Categories
encouragement theology

Greater than Death

Jerusalem Tomb of the Garden

It is a subject that no one wants to talk about, yet it is the one thing that is inevitable for all of us. It is the one constant that unifies every human on earth.

We all will die.

Every culture has its customs and rituals for dealing with death. All of these rituals are ways to show respect for the departed and to comfort the loved ones.

In the ancient Jewish culture, the funeral would last for seven days, with the peak on the fourth day, or “high day” [1] . Friends and neighbors would come to gather around the grieving family and comfort them with loud wailing. The most dedicated friends would help prepare the body for burial by wrapping the body in linen strips and covering it with spices and perfumes. There was no embalming so the body was buried immediately.

The tomb was usually a cave which was built to hold several bodies. After the flesh had fully decomposed, a family member would come in and remove the bones. The entrance to the tomb was covered with a stone in order to keep out thieves and predators, and to protect people from the smell of the decaying body.

At some time during his ministry in Judea (October-December), Jesus had visited Mary and Martha in the small village of Bethany (Luke 10:38-42). He had become very close to the sisters and their brother, Lazarus. After the Feast of Dedication in December, Jesus had crossed the Jordan into Perea, but the sisters were still able to stay in touch with him.

It was now later in the Spring, probably early March, when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus. Lazarus was gravely ill, and they hurriedly dispatch a messenger with the news, “your friend is sick”.

Jesus received the news and announced that this would not end in death. Rather, this event was for the glory of God. Now that he received the news about a close friend who needed him, Jesus waits in Perea for two more days. 

Lazarus had already died by the time the messenger reached Jesus. The point is re-emphasized — He loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, yet he waits for two more days. There is something greater than restoring Lazarus; there is something greater than comforting the sisters. It is God’s glory.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem had already announced that they wanted to kill Jesus, and Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem. When Jesus announced his return to Judea, his disciples were concerned for his safety (and their own). Yet Jesus was clear on his intentions: Lazarus was dead and he was going to go raise him.

Jesus arrived in Bethany on the fourth day, the “High Day” of mourning. Lazarus had been buried for four days and a large crowd from Jerusalem had come to console Mary and Martha. Martha met Jesus outside the town and tells him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yet even still, Martha trusts in Jesus. She is prepared that whatever He asks of God, God will give to Him.

“Your brother will rise again”, Jesus tells her. Martha knew about the resurrection of believers, but she still did not understand. Jesus tells her, “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever who believes in me, though he is dying, yet he will live.”

Jesus is not just able to restore life. He IS life. Jesus uses the name of God (“I AM”) and declares that he is God and that he is life.

Do you believe this, Martha? Her hope was not on how she felt, it was that she believed in the giver of life.

The next meeting, with Mary, brings Jesus to tears. He will soon bear the weight of the entire world on the cross, yet for now he must bear the grief and heartache of this small town as they stand at the tomb of Lazarus.

Martha objected to Jesus’ command to roll away the stone covering of Lazarus tomb. It had been four days, and the stench would be unbearable. Yet she obeys when Jesus mildly rebukes her and reminds her of the glory of God.

With the stone rolled away, Jesus thanks the Father. The Father has heard his prayer, as he always does, and there will be no doubt that this is from God. Jesus then shouted in his top voice, “LAZARUS, COME OUT!”

I cannot even picture the astonished crowd as Lazarus staggers out of the tomb, still in his linen wrappings. Jesus commands the people to unbind him.

“It is a peculiar thing, you cannot get any instruction in the Bible as to how to conduct a funeral, for Jesus broke up every funeral He ever attended by raising the dead.” – D.L. Moody

It is not surprising that many believed in Jesus that day. Nothing had ever happened like this [8].

But back in Jerusalem, the religious leaders hastily convened a meeting of the Great Sanhedrin. In their minds, this miracle had sparked a national crisis. If more people believe in him, they might get in trouble with Rome.

Therefore, they concluded that they need to contain this belief in Jesus at all costs.

They need to kill him.

It is only a few short weeks before the final Passover, where Jesus will come to Jerusalem and die for the world. Now, everyone is talking about Jesus and his fame is going across the entire country. This miracle has also steeled the resolve of the Jewish leaders. They now are actively looking to kill him.

Jesus heads north to the small town of Ephraim, where he will await the time for one final trip to Jerusalem.

 

Remember!

  • Jesus breaks everyone’s preconceived notions on how he should behave. He delays when they expect him to hurry, he cries with those grieving, and then he raises the dead! Never underestimate the Lord Jesus Christ!
  • If you have not believed in Him, do not let any more time go by. He is the resurrection. He is the life. If you believe in him, you will live again!
  • Don’t be hardened by avoiding the truth. The Jewish leaders never doubted the miracle, but they loved their sin more than they loved what they knew was the truth!
  • Lean on the truth when you are hurting. Jesus reminded Martha of what she believed.

 

Previous post: My Sheep Hear my Voice

Categories
encouragement theology

My Sheep Hear My Voice

sunset-7416_1280

Almost three months have passed since Jesus was last in Jerusalem. Since then, Jesus had sent out seventy to preach the gospel, visited the sisters Mary and Martha, and taught many people throughout Judea (Luke 10:1-13:21).

It was now winter (John 10:22) as Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication.

The Feast of Dedication, known today as “Hanukkah” takes place in December. It commemorates the time when, in 165 B.C., the faithful Jews were able to rededicate the temple after it had been polluted by the Syrian oppressors.

It is during this time that Jesus is accosted by the Jews. They literally closed in on Jesus demanding that he tell them once and for all: Is he the Messiah?

Jesus had already told them several times, sometimes indirectly (e.g. Luke 4:16-21) and sometimes directly (e.g. John 8:58-59). The Jews had already tried to kill him on many occasions after speaking these words.

The problem was not that they needed more information. They already knew the answer but had decided not to believe.

They did not believe because they were not his sheep. Jesus returned to the pastoral analogy to tell about his true sheep. He has a close, intimate relationship with his own sheep. They hear his voice and they follow him. He knows them.

But at this time, when confronted by people who refused to believe him, Jesus gave some of the most reassuring words to his own sheep:

He gives them eternal life. They will never perish.

They are in his hands, and in the hands of The Father. Nothing will ever take them away from him.

Jesus repeated his oneness with the Father. The people wanted to kill him for daring to speak it, because it was the utmost blasphemy to say that he was God.

Unless he actually was God!

Jesus appealed to the Old Testament scriptures that they all revered. Psalm 82 refers to wicked men as “gods” when they represent God on earth. How much more is it appropriate to say this to one who was actually sent by God!

Furthermore, Jesus’ words already said who he was (see John 5 and John 8). But if they had any reason to doubt his words, his actions showed he was God (see John 5, John 6, and John 9).

The chapter ends with a group of people who do believe. Jesus returned across the Jordan River (to Perea), where people remembered John the Baptist, and that he had announced Jesus as the Messiah. John 10 concludes with saying that many believed in him there.

Even after he was dead, John’s ministry continued to flourish.

 

Remember! 

  • There are many people who refuse to believe. They don’t need a better argument, they need to come to God.
  • We are promised a close relationship with Jesus Christ and we are promised eternal life. There is NOTHING that will take us away from him! See also Romans 8:35-39.
  • We may never know all of the results when we teach God’s word. John the Baptist never knew how his words would be used long after his death.

 

Previous Post: The Good Shepherd

Categories
encouragement theology

The Good Shepherd

flock-of-sheep-49666_1280

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

 

The Lord is my shepherd.

How often do we forget that God will guide us, care for us, and protect us?

Jesus Christ takes up the same analogy in his last public sermon. In John 10, he makes two specific statements about himself, showing that he is God, and showing his care for us as sheep.

“I am the door”. Those who enter by Him will be saved and will find safety and satisfaction.

“I am the good shepherd”. He will care for us, to the point that he will lay down his life for us.

