Posts Tagged ‘who is Jesus’

Gospel of John: The Forerunner

December 25, 2014

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8 NIV)

It’s interesting (to me) how John the Writer felt the need to clarify John the Baptist’s role in the story. Why he addressed JB’s (John the Baptist) status as the forerunner is not stated but I do think inferred. JB developed a following–of which John the Writer became a part before switching to Jesus at JB’s suggestion–who were nothing if not loyal to a fault. John the Writer seems to be targeting these disciples of JB in order to point them to Jesus.

In ancient and fairly modern times all rulers used heralds to announce their approach to a town, city or area. The person would wear the colors or bear the mark of a herald on his garments to give instant recognition as to the validity of his words.

John the Baptist’s livery defied the logic of kings, eschewing pomp and royal crest in favor of the humble camel’s hair and leather. This is vital to our understanding of the nature of Jesus, whom we call King of Kings. Every nuance held significance whether large or small. Jesus came humbly therefore his herald should take on the same demeanor. It also follows that those men He chose as His disciples would also come from humble backgrounds.

I don’t think God despises the rich and powerful it’s just these people tend towards a mentality which preserves their wealth and power. A person fully formed by education, shaped by being born into wealth and authority, will struggle to submit to a teacher who doesn’t present himself/herself within the familiar paradigm. JB’s humility must have been chosen since his father was a priest of some influence, one who performed in the temple, therefore probably not extremely poor. Meaning JB wouldn’t have needed to live in the desert eating locusts and honey but could have followed in his father’s footsteps and become a political influence in Jerusalem if he had so chosen.

So JB’s humility was chosen to a purpose.

Just to be clear: Jesus and JB were cousins, had to have known each other, and at one time or another connected. Anyone who suggests they didn’t can’t read between the lines. Mary, Jesus’ mother, went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, JB’s mother, when she started to show she was pregnant. Elizabeth knew her cousin was pregnant after first laying eyes on her. These two women were close enough that an apparently “immoral” Mary went to Elizabeth to escape local social problems.

Nowhere does the Bible connect JB and Jesus socially. Yet the fact that Jesus and JB were related cannot be ignored. Did they have some sort of pact because of their mothers’ visions for them? I doubt it. Our modern travel abilities blunt our understanding of the past and how easily distances of even ten miles or less were accomplished. When one is poor, walking provides the only means of transporting oneself between destinations, therefore anything not within the needs of providing for the home become vital only out of necessity. So any collusion between the two women would have been exceedingly ambitious and probably not really possible. However, if they were in cahoots, why would Elizabeth take a backseat role as far as her baby being the forerunner instead of the Messiah? Selfish people tend to be ambitious, ambitious people don’t take to coming in second.

JB chose the path of the ascetic which in his culture gave him a certain credibility right from the start. Anyone, be they poor or wealthy, gained respect by rejecting the trappings of normal life in favor of seeking God or their gods. When JB came preaching people came to hear him in droves because he was a force to be reckoned with in their culture.

The difference between what JB and Jesus presented and the rest of the world’s self-proclaimed messiahs came down to message: our heroes proclaimed life change through attitude adjustment; the latter proclaim their own self-interest in the guise of religious or power-mongering stump speeches. What JB began through his preaching and baptism ritual about changing one’s life and attitude Jesus expanded on.

Whether through studied understanding or Spirit-driven insight JB’s message set people up for Jesus’ life and teachings. His entire goal was to point people to the Messiah–so that through him people might believe.

So, You Think You’re the King?

October 20, 2010

Pilate went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him,  “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,”  Jesus asked,  “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?”  Pilate replied.  “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me.  What is it you have done?”

The dialogue here continues to  fascinates me.  I really don’t know from the questions whether or not Pilate was really interested in the answers, but it’s evident he had heard rumors.  Up to this point the Jews hadn’t even accused Him of anything let alone told Pilate about Jesus’ claims to be king—at least from the record here—so either Pilate was assuming or he had heard rumors about Him.

Jesus’ answer to Him is telling.  First off, though I can’t say what was going through Jesus’ mind at the time, He’s either confronting Pilate’s presumption on the charges or simply testing him to see how interested he really was in the answer.  Was Pilate struck by Jesus’ bearing and attitude to the point of being impressed He was a king or had the talk about Him around Israel filtered up to his offices?  One thing’s for certain, after years of deliberating civil cases, a person working as a judge gets a feel for the guilt or innocence of the accused and accuser.  I think Pilate sensed Jesus was innocent not only because of the time of day (early morning, which meant the Jewish kangaroo court must had happened in the middle of the night) but also because he didn’t trust the Jews.

