greeks: By death comes life just like the grain of wheat, buried in the ground, then follows life, growth and fruit.

By dying to self will come a life of understanding and insight.

Love of your own life will render you unfit for service. (Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:24;17:33)

Men who serve are great in the Kingdom of God. For Jesus – greatness was in the Cross.

He brings a dazzling new view on life.

John does not tell about Gethsemane. Here (12:27-36) he records the human Jesus’ agony to avoid the Cross. It is the real cost of courage. He is very afraid of the horror of death. For Jesus it is weighed against obedience.

His words become triumphant to break the power of evil.

 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour28 Father, glorify Your name.”

He brings heavenly perspective. He would be the ultimate conqueror of men. It would be a greater conquest than the crowds ever imagined.

Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.

Fear becomes triumph when hearing the voice of God. The Jews believed that God spoke directly just like to Samuel, Elijah and Moses. By the time of Jesus nobody believed that anymore. God’s voice came to Jesus on special occasions: at baptism (Mark 1:11), on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:7) and it now came to Him to strengthen Him for what was lying ahead.

God will speak to anyone who is willing to listen.

Daniel 7 talks about an everlasting kingdom. How could it end in a Cross? He was supposed to be the Prince forever (Ezekiel 37:25). His government will have no end (Isaiah 9:7). He will reign on thrones over all generations (Psalm 89:4).

Jesus’ death on the Cross would crown Him in the hearts of men forever. It was so different from anything they expected. The contrast of His life to the community, in which He lived, was burnt into history forever. He was not just another conqueror who fought a great war and won. He was the Conqueror of all time and all people ever.

He promises light in the darkness, relief from the shadows. The shadow of fear, doubt, confusion and sorrow does not reign supreme over life. Jesus promises light in all of this with joy that cannot be taken away.

John quotes from Isaiah 53:1-2 and 6:9-10 in the following passage (12:37-41). It is all about unbelief and intentional blindness.

[Jesus mentions it often in Matthew 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10 then Paul in Romans 11:8; 2 Corinthians 3:14.]

There are always people who will not believe.Isaiah was bewildered and heartbroken because of the unbelief of the people.

For the prophets God was the source of everything– even unbelief. They could not explain it otherwise. God is greater than any sin – so their unbelief must have come from God.

In 12:40 is a great truth stated:When you choose to see, you will see and experience the revelation. When you choose not to see, your eyes are blinded and your heart hardened. Life then does not make sense and nothing is significant, because understanding is already lost.

 No repentance – no revelation.

In actual fact our decisions and choices are God-given and does come from our Creator. That is why our refusal of His grace is so powerful. Our choices shape our lives. God has given us full power over our choices so that we are able to express love. Anything else would not be real passion. Choice enables love. He chose the Cross – He also had the alternative not to choose the Cross.

We choose Him and His expression of love on the Cross, because we have the choice to reject it. We consciously decide to love. Love changes us.

In the next passage (12:42- 50) the terrible cowardness and self-interest of men are described. They believed but could not go public. They feared the church.

 Secret discipleship is not possible. Someone said:  “either the secrecy kills the discipleship, or the discipleship kills the secrecy.”

For the people it is always the fear of losing what they gained in life.  They would lose profit and prestige. They chose men over God. God’s judgment matters for all eternity.  We have to look through heaven’s eyes.

If you choose people over God, then the people will judge you. It is always better to be judged by God. People are cruel and unjust.

What follow are Jesus’ last words of public teaching. He addresses the people and tells them about His father. He did not speak for Himself. In Him men are confronted with God. They listened to Him and at the same time knew what God was saying.

Jesus came to save – God wants to save. Love saves. Inevitably the same love judges the rejection of it.

The truth will judge. If you know the right thing and do not do it – you will be judged by the truth.

Our own knowledge will bear witness against us.

PRAYER: Lord speak into my heart. Show me Mary, Martha, Judas, the crowd, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the church leaders, the Greeks searching for truth and the impact their examples has on my life. Help me to learn from them.

Show me my armour against You my God, my lobster-shell, my hard heart, my obsession with prestige and honour and other stumbling blocks that deafen my hearing of the voice of God. Help me to express my love for You and to realize what the true significance of that expression is.