The previous chapter (John 9), shows Jesus demonstrating that he is the Messiah by healing a blind man. This stirred up a controversy because he healed the man on the Sabbath. He had healed the blind man, but how could the Messiah break the Sabbath traditions? Jesus used the man’s blindness as an analogy for spiritual blindness. The blind man now believed Jesus and could see. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were blinded by their unbelief.

The scene does not change between John 9 and John 10. Now, in John 10, Jesus points out these same Pharisees who refused to believe. They are not real shepherds of the people, but are instead thieves and robbers, who do not care for the flock.

Jesus then delivers his final public sermon. He recounts three aspects of the life of a shepherd.

 

Gathering the sheep

First, the shepherd gathers his own sheep from the sheep pen (sheepfold, John 10:1-6). The sheep pen contains several flocks and is guarded by the gatekeeper. The shepherd calls out his own sheep from the multitude, calling them by name. The sheep hear his voice and he leads them out.

The contrast is with the thieves and robbers. They cannot enter through the door and the sheep do not know them.

Just like the shepherd, Jesus will call his disciples out from Israel. He knows each of his own by name and they will know his voice. They will not follow the false leaders.

 

Sheltering the sheep in the pasture 

Secondly, the shepherd brings the sheep to pasture and guards the doorway to the field shelter (John 10:7-10). The small enclosure at the pastures allows the sheep both protection and shelter from the elements. As the door, the shepherd both admits his own sheep and keeps out predators.

Jesus uses the ancient name of God when he states, “I AM the door of the sheep”. This is the third statement in John’s gospel account where Jesus uses the Old Testament name of God to show who he is (see the complete list here).

 

Risking his life to protect the sheep

Finally, the shepherd personally puts his own life on the line against dangers in order to protect the sheep (John 10:11-15). It was common in that day for a lion, a bear, or a wolf to attack the flock and attempt to kill any shepherd who may defend the sheep (see 1 Samuel 17:34-35). A hired hand would quickly leave this place of danger, but the shepherd was committed to the sheep, defending them against all possible dangers.

Jesus again uses the ancient name of God when he states (for the fourth time in John’s gospel account), “I AM the good shepherd”. The word for “good” is not just morally right, but also shows excellence and beauty. He is the greatest shepherd.

He also has other sheep outside of this fold (John 10:16). He will gather them together into one flock. Both the Jews and the Gentiles will be united together in the Messiah’s kingdom.

Jesus also promises, as the Good Shepherd, to lay down his life and to take it up again (John 10:17-18). He says four times in this passage that he will lay down his life, and two times that he will take it up again.

In less than 6 months, Jesus will be arrested and killed as a common criminal. Three days later, he will rise again. Don’t miss the point — this is not coming as a surprise! Jesus Christ will die and rise again by his own will.

 

Remember!

  • Jesus is the Door! He is the way to shelter and protection when you need him. You can go in and out from his shelter and find satisfaction.
  • Jesus is your Good Shepherd! He is the true leader who watches over you and who gave his life for you.
  • Nothing comes as a surprise for Jesus! Even his own death was by his own will.

 

Previous post: Are you blind?

Categories
theology

Are you blind?

light-bulb

How has Jesus changed you?

How has he challenged you?

The next chapter in John’s gospel account tells the story of a man who was changed after an encounter with Jesus Christ. Jesus met him as a blind beggar and healed him by spitting on the ground, rubbing the mud into his eyes, and telling him to go and wash. The man washed and for the first time in his life, he can see!

There is only one problem.

Jesus did it on a Sabbath!

On a physical level, Jesus challenged the blind man. Go across the city to the Pool of Siloam and wash the mud out of your eyes. The man obeyed and he was given sight.

On a spiritual level, Jesus challenged the religious Jews. They believed in the Messiah, and were looking forward to his coming. They believed that they would know the a Messiah because he would make the blind to see. But they also believed in their thousands of religious laws. Now the Messiah has come, but they don’t like him.

In John 8, Jesus challenged their religious preconceptions. They believed that God would save them, simply because they were Abraham’s descendents. But Jesus taught that their family relations do not matter. They needed to believe in Jesus Christ in order to have eternal life.

In John 9, Jesus challenged their religious traditions. Their traditions held a litany of Sabbath laws, yet Jesus broke them in order to heal a blind man. This forced the issue: you can either believe that Jesus is the Messiah or you can believe that he is a criminal.

Some of the people believed in Jesus the Messiah. Most of them would rather believe that he was a criminal.

This chapter is unique in that, during most of the narrative of this chapter, Jesus is absent. Jesus did not directly confront the Jewish leaders in this chapter, but instead, he sent an eyewitness. This eyewitness was a blind man, an outcast from society. Everyone  — even Jesus’ disciples — believed that the man’s blindness was a punishment for someone’s sin. When under pressure, his parents did not even stand up for him.

The leaders brought the man in for questioning. In their minds, Jesus could not have healed the man because he did not respect their traditions. They tried three times to pressure the man into recanting, and then “cast him out” after the man confronted them.

How did the man leave them speechless? He simply told his own story, “Though I was blind, now I can see”. Jesus had given the man sight, yet the leaders were blind to the truth.

As the scene ends, Jesus met the man and showed him who he is. The man was physically blind, but now he could see, both physically and spiritually. The Pharisees, by contrast, had chosen their own beliefs over the clear facts. They thought they could see, but they were left totally blind.

 

Remember!

  • How has Jesus changed your life?  When you are challenged by others, your own experience is more effective than any persuasive argument.
  • When is the last time that the words of Jesus challenged you? If you have not been challenged by Jesus, then you may be on the way toward blindness.

 

So surrender the hunger to say you must know

Have the courage to say I believe

For the power of paradox opens your eyes

And blinds those who say they can see

-Michael Card

 

Previous Post: The Truth Will Set You Free

Categories
encouragement theology

The Truth Will Set You Free

barbed-wire-fence

“The truth will set you free.”

This popular phase has adorned institutes of higher learning and is commonly quoted by intellectuals, and others who value a good education. “When you are exposed to truth, you will be able to throw off the shackles that have enslaved you”; “Only when you learn will you reach your full potential.”

Others use this phrase as encouragement to cleanse yourselves from the trappings of any lies. They see being truthful as freeing yourself from the entanglements caused by your deception, “tell the truth and free yourself”.

But is Jesus really talking about education and self-fulfillment? Look closer at all that Jesus said:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Many believed in Jesus after his last statements. There were also several believers in the crowd from the recent Feast of Tabernacles (see John 7:31). Jesus then turned to the believers. It is not enough to simply agree with the truth about Jesus. To be a true disciple of Jesus, you need to abide in his word. 

What does it mean to abide in his word? The word for “abide” is meno (μένω), which means to take up residence; to continue; remain; not depart. It means to stay connected to His word. Jesus uses the same word, “abide”, in John 15 when he compared his disciples as branches to a vine. We abide in Him when we stay connected to him. We need to make his word our source, our guide, our refuge, and our comfort.

What is the truth? Jesus made it clear that the freedom is from sin, yet the people already believed that they were free. Part of the truth is to shatter their false security so that they may know that they need to be rescued from sin. But Jesus, himself, is the truth (John 14:6). All who believe in him will be rescued from sin (John 3:14-18).

What happens to the true disciples who abide in His word? They will know the truth that makes them free. The true disciples will know the truth about freedom from sin and receive eternal life with God.

“By nature far from Him, they were bondsmen. Only if they abode in His Word would they know the truth, and the truth would make them free. The result of this knowledge would be moral, and hence that knowledge consisted not in merely believing on Him, but in making His Word and teaching their dwelling – abiding in it.” – Alfred Edersheim [3]

In the previous study on John 8, we had covered that Jesus commanded the listeners to “Follow Me” four times in this chapter. Each time he repeated the command, he made the command more specific and had increasingly hostile responses. In each of these four commands, Jesus also gave a promise for those who follow him:

  • “Follow Me” (John 8:12-20)
  • “Believe that I AM” (John 8:21-30)
  • “Abide in my word” (John 8:31-47)
  • “Keep my word” (John 8:48-59)

The final two commands, discussed here, are both related to Jesus’ Word. What makes the difference between a true disciple and an unbeliever? Their response to His Word.