“Am I a Jew?” means Pilate, to me, had only heard rumors through the servants, dignitaries and others in his courts instead Jewish gossip hotline, so all he had was a vague impression from talk around his palace.  In his mind, whatever answer Jesus gave would decide his course of action.  His query held more to it than mere curiosity—I mean if it had been me, I would want to know who this man claimed to be and how he handled the question.  Jesus’ answer, however, probably wasn’t what Pilate expected.  Instead of declaring emphatically His innocence and railing against the Jewish leaders, the Master simply probed him about his motives for asking such a question.

Pilate decided to be direct:  “What is it you have done?”

Or:  “What did you do to make those people out there angry enough to kill you?”

The fact that he asked Jesus for clarification on the point of His arrest signifies he saw no guilt, tell-tale signs or evidence from the people outside He had committed a crime.  So was this question his way of looking for clues as to what the man before him held behind the mask of innocence?  A judge learns not to trust appearances alone, thus the probing.

Jesus didn’t answer to divert attention away from His condemnation but to probe Pilate’s heart for any opportunity to plant the truth of God in it.  When He did answer the question He directed Pilate to a spiritual kingdom rather than an earthly one.  When Jesus said,  “My kingdom is not of this world…” Pilate probably heard a man out of touch with reality and thus harmless to the Roman government.

The Master, even here, concerned Himself with the man’s soul rather than anything tangible to the human reasoning.  For Jesus, the spiritual man was (and for us, still is) the really important part of his humanity.  The physicality, power, prestige, position and wealth were so fleeting in the eternal perspective as to dwindle to insignificance.  Our sense of what’s important mirrors either the Jews or Pilate—church or state, take your pick.  Humans cannot seem to grab onto the spiritual reality without making a religion out of it and developing intricate guidelines for success in it.  Those focused on the state will either go completely political or make their personal “kingdom” the all consuming interest.

Jesus, however, points us to the spiritual as the reality we need for our foundational reality.  I don’t think even most Christians handle this truth very well for the evidence of what we accept or fight about displays a different story to the world around us than we believe we’re telling.  I find it hard to balance the two views—i.e. being a spiritually based person while living in a physical world.  The mission of Christ is to reconcile the two parts which were separated at the fall.  This, then, is our journey and greatest witness for the kingdom of heaven; our mission is to live connected ever more completely to the spiritual reality of Christ while living it out in the physical realm.

No Hold On Me

April 29, 2010

“I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming.  He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded.  John 14:30, 31.

Jesus’ business on earth was about to see its fulfillment.  The prince of this world is coming pointed to His arrest, trial and subsequent death, and since we know He was speaking of Satan, it stands to reason He is submitting Himself to this willingly.

But I like the fact that Satan has no hold on our Master; the reason for His death had nothing to do with Satan’s power over Him—either to arrest or kill Him.  Do you see this?  There’s a proverb which goes  There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.  Though the enemy sought to eliminate Jesus from the heavenly equation by killing Him, there was no way to hold Him in the grave or even kill Him, for that matter.  Jesus is God’s Son, our elder brother, therefore He is God.

The sentence structure in Jesus’ statement interprets itself.  Satan’s lack of power over Jesus wasn’t accidental or a matter of defiance, rather it was a declaration of obedience and love.  The Lord wanted His disciples to know that He was safe, as always, and what came next would be His means of demonstrating to the world how much He loved His Father.  Unfortunately, though the world might “get” it they don’t like what His obedience reveals.

It’s quite hard to endure the company of someone who lives exactly like we know we should but either refuse to do so or feel frustrated in our attempts to get there.  You know the type of people I’m talking about:  they show disciplined, purposeful lives and are quite successful at their endeavors.  Those who resent them will either attack them publicly in an effort humiliate and silence them or stop shun them all together.

The world treats Jesus this way, and, in turn, us when we begin to look like Him in character and practice.  If the prince of this world had no hold on our Master, he can gain no hold over us.  Oh, He might trip us up and cause us to fall on our faces once in a while or even daily for a time, but his hold is slipping because our Boss is able to hold us better.  We are loved enough for the God of heaven to send His own to show us how much.  This should immediately increase our value even in our own eyes.

The message for today, then, is:  Don’t be discourage when we feel we don’t live up to the image of Jesus.  The prince of this world had no hold on Him and therefore has no hold on us.  Our sins are forgiven, our lives are being renewed every day, though we fall into sin and fail Him, He will not fail us.  The prince of this world was beaten even before the cross, and so he remains.  We all have failed the Master and probably will again, but the master of this world has no hold on us if we continue to return to the Savior.

