27 January 2010

Jesus Heals, People Serve

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.   Mark 1:29-34

  • It's easy to forget because it's not discussed much in the Bible, but these disciples of Jesus had families.  Not just mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, but wives and children as well.  I wonder what Peter's wife thought about Peter's choice to leave his fishing business to follow and learn from this new rabbi?
  • Consider the perspective of Peter's mother-in-law.  Her family is so worried about her, they told Peter's new rabbi, who had just driven out an unclean spirit, about her bed-ridden state.  He heals her.  Immediately, it is written, she began to serve.  What a wonderful picture of someone healed by Jesus.  The reason our Father blesses us is so that He can use us to bless others. 
  • And Peter's mother-in-law was in for a long day of serving because the whole town was about to gather at her door asking for Jesus' help.  How crazy a day!  She starts out with a critical illness and it ends with her helping Jesus as he cures others with critical illnesses.  May we have the same heart as Peter's mother-in-law.  May we not be content with the healing he has given our own lives, but keep serving others with joy as we see Jesus heal others.
  • Any doubts Peter's wife had about Peter following Jesus had to have been eliminated by this magnificent day.

22 January 2010

Jesus Teaches With Authority

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.   Mark 1:21-28

Two primary observations from this account:
  •  The local religious leaders and synagogue attenders quickly recognised a difference in this rabbi's teachings from every other rabbi's teaching.  The difference?  Authority.  He didn't just read or report what the scriptures said like the scribe's did.  He seemed to teach confidently why what was recorded was recorded.   How can Jesus of Nazareth teach with such authority?  It is revealed in the man with the unclean spirit.  "I know who you are, the Holy One of God!"  Can you imagine hearing the Incarnate Word explain the written word?  As shocked as those in the synagogue were at the man, how much more shocked they must have been at the authority Jesus displayed by quickly cleansing the man of the unclean spirit.  Who is this man?  And the whispers about Jesus quickly spread throughout the region.
  • This account also gives an ominous warning for those who would investigate who Jesus is.  I think Jesus' brother James had this memory in mind when he wrote to his church in James 2:19-20:  "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?"  It is not enough to acknowledge Jesus as the Holy One of God.  We must allow our faith in Jesus as the Holy One of God to permeate every aspect of our life.  If we do not,  we demonstrate with our apathetic response that while Jesus is the Holy One of God, so what?  It makes no difference to me.

19 January 2010

Jesus Proclaims Good News

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Matthew 4:12-17

Some brief observations:
  • Jesus once again fulfills a messianic prophecy that was written 700 years before he came.
  • I heard a preacher claim that Jesus spoke more about hell than he spoke about heaven.  If that's true, he must have spoke about hell a lot because he spoke about heaven a lot.  It will be interesting to track this over the coarse of this study.
  • Repentance is a major theme of Jesus' ministry.  Repent means to change one's mind especially in light of regret or remorse which as a result leads to a changed way in how one lives.  Repent is used 34 times in the NT:  16 times in the Gospels (Matt-John), 12 times in Revelation (Jesus giving a vision to John), 5 times in Acts (Luke's recorded history of the early church) and 1 time in Paul's letters.
  • Kingdom as in the Kingdom of God and/or Kingdom of Heaven is another major theme of Jesus' ministry.  One's kingdom is the range of their effective willKingdom is used 162 times in the NT:  126 times in the Gospels (Matt-John), 9 times in Revelation (Jesus giving a vision to John), 8 times in Acts (Luke's recorded history of the early church) and 19 times in various letters to the church.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  This is Jesus' main message.  This is what Jesus came to tell us, to show us and to provide a way for us.  The word repent makes us wince. We don't like being told what to do.  And, what's worse is that we don't like being told that the way we think and live is wrong.  "Who are they to tell me what to do?"

But, for those who believe that Jesus is the only Son of God who has been with God from before the beginning, this is a message that cannot be ignored.  So, how is our thinking wrong?  And what are we to turn our thinking to?

The answer is contained in that short simple thesis sentence that should be the thesis sentence to all who have been asked to proclaim the good news of Jesus.  "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  We need to change our way of thinking about how we view our lives and the world we live in because the kingdom of heaven is near.  The old way of thinking that we or someone else are the lord of our own lives and destinies is wrong.  I am not the king of my life. He is.

The error of our thinking is demonstrated in what we will do to preserve our own kingdom.  From Jesus' earliest time among us, we see the lengths people will go to preserve their own kingdom.  When King Herod learned that "the King of the Jews" was born, he first tried to use people with strong knowledge of the prophecies of God and then he killed innocent children simply to preserve his own kingdom.