 

Jesus show me JESUS.

 

 

 

121. King of peace.

[John 12]

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem.

To come to Jerusalem during the time of the Passover took great courage. Jesus knew He was already in big “trouble” with the authorities. Lodgings must have been a problem inside Jerusalem. Bethany was one of the places outside the city to stay when the visiting pilgrims flooded Jerusalem. Lazarus’ story spread fast.

The Romans loved a census. As we all know, Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for a census when Mary’s time came and Jesus was born in Bethlehem just as the prophecies foretold. The Romans were particularly good at administration and a census made sure that every citizen and resident of the Empire paid the taxes due. In a Roman census taken shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, of the lambs slain at the Passover Feast, the number came to 256,000. There was usually a minimum of ten people sharing a lamb as sacrificial animal; and if that estimate is correct it means that there must have been as many as 2,700,000 people at that Passover Feast.

The characters in the story of Jesus are always notable. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave us so much colourful character shading of the people so that we could, even after so many centuries, identify with the people around our Lord.

Martha served a meal in their home.Maryanointed Him with a very expensive perfumed ointment. She poured out her best for Him.

In serving Martha also expressed her love. She was good at what she did and also gave her best. I can so identify with Martha since I also feel I should serve something for the conversation to flow. I know one of my Holy Spirit gifts is hospitality. I would have jumped at the opportunity to serve Jesus. Still I feel there is a silent criticism on Martha. As Barclay says her best took her out of earshot for His voice. Maybe there were no modern open plan kitchens! I love to cook, but I love to be part of the discussion.

As long as our gifting and even our ministry to Him do not take us out of the range of His voice, we are on the right track. I have often submitted my love of fabrics, decorating, art and fashion to be used in Kingdom service. In short I love beautiful things and I do not want that to keep me occupied. The most important thing in all my life always is to hear the voice of God. I want to hear when I read, hear when I work, hear when I write and hear when I have others around me. I want to hear Him in the ordinary things of my days.

What do you do to express your love for Jesus?

Remember it can be the most run of the mill thing, like caring lovingly for your family. That is our first calling always – to love – and to start with the closest. Jesus said to be His witnesses in Jerusalem(close family),Judaea(extended family and friends), Samaria(the people you do not like) and then the rest of the world (Acts 1:8).

Mary showed extravagance. It was a sign of honour to anoint a person’s head. (Psalm 23) Mary anointed His feet. Her humility shone through. In her own eyes, she was not good enough to honour Him.

Love made her bold. No respectable woman would let down her hair in public. When a girl married her hair was covered. Only prostitutes lured with their hair. May did not even think of that. She was not concerned about what others would think.

Her love filled the house with fragrance. In so many ways the church of Jesus followed her example. Her simple act of worship is recorded and still fills our minds with the lovely fragrance of love.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledgein every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Judas spoke very nobly of the poor and said the expensive perfume should have been sold. Jesus knew he was going to betray him. Jesus probably made him the treasurer to trust him and win him over. He expected the best from him. It was tempting to get more for the moneybox, which he was already misusing. His gift became his downfall because of conceited selfish goals.

The word used here is bastazein, which means to carry or to steal.

Judas missed Mary’s intention. His eye was on his own interests. He could not see beyond his obsession. He missed the timing, the action, and the revelation of love. He also missed Jesus’ words that He is going to leave them.

Judas uses the money and ultimately thinks he can “use” Jesus for his won political ambition. He wanted to get rid of the Romans and thought he could force the hand of Jesus in a confrontation with the authorities.

Timing is so important.

of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, (1 Chronicles 12:32)

What Mary did that day could never be repeated. She took the opportunity to express her love. I don’t think any of the people there realized how imminent the cross was.

Express love to God and to those around you. Grab the opportunity and serve with the best.

To mention the poor was Judas “noble” comment. Jesus quotes Scripture:

“The poor will never cease out of the land;therefore I command thee saying, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land. (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Opportunities to serve the poor never cease.