A Lost Argument

January 22, 2010

Jesus answered them,  “Is it not written in your Law,  ‘I have said you are gods’?  If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world?  Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said,  ‘I am God’s Son’?”  John 10:34-36.

Nothing convinced them.

Ok, here’s a rabbit trail…how come these guys couldn’t capture one man?  I mean how hard would it be to surround Jesus and hold Him?  I’m pretty sure they couldn’t do so because the timing wasn’t right, but still, it seems they attempted several times to grab Him and failed.  Until Judas, of course.

Jesus’ argument appeals to the Jews’ commonsense, practical side.  In a nutshell His answer to them picking up stones seems to be,  “Hey look, you’re out to stone me for claiming to be God’s Son, yet you did ask if I was the messiah or not and I answered.  You didn’t like my answer but the miracles I perform testify that my claim is true, so why would you stone me when the evidence that I’m speaking the truth is in my favor?  Even your own Law called the prophets and servants of God ‘gods’ so why condemn me for the same claim since I work miracles beyond what anyone in Israel’s history has ever been able to do?”

Jehovah’s Witness and a few other “Christian” cults and sects claim the Jews misunderstood Jesus’ claim to God-hood and that He wasn’t claiming anything any other human couldn’t.  In other words Jesus wasn’t God but a god, a Son of God no different than anyone else in Israel or believers today.  I don’t buy this argument for one minute because John 1 makes it quite plain that Jesus created the world, which anyone who read Genesis would know only God could do.  No, Jesus claimed to be one with the Father in a unique way outside of human capability or possibility.

Yet I need to clarify His example demonstrated what we could have as well.  We can be one with God through Jesus Christ—may be not as God, but as gods.  He set us an example of what our lives could be like if we just opened to the Spirit of God.

A truth we often miss from this text is Jesus statement “and Scripture cannot be broken”.  I don’t know why it’s passed over so often, may be because we assume it’s truth or get sidetracked by the issue between Him and the Jews.  Whatever it is we need to burn this truth into our minds.  Scripture cannot be parcelled out or piecemealed it has to be taken as a whole to be understood.  The seeming dichotomies and paradoxes which exist in Scripture deal with God’s efforts on behalf of sinful human beings not His desire for the universe at large.  This truth is one of the main reasons I encourage people to study the Law and prophets once they get a handle on the gospels.  Without an understanding of the past, we can never really grasp the present or the future.

At the end of the day, Jesus left Jerusalem for the other side of the Jordan, where John began his ministry.  I don’t think He did this just as means of getting away from the Jews.  In fact, as I read the text it seems to be a subtle reminder of John’s testimony about His identity as the messiah.  Those who followed or met Him there concluded that John was right.

Have you ever been to a place where the past comes up to remind you of a truth or something special that happened there?  I think the Jews would have been even more inclined toward this way of remembering because they were to put marker stones (see Joshua 4:1-9 as an example) everywhere God did something special in order to remind themselves of His work on their behalf.  This place where John’s ministry began reminded them of his testimony about Jesus and they could say,  “all that John said about this man was true.”  And in that place many believed in Jesus

Why is it the those outside the seats of power, the center of learning and social hubs accept Jesus where the powerful, educated and socially aware do not?

It has to do with arrogance, in some cases, but I also think that many of us become so fat with our own brand of religion, politics or popularity that we simply don’t want anything more than what we have.  God’s approval or disapproval means nothing if we are already wealthy in the world’s view of us.  I still see dissatisfied, dysfunctional people and unhappiness in that camp, but I know their arguments.  Most just don’t want God to interfere with what they want to do while at the same time they expect Him to keep them out of trouble, secure their lives and make them happy.

If Scripture cannot be broken, then we have to conclude no one can be happy, satisfied or trouble free outside of obedience to God.  Nothing which does not equal eternal investment will give satisfaction beyond the moment.  No blessing of the moment which is not sanctified by the Spirit of God will last for eternity.

The Jews loved the praise of men (see John 12:43, Luke 11:43) but ignored the praise of God.  They craved power, prestige and wealth thinking these things were a sign of God’s favor, all the while refusing the heart God wanted them not only display but to create inside.  Thus they rejected Jesus for temporary profit.

We who believe give ourselves over to the humble carpenter who came not in grand style, flashy parades or a beautiful person.  He shows us that the ordinary of God is of more value than the empty profit the world offers.  A person who becomes beautiful in spirit grows in worth not only to God but others around them as well as themselves.