Throughout the coarse of Jesus' life and ministry, we will learn who is willing to welcome and live under the kingdom of heaven and who will do whatever it takes to preserve their own kingdom.  What have we been willing to do in order to preserve our own kingdom?  What harm have we done to others in order to preserve our own kingdom?  Do we trust the news that the kingdom of heaven is near is good news?

14 January 2010

Jesus Heals, Households Believe

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe." The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live."
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, "The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour." Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed. This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee. - John 4:46-54

Signs, Signs everywhere signs, blockin' up the scenery, breakin' my mind. Do this. Don't do that. Can't you read the signs.

I can already read the frustration in Jesus' statement. "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders..." It had to be hard to have to prove himself over and over again to the very people who should be doing something for him. After all, he gave them life. They had wandered away from the will of His Father. And yet, here we all came, acting as though something was owed to us. Do something for us and then we will believe you are who you say you are.

Keep in mind, he had already healed many. He was in the very town where he had turned water into wine. He tried to keep it quiet, but the servants and his family and disciples knew what he had done. Do we honestly believe that rumour stayed quiet very long? How many times must Jesus prove himself? How many healings does it take before people start to believe that Jesus is the messiah? How many signs must it take?

Clearly the royal official knew about Jesus, for he had traveled 42k to meet with this man out of desperation. His son was about to die. What wouldn't I do to save the life of my son? If I knew there was someone out there doing the miraculous, I would do the same. But, Jesus' reaction shames us. I know what Jesus has done for others. I know the healing he has given for those in need. But, I need him to do it for me until I truly believe.

We would have understood if Jesus had refused to walk the distance to heal his son. After all, he had left towns behind where there were still people in need in favour of other towns that needed him as well. We would have understood if he had said, "No."

But Jesus is not us. Despite his stated frustration at the man's selfish request, he still loves the royal official. "Go your way; your son lives."

So the man immediately stops his insisting. This powerful man doesn't seem to protest that Jesus must accompany him along the 42k. He simply goes back home. What a strange trip that must have been. Jesus' words "Your son lives" must have been echoing in his mind, as well as the doubt. Is he really alive? Can I really trust this stranger I traveled so far to meet?

His servants met him and told him "Your son lives!" The very words Jesus spoke. What Jesus proclaimed, the servants reported. In him was life and the life was the light of men. Jesus comes so that we may shine like stars in the universe. He created us that way. Because of this miracle, the official's entire household believed in Jesus.

Jesus went around bringing hope and healing to those who came to him out of desperation. Does the body of Christ do the same?

13 January 2010

Jesus is Rejected

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepersd in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.    Luke 4:14-30

How strange it must have been for people who had played with Jesus, seen Jesus grow up, worked with Jesus, worship with Jesus at the synagogue to now hear about the things Jesus was doing. My reaction probably would have been the same as these people described in Luke 4. At first, they swell up with pride that Jesus was from their hometown [Isn't this Joseph's son?].

As usual, he goes to synagogue. But on this occasion, he goes not as a young Jewish man, but as a rabbi, a teacher. He is given a scroll of God's Word to Isaiah and reads a proclamation of what his ministry is about. He tells them he is proclaiming the year of the Lord's favour. This is good news for the poor, good news for the blind and good news for the captives and the oppressed. (Who are the poor, the blind, the captives and oppressed? This becomes clear as we follow Jesus' ministry.)

People in his hometown have heard about the miraculous events taking place through him and anticipate what Jesus will do among people he knows. They seem to respond to Jesus' proclamation that the scripture is fulfilled with "Great! Get to work Jesus. What will you do for us who are your friends?"

Then, Jesus gives an unusual response: No. Why? Because no prophet is accepted in his hometown. He tells the people he grew up with that he can't do the things he is doing in other places because they will not believe and reject his teachings. And, he gives historical reasons why this is the case.

Isn't this harsh? I mean, come on Jesus. They are looking at you with hope and this is how you meet their hope? Why does he have to be so blunt and mean and cruel? Because Jesus is Lord and because Jesus is good, then I must accept Jesus knows what he is doing even when I don't know what he is doing.

Jesus just proclaimed what his ministry is all about. His mission is too grand, too important and too short to be wasting time on people who will not accept Him as Saviour and Lord.
As it turns out, Jesus' blunt truth telling is justified in his hometown's reaction to Him. Did they respond with sorrow and reassure Jesus that they were in just as much need of Him as the other towns? Did they explain to Jesus that their will was their own and they weren't going to follow the other fools of history? No. They were filled with rage and were intent on killing him.