In the next verses (12:9-11) we meet the chief priests and Jewish authorities. The priests belonged to the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were the wealthy aristocratic class and they worked in close collaboration with the Roman government. Any outbreak of civil disorder brought down Rome’s hand heavily and cruelly with complete disregard for life and property. Those responsible for good government were dismissed without debate. The Sadducees saw Jesus as the possible leader of a rebellion.

 Politically they needed to get rid of Him.

 Theologically He was a big problem. They did not believe in life after death and the resurrection of the dead. Lazarus presented a big threat to them. There are theories that they could even have planned to kill Lazarus.

Truth was of no concern especially in conflict with their own interests.

In the meantime Jesus enters Jerusalem (12:12-19) like a king – just what they feared.

The crowds accompanying Him from Bethany and the others from Jerusalem, who heard He was coming, were rejoicing and singing.

The people received Him like a king and the authorities were in panic.

The crowds were made up of a variety of attitudes. Some were spectators only for curiosity; some have heard the rumours and would like to see. Others saw Him as a conqueror and brave enough to confront the church leaders.

Hosanna means save now in Hebrew.

They sang the words of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), which is sung at thanksgiving in the Temple and part of the Passover. The children memorized it as part of religious training. They also sang it at the Feast of the Tabernacles. They sang the verses triumphantly. They sang it when Nehemiah restored the wall (Nehemiah 8:14-18).

The crowds sang in anticipation for a victory over the Romans, in expectation of the trumpet call to conquer and be restored. They were crowning Him for everything He resisted and refused to be. He had to serve their purposes.

Jesus could not speak.  He would not have been heard.

What He does speak loud and clear. He was riding on a donkey. It was a deliberate claim to be the Messiah.

 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

 He claimed to be a particular kind of Messiah. The donkey was a noble animal and not at all despised (2 Samuel 17:23; 19:26). Mephiboset, the royal prince and son of Saul, rode on a donkey when he came to David. It was a sign to come in peace.

Riding a horse would signal war; riding on a donkey signaled peace. He was truly the Prince of Peace. The crowd missed the sign and symbolism of the donkey. They wanted war. They wanted their own goals.

Jewish leaders in frustration called out prophetically:

See! The whole world has gone after Him.

Jesus showed magnificent courage. He knew they were after Him and still He enters very publicly in defiance of what they could do to Him.

 

120. God in action!

[John 11]

What is a miracle? It is an event in the lives of men that can only be explained in supernatural terms. The official definition underlines the mystery aspect of a highly improbable or extraordinary event.

As the dictionary puts it: It is a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

 A miracle is described as surprising and welcome, a positive outcome. It is the opposite of the crisis or circumstances that gave rise to the need for divine intervention. In other words, it is the inexplicable rectification of a catastrophic or heartbreaking situation.

A miracle is God in action. It is our loving Father, almighty creator-God, who intervenes and does the impossible for our benefit. A miracle is welcomed as a relief where relief was not humanly possible.

Miracles are answered prayers.

God is a mystery, operating in the unseen. Where shall we find Him and how will we “see” His action. God is the God of His people. We “see” Him active His community.

William Barclay explained how a certain Rabbi expounded the text in Deuteronomy 13:4:”You shall walk after the Lord your God.” He said that text commands us to imitate the things, which God is depicted as doing in scripture. God clothed the naked (Genesis 3:21); God visited the sick (Genesis 18:1). God comforted the mourners (Genesis 25:11); God buried the dead (Deuteronomy 34:6). In all these things we must imitate the actions of God.

In this section of John 11:17-27 we meet the household of Jesus’ friends in Bethany. Martha is true to character (Luke 10:38-42).  Martha loved action, and Mary sat still. Martha was up to meet Jesus.

When Martha met Jesus her heart spoke through her lips. Martha’s words were half reproach that came out in desperation and half with faith that is now so disappointed:

If you had been here,”she said, “my brother would not have died.”

Through her words she is asking: “Jesus, why are you late. If you had come when we sent the message, Lazarus would live.” Still there is faith in her words: I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Martha mentioned the general resurrection on the last day. It is very important words from Martha:

One of the strangest things in scripture is the fact that the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days, the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good and bad alike, went to Sheol or Hades. Sheol is wrongly translated Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of the shades. All alike went there and they lived a vague, shadowy, strengthless, joyless ghostly kind of life. (Psalms 6:5;30:9and many others). It is Hezekiah’s pessimistic belief that:

“For Sheol cannot thank You,

Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.(Isaiah 38:18).