From the Mouth of Simplicity

December 28, 2009

Finally they turned again to the blind man,  “What have you to say about Him?  It was your eyes He opened.”

The man replied,  “He is a prophet.”  John 9:17.

Those of us used to sophisticated argument or exegesis can probably relate to the Pharisees reaction to the blind man’s confident assertion about Jesus’ identity.  John doesn’t record an exclamation point here from the translation I have so we can assume the man’s statement was said matter of fact.

Yet with all of this evidence staring them in the face, the Jews desperately chose what was behind door #2. 

The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents.  “Is this your son?”  they asked.  “Is this the one you say was born blind?  How is it that now he can see?”

The trap set for the parents here is diabolical in its intent and method for they had already declared anyone who confessed Jesus as the Christ (or something even close from the sound of it) would be thrown out of the synagogue.  Yet the parents said enough to corner the Pharisees into acknowledging the miracle by stating two very vital pieces of evidence:  1)  this is our son  2)  he was born blind.  The fact that they denied knowing how he could now see was only a half truth—or half lie—because they hadn’t seen how it happened they only heard about it.  So their denial was technically true.

This story informs me the leaders of the Jews didn’t care about truth as much as they did their traditions and identity as a nation.  They were so obsessed over their own story they went out of their way to keep from even acknowledge the truth God put in front of their faces.  Yet before we begin condemning them we must look at out own behavior.  Many of us come from staunch religious backgrounds and teachings which we never even consider challenging.  We hold to traditional viewpoints even when there’s massive evidence to the contrary.  When power becomes the main focus, it defeats truth since power is only a part of the bigger picture.  When traditional viewpoints don’t match up with clear truth staring us in the face, we must adjust our thinking to what we know to be fact—or as near as we can identify fact.

Still we need to take warning from the testimony of history.  What facts signify can be distorted through sophistry and smoke screens.  Those in power will always use facts to manipulate the truth found in them to their own benefit.  This is why we must study to show ourselves approved by God, a people who rightly divide the Word of truth and keep our candle burning in every dark place we encounter.

These leaders knew they had the parents by the short-hairs and pressed their advantage.  To be kicked out of the synagogue meant losing one’s identity as a Jew, being shunned by those still accepted and cut off from family or friends; a person put out of the synagogue was as good as dead to his or her previous world, and their relatives, friends and countrymen considered them as such.  This was a death sentence in those days because a person’s identity and self-worth came as much from their national heritage and religious community as it did from their personal accomplishments.  To be outside the corporate family meant being adrift and alone financially, collectively and spiritually, vulnerable to all the jackals of society’s underbelly.

Due to the gross abuses of the powerful, individuality has been trumpeted over the last 50 years or so as the answer.  The ability to be autonomous and singular seemed to be a healthy counterpoint to the tribal/national identity dominating the last several thousand years.  Humanity in the form of youthful energy claimed the adult population had led us astray in order to keep power and the poor under their thumbs.  They rebelled against the argument “because I said so!” and stood against the tyranny of popular pressure.

Since then we haven’t seen the utopia they touted as a natural consequence of their proposed “freedom” and individuality.  Like the noted philosopher Sting sang “There is no miracle of science that hasn’t gone from a blessing to a curse.”  Nothing we humans do outside of our design will be anything but destructive to our world and by consequence to us.  We cannot work outside the design of nature’s structure then expect to escape unscathed.  Our little experiment in social restructuring has ended up with a more fractured society than ever.  Order was never very good before but now it’s nearly on the verge of being none existent.

I am not condemning the Jews by calling the leaders of Jesus’ timeframe on the carpet for their foolishness, rather I’m attempting to illustrate that anyone who steps outside of God as their King, Master, God and Savior will be left with a husk of traditions that mean nothing to their eternal connection with Him.  These people desired a Messiah after their own likeness and goals.  After years of theory and discussion, they set up an understanding of Scripture which fit their own personality ticks.  This isn’t to say they agreed on what on the details, far from it, in point of fact they fought each other constantly.  Yet in the person of Christ they found a common enemy and joined forces.

 The Jews next move proved what their hearts were about more than almost anything else.

“I Am!”

December 9, 2009

“I tell you the truth,”  Jesus answered,  “before Abraham was born, I am!”  John 8:58.

Did Jesus just say what I think He said?   Did He just declare His identity clearly and succinctly?  I think He so.  The significance of this cannot be lost on anyone who knows Jewish history or the Law, for it is the name God gave Himself:  “I Am”.  His reference couldn’t be lost on those listening for sure, because immediately they picked up stones to kill Him, yet somehow He pulled a Houdini and hid from them, walking away unscathed.