“Abide in my word”

It is those who abide in His Word that are his true disciples. The promise, discussed above, is that the true disciples would know Jesus and be made free from sin.

But the opposition to Jesus has increased severely. The Jews did not believe that they need anything else other than to be a descendant of Abraham. They would rather kill Jesus than face the truth. They dismissed Jesus as an illegitimate child, who is not worthy of teaching them.

The response by Jesus was the strongest yet. There are only two families: the family of God and the family of The Devil. If they do not love the one sent by God, then they are children of The Devil! How are they identified as children of The Devil? Because they do not love Jesus and they cannot bear to hear his word.

 

“Keep my word” 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

Jesus also gives the promise that those who keep his word will never see death. Their bodies may die but they will never be separated from God (See Revelation 21:1-8).

“Now outwardly, of course, believers die as others die. And yet the wonderful thing is that the words of Jesus are absolutely true: the believer does not see death. What does he see? He sees the entrance into the Father’s house. Death, we are told, is our servant. How does death serve us? By ushering us into the presence of God.” – H.A. Ironside [4]

The opposition by the Jews goes beyond the personal attacks. They now accused Jesus of being demon-possessed. The response by Jesus was the promise here, but he also relied on the glory from God the Father.

The Jews were shocked that Jesus may claim to be a greater man than Abraham, yet that was not what Jesus was saying. He was not a greater man than Abraham. He was the God of Abraham!

 

Remember!

Things to remember from this study:

  • Jesus is the truth. If you want to be free, know Jesus! To be free from your sin, get closer to Jesus Christ.
  • There are only two families: the family of God and the family of the Devil.
  • Get close to Jesus by abiding in His Word!

 

Previous post: Light of the World

Categories
encouragement theology

Light of the World

fire-in-the-sky

I try to picture the scene as if I were there in person. The Feast of Tabernacles, one of the biggest celebrations on the Jewish calendar, has been going on for the past week. Jewish people from all over the world have come to Jerusalem to live in temporary shelters and celebrate this occasion.

The Feast of Tabernacles was a time for the Jewish people to remember their ancestors when they wandered in the wilderness (see more details here). The ceremony of water commemorated God’s miraculous provision of water throughout the years of desert wanderings. This feast also looked forward to the Kingdom of the Messiah, when God would again personally lead his people and provide for their needs.

But the Feast of Tabernacles also celebrated the light of the Messiah. God had personally led their ancestors through the desert in a cloud by day and a fire by night. Four giant candelabra in the temple courts (more like giant torches) were lit during the feast, illuminating the entire city of Jerusalem.

But now the feast had ended and people were preparing to leave. The four giant candelabra — no longer burning —  stood as silent reminders of the great celebration. As the people look on, Jesus walks by these great candelabra and speaks to the crowd,

“I am the light of the world.”

 But he does not stop there:

“Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

To roughly translate this, He was saying, “These giant torches that you see are now finished. But I am the real light and I will never go out. Follow me and I will give you light and I will give you life.”

Jesus also uses the Hebrew name of God, “I AM”. He actually refers to himself as “I AM” several times in this passage:

  • “I AM the light of the world”
  • “Unless you believe that I AM you will die in your sins”
  • “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM”

This chapter is very direct, very specific, and very confrontational. Jesus gives the command to “Follow Me” four times in this chapter (John 8). Each time he repeats the command, he makes it more specific and he receives increasingly hostile responses. In each of these four commands, Jesus also gives a motivation for following him:

  • “Follow Me” (John 8:12-20)
  • “Believe that I AM” (John 8:21-30)
  • “Abide in my word” (John 8:31-47)
  • “Keep my word” (John 8:48-59)

We go through the first two commands in this study and will cover the second two commands in the next study.

 

“Follow Me”

In the statement above, Jesus said that he is the light of the world. Jesus is the God that the Jews claim to worship, and he offers the light of life to all who follow him. The Pharisees interjected with, “Who are you to speak like that?” Jesus responded that he was sent by God the Father, and they do not know the Father if they do not know him.

 

Believe that I AM”

Again, Jesus referred to himself as the Hebrew name of God, “I AM”. This time he was very direct to the people: “Unless you believe that I AM” you will die in your sins. You can either believe Jesus or reject him. But if you refuse to believe Jesus you will face an eternity separated from God. The people reply with, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus responded that he speaks the truth that was given to him from the Father who sent him. When they see the Son of Man lifted up (on the cross), then they will know that “I AM”.

 

Remember!

Things to remember from this study:

  • If you are waiting to believe in Jesus, you are running out of time! He is the light of the world who will give you life. But if you refuse to believe, you will die separated from God.
  • If you do believe in Jesus, follow him! Let Him be your counselor, your guide, and your illumination.
  • Jesus always appealed to the Father in these times of conflict. You have a higher authority and you are not alone!

 

Previous Post: Don’t Waste Your Life!

Categories
encouragement theology

Don’t waste your life!

Guilt…

Punishment…

Forgiveness…

Restoration

This short drama is inserted in the middle of Jesus’ discourses during the Feast of Tabernacles. Many scholars debate where this story belongs, or if it should even be in the Bible at all [1].

This story is also beloved by many people in our culture, many who may not know much more about Jesus. It is popular to compare people today with either the guilty woman or the accusing Pharisees. Most of these comparisons are made in ways to make the storyteller look good. But very few people who tell this story realize who this story is really about.

It is about Jesus.

 Jesus came down from the Mount of Olives where he had spent the night on the open ground. He came to the temple and began teaching the people about the the Kingdom of God. As was often the case, his teaching was interrupted by a real-life application.

A commotion in the crowd stops his teaching. Out of that commotion comes a gang of Pharisees and their scribes, dragging a woman with them. They set the woman in front of Jesus and announce that she has been caught in adultery. They remind Jesus that the law of Moses commands that she be stoned to death, but what does he say? 

The Pharisees laid a trap for Jesus. God is just, and if Jesus declares God’s Justice, then she must be stoned. This would break the Roman law and destroy Jesus’ reputation for compassion.

But God is also merciful. If Jesus declares God’s mercy, then she would go free. But for Jesus to do so would break the law of Moses and destroy Jesus claims to be the Messiah.

How do you reconcile God’s justice and his mercy?

Jesus reconciled this for woman in the same way that he reconciles his justice and mercy for you and I. She sinned. She broke God’s law. She was guilty. The punishment was death.

Someone would die.

The accusers would not find the justice they were seeking. It took Jesus to only remind them of their own sin for them to walk away, one by one. They did not press the charges, but they also did not ask for forgiveness. The simply walked away. The entire crowd left.

Many people like to end the story with the accusers leaving, but they miss the woman’s restoration. Jesus never skipped over her sins. Instead, he left her with a command, “Go and sin no more”.

“You are restored, now stop wasting your life.” 

It will be less than six months away that Jesus will pay for this woman’s sin. He will also pay for your sin and for my sin. He will pay for the sins of the whole world. 

Stop wasting your life!

 

Previous post: If Anyone is Thirsty

Categories
theology

If Anyone is Thirsty

It has been six months since John’s last record of Jesus on the shores of Galilee (John 6). During that time, Jesus has been quietly teaching his 12 closest disciples.

Many events have occurred during these six months [6], but there were three significant events that happened in rapid succession. First, Peter confessed, on behalf of the rest of the 12 disciples, that they finally understood who Jesus truly is. He is the Christ (the Messiah) and he is God  (Matt 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-21).