In Psalms 16:9-11and 73:23-24 the Psalmist wants to believe that not even death can separate him from God. This immortal hope we find in Job. While facing all his disasters, Job cried out:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;

And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,   (Job 19:25-26)

In the time of Jesus the Sadducees did not believe in life after death, but the Pharisees and the great majority of the Jews did. Those who died saw God, and they refused to call them the dead but called them the living. Martha reached out in faith to this belief.

Jesus answered:

I am the Resurrection and the Life,” We have faith in Him for life. His life in us makes NO provision for death of any kind.

Not even a lifetime’s thinking will reveal the full meaning of this; but we must try to grasp as much of it as we can.[William Barclay]

Life is so much more than physical. Even if life is so hard, it makes it almost not worth living, Jesus can make him alive again.”

There is life to come. Death is not the end. Death is just a door into the invisible.

Physical death is the sunrise, the dawn of eternity.

It was the custom, especially for the women, to go to the tomb to weep on every possible occasion, for a week after the burial. Mary’s greeting was exactly the same as that of Martha.

We must remember that this would be no gentle shedding of tears. It would be almost hysterical wailing and shrieking, for it was the Jewish point of view that the more unrestrained the weeping, the more honour it paid to the dead.

Jesus was deeply moved in spirit. The word comes from the verbembrimasthai. It is used three other times in the New Testament. It means rather to rebuke, to give a stern order to.

Why the anger? It is suggested that the display of tears by the Jewish visitors to Bethany was sheer hypocrisy – artificial grief raised Jesus’ wrath. In ordinary classical Greek the usual usage of embrimasthaiis a horse snorting. Such deep emotion seized Jesus that an involuntary groan was wrung from his heart.

Here is one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into men’s sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish.

John had written his whole gospel on the theme that in Jesus we see the mind of God. To the Greek the primary characteristic of God was what he called which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever. 

If we can feel sorrow or joy, gladness or grief, it means that someone can have an effect upon us. Now, if a person has an effect upon us, it means that for the moment that person has power over us. No one can have any power over God; and this must mean that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever.

The Greeks believed in an isolated, passionless and compassionless God. 

What a different picture Jesus gave! God’s heart is wrung with compassion for the anguish of his people. God cares.

The usual Palestinian tomb was a natural cave or a space hewn out of the rock. The bodies were wrapped in linen but the hands and feet were enfolded in bandage-like wrappings and the head was wrapped separately. In front of the opening ran a groove in which a great stone like a cartwheel was rolled across the entrance to seal the grave.

Jesus asked the stone to be moved. Martha thought that Jesus wished to look on the face of his dead friend for the last time. She did not think this a good idea and pointed out that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. It was Jewish belief that the spirit of the departed hovered around his tomb for three days, seeking re-entrance. But after three days the spirit finally left. A decayed face was not easily recognizable.

Then Jesus spoke his word of command which even death was powerless to oppose. 

Lazarus came forth.It is weird to think of the bandaged figure staggering out from the tomb. Jesus told them to loosen the grave-clothes and wrappings and let him go. Most probably everybody around the grave stood stunned and just stared, not believing their eyes and not moving.

When Jesus spoke the power of God flowed through him.

Jesus spoke this miracle into being to honour God, just like Elijah when he prayed: “Answer me, O Lord, that this people may know that you are God”(1 Kings 18:37).

In the other three gospels there are accounts of people being raised from the dead: Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56) and the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-16). In both cases the raising followed immediately after death. It might be possible to believe that in both these miracles the person raised was in a coma.

Burial had to take place quickly in the hot climate of Palestine. Evidence in graves pointed to the fact that people were sometimes buried alive. It could well be that these were miracles of diagnosis in which Jesus saved two young people from a dreadful death.

But there is no parallel for the raising of a man who had been dead for four days and whose body had begun to putrefy.

The Sanhedrin was called to deal with the situation. The miracle of Lazarus forced their hand.