They had asked,  “Who are you?  Tell us plainly…” and when He did, they decided they didn’t like the answer and would stone Him instead.  To me this is the paradox of fallen human nature:  one moment we want a rescuer to save us from the bad guys, the next we decide we don’t like how our Knight in shining white armor plans to do it and go looking for someone else—or something else. 

Simply saying “I am” isn’t earth shattering in and of itself because we say this all the time in reply to questions about our daily lives.  You know “I am coming over…”  “I am ready” “I am…etc.” rolls off our tongues without a second thought.  Jesus’ use, however, is in the continuous present tense.  Even without knowing Greek we can see by the phrasing He was saying something quite profound (and for further proof just look at the reaction of the Jews again). 

“Before Abraham was born, I am!”

By stating He  is, not was, before Abraham was born, He declared Himself to exist in the eternal now where all times are the present for Him through the Father.  Though He gave up omnipresence and had no more power than humans have at their disposal, His connection to the Father shined through and affected everyone in His path.  I Am is the name God gave Himself.  The Eternal One; the only self-existent being in the universe and beyond.

Jesus, without question, establishes both His connection with the Father and identity.  His statement declared His mission; His mission declared God’s intent.

On the other hand, the Jews reaction declared both their hopes for themselves and intent.  By picking up stones to kill Jesus they displayed their hearts for all people then and throughout history to see.  They didn’t want a messiah like Jesus, for some reason…which is the same reason many don’t want Him now.

What to Believe?

October 14, 2009

On hearing His words, some of the people said,  “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

Others said,  “He is the Christ.”

Still others asked,  “How can the Christ come from Galilee?  Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.  Some wanted to seize Him, but no one laid a hand on Him.  John 7:40-44.

It’s important to notice details in Scripture because the details many times reveal things that flavors our understanding of what we’re reading.  For instance, John tells us the people were divided because of Jesus not just for the story to be accurate but to remind us He came to bring a sword that would divide those who sought God with all their hearts from those who merely acknowledged Him.  Where Jesus enters the picture for anyone, division rules the day—not because their growth in righteousness causes this but because of those who stand against what Jesus taught.

Why?  Why do we see such a polarization around Christ?

I believe it’s in part due to His demand for holiness, yes, but it grows more whacked than that into our reluctance to give over our whole being to God.  We desperately want “all this and heaven too” to quote my brother.

Again, some set out to take Him by force and arrest Him, but the timing wasn’t right so no one could lay a hand on Him.

Which brings us the fact the temple guards gave for not arresting Him once they returned to the rulers and Pharisees:  “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”  Jesus’ words held them spellbound, captivated and they lost all motivation to take Him in by force.  I know it sounds ludicrous they would arrest a man just for teaching in the temple, but such was the day when those in power could incarcerate anyone they chose for sneezing the wrong way in their presence.  Many rulers killed those who annoyed them on just a whim without forethought or any regret.

The rulers sneered at the temple guards for believing or even being affected by Jesus.  Yet notice they didnt’ go hear the man themselves because I think they were afraid of His power.  Enough of them had been brought down in debates with Jesus they were a little afraid to either confront Him or listen.  Were they worried He could convince them or just keep them at bay?  I don’t know.  What I do see in this example of their sneering denial is false bravado and distance.  These men kept themselves at a distance, insulated so they wouldn’t be tainted.  Many of them hadn’t even met Jesus much less heard Him speak, so their analysis was based on remote calculations rather than first hand experience.

This type of person doesn’t scare me half so much as those who hear the words of God on a regular basis but still harden themselves to its message.

Nicodemus rebuked their condemnation of Jesus by pointing out the law forbade them to do so without a hearing.  They weren’t allowed to condemn anyone without hearing the pros and cons of the case in person.  But look at their response,  “Are you from Galilee, too?  Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”  This argument didn’t hold water at all and they knew it because Jesus didn’t come from Galilee but Nazareth in the hill country.  Plus, the rumors of His birth were already circulated, I’m sure by this time, so His origins would have been pretty well established.  If nothing else, these men should have asked Him to come to a confab in order to explore both His origins and message to discover the truth.  Then, if they were impressed by the personal evidence, all they would have had to do is get witnesses to His birthplace, story and education.

Instead they denied Him any right to the name messiah.  Why?  Because He came out of nowhere in their estimation?  Was it due to His poor background?  Was it because He didn’t belong to any of their sects or religious schools?