Secondly, Jesus delivered news to them that left them devastated. Jesus’ popularity had been growing, with the disciples had looking forward to the approaching kingdom of the Messiah. Instead, Jesus dismissed the crowds and had taken his disciples away to be alone. But then he delivered the most tragic news: He will be rejected. He will be arrested. He will be killed. He will rise again (Matt 16:21-26, Mark 8:31-37, Luke 9:22-25).

This was the first time Jesus told them that the was going to die. The disciples were deeply grieved by this news, and it may have been why Jesus brought his three closest disciples (Peter, James, and John) away to a high mountain. It was on that mountain that they see Jesus shining in brilliant glory and talking with Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36).

Jesus had taken the last six months to be apart with his disciples. He had taught them what would happen to him, and what they would need to expect in order to be his disciples. Now, the time has come to enter back into the controversy. Jesus would take them back to confront the crowds and to offer one more opportunity to believe in him.

Jesus headed South to Jerusalem. It had been at least a year since Jesus was back in Jerusalem (John 5), and now the leaders want to kill him. Their hatred had been festering for the past year, turning to murderous rage. The two opposite religious groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, united in their mutual hatred for Jesus.

The Feast of Tabernacles is at hand, one of the three great celebrations on the Jewish calendar (Passover and Pentecost are the other two). It is a time of tremendous joy and feasting as the Jews celebrate their harvest and spend a week in temporary shelters made of Palm branches.

Jesus was the main topic of conversation during this week-long feast, but few believed in him. Even his own brothers did not believe. The people privately debated who he really is, but all public discussion is forbidden. The Jewish leaders did not want any more debate about Jesus. They only wanted to kill him.

Jesus came down in the middle of this week-long feast, showing up in the temple and astonishing the people with his teaching. They were surprised that he taught with authority, yet he has not been trained in any of the rabbi schools. Jesus replied that his teaching is not his own, but it is from God.

In the eyes of the Jewish leaders, Jesus was a lawbreaker. He had healed a man on the Sabbath during his last visit to Jerusalem the previous year. But they were inconsistent with their own laws. Jesus uses circumcision as an example that there are some things which are higher than the Sabbath. 

Every day during this week-long celebration, the priest would leave the temple, fill a golden pitcher with water, and ceremoniously carry back the pitcher and pour the water on the altar. On the final day, the people would bring their palm branches and proceed with the priest as he gathers the water and brings it back to the temple.

It is during this time, on final day of the celebration, that Jesus breaks the silence of the crowd by shouting out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Jesus has made one more appeal to this unbelieving crowd. The only way to eternal life is do believe in him. The opportunity to come to him will not last much longer. The results were mixed:

  • Some wanted him dead
  • Some think he has a demon
  • Some think he is just a good man
  • Some are in awe of him
  • Some believe in him

This is a long chapter with several messages that you can personally apply. However, there is one outstanding message that I see across this entire chapter. Jesus was met with opposition through the entire week, yet he continues to offer the invitation. Believe. Believe. Believe in him.

But his invitation also has a warning. The time is short to accept his invitation and to believe in him. Soon, it will be too late. “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.”

For those who do not believe in Jesus, I beg you to consider him before it is too late. A time will come where he will no longer keep prompting you.

For those who are enjoying a life of sin, I beg you to let go of the sin before it is too late. You will understand God’s teaching when you are ready to do what he says. But the time is short and soon, it will be too late.

 

Previous post: The Bread of Life

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theology

The Bread of Life

A farmer went out to sow seeds in his field. Some seeds fell on the path and were eaten by birds. Some seeds fell on rocky ground, where the young plants were withered in the shallow soil. Some seeds fell among weedy soil and were choked out by the weeds. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop. 

Jesus had told this parable to the crowds and then later explained its meaning to his disciples. The different soils were an analogy of how people respond to God’s word. Some refuse the word and with many people it is not possible for the word to grow in their hearts. But there are a few that will be the good soil — those who will take the word and grow. (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15)

John 6 shows an example of the different soils in real life. It starts with the pinnacle of excitement as Jesus had fed a massive crowd (probably about 20,000 people) and they all wanted him to be king. But they start to fall away when Jesus gave them a challenge. Sadly, it is only a few that remain to be the good soil. 

This passage can be best summarized by Jesus’ statement about himself:  “I am the Bread of Life.”

Jesus had fed the crowd the day before and now the people want more. They had tried to make him king and were rejected. Now they have come back to try again. 

Jesus responded simply: they came back for the food, but what they need is eternal life. They need to be born from God.

The rabbis had taught the people that God sets his seal on the one who is truth. Jesus told them that God had sent him and had set his seal of truth on him. They did not need to work but to believe.

The Jews asked Jesus to validate his claims with a sign. According to their traditions, they believed that the true Messiah would provide manna for them, greater than even what was given by Moses. Jesus corrected them that the manna came from God, not from Moses. But manna was only temporary. They need the true bread from heaven which will give eternal life.

Jesus is the true bread. All you need to do is to come to him and believe in him for eternal life. He alone can give eternal life.

This would be simple to understand and believe. But Jesus takes the analogy further. He is the bread of life, and you need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. What does that mean?

The Jewish tradition held that the law and the commandments were the bread and wine for a believing Jew. They had achieved true wisdom when they depended totally on their law. Jesus was saying to this devout Jewish audience to stop looking to the law and their traditions for life, and to instead look to him. They will receive eternal life when they totally depend on him.

They understood it but they did not accept it. It was offensive to them. Given the choice between their traditions and Jesus, many of the disciples left Jesus for their traditions. 

“Here, then, we are at the parting of the two ways; and, just because it was the hour of decision, did Christ so clearly set forth the highest truths concerning Himself, in opposition to the views which the multitude entertained about the Messiah. The result was yet another and a sorer defection. ‘Upon this many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.’” [1]

 

Previous post: How do you respond to crisis?

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encouragement theology

How do you respond to crisis?

How do you respond in times of crisis?

In the next scene in John’s gospel account, we see both Jesus and his disciples at a time of crisis. It is often at these times, when we are at our limits, that we find out what we have and what we truly need.

For Jesus, this was a critical turning point in his ministry.  He has spent the last two and a half years presenting himself to the nation of Israel, showing that he is their king.  Jesus had spent the entire day teaching and healing a huge crowd of over 20,000 people, and now they want to make him a king by force. The people like what he has to say and are interested in his miracles, but they refuse to submit to him as Lord. Jesus will spend his remaining year preparing both his disciples and himself for his upcoming sacrifice. 

The disciples must have been filled with shock and dismay. They had returned from their own teaching tours of Galilee and personally witnessed Jesus feeding this massive crowd. Everyone loved Jesus and the disciples were sure that he was now going to rule as their king. But instead, Jesus abruptly sends them away and dismisses the crowd. Now they are on their own, alone on the lake, rowing toward the other shore.

Jesus spends the night alone in prayer with the Father. He draws his heart close to the Father as he deals with his disappointment over the crowd that would not believe. He is close to the Father as he considers his upcoming rejection, death, and coming back to life.

As Jesus is praying on the mountain, he looks over the wide expanse of the lake below him. There, out on the lake, are his disciples in the boat, struggling against the wind. The wind picks up as the night goes on, and his disciples row harder. Jesus sees them struggle as he continues to pray.

After 9 hours, Jesus ends his time of prayer and walks out to his disciples on the water. It is now past 3:00am and they have been rowing all night. The disciples see him walking to them on the water and panic. It must have been a very unnatural sight to see Jesus walking over the waves to them. Through their disappointment and exhaustion of that day, they could only believe that this was a ghost.

Jesus calls out to them and joins them in the boat. Immediately, the waves are calm and they are at their destination. The astounded disciples are now ready to worship him as God. For as long as they had been with Jesus, and as much as they had seen, they still had not believed in him as God.

They did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Even in the presence of his great miracle, his own disciples were reluctant to believe in him as God. It is not enough to believe good things about Jesus, they needed to accept him as God.