In the Sanhedrin there were bothPharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were not a political party. They lived the law. The Sadducees were political. They were wealthy and aristocratic. To retain their wealth, comfort and position of authority, they collaborated with Rome. All the priests were Sadducees. They did all the talking.

They were notoriously discourteous. Their contemptuous arrogance is a stark contrast to the accents of love of Jesus. 

They were set on the retention of their political and social power and prestige. Jesus might gain a following and raise a rebellion against the government. Rome could never afford civil disorder and always quelled it with a firm and merciless hand. The Sadducees would be dismissed. It never even occurred to them to ask whether Jesus was right or wrong.

A man can set his own career before the will of God. 

History shows an example of dramatic irony. The Sadducees insisted that Jesus must be eliminated to prevent the Romans to take their authority away. In 70AD that is exactly what happened. The Romans besieged Jerusalem and left it a heap of ruins. How different things might have been if the Jews had accepted Jesus!

Caiaphas, the High Priest, made his very ironic, very true statement: Better that one man should perish than that the whole nation should perish.

The High Priest’s role was to ask God’s counsel for the nation. Moses told Joshua when he wished for God’s counsel he was to go to Eleazar the High Priest. (Numbers 27:18-21)

God can speak through the most unlikely people.Sometimes He sends his message through a man without the man being aware. He can use even the words of bad men.

Jesus was to die for the Jewish nation and the world.

By this time Jerusalem was beginning to fill up with people for the Passover. The Jews had to be ceremonially clean for the Feast. Any person would become unclean by touching a corpse. Purifications were carried out in the Temple.

One can just imagine the talk. The people knew what was going on. People are always interested in the man who bravely and stubbornly faces fearful odds. This was Jesus against the authorities.

The conclusion of the gossip was that Jesus could not possibly come to Jerusalem. He could not take on the whole might of Jewish leaders and political authorities.

But they had underrated Jesus. Nothing on earth would stop Him coming. Jesus came to Jerusalem openly. He drew attention upon himself with death-defying courage.

 

119. Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

[John 11]

It is the one certainty of life. Death follows every life on earth. For as long as man draws breath, death is the existential fact of life, mystified into fearful speculation and hesitant philosophical debate.

Death and the realm of death is a mystery that belongs to God. All that we have is the one-sided accounts of near-death experiences that provide a glimpse into something outside our realm of reality.

As we are so aptly instructed in Deuteronomy 29:29 (The Message):

God, our God, will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business. It’s up to us and our children to attend to all the terms in this Revelation.

There is no doubt that life provides us with enough to take care of. Making a living, raising children with the values and courage to secure the next generation, caring for our earth and extend the hand of God in love to the immeasurable suffering and destruction around us, are more than enough for one lifetime of responsible living. How can we still worry about death?

But death comes, or rather strikes, daily. Sometimes it is anticipated in the elderly and enters slowly into the suffering of disease and weakness, with expectation and even relief. Accidents and crime shock and traumatize the loved ones when death is a painful punch out of nowhere, bruising our inner being with merciless irreversibility.

Death is part of life. Let us then listen attentively to the details of the encounters of Jesus with death, which was such an expected and terrifying cruelty of the young and old in Palestine of the first century.

Just the words He chose to describe the situation are indicative of the victory He brought. He always called death, sleep…

Lazarus and his sisters provided Jesus with a place to feel at home. Jesus said He had no home (Luke 9:58), but in Bethany He had a place of rest. These three people truly loved Him. There He found a place of relaxation and escape from the demands of the crowds.

The name Lazarus means God is my help. It is the same name as Eleazar (Aaron’s son), which is the Hebrew version. Lazarus fell ill, and the sisters sent Jesus a message to say that he is sick. The sisters’ message included no request for Jesus to come to Bethany. They knew that it was unnecessary; they knew that the simple statement that they were in need would bring Him to them.

It is sufficient that Jesus should know. Jesus would not ignore His sick friend. Jesus, on the other hand, was not alarmed. He knew He had the power to deal with anything. God’s glory had to be served.

The power of prayer is that you know He knows. The Bible says He knows everything – He knows before we pray. I can testify that over the years God knew better than me what I needed. Even my request is imperfect.