No, I think these things were just excuses for keeping the Christ at bay.  They wanted a messiah to conquer the oppressors of Israel and put them in power not change their hearts, which was a mistake.  The problem with sin is the craving for it after a while.  We get so used to our present reality we forget that it’s temporary and transient.  We actually begin to believe God wants us to remain here and in this condition—albeit glorified and somewhat righteous—without a cataclysmic change, and nothing could be further from the truth.

God’s work of salvation has nothing to do with earthly power in the sense of conquering nations or establishing kings, though He does this regularly, rather His purpose for us is to give us dominion over the heart of us.  The greatest power on earth is not the one which rules others but that which rules the inner being.  Our inability to be self-controlled should warn us about our mistaken goals when it comes to developing the “perfect” church or picture of God on earth, for this is impossible in our present condition—dual natures at war.

Another thing these men refused to explore or acknowledge was Jesus’ connections.  First, both His parents were descendants of David.  Second, He was related by marriage or heritage to the priestly line of Aaron because Zechariah was John the Baptist’s dad, a priest who served in the holy of holies, which means he was of the line of Aaron.  Since Elizabeth, John’s mother, was Mary’s, Jesus’ mother, cousin, we see both the prophecies for the messiah fulfilled.  He is the king in the line of David but a priest as well, which means Hebrews 7 calling Him a type of Melchizedek is spot on.

If these men, so eager to dismiss Jesus, had investigated the evidence, they might have taken a step back and been a bit more careful throwing condemnation around.  But they didn’t because they had no desire to understand truth.

And this is a warning, I believe, to us.

Sculpting the Message

September 23, 2009

“My teaching is not my own.  It comes from Him who sent me.  If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.  John 7:16, 17.

Either Jesus used the Scriptures as the Son of God guide Him in His mission, or He was using the Scriptures to sculpt His life to fit them.  In other words, the pathway He needed to use, God embedded in the Scriptures as clues to His mission, which led Him to specific timeframes and actions.  It could also be, if we take Him as merely human, that He found a pattern in the Scriptures which allowed Him to fit His life and teaching into it, then claim the rest.  Both could be true; both are plausible within their own paradigm of truth and highly possible within a universe we barely grasp.

Was Jesus just putting a new spin on an old teaching or revealing the true meaning behind what was written?

That is the most important question we must answer in this debate of His authority.  Either Jesus reveals the real meaning of the Law and the Prophets or He’s shining everyone on (including Himself if He believed His own claims) and merely putting a new facet on an old diamond.

Jesus gives us another key to discovering truth in general:  If a person decides to do God’s will, that person will know the truth for what it is and therefore, by default, know the truth about Jesus.  So we are presented with two possible scenarios in Jesus’ statement about where His teaching comes from and how He arrived at His conclusions:  1)  He sculpted His message to loosely fit the Scriptures then took some of the more debatable texts and reinterpreted them to mean what He wanted them to mean.  2)  The Scriptures themselves were an outline written by the Godhead long before sin entered creation.  This outline became Jesus’ guide to His mission, the cryptic language, which to us is many times a mystery, spoke to the God in Him while guiding His daily choices.

Everywhere we look in Scripture we find clues to knowing and understanding truth.  Jesus’ clue above is not cryptic or mysterious but plainly spoken.  However, once the choice is made to do God’s will, understanding it can get quite confusing as we sort through perceptions, interpretations and our own preconceptions cum bias.  The life of a follower of the Christ is guided by the Scriptures, for sure, but it is a process of continuous correction and realignment to the truth.  We don’t see clearly but through a darkened glass.

I want you to do an experiment just so you can get how hard it is sometimes to see spiritually.  Paul said we on this side  of eternity look through a darkened glass, which in Greek actually means mirror or colored glass.  The mirrors of the day weren’t as clear as ours but had more shadows, tinted by the metal or glass formed.  The sheer flat surface we know today was not what they knew for they couldn’t get the same precision by hand we get with machines, so the image would be slightly warped, dark and just recognizable most of the time.  Take a piece of blown glass and study an object on the other side (mirrors of the day weren’t usually backed with metal like they are now) and try to describe it to yourself or someone else.

Knowing God’s will is a work in progress.  As the scales of human weakness, desire and sin fall off our spiritual vision, we gain a clearer and clearer view of what God’s will and purpose are in the grand scheme of things, and in a personal way what He desires for us.  But the key to understanding is not leaning on our own grasp of reality, instead we submit our view of everything to His.  Only in this way can we get a handle on truth; only in this way can we know what is what and who is who.