In school, most of us become quite adept at knowing what to say and do so that we are liked by many people. Then, that grows into a desire to be liked by the right people. Too often, we compromise many of our own principles of justice, kindness and humility just to be liked. When a person is bullied, we watch silently. When a cruel joke is told, we laugh along. We eat, smoke and drink things into our own bodies. We risk our lives and the lives of others. Why? Just to be liked.

Many of us pastors and church leaders fall into the trap of playing silly popularity games. After all, isn't the point of church to get as many people in the church as possible? Isn't the point of the church is to be popular? The problem is when our main goal is popularity, we become willing and do compromise pieces the truth of who God has created us to be, His image, in order to be liked. No, the point of church isn't to get as many people in the church as possible. She's to be a group of people who are willing together to grow up into the head, who is Christ Jesus. She is to be a group of followers of Jesus being immersed into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, encouraging one another to obey every command of Jesus.

And, often, it doesn't matter how articulate our arguments, how large our charity, or how the Spirit manifests Himself through us. Sometimes, often, the response from even our friends, the powerful and the respected to the question of do you believe that Jesus is your Saviour and Lord will be "NO!" with anger, hatred, rejection.

Father, please give me and your people your Son's strength of character.

12 January 2010

Jesus Doesn't Stand on Propriety

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized—he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but youc say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.   John 4:1-30

(Here's a transition thought from last passage to this one:  Religious people like causing strife through ego and rivalry.  Be careful of people whispering sweet nothings in your ear and pointing your messaged ego toward someone who threatens your messaged ego.)

This is one of my favourite stories about Jesus. So much can be said here, but I'll only respond with a few:

  • Jesus was tired from the journey. Yes, Jesus was human. He is not the ethereal figure some are more comfortable portraying him to be.
  • Jesus would talk to anyone. He didn't stand on proprieties and he certainly wasn't afraid for his reputation. ("The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”...Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman.") After all, he didn't even consider equality with His Father something to be grasped. In light of this, it is hard to justify and explain what makes some of us so special that we don't follow Jesus' example on this. Of course the flip-side to arrogance is my sin. Sometimes I don't know why anyone would want to hear anything I would have to say. So I keep my head down and walk oblivious to the world around me. Unfortunately, I disobey Jesus teaching to love my neighbour when I do this. Not only does it rob me of opportunities to help people in need, but it demonstrates a lack of trust in my Saviour who makes me worthy.
  • Three times, she demonstrates that her views of God and her neighbour are being drawn from the old wells of culture and tradition. First, she assumes a Jew like Jesus would ever attempt to relate to a Samaritan like her. Second, she assumes there is good water in the well because patriarch Jacob discovered the well. Third, she assumes her people are closer to God because they worship on the right mountain. All three of these assumptions are typical religious concepts. All three of these assumptions do nothing to improve her as a human being. Too many times we put everything into beliefs, doctrine, or customs that mean nothing. Jesus answers these assumptions quickly and simply. First, he does attempt to relate to her. Second, he refuses to accept that there is anything special about Jacob's well. ("Anyone who drinks from this well will be thirsty again.") He then informs her that she has access to something that will satisfy her true needs. Third, he informs her that the quality of worship does not depend on where the worship is but on the worshiper themselves. He tells her that God looks for people who worship in spirit and in truth.
  • Jesus speaks the truth about her life. He speaks matter-of-factly about her life. His words assume the question of "The way you give yourself quickly to men and the faith you place in traditions and customs, how is it working for you?" She doesn't have to be convinced that she isn't living the best possible life. She knows. What she doesn't know is how to move forward with her life. She laments that someone is coming soon to explain everything. Jesus tells her the good news that that time is now. The one who explains everything is here. The Kingdom of Heaven is near!
  • This woman who came by herself to draw water in the heat of the day is now so excited about this news she contacts others so they can share in this good news as well.

11 January 2010

Jesus Came From Heaven

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized —John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison. Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”  The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.  John 3:22-36

Once again, we see the model for ministry in John the Baptist.  It appears that someone outside of the John the Baptist camp had a conversation with those in the John the Baptist camp that went something like, "Isn't John bothered by the fact that more and more attention is being paid to Jesus instead of him?"  John explains to his loyal disciples that there is no John the Baptist camp.  In fact he chastises them because he has told him this the whole time.