Both Jesus and his disciples were in a time of crisis, but in the end the answer was the same.  They needed to lean on God during their time of peril. Jesus spent time with God first, and then went out to his struggling followers. The disciples tried to fight the wind on their own and completely missed the presence of the Lord with them.

 

Previous post: How do you handle interruptions?  

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encouragement theology

How do you handle interruptions?

What do you do when your plans are destroyed? How do you react when your day is thrown into chaos?

How do we handle it when God sends an opportunity in the form of a major interruption?

I have been studying the life of Jesus Christ, trying to understand more about his life and his ministry. The recent study in John 5 demonstrates that Jesus was fully God.  He was fully equal to God the Father in his works, in giving life, and in authority. There are no secrets between the Father and the Son.

But Jesus was also fully human. He did not exercise his divine power unless he was directed by the Spirit. Jesus had to grow and learn. He got tired. He felt pain, hunger, and loneliness like the rest of us.

Jesus would also make plans which would get interrupted. One of the best examples of this interruption comes in the beginning of John 6.

Jesus has had an extensive ministry in Galilee for about a year and a half.  He has led his disciples, taught the people, and healed many.  His popularity has grown rapidly, to the point that he often cannot even enter towns because of the crowds that follow him.

But along with his popularity, the opposition to Jesus has also grown dramatically.  The Pharisees in the synagogues were not pleased when Jesus challenged their rules about the Sabbath.  As shown in John 5, their anger further turns to murderous rage when Jesus tells them that he is God. Their unbelief has become so entrenched that they interpret Jesus’ miracles as a work of Satan (Matthew 12:22-32, Mark 3:22-30).

And so Jesus’ ministry in Galilee comes to a close.  Jesus has gone across Galilee proclaiming that he is the Messiah.  He even sent out his disciples to make sure that every town and village has heard.  His popularity continues to grow, but so does the opposition and unbelief.  And now the word reaches Jesus that John the Baptist has been murdered by King Herod, who is now looking for him.  Added to his opposition is now political intrigue.

One of the final events of Jesus’ northern ministry happens on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, yet what is most striking is how much of this event is unplanned.  Jesus takes his disciples away to a desolate place, away from the opposition and intrigue, so that they can get some time of rest and teaching.

But as is often the case, plans are interrupted by providence. A huge crowd of over 20,000 people followed them on foot and were waiting for them as they dock the boat [6].  Jesus saw the crowd and responded with compassion. These people were lost and needed a shepherd, and so he taught them and healed the sick.

 Jesus spends the entire day among the people until the evening (about 3:00 pm), when he is interrupted by the disciples.  It is getting close to dinner time and no one had brought provisions.  Jesus instructs the disciples to not stop the teaching, and adds, “you give them something to eat”.  Going further, he asks Philip where they could buy enough bread for these people. Philip responds with their hopeless situation.  Even if they could come up with 8 months salary, they still would not even have a single bite for everyone!

Andrew located one boy who had brought five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they for such a crowd? Jesus had the disciples sit everyone down while he took the loaves, gave thanks, and broke them.  He then began to distribute the broken pieces until everyone had as much as they wanted.  The disciples gathered up the leftovers, filling up 12 bushel baskets!

There was no mistaking this miracle.  A crowd of over 20,000 people had witnessed and took part in the miracle.  The crowd’s reaction also confirms the miracle, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14).

This is a very well known Bible story.  Many Sunday School lessons are about the “story of the five loaves and the two fish”.  Other than the Resurrection, this is the only other miracle described in all four Gospel accounts.  It is easy to become so familiar with the story that we miss what is happening, but here are a couple important points to remember:

  • This account is not about a boy who was willing to give his lunch away.  Nor is this account (directly) about any one of Jesus’ disciples, including Philip and Andrew.  This is about Jesus.  This is written so that may know that Jesus is the Messiah, and that by believing we may have life in his name (John 20:30-31). 
  • Jesus is still God, even when there is an interruption, and even when there is a crisis.  God is not surprised by interruptions. 
  • Jesus instructed his disciples, “You give them something to eat”.  He provided the food but they were to be the ones to give it to the people. [5]

 

Previous post: Jesus says that he is God

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theology

Jesus says that he is God

Who is Jesus?

I started out this study of John’s Gospel account with this same question: “Who is Jesus?“.

In only five chapters so far, Jesus’ actions have demonstrated who he is:

  • He has superior knowledge. He knows Philip, Peter. And Nathanael in John 1. He knows the Samaritan woman in John 4.
  • He has power over natural elements in John 2.
  • He has authority over the temple worship in John 2.
  • He knows more than the greatest teachers in John 3.
  • He is greater than John the Baptist in John 3.
  • He breaks down prejudice and social stigma in John 4.
  • His power is not confined by distance in John 4.
  • He is above superstitions and religious rituals in John 5.

 Jesus has come with a specific message: There is a spiritual world beyond what we see here (John 3:1-15, John 4:7-15). Jesus is the Messiah and we need to believe in him (John 1:12, John 2:11, John 2:23-25, John 3:14-18, John 3:36, John 4:41-42, John 4:48, John 4:53).

But why should you believe in Jesus? Jesus takes the time in this chapter (John 5) to give one of the clearest and most direct reasons for why you should believe in him. He also warns you that if you don’t believe in him, you are separated from God and are headed for judgment.

Jesus has just healed a man and told him to “work” on the Sabbath. This draws an immediate response from the Jewish leaders, who are angered at him for breaking their Sabbath traditions. And what is Jesus’ response?

 He agrees with them. 

But Jesus then tells them that he can do what he wants on the Sabbath because he is God!

Jesus shows them in specific ways that he is equal to God. He then shows them the evidence of why they should believe him. He finally concludes by condemning them for refusing to believe, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Jesus claims that God is his father. The Jews fully understood that this means that he is equal to God. Being the son does not mean that he is any less than God the Father. It means that they are “of the same essence”, or that they are equal. See below for more detailed examples showing that the son is equal to the father.

 It is important to note that this is a new concept to the Jews. They knew that God was one (Deut 6:4). Although God is referenced in the Old Testament in the plural (e.g. Genesis 1:26), the Old Testament Jews had no understanding of the Trinity. Even the disciples had trouble understanding this (Matt 16:16-17). Therefore, Jesus starts or by going into great detail how the Father and the Son are equal. The Father and the Son are distinct persons, yet they are equals and are completely unified:

  • The Son is equal to the Father in his works.
  • There are no secrets between the Father and the Son.
  • The Son is equal to the Father in giving life.
  • The Son is equal to the Father in authority and judgment. 

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Jesus interjects his talk on judgment with a final appeal to believe. Those who believe will be rescued from the coming judgment.

A time is coming when all people will be raised from the dead. Those who believe will be raised again to life. Those who do not believe will be raised again to judgement.

Jesus then gives evidence that what he is saying is true:

  • John the Baptist spoke of him. They followed John the Baptist but refuse to believe when he spoke of Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus’ miracles authenticated who he was. They all witnessed his miracles yet refused to believe his message.
  • God the Father has himself spoken about Jesus through the Old Testament scriptures. They study the scriptures but they don’t know God because they missed his message about the Messiah.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

Jesus delivers a final condemnation on the unbelieving Jews. They know the facts, but they don’t know God. They don’t love God because they are caught up with themselves. They have seen the evidence and they understand what Jesus is saying, but they simply refuse to believe!

It is easy for us to know a lot of facts and details about Jesus Christ. We can learn a lot but our knowledge will never give us life. We need to believe in Jesus Christ and submit to him. That will give us life! 

 

Previous Post: Can You Have Too Much Faith?

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theology

Can you have too much faith?

“You just need to have faith!”

This is a common sentiment that we use when people are doubting, are in trouble, or are facing problems in their lives.  It is a “nice” and well-meaning thought.

But as I am studying through the life of Jesus Christ, I am struck by the fact that Jesus encounters people with too much faith!