When we pray we expect the glory of God in action.

Upon hearing the news Jesus makes a statement. What a magnificent answer to the prayer of supplication this is!

This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

Jesus talks of his glory in connection with the Cross. (John 7:39) When the Greeks came to Him, Jesus said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23).

He talks about the kernel of wheat, which must fall into the ground and die. (John 12:16) John says that the disciples remembered what Jesus said about dying.

It is our dying to self that magnifies the glory of God’s redemption in our life.

The Cross was His supreme glory and the way to glory. To cure Lazarus was to take a step, which would end in the Cross. It did and He knew it.

Jesus accepted the Cross to help his friend. He knew the cost of helping. He was prepared to pay it. There was no other way to glory than through the Cross.

When He received the news about Lazarus, He stayed for two more days.

There are various reasons mentioned by some commentators:

Jesus waited so that when He arrived Lazarus would be indisputably dead. It would make the miracle all the more impressive. There was a superstition that the soul of the dead still hovered around the body for three days, seeking re-entry. Thereafter it left and death is fully acknowledged.

Jesus takes action entirely on His own initiative and not on the persuasion of anyone else. When He turned water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11) Jesus’ first answer to Mary is: “Don’t bother about this. Let me handle it in my own way.” In John 7:1-10 it recounts Jesus at first refusing to go to Jerusalem and then going in his own good time.

Our prayer should be that we leave it up to Him to do things His way.

To go to Judaea at that time seemed to them, the surest way to commit suicide by church leaders. The disciples were shocked.

“Are there not,” he asked, “twelve hours in the day?” We live within the confines of time here on earth. It will be worth our while to note the great truths in this statement of Jesus.

A day cannot finish before it ends. The period is fixed; nothing will shorten or lengthen it.

There are twelve hours in the day. There is time for everything a man should do. There is no need to rush.

There are twelve hours but only twelve hours. A day cannot be extended. Time cannot be wasted.

There is time enough, but not too much. The time we have, must be used to the utmost. [See Pebbles 109: And you? What do you have to say?]

If a man walks in the light, he will not stumble; but if he tries to walk in the night, he will stumble. These words might have two meanings: on the surface and is true, and on another level which lies below the surface it is even more profound.

The Jewish day, like the Roman day was divided into twelve equal hours, from sunrise to sunset. The length of an hour varied according to the length of the day and the season of the year.

On the surface: a man will not stumble when the sun is shining, but when the dark comes, he cannot see the way. There were of course, no streetlights in country places. Travelling stopped at nighttime.

A man must finish the day’s work within the day, for the night comes when work is ended.

In a deeper meaning, John uses the words the dark and the night to describe life without Christ; a life dominated by evil as in the case of Judas: “So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night” (John 13:30). Night is when a man goes away from Christ and when evil reigns.

The threat of time is at the heart of the Gospel. A man has only so much time to make his peace with God through Christ. We have the limited time of this life to do God’s work.

Time has in it two tones of truth: the glory of being in time and the tragedy of being too late.

In the section of John 11:11-16 we see that Jesus’ conversations always follow the same pattern. Jesus says something, which sounds quite simple. His saying is misunderstood, and he goes on to explain more fully and unmistakably what he meant.

Jesus says: Lazarus is sleeping. To the disciples that sounded like good news. Sleep is good medicine. The word sleep has always had a deeper and a more serious meaning. Jesus said of Jairus’ daughter that she was asleep (Matthew 9:24); at the end of Stephen’s martyrdom we are told that he fell asleep (Acts 7:60). Paul speaks about those who sleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13) and of those witnesses of the Resurrection who are now fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:6).

So Jesus had to tell them plainly that Lazarus was dead. It was a good thing, because it would produce an event, which would serve their faith.

The final proof of Christianity is the sight of what Jesus Christ can do. Words may fail to convince, but there is no argument against God in action. The power of Jesus Christ has made the coward a hero, the skeptic a man of faith, the selfish a servant. The plain fact of history is that the power of Christ has made the bad good. The redemptive power of the Gospel cannot be denied.

We should be a living proof of his power. Our task is to demonstrate in our lives what Christ has done for us.