Only in this way will we ever know whether or not Jesus’ teaching comes from God or is something He dreamed up to get famous.  Either Jesus sculpted His life to the Scriptures or the Scriptures were sculpted for Him to guide Him in the shaping of His life, ministry and message, which still means He sculpted Himself to the Scriptures, the difference is:  He understood them.

…And So It Begins

July 23, 2009

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted Him.  Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I , too, am working.”  For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.  John 5:16-47

Jesus healed someone on a Sabbath and now the Jews were up in arms about it.  You’d think they would be amazed at the healing itself and the other issues would fade into the background.  I mean, like, come on, did healing happen so very often that they could just blow this off in order to focus on the Sabbath question?

Chapter 5 begins the Jesus’ teachings where He describes Himself to His followers and detractors alike.  Jesus usually used plain logic, though at times He turned mildly cryptic (like String Theory is basic math).  I believe there are good reasons for the obscure style of argument, though, for to say some things too openly in Christ’s day invited censure and public punishment.  Jesus had a mission to accomplish which He needed to finish before they took Him. 

If John A is keeping to a loose timeline of Jesus’ work and teaching, then Jesus began His ministry challenging the system.  After changing water into wine, He cleaned up the Gentile court so the people could worship in peace, brought the Samaritans to a knowledge of His grace using a bitter outcast woman as one of His first evangelists, then healed on a Sabbath.  All these actions took place in His first few months.

So this situation begins with a healing and ends with Him defending Himself.  Jesus purposely reveals His identity in a veiled way–a thin veil at best, because the Jews seemed to get it right away.  His statement about God being His Father angered them because by it He was making Himself equal with God.  There is absolutely no escape from this passage.  Jesus put Himself up on God’s level by calling Himself God’s Son.  Now we can conclude any son is the equal of a father pretty easily, although at birth he may only possess the potential to be so, yet once he’s grown he matches the father in everything.

Whether Jesus’ claim can be refuted or not, no one can say by the text because it is made as a statement of fact.  This “fact” might be disputed by those who disagree with the text and therefore don’t accept Jesus as anything but a good man, teacher and historical figure, but those who study the text and claim to believe it cannot, in all good conscience, do anything but agree and practice that belief.

Notice I did not say it could be refuted but disputed.  To refute a subject or claimed truth one must have firm evidence to the contrary.

Jesus defends His actions by calling on God’s work of sustaining life every microsecond.  He gives His relationship to the Father as a reason for His own work of healing, then presents a poignant argument against the Jews mishandling of the Law.  The Sabbath was made for man to rest and enjoy his Creator and the life he’d been given one day a week without working with it to produce.  God must work to sustain all life–this means He is never able to rest.   So does He break the 4th commandment?  No, the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  It was a gift to man not a universal creed or law; a day to take the boots off and soak one’s feet.  They weren’t created for the day, the day was created for them as a gift.

The Jews made a fatal error here.  Think about it:  If healing a man paralyzed 38 years is what Jesus can do when He’s being nice, what could He do when He’s angry?  If someone has the power to heal the body just by commanding it, I wouldn’t think it wise to mess with him.  Why they thought they could pin Jesus to the ropes I don’t know.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to try to take on a man who could heal an army and keep on fighting, and these guys wanted to kill Him!

As I’ve studied this gospel in the last few years, I’ve begun to catch a glimpse of what religion without God in charge does to people’s minds.  I’m all for religious beliefs and practices but I don’t believe it is the essence of who we are.  We might religiously shower but that doesn’t make us worry about it.  It’s the same with religion of any kind.  We can claim the name of Christ and shout how much we agree with Him, then turn right around and be hateful in our hearts.  Without the heart being different, the words mean nothing to God and ultimately nothing to anyone else.

Why did the Jews react first?  Why didn’t they first try to figure out whether what He said was true and study His claims and Him?  Seeing the miracles would have given me pause to adjust my thinking on any subject.  Like Nicodemus I would be cautious but still seek Him out.  They didn’t.  Jesus signaled a change to everything they knew or trusted.  Since the Babylonian captivity, they were afraid to do anything to anger God, afraid they might lose what they gained back.  They misunderstood their history, though.  How long did God put up with the worst sins a nation calling itself by His name could commit?  Almost a thousand.  If God showed this kind of forbearance when they were at their worst, why would He punish them for being what they should be and little too much to the right?

The lesson of their history was lost on them because they took the wrong lesson from it.  Instead of seeing the grace, mercy and forbearance of God in their history, they saw only judgment, punishment and fear.  Jesus’ mission mystified them because they were so hardened to their agenda, closed to anything but their own efforts to appease God and dedicated to the glory of Israel over the glory of God.  They rejected Him because instead of offering political glory, Jesus demanded their hearts change, and this will be the reason for most people who turn away from the Master.