Then he explains the difference between a prophet like himself and Jesus:  Jesus comes from heaven.  John the Baptist is not confused that Jesus is more than a man.  He is more than just a good teacher.  He has witnessed it all and knows firsthand that "God is true".  Why should we waste our time following "good" men who only have our perspective when there is someone who has a heavenly perspective who provides the way to eternal life ("that they would know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent")?

08 January 2010

Jesus is the Saviour

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”   John 3:1-21

To some, it may seem that Jesus is giving a cryptic teaching but Jesus is trying to be as elemental as he can about the nature of God's Spirit.

Nicodemus meets Jesus under the cover of darkness probably to suss Jesus out. Many times, the religious teachers would start a conversation with Jesus with a compliment. But, Jesus knew the hearts of men and would typically respond with a test of a person's true understanding. In this case, Nicodemus says in part, "...we know that you are a teacher who has come from God..." Jesus answers, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." In other words, Jesus is answering Nicodemus' claim that they truly believe Jesus is from God and Jesus questions their understanding of what they are seeing. Nicodemus quickly reveals that he has no true understanding of Jesus nor the kingdom of God.

As Jesus explains later to his disciples, the key to understanding his teachings is a matter of perspective and humility. The perspective of the Pharisees is one that is typical of a quasi-ruling class who have some amount of power to lose when there is a threat to the current system. At this time, the religious teachers are seeing this one rabbi from the lowly town of Nazareth performing signs and miracles and amassing large crowds. This unknown, budding Jesus movement may threaten the people's respect for them as religious teachers and therefore their ability to control the people they rule over. The perception of losing control gives birth to fear. And fear is the seed of fearful actions (What is born of flesh is flesh, but what is born of spirit is spirit.) They must find out what Jesus' intentions are and more importantly if there is anything in it for them.

Nicodemus tries to find out and Jesus skilfully reveals this to be the case. Jesus' comparing the Spirit to the wind is quite telling. Nicodemus seems to know Jesus is at the least drawing his power from God. But he has difficulty fully accepting that reality because of certain assumptions he has made about God. He assumes God favours the Pharisees. Why would God be interested in sinners? Who Jesus is, where he comes from and how he has conducted his ministry so far seems to contradict those assumptions.

What is the reaction of Nicodemus to what is happening? "Awesome! God is working in our midst. O Lord, please tell us what you want us to do while you are here?" No. The reaction from Nicodemus and the religious teachers is, "Uh oh, there is something happening here and it seems to be from God. But I hope not because this may not bode well for us." (The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.) Instead of trusting God with their lives no matter where that takes them, they want to control their own destiny even if that means deceiving themselves into thinking they can control and manipulate who God is in the mind of their people.

Jesus then explains to Nicodemus that their lack of understanding and respect for God prevents them from believing who Jesus is and what Jesus' intentions are. They assume that God has no interest in sinners and desires to destroy and punish people. Jesus explains that this is not the case and that his very presence demonstrates that this is not the case. (For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.) Jesus came to save, not to condemn. Jesus came to give life not bring death. The Pharisees' stubborn hearts born out of pride in their own flesh and understanding did not allow them to acknowledge this. They refused to believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Over the centuries, false religious teaching may change names and teachers, but the philosophy of denying who God has revealed himself to be the nation of Israel and through His Son Jesus remains the same. For example, "spiritual" guru Oprah Winfrey says during her New Earth seminars, "God is a feeling experience, not a believing experience." In other words, God is whoever you want Him to be as long as this works for what YOU want to accomplish in YOUR life. The teachings of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus clearly say again and again that this is simply not the case. To have an eternal and full life, each of us must believe that God is exactly who He says He is through His Son Jesus.

As we see later in the story, the Pharisees did not believe Jesus and this was demonstrated by their actions. They would only acknowledge Jesus as "a teacher who has come from God" at night, under the cover of darkness. And Jesus warns Nicodemus that this action demonstrates their state of being in God. (For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

They were so quick to do God's job for Him. They thought it was their job to determine who is saved and who is condemned. Who is God's favoured and who is God's cursed. Jesus warns Nicodemus that the Pharisees need to re-evaluate how they determine such things (Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.)

07 January 2010

Jesus is a Temple

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.   John 2:12-25

Gee. Here's something different. This account of Jesus confounds those who see Jesus as the ethereal, gentle, soft-spoken, nonviolent speaker of wise sayings and healer of the lame, doesn't it? And, he does this twice! What made Jesus so angry? He says why he is taking these actions both times.