What is the problem?  They have a lot of faith, but in the wrong object!

As we study the scene in John 5, we see that Jesus encounters two groups of people.  Both of these groups have too much faith in the wrong object.  Both of these groups are lost.

The first group of lost are the lowly, the outcast, and the hopeless.  You cannot consider these people without evoking pity.  They are the invalids with no hope of recovery.  The text says they consist of blind, lame, and paralyzed (John 5:3). 

They have placed their faith in a bubbling pool.

Their only hope is that when the pool bubbles, the first one in the water gets healed.  We have no record that this has ever worked.

The second group are the leaders and the teachers.  They are the pillars of society, like Nicodemus in John 2. They know the Old Testament scriptures and several more of their own laws.

They have placed their faith in their rituals.

Their hope is that God will think well of them for diligently observing their rituals.  They have hundreds of a laws for what they can and cannot do on a Sabbath.  They are so caught up in their rituals that they completely miss God as he walks by.  Instead, they want to kill him.

This is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.  From now on, he will have an organized opposition wherever he goes.  This opposition will continue to grow until Jesus is crucified on a Roman cross, only two years from this point.

Jesus goes to the invalids at the pool and heals one man.  He then goes to the temple, among the leaders, and offers life to both the man and all of the people.

Having faith is good, but only if it is faith in the correct object.  Jesus’ words to the man who had been healed were to “stop sinning”.

“The warning was they his tragic life of 38 years was no comparison to the doom of hell. Jesus is interested in not merely healing a person’s body. Far more important is the healing of his soul from sin.” [4]

 

Previous post: What will it take to believe?

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theology

What will it take to believe?

What will it take to believe?

It is easy to follow a celebrity or a famous person who seems to have it all together.  It is easy to listen to a speaker when they present a great argument.  But when do we truly believe? 

As it often happens in our lives, we find out the most at a time of crisis.

As I have been studying through Jesus’ life, he has just completed one of the most successful mission trips of his ministry.  Jesus has gone to a hated village of foreigners and spoken to an outcast of the town.  After two days, both the outcast woman and most of the town are believers in him.

Jesus now heads north to Galilee and is welcomed gladly.  He is the great celebrity who has come home! His popularity from Judea has only increased as he returns to Galilee.

But despite the crowds and the large welcome, Jesus knows that his popularity is based on excitement and not true belief in him. This is the same shallow belief that he encountered in Judea (John 2:23-25).

Jesus returns to the town of Cana.  Many would certainly have remembered his miracle at the wedding the previous year, where he turned the water to wine.  And there, in the evening, a royal official comes up the road from Capernaum, and starts begging.

This man, the royal official, has a young son who is dying.  None of the man’s wealth or power can help him now, and so he comes to this rabbi to beg for his son’s life.

Jesus, the one who loves the world and is the example of compassion, responds with a rebuke: “Unless you [all] see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

Why does Jesus make such an insensitive remark? There are three important points to remember here:

  • First, Jesus does help the father. The father has very little faith, but his weak faith is in Jesus. Jesus meets the man in his weak state and pulls him up to something higher.
  • Second, Jesus is about to show everyone that he is not limited by distance. This is completely unknown to the Jews (and the disciples), but Jesus does not need to be physically present to heal the boy.
  • Finally, and most importantly, Jesus is showing that the spirit world is most important. This is the same lesson to Nicodemus and to the Samaritan woman. He can easily heal the physical sufferings of the boy, but the greater concern is their unbelief. 

The father pleads respectfully (“sir”), and Jesus tells him to go and that his son will live. The man heads back (either that night or the next morning). His servants meet him on the way reporting that the son is recovering.  They compare times to find out that the son recovered at the exact time that Jesus said he would get better.

The religious, devout people around him still refuse to believe in Jesus.  Yet this father has come face to face with the Savior of the World.  He believed in his works enough to seek him out and ask for help.  He believed in his words enough to trust him when Jesus told him to “Go; your son will live”.  But the man returned home believing in Jesus himself.  He believed in his person [2].

It is not enough to just believe his works.  It is not enough to just believe his words.  You need to believe in his person as the Son of God and Saviour of the world (John 20:30-31; John 4:41-42).

1 Corinthians 1:22-24
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

 

Previous post: The Outcast

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encouragement theology

The Outcast

We have just seen the conversation between Son of God and one of the great teachers of his day (John 3:1-21).  Nicodemus was a highly respected teacher and one of the Jewish rulers in the Sanhedrin.  Nicodemus thought he knew a lot about God, and yet Jesus showed him that he needed to be born from above before he could even see God’s kingdom (see here).

The next scene is a complete contrast to Nicodemus. Jesus initiates a conversation with an outcast Samaritan woman, one who would be despised by any “respectable” Jew.  Nicodemus had initiated a secret meeting with Jesus for fear of reprisal from his own countrymen.  Jesus initiates this next meeting with an immoral “foreigner” woman with no fear of reprisal.

 Jesus’ message to Nicodemus was that the spiritual world is much greater than anything we can see or hear.  Jesus further explains the spiritual world to this sinful, Samaritan woman using water.

 The Samaritan woman would not have understood the Old Testament metaphor of water’s cleansing and new life [2].  But more importantly, Jesus is bringing her to the point of understanding eternal life.  The well water is temporary, but Jesus is offering something permanent.

Jesus then brings her to the next step, which is to show her that he knows about the details of her life. He knows all about her five failed marriages and that she is not married to her current man. Note that Jesus neither excuses nor corrects her current lifestyle. What is most important is that she needs eternal life.

 The woman’s response seems strange to our minds.  She almost seems to change the subject, asking about the place of worship.  But her core Samaritan beliefs had been shaken.  The Samaritans did not believe in any other prophet after Moses except for the Messiah [3].  Therefore, she has just acknowledged that this man must be be the Messiah.  And he is a Jew.  Therefore, what else about her Samaritan beliefs were wrong?

 The Samaritans believed that the the true source of worship was on Mount Gerizim (see here).  If the rest of her Samaritan beliefs were wrong, where was the correct place to worship?  More specifically, how can you come to God?

 How do you worship God?  Jesus says it twice here: You worship God in spirit and truth.

 You worship God in spirit.  This is not a reference to the Holy Spirit but in the human spirit, the part of us that communes with God.  As we draw close to God, our worship of God comes from the inside-out.  [4]

 You worship God in truth.  It is not enough to have great emotions, or to feel close to God.  Our worship of God is rooted in the truth of knowing who he is and in studying his Word.

The woman points out that truth will come from the Messiah.  Jesus unmistakably declares that he is the Messiah.

 It is this faith in Jesus that brings her to eternal life:

 “The conviction, sudden but firm, that He Who had laid open the past to her was really a Prophet, was already faith in Him; and so the goal had been attained – not, perhaps, faith in His Messiahship, about which she might have only very vague notions, but in Him. And faith in the Christ, not in anything about Him, but in Himself, has eternal life.” – Alfred Edersheim [3]

 

Previous post: What about people who are not like you?

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encouragement theology

What about people who are not like you?

The news is filled lately with reports of racial and political tension across the country.  Sadly, this tension has spilled out into violence, destroying people in its wake.

I had an opportunity to visit the Middle East earlier this year, during the time of the recent fighting in Gaza.  It does not take much to find conflict between different groups: Israeli vs. Palestinian, Muslim vs. Christian, Sunni vs. Shiite Muslim, etc.

Well-meaning preachers like to tell “what Jesus would do” in these situations.  But most often, their descriptions of Jesus look like themselves, and their view of Jesus is limited to advancing their own agendas.  Their descriptions of Jesus look a lot less like the Eternal Son of God, and a lot more like a noble person out to clean up the world.

But Jesus did (indirectly) show an example of dealing with people across racial, political, ethnic, and religious divisions.  I had a chance to study another bitter battle between two different groups this past week.