As a great scholar once said: “I do not like crises; but I like the opportunities which they supply.”

At that moment the disciples might well have refused to follow Jesus. They realized that going even close to Jerusalem would mean certain death. It is the lone voice of Thomas that says: “Let us, too, go that we may die with him.” 

All Jews had two names – a Hebrew name by which a man was known in his own circle and a Greek name by which he was known in a wider circle. Thomas is the Hebrew and Didymus the Greek for a twin. So Peter is the Greek and Cephas is the Hebrew for a rock; Tabitha is the Hebrew, and Dorcas the Greek for a gazelle.

Thomas displayed courage. In his heart it might not even have been courage, but loyal despair. However, Thomas was determined – he would not quit.

Real courage means being perfectly aware of the worst that can happen, even being sickeningly afraid of it, and yet doing the right thing.

 

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

(1 Corinthians 15:55, The Message)

118. I am a sheep.

[John 10]

Do you know about sheep? They are peculiar animals; very different from cattle. Since the earliest times the Hebrews were sheep farmers. When Jacob and his family moved to Egypt in the famine and Joseph was second in command of all the land of Egypt, they received land away from the Egyptians and their cattle.

And the men are shepherds, for their occupation has been to feed livestock; and they have brought their flocks, their herds, and all that they have…. that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”(Genesis 46:32-34)

Jacob’s family lived in the land of Goshen, a very fertile land in the eastern part of the Nile delta.

The Egyptians were mostly cattle farmers. They looked down on sheep farmers. Sheep feed on the whole grass plant and pull it out root and all. The shepherds often moved their sheep to a variety of pastures. Agricultural researchers recommend grazing the picky grazers like horses and cattle first and following with the less picky grazers sheep orgoats. Cattle typically tear off large mouthfulsof forage.

Sheep usually follow the rest of the flock. They are notorious to follow each other into danger. The shepherd sometimes trains one of them to follow him and knows the rest will follow.

Here in John 10 Jesus talks about the lost sheep of Israel for whom He came. Thereafter His ministry was opened up to include everybody.

The disciples had to go out to Israel first (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:24).

Jesus was known to reach out to the Gentiles:

  • He healed the servant of the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10)
  • He spoke to the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:40)
  • He said that the descent from Abraham was no guarantee into the Kingdom (John 8:39)
  • He healed a Samaritan leper who turned around to say thank you (Luke 17:18-19)
  • He told the story of the Samaritan traveler who showed mercy (Luke 10:37)
  • He welcomed many people from all directions (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29)
  • He commanded his disciples to go out to all nations (Matthew 28:19)
  • He is the light of the world (John 8:12)
  • He loved the world (John 3:16)

In Jesus the world can be one and all nations like brothers.

Unity is only possible when we know His voice and follow His voice.

We go out to teach others to know His voice so that they can follow Him. We do not teach church doctrine. We teach people to listen for His voice.

The church of Jesus is the flock. It is that invisible body of people in this world whose hearts are set on Him and His teachings. It has nothing to do with organized religion. We are the Kingdom of God on earth. We are united by choice not by chance.

The passage in John 10:17-18 tells us so much about Jesus.

He lives in full obedience, even unto death. Sonship to Him was nothing but obedience in the highest sense possible.

Jesus views the Cross as the path to glory. He never doubted His death, but also never doubted His resurrection. He had full confidence in God. He has not missed His destiny, as He was willing to pay the price. There is no easy way to greatness.

His death was not a condemnation by the people. He could have called heavens hosts as His defense. He was accepting death fully  (John 19:10-11). He was never a victim to His circumstances. He chose the Cross. He did not lose His life, He gave it.

In the next passage we see that the dilemma of the people is as real today as it was at that time. Is Jesus a madman or the Son of God? There is no escape from the choice. Jesus spoke about God in a way that could not be ignored.

He is not a madman.  His teaching is the only hope for this world.

His deeds are to bring comfort and restore brokennessfor others – a madman would not open the eyes of the blind.

The effect He had on people saved millions upon millions of lives. He makes the bad good. He makes the foolish wise and the destitute hopeful.

The Festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem is sometimes called the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) celebrated for eight days in December.