"How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" and "It is written, 'My house will be a house of prayer for all nations', but you have made it a 'den of robbers.'"

Apparently there was a noisy stall set up within the outer "Gentile (Non-Jews)" courts of the temple as a service for all travelers to purchase the necessary livestock and currency used in the various rituals of the temple. Not only did this make a lot of noise but those manning the booths made sure a nice profit was made from these travelers' need.

Jesus was enraged by this. Jesus makes it clear that what was going on was incompatible with the desire His Father had for His temple to be 'a house of prayer for all nations' (Mark 11:17/Is 56:7). The noise and the profiteering was an obstacle for people wishing to worship in the presence of the Lord not a service.

The Jews who were probably stunned at this audacious act asked Jesus what gave him the right to meddle in the affairs of the temple. He then, unknowingly to them, refers to himself as a temple. Jesus himself was filled with the Spirit of God and brought the presence of God to whoever he was present.

When Jesus was crucified, the curtain within the inner temple was torn. This symbolises the end of only one person being able to come where God resided. Now, it is clear through the teachings of Jesus, the apostles and the early church that all disciples of Christ are God's temples and each of us have the Spirit of God and that the presence of God is among us when we gather together as His church.

We must be sure that each of us as disciples and collectively as the church never engage in practices that would block or make it harder for anyone wishing to come before our Father in prayer. Through the grace of God, each of us have been given the extraordinary opportunity through Jesus to approach God as our Father no matter what our culture, nationality, gender, background, income, position, etc... The church must always proclaim to everyone through our deeds and words this good news.

Again we see early on in his ministry that he knew he would be killed and raised on the third day.And, this resurrection would give him authority.

06 January 2010

Jesus Reveals His Glory to Disciples and Servants

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2:1-11

I enjoy weddings. I enjoy seeing a groom waiting expectantly for the show to get underway. I enjoy standing up with everyone else as the triumphal music starts and announces that the bride is in the room. I enjoy seeing two people full of hope and promise pledging publicly to devote the rest of their lives to each other.

I enjoy celebrating together with people I barely know. Yes, we are hardly best friends but we all share a common bond that has brought us together - the bride and the groom. We smile, laugh, share food together, talk about how we know the newlyweds and maybe reminisce about other weddings and marriages, maybe even our own. It's difficult not to have a good time at a wedding.

Maybe that's why there is some wedding talk around Jesus in the Bible. Jesus tells a couple of stories describing the age to come as a wedding feast. He refers to himself on some occasions as "the bridegroom". In Revelation, New Jerusalem is described as a bride. The church is described as the bride of Christ.

And here, we see the first of the seven signs John records in his written account of Jesus: Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding. John says that these signs "revealed his glory". This is at the request of his mother. Here are my notes and observations as I try to learn more about my teacher:
  • Mary is confident in her son’s amazing ability.
  • I think it is endearing that even though Jesus appears reluctant and mildly chastises his mother, he does this favour anyway.
  • Is there any significance in Jesus using jars used in a ceremony meant to make unclean wedding guests clean so they can participate in the wedding celebration?
  • The wine that Jesus makes is high quality. 
  • God and His Son throughout the Bible want us to enjoy life. Instead of the bridegroom being disgraced because he threw a bad party, he grew in stature because he took care of his guests. Did the bridegroom deserve the credit? Eh, not so much. The only thing he did was invite the right people to his party. And I doubt that he thought inviting Mary and her son Jesus would reap such benefits.
  • I think it's very cool that it's only the servants and disciples who know what truly happened. I wonder what was going through the servants minds as they followed Jesus' instructions? They may have been too busy to care. Servants are used to following orders no matter how crazy they may seem. They had to be amazed at the master of the banquet's reaction. I wonder how they felt?

05 January 2010

Jesus Calls The Unschooled and Ordinary

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you,m you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”   John 1:35-51

 In our time, we properly hold up the twelve men whom Jesus personally discipled in great reverenceBut who were these men?  In Acts 4:13, it is reported that the Jewish religious leaders (formally educated) were surprised by the confidence and courage of these "unschooled and ordinary" men.
We judge people by so many criteria.  We complete census forms in some part for government sociologists to pour over and predict the trends of the nation over the next few years.  But Jesus did not judge by the things that we judge each other by.  Jesus knew the hearts of men.  It seemed that if someone had a good heart, Jesus could work wonders through them.  And even if they didn't at the time, Jesus could turn "hearts of stone" into "hearts of flesh".  ("A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26)

Following Jesus isn't centralised on intellect (if that were the case many of us would be in trouble).  Although the longer we spend time with Jesus and listen to his life and teachings, the smarter and wiser we become.  Following Jesus is centralised on what we believe about Him and our actions tell the true story about what we believe.  Is He our teacher?  Is He our Messiah?  Is He the Son of God?  Is He the King?