In 722 B.C., the Assyrian army conquered the kingdom of Israel and destroyed the capital city of Samaria (see 2 Kings 17:1-6). The Assyrians removed most of the Jewish inhabitants of the Samaria region and replaced them with foreigners.  These foreigners intermarried with the remaining Jews and also mingled their own religious practices with the native Jewish beliefs.

It was almost 200 years later, in 538 B.C., when Jews were allowed to return from exile and they began to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The native people (known as Samaritans) offered to help rebuild the temple but were refused because of their mixed blood and mixed beliefs (see Ezra and Nehemiah).  Instead, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim.

“On all public occasions the Samaritans took the part hostile to the Jews, while they seized every opportunity of injuring and insulting them.” [1]  During the Hasmonean revolts of the 2nd century B.C., the Samaritans supported the Syrian “oppressors” (The Samaritan temple was destroyed by Hasmoneans).

The Samaritans considered themselves descendants of Jacob but believed only the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy).  They did not respect the worship in Jerusalem but held to their own worship on Mt. Gerizim. [2]

By the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were bitterly hated by the Jews and were considered unclean by the devout Jews.  Many Jews would travel several miles out of their way to avoid going through Samaria and to avoid any contact with the Samaritans. The term “Samaritan” was also synonymous with “heretic” or “foreigner” (see Luke 17:16-18, John 8:48).

This is the history of the bitterness between the Samaritans and the Jews.  However, Jesus is most known in this section for ignoring the protocols and the problems between the two groups.  Jesus meets an immoral, outcast Samaritan woman and he has these simple messages for her:

Jesus is the Savior of the world (John 4:42).  Jesus is not for our world, not for the Jewish world, but the entire world.  Jesus came for the righteous, upstanding Nicodemus (John 3) just as much as he came for the immoral, outcast Samaritan woman (John 4). 

We will study the contents of these messages in a later post.

 

Previous Post: The Competition

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Uncategorized

The Competition

Thanks to John’s gospel account, we have been able to see the Son of God in both words  and action.  He has quietly called his first disciples, and then confirmed their belief in him at a wedding celebration.  He has shown his authority and his opposition to the religious elite as he throws out the corruption at Passover.  We are even able to witness his counsel to one of the elite rulers.

But now comes the first competition between ministries.  Jesus has left Jerusalem and his followers have only increased.  John the Baptist, the great teacher who initiated Jesus’ ministry with his baptism, can only watch on the sidelines as Jesus’ ministry threatens to eclipse his own. 

But John was not idle.  As Jesus was teaching and baptizing, John was sending people to him.  John’s message about the Messiah was now that he was here.  Yet you still see the disappointment in John’s followers.  Their leader was now losing followers to this new teacher.  When they confront John with this news, John does one of the greatest things in his career.

He quits.

This is the last recorded words of the greatest prophet who has ever lived, as he surrenders to Jesus’ growing influence.  John has no personal hold on his ministry.  Instead, he admits that it was only given him from God.

We would do well to put ourselves into John’s words here: “He must increase, but I must decrease”.

 

Previous Post: The Educated Man

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theology

The Messiah of the Old Testament

Since the time of Adam, God has promised that one will come who will defeat Satan and restore his people.  As the books of the Old Testament unfold, we see that God gives more and more detail about this promised one.

This promised one was known to the Jews as the “Anointed One” (Daniel 9:25).  To the Hebrew-speaking Jews of the Old Testament times, they would refer to The Anointed One by the Hebrew translation: “Messiah”.  To the Greek and Aramaic speaking Jews of the New Testament times (and in between), they would refer to The Anointed One by the Greek translation: “Christ”.

The information below shows what was revealed about the Messiah through all 39 of the Old Testament Books.  Note that this list is far from exhaustive but I wanted to highlight the most significant themes regarding from Messiah in each book.  Most Jews of the First Century were very educated in their Law and Prophets (these books), and were anxiously awaiting the promised Messiah.

See also an excellent  post here showing how all 66 books of the Bible point to Jesus Christ:  https://sapphiresky.org/2013/11/09/its-all-about-jesus-christ/

Genesis

  • The messiah is an offspring of the woman (Eve).  He will be bruised by Satan and will crush his head (3:15).
  • All the families of the earth will be blessed through Abraham’s descendant (12:3, 18:18).
  • Melchizedek is (briefly) introduced as the great high priest (Psalm 110:4).
  • The royal line of the Messiah will be through Judah (49:10).

Exodus

  • The Passover is instituted as a time to celebrate God’s deliverance of the nation and to sacrifice a lamb.  Jesus is identified as the eternal Passover Lamb in the New Testament (John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor 5:7).  Jesus died on the day of Passover.
  • The office of the High Priest is instituted.  This also foreshadows the ministry of Jesus Christ in the New Testament (see Hebrews 4:14-16, 9:11-15).

Leviticus

  • The ritual of sacrifices is instituted to cover personal and national sins.  However, the sacrifice is only a foreshadowing of the permanent sacrifice made by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:11-15).

Numbers

  • Moses raises a bronze serpent so that all who are dying can look on it and be healed (21:6-9).  Jesus compares himself to this scene, saying that he will be lifted up for all to look on (John 3:14-15).
  • From the words of Balaam, “A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel” (24:17).

Deuteronomy

  • Moses promoses that God will raise up a “prophet like me” (18:15-19).  In the New Testament, Peter applies this to Jesus (Acts 3:22).

Joshua

  • Joshua himself is a portrayal of the Messiah as he leads the people to both reform and victory.  Note that Joshua’s name is the same Hebrew word as Jesus.
  • Rahab, a gentile prostitute, is part of the lineage of Jesus Christ (Matt 1:5).

Judges

  • There are no direct references to the Messiah in Judges.  However, each of the Judges shows the role of the Messiah in that they rescue, lead, and reform the people.

Ruth

  • The kinsman-redeemer in Ruth portrays Christ in that he is related to the bride and is willing to pay the price of redemption.
  • Ruth is another gentile woman in the lineage of Jesus Christ.

Samuel

  • The kingdom of David is presented in First and Second Samuel.  David’s kingdom is promised to be ultimately fulfilled by the Messiah in his kingdom.  (7:16 – “your throne will be established forever”).

Kings

  • Elijah is presented in 1 Kings, and we are told later that Elijah will precede the Messiah (see Malachi).
  • Through both good and bad kings, God is faithful to his covenant with David to preserve his royal line.

Chronicles

  • The tribe of Judah is given prominence since this tribe holds both the Kingship and the Messiah.
  • God remains faithful to the line of David despite wickedness and treachery.

Ezra

  • God shows his promise to restore the people and to preserve the line of David.
  • The decree of Cyrus starts the 70 weeks to the Messiah as prophesied by Daniel (see Daniel).

Nehemiah

  • Like in Ezra, God shows that he will restore the people.
  • The rebuilt temple restores the priesthood and the sacrifices as they prefigure the Messiah.

Esther

  • God will keep his promises and preserve his people — even in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Job

  • “I know that my redeemer lives” (19:25-27).
  • Job tells of his need for a mediator (9:33).

Psalms

  • Many of the psalms either directly or indirectly tell of the Messiah.  Some examples:
    • Psalm 2 – God declares him as his Son
    • Psalm 16 – He will rise from the dead
    • Psalm 22 – This gives great detail of the crucifixion experience.  He will be scorned and mocked, his hands and feet pierced, and others will gamble for his clothes.
    • Psalm 34 – Not a bone will be broken
    • Psalm 35 – He will be accused by false witnesses and hated without a cause
    • Psalm 41 – He will be betrayed by a close friend
    • Psalm 45 – His throne will endure forever
    • Psalm 69 – Zeal for God’s house will consume him; he will be given sour wine to drink
    • Psalm 72 – Kings of the earth will pay tribute to him
    • Psalm 110 – His enemies will become his footstool; he will be a priest like Melchizedek
    • Psalm 118 – He is the chief cornerstone; “Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord!”
    • Psalm 132 – He is the descendant of David

Proverbs

  • Wisdom is personified in chapter 8.  Jesus became the fullness of wisdom (Col 2:3, 1 Cor 1:30).