Two Miracles in One

June 15, 2009

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to Him,  “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?”  Jesus replied.  “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants,  “Do whatever He tells you.”  John 2:1-5

I remember the first time I read this story.  I loved it immediately. Jesus partied, I thought, and that means parties must be okay.

Then I took a quarter of Greek, which opened the subject even more.  Jesus made wine, an undetermined type of wine, very good on the palette and of the best grade.  I asked around and found out the best wine at Jewish weddings is always fermented and carefully crafted for taste and texture.  I didn’t know much about wine but I did know a snow job when found one.

My church had colored this text to fit their bias.  It couldn’t be fermented wine, went their argument, because Jesus couldn’t do anything sinful or harmful to your health.  But Jesus made the best wine.  Either that meant Jesus needed to buck up and get His health teaching up to date with the conditions set out for Christian life in the conservative church manual or the church had it wrong.  Well, as you might guess, I sided with Jesus.  There are a host of issues like this that I won’t go into but it started me on a path to trying to understand the truth of Word rather than my preference, tradition or inherent bias.

Jesus partied in the NT on more than one occasion.  Hmmmm.  Wow, that has ramifications!

Another thing that stands out to me is His unwillingness to be miraculous.  It’s like you want to say to Him,  “You’re the Messiah just get on with it already!”  It took a little pushy Jewish mother to get Him to act.  It’s also significant that Jesus performed the miracle without waving His hand or making any big incantations.  Instead He used a quiet method of faith to work one of the most celebrated and oft used stories in Scriptures besides walking on water.  Popular songs use it as a metaphor for their points, people use it as political jabs or praise.

Instead of trying to gain from it politically, socially, ministerially, Jesus used it to validate a marriage, His mother, His new disciple’s fledgling faith and to just plain party.  It’s not hard to picture Him dancing in the wedding dance, talking and laughing with the other guests, not drawing attention to Himself by sitting on the sidelines but participating in a way which didn’t make Him holier than thou–even though He actually was (holier than anyone at the feast).  This story made me like Him all the more.  He took time for the little things–little by human theological standards anyway–some believe love and marriage to not be as high on the priority list as understanding the sanctuary doctrine or the rapture time table.  Jesus shows us this attitude is nonsense and doesn’t fit into His way of living.  He validates marriage by merely being at a wedding; He doubly validates it by making the best wine in the country for wedding already winding down to a close; then He goes above and beyond all that stuff by making this small, seemingly insignificant little miracle His very first of many.

Here’s another thought:  There was no fan-fair, trumpeted pronouncements, preamble act or announcement of the miracle itself.  When the servants poured the water into the cups it was wine.  He didn’t go into the main room and act humbly embarrassed, while secretly wishing for acknowledgement for John says only the servants were aware of the origins of the best wine at the wedding and the befuddled groom took all the credit.  No, it was with quiet simplicity and love for those present as well as the couple the day celebrated that He created something incredibly special.

Jesus showed love in this act.  He loved His mother and, though He sounded like every other kid objecting to doing something at His mother’s insistence, I think He wasn’t being whiny or petulant about it. The time for His miraculous ministry hadn’t arrived yet for Him but He went ahead to support His mother’s faith–I’m sure He thought she was just being cute and loved her all the more for her faith in Him, that would be just like Jesus–and, may be, to help His new disciples get a perspective on the true nature of the Messiah’s mission.

I just love the fact that His momma ignored His protests and just circumnavigated all objections by putting Him on the spot.  Do you get the poignancy of this fact?  The God of heaven was “manipulated” by His mother’s pushy motherly ways.  I bet He laughs about this story still, I know I would.  It demonstrated not only her faith in Him but His love and respect for her that He went ahead and obeyed her wish—though His authority to say “no” outweighed her motherly command by a long shot.  And what character!  She knew without any doubt He could take care of the situation.  Whatever possessed her to push for wine, is something I guess we’ll have to ask her when we meet her.  I just find it funny she chose wine at a party to be persistent about rather than some politically beneficial miracle.

God chose a lowly wedding to demonstrate His power and control over the natural order of things.  This tells us nothing is too small for Him to concern Himself with and we should be as careful of our world as He is and demonstrated while He walked earth.

Whatever His reasons for objecting, He performed His first miracle, according to John A, at a wedding for relatives or friends in a show of support and love for all involved. What do you think the servants’ reaction was after this clearly miraculous wedding gift?

I know what mine would be.