02 January 2010

Jesus is The Lamb of God

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”  John 1:19-34

Make no mistake.  With one simple pronouncement, the voice calling from the desert making straight the way of the Lord, tells all of us from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry about Jesus’ primary mission:  “The Lamb of God who takes the sins of the world!”
There are many of us called to testify about Jesus who could learn much from John the Baptist. He knew exactly who he was and what he was supposed to do. His entire ministry revolved around preparing people in their knowledge of another. For all humanity, it is critical to know the one John prepared the way for. John never claimed or grasped for an identity that wasn't his. He became lesser so that One who IS worthy could become greater.
Many of us pastors and church leaders, particularly "successful" ones, have large egos. This is true particularly in the corporate style of church or any large-scale Christian endeavour. The "successful" pastor or leader is usually quite charismatic and those who aren't are usually trained and encouraged to be so.
For example, I once attended a lecture from a popular pastor of one of the largest churches in Perth at a minister's conference. The whole point of his lecture was that many churches weren't doing well because many pastors are not interesting people. He encouraged us to do as he had done and pursue a variety of interests so that we could become more interesting.
We must put ourselves out there in the community so that we can sell more books and/or bring more people into our church or organisation. THEN, we are in the best possible position to introduce people to Jesus. Unfortunately this method has at least two fundamental flaws that prevent us from transitioning from point one to point two.
One, if people are brought into our churches or organisations because of our popularity, what incentive or training is available for people to testify about Jesus? If growing a church is all about liking Phil Baker, Brian Houston, Jimmy Swaggart, TD Jakes, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Alan Hirsch, etc..., then are people truly growing in their knowledge of Jesus or even encouraged to grow in their knowledge of Jesus? It's so true:  what we are won with is what we are won to.
Two, if people are brought into our churches or organisations because of our popularity, then our sustained success depends on our sustained popularity. All of us like being popular (even if it's among a small band of the loyal). None of us like being despised. At a moment of truth, it is very tempting for the popular leader to choose popularity over humility and submission to the Lordship of Christ.
This makes Christ's own example all the more striking and awesome. How does John describe Him? "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" St. Paul wrote that Jesus took the form of a servant. Jesus was a servant. How much of a servant?
Going back to the principle of first mention, the word 'lamb' is first mentioned in Genesis 22. This is the disturbing story of God testing Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice the son God promised to Abraham so long ago. Abraham and his son Isaac went to offer a burnt sacrifice to God.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

And, thankfully, God stopped Abraham from killing his son and provided a ram for the burnt offering.

The next mention of the word 'lamb' is in Exodus 12, God instructed the Israelites to kill a lamb and sprinkle it's blood on their doorposts so His angel would not enter their home and kill their firstborn sons.

In both of these instances in God's revealed Word, there was someone that was going to be killed until something else was killed in their place. (When it comes to these disturbing and blood-soaked stories, I am reminded that I worship the One, True God. God does not have to conform himself to my sensibilities. As CS Lewis wrote about Aslan in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, "He's not tame, but he is good.") So, the Jews would have this in mind when John proclaims Jesus as "The Lamb of God who takes the sins of the world!"

There has been much debate in liberal church circles about the "penal substitution theory" of the atonement. I just listened to a podcast by The Emergent Village where Tony Jones and Mark Baker tried to replace the penal substitution theory of the atonement with another theory. As usual, the emergent church sounds credible when it comes to tearing stuff down, but they fall short putting something in its place.

Do we willingly follow a God who would kill His own Son? Sounds barbaric, doesn't it? Another prophet, Isaiah, references a lamb in the 53rd chapter of his prophecy:

         He was oppressed and afflicted,
         yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,

though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,

he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,

because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

Did God kill His own Son? Not actively, but certainly passively. It seems that at least from the beginning of Jesus' ministry, at least one person knows exactly what the primary purpose of Jesus' mission is: to take away the sins of the world. Here's what I do know. Without an active, intimate relationship with our Creator, the One, True, Living God, we are the living dead. We have rebelled against our heavenly Father and sought our own way. And that way always fails and leads to death. We needed a way to restore our active, intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father. Throughout the history of God's revealed Word, He provided that way through His Lamb, the Lamb of God, Jesus.