Ecclesiastes

  • Ecclesiastes shows the emptiness of life without God, who has created eternity in their hearts (3:11).

Song of Solomon

  • The church is depicted in the New Testament as the bride of Christ.

Isaiah

  • Isaiah has more about the Messiah than any other book in the Old Testament.  The central section of the suffering of the messiah is Chapters 52-53.  Some of the specific prophecies about the messiah:
    • 7:14 – He will be born of a virgin
    • 9:1-2 – Light for those who have walked in darkness; his major work will be in Galilee
    • 9:6 – Wonderful, counselor, the almighty God, the everlasting father
    • 11:1-5 – He will be a descendant of Jesse
    • 28:16 – He is the precious cornerstone
    • 35:5-6 – He will make the blind see the deaf hear, and the lame walk
    • 40:3-5 – a voice crying, “In the wilderness prepare the way of The Lord”.  John the Baptist considered himself to be this voice as he prepared the way for the Messiah’s coming (John 1).
    • 42:1-4 – God’s chosen servant will have his Spirit on him.  He will bring justice to the earth.
    • 42:6-7 – He is a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind and to save the prisoners.
    • 50:6 – He will be beaten, mocked, and spit on
    • 52:14 – His appearance was marred beyond recognition
    • 53:1-12 – He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; … and by his wounds we are healed.  He will be rejected and killed.  He will be silent before his accusers.  He will be condemned with criminals and buried with the rich.
    • 59:16 – He will intercede for the people.
    • 61:1-2 – He will bring good news to poor and liberty for the captives.  Jesus personally read this passage in his home town of Nazareth, applying it to himself (Luke 4:16-21).
  • Prophecies about the Messiah that are not yet fulfilled:
    • 11:2-10  -he will rule with righteousness, equity, and force
    • 32:1-8 – He is the king who will reign in righteousness
    • 49:7 – Kings and princes will pay homage
    • 52:13-15 – He will silence kings
    • 60:1-3 – Darkness will cover the earth but brightness will shine from the Messiah
    • 61:2-4 – He will restore and repair the nation
  • Jesus directly quotes from Isaiah 61 when he describes himself to his home town.
  • John the Baptist uses Isaiah 40 to describe himself as the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”.

Jeremiah

  • God promises to raise up from David a Righteous Branch (23:5-6) who will reign as king and act wisely and save the people.  He will be called “The Lord our righteousness”.
  • God promises a new covenant with his people (31:31-34).

Lamentations

  • Jeremiah weeps over Jerusalem, just like Jesus will weep over Jerusalem many centuries later (Matt 23:37-38).

Ezeklel

  • The messiah is the tender twig that grows into a great tree (17:22-24).
  • God will give judgement to him (21:26-27).
  • The Messiah will be the shepherd over his flock (34:11-31).
  • The Messiah rules as the prince over his restored people (chapters 44-47).

Daniel

  • He is the great stone cut out of the mountainside which will crush the other kingdoms (2:34-35, 44).
  • He is presented as the “son of man” and is given a kingdom that will never end (7:13-14).
  • Daniel 9 tells of 70 weeks to the coming of the Messiah.  Specifically, 9:25-26 gives a specific pinpoint of time between when the decree to restore Jerusalem to he coming of the Messiah.
    • Daniel 9 specifically identifies “the anointed one” (i.e. Messiah).

Hosea

  • 11:1 says, “out of Egypt if called my son”.  This is referenced in Matthew (2:15) as referring to Jesus.
  • Hosea’s relationship with his sinful wife (Gomer) illustrates the Messiah’s work of redemption.

Joel

  • Joel 3 tells of the Messiah sitting in judgement over the nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat.

Amos

  • He promises to restore the “booth of David” (9:11).

Obadiah

  • The book culminates with the restored kingdom, which will belong to The Lord.

Jonah

  • Jesus compared himself directly to Jonah.  As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so he would be three days and three nights in the earth.  (Matt 12:38-42).

Micah

  • Micah 5:2 clearly states that the Messiah (ruler in Israel; timeless one) will come from Bethlehem.
  • Micah 4 gives great detail of the Messiah’s reign over the whole earth.

Nahum

  • We see the Messiah judging the nations.

Habakkuk

  • Salvation comes from the Lord (3:13, 3:18).

Zephaniah

  • The Messiah will preside over the restored kingdom (chapter 3).

Haggai

  • The new temple will be part of God’s plan for peace (2:9).

Zechariah

  • He is The Branch (3:8, 6:12-13).
  • He will be the king and priest (6:13-14).
  • He is coming humbly and mounted on a donkey (9:9).
  • He is rejected and sold for 30 pieces of silver (11:4-13).
  • He will be pierced (12:10).
  • He is the shepherd who will be struck and abandoned (13:7).

Malachi

  • The messenger will prepare the way for the Messiah (3:1, Isaiah 40:3)
  • He will purify the nation (3:2-3)
  • Elijah the prophet will come before the day of The Lord (4:5-6)

Primary Source, The New Open Bible, Study Edition, (c) 1990, Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Categories
encouragement theology

The Word

John will use several different descriptions of Jesus through the course of his gospel as he introduces us to different aspects of his character.  But he uses a very simple term, “The Word” (Greek: logos), to introduce us to him.  The significance of Logos is lost in our English world, but means far more than just “word”.  “Logos” conveys the entire message, both the said and unsaid.

To the Greeks in John’s day, the gods were distant.  The philosopher Plato said, “Maybe one day, a logos (a message or a word) will come from God who will reveal the mysteries and make things plain.” (*)

The Jews in John’s day had a clear understanding of God’s word.  The Old Testament contains many references to God’s power and presence expressed through his word.  For example:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. (Psalms 33:6)

 

But John makes this more personal.  Not only does the Word (logos) signify the power and the presence of God, but it is also a person.  This man that John has come to know is more than a mere human!  To the Greeks, he is the one who will reveal the mysteries.  To the Jews, he is the power and the presence of God.  But he is more than a mere force — he became human and lived among us!

 

​ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
(John 1:1-5,9)

John starts out his gospel with an extended introduction to The Word (logos).  In many ways, this introduction is a summary of the entire gospel:

  • The Word is fully God (he was with God and he was God)
  • The Word has God’s attributes, including eternity (in the beginning), power (creation)
  • The Word is the source of all life
  • The Word is the source of all goodness.  He stands against evil and is greater than Evil (referenced by light vs. darkness) [1]
  • The Word is the true light.  The real thing!

 

But there are more personal notes about The Word:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
(John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist (not the author) is sent ahead as a witness of the Word.  John only lived to reflect the light back on Him. [2]

 

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
(John 1:9-13)

Sadly, The Word came to his own country, but his own people rejected him.  But therein is also the good news: he gives the right to be children of God to those who do receive him!

This is the core of our confusion about Jesus Christ.  The point here is very clear and very simple: Jesus — the very one who made the world — came into the world.  Yet the world did not know him.  His own people did not receive him.

But the good news is also here: he has given the right to be God’s children to those who did receive him!

This is a critical point: what does it mean to receive him? Jesus came with a message of who he is.  He also came with a call. When we receive him, we yield our allegiance to him.  It means that we believe who he is and have placed our faith in him. [3] This challenge is the same for us in the 21st century as it was for those who lived with Jesus in the 1st century.

 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
(John 1:14,16-17)

John (the author) has personally seen the glory of the Son of God.  But his fullness and his grace is not only limited to the eyewitnesses: we can all receive his grace.  Not just once, but over and over again (“grace upon grace”).

In case you have any doubts about who The Word is, John concludes his prologue with a very specific ending: “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.

Jesus Christ is the Word (logos) from God.  But he is more than a message.  He is more than power.  He is God himself!