The origin of the Festival of the Dedication lies in one of the greatest times of ordeal and heroism in Jewish history. There was a king of Syria called Antiochus Epiphanes who reigned from 175 to 164 BC. He was a lover of all things Greek. He decided that he would eliminate the Jewish religion once and for all, and introduce Greek ways and thoughts, Greek religion and gods into Palestine. At first he tried to do so by the peaceful penetration of ideas. Some of the Jews welcomed the new ways, but most were stubbornly loyal to their ancestral faith.

In 170 BC Antiochus attacked Jerusalem. It was said that 80,000 Jews perished and thousands sold into slavery. A small fortune was stolen from the Temple treasury. It became a capital offence to possess a copy of the law, or to circumcise a child. Mothers who did circumcise their children were crucified with their children hanging round their necks. Temple chambers were turned into brothels.  Finally Antiochus took the dreadful step of turning the great altar of the burnt-offering into an altar to Olympian Zeus, and on it sacrificed a pig to the pagan gods.

It was then that Judas Maccabaeus and his brother arose to fight their epic fight for freedom. In 164 BC the struggle was finally won; and in that year the Temple was cleansed and purified. The altar was rebuilt and the robes and the utensils were replaced. It was to commemorate the purification of the Temple that the Feast of the Dedication was instituted.

It was told that when the great seven-branched candlestick was relit, only one container of unpolluted oil could be found. The vase was sealed with the ring of the High Priest. There was only oil enough in that vase to light the lamps for one single day. Miraculously it lasted for eight days, until new oil had been prepared according to the correct formula and consecrated.

In this atmosphere Jesus utters one of the seven I AM sayings: I am the Light of the world.There is no one else ever to say these words. He is the light in the darkness of political strife, emotional upheaval and the maze of uncertainty that mark life on earth.

There on the porch of the Temple of Solomon where the rabbi’s often met their students the question was put to Jesus.

Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

It was the genuine heart’s cry of longing or a trap for Jesus to utter heresy and blasphemy. Jesus answers what He so often told them.

“I who speak to you am He.”(John 4:26)

 “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”(John 9:37)

He says clearly that His sheep will know His voice. (John 10:26,27)

Jesus promised eternal life. The physical death is just an entrance to more of the new dimension with Him. Nothing would snatch them from His hand (John 10:29-30).

Jesus trusted His father above all. He knew it didn’t matter how scattered the flock was, His Father had control and would not let anyone slip.

 …for He God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] (Hebrews 13:5-7, Amplified)

We have God-confidence. Jesus is faithful.

Jesus is God – here He says it. He also prays it in John 17:1 and 20-22.

Through love we are one with God in Jesus. Love implies obedience. Oneness is not philosophical or metaphysical. It is relationship.

[John 13:34; 15:10; 14:21, 23-24.]

This statement of Jesus that He is one with God, made the Jews very angry. They picked up stones to stone Him (10:31). Blasphemy was punished by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Jesus argued amid the hostility. He is not afraid of the arguments in a heated atmosphere.

He does wonderful things. His deeds could only come from God.

Jesus said that He was consecrated by God for a special task. He is holy – set apart for a specific purpose. God sent Him as messenger from heaven. (Psalms 82:6, Exodus 21:1-6. Also Exodus 22:9; 22:28)

He tests the people to judge His deeds not His words. The fruit of His life speaks louder than words about Him. Deeds are beyond arguments.

Jesus was not stoned that day. His execution was planned and marked on the calendar of heaven. He needed quietness before the struggle. He had to meet with God before meeting men.

He went to the place where John baptized, where He was baptized. There He heard the voice of God strengthening Him and confirming Him. His baptism was one of the supreme experiences of His life.

Jacob went back to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-6).

The people remembered John and what He said about Jesus. Many believed when they remembered the words of John.

Jesus was even greater than John said He would be. He never disappoints. The Jews saw in Jesus the man John predicted He would be and many believed.

Many great men with great futures messed it up somehow and were a disappointment to many. Jesus is God. He comes with the full guarantee of heaven.

He can never and will never disappoint. In Him the dream comes true.

 I am a sheep – I will follow